Berkeley celebrates opening of redesigned Hearst Avenue, Bancroft Way

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Zahira Chaudhry/Staff

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Berkeley community leaders held two ribbon-cutting events Friday to celebrate the official opening of Hearst Avenue and Bancroft Way — newly designed streets that are now safe for all modes of transportation.

Bancroft Way features the East Bay’s first two-way connecting, protected bike lanes and public-transit-only lane, known as the Bancroft West Pilot. The three-block-long curbside bus lane, which spans from Dana Street to Fulton Street, is painted red to ensure that motorists and cyclists avoid it.

Berkeley’s $3 million Hearst Complete Streets Project included the construction of a new protected bike lane and the city’s first bus-boarding islands, among other additions.

“This is just paint, but look what it’s done,” said AC Transit Director Greg Harper at the ribbon-cutting event.

Harper explained that before the bus lane was added, buses were averaging about 7 mph while on Bancroft Way, from College Avenue down to Dana Street.

“People sitting on the bus were looking at it thinking, ‘Well, I can crawl faster than this,’ and it kind of depresses our riders about the whole service,” Harper said.

Red bus lanes improve travel time, increase reliability and decrease collisions, according to studies of the Muni system in San Francisco.

René Rivera, executive director of Bike East Bay, said at the ribbon-cutting that Berkeley’s complete street projects are exciting because “a network of connected, protected bikeways” is forming. He explained that the bicycle accessibility of the street’s additions encourages more students to bike to campus and increases the number of people coming to shop on Telegraph Avenue.

Sarah Lee, a program coordinator for the Telegraph Business Improvement District, agreed that the improvement of transit modes will help business on Telegraph Avenue. Lee commended the city for reaching out to many different stakeholders, including merchants, students and bicycle advocates, when working on the Bancroft Way project.

“A huge untold story with projects like this … traffic speeds are slowed down and they’re more at the scale of people that are also using the street,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay. “More people are going to come to streets like this.”

Standing alongside his bicycle at the ribbon-cutting, first-year student at UC Berkeley School of Law Ben Eversole said he bikes on Bancroft Way regularly to commute back and forth to class. He said he is excited about the bike lane, which he believes will increase ridership in the area by making people feel safer.

I feel like today is the day that we tip the scales, that we go from being a city that aspires to be a biking city that has a few bike amenities, to a true biking city,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn.

Contact Hannah Piette at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Hannah_PietteDC.