Police records show high number of bicycle collisions on campus border

Kelly Fang/File
Shlomo Bentin, who was a guest lecturer at UC Berkeley, was killed after a collision with a truck near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Fulton Street on July 13, 2012.

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Though gauging the relative danger of Berkeley’s streets remains difficult, data obtained from the police records show that well over 100 bicycle-involved collisions typically occur each year.

The records show that since at least 2002, Berkeley has seen a growing number of bicycle-involved collisions. In 2011, Berkeley Police Department reported 154 collisions, a 25 percent increase from 2002, when 122 collisions were reported. This year, 60 collisions were reported through June.

The police records of bicycle-involved collisions dating back to April 2001 include two fatalities. In July, UC Berkeley guest lecturer Shlomo Bentin, 65, died when he collided with a dump truck while riding his bicycle near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Fulton Street.

Although police records show an increasing number of bicycle-involved collisions over the years, this does not indicate that Berkeley’s streets are becoming more dangerous. The level of bicycle and automobile traffic must also be taken into account in evaluating any particular intersection.

Dave Campbell, program director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that the number of bicycle-involved collisions in Berkeley may be increasing at a slower rate than the number of bicyclists.

“I think it’s getting safer,” Campbell said.

Berkeley has one of the highest numbers of bicycle commuters in the nation. Only three other American cities with populations of more than 65,000 — Davis, Calif., Boulder, Colo. and Eugene, Ore. — have a higher percentage of bicycling commuters than Berkeley, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

This number is always increasing. In 1990, 4.9 percent of Berkeley residents commuted to work on a bicycle. In 2010, that number rose to 8 percent, according to census data.

In fact, the number of bicyclists on the road is likely to be even higher, since census surveys do not capture bicyclists who ride recreationally or for the variety of activities that fall outside the category of commuting to work.

Annual traffic counts conducted by the city along designated bicycle boulevards provide some insight into the size of Berkeley’s bicyclist population. In 2010, transportation officials found three intersections where more than 300 bicyclists were counted passing through within a two-hour time frame. These intersections were all gateways to the campus: Milvia Street and Channing Way, Milvia Street and Hearst Avenue and Bowditch Street and Channing Way.

According to the records, Adeline Street and Alcatraz Avenue is the intersection with the greatest number of bicycle-involved collisions. Twenty-one collisions occurred at the intersection between April 2001 and March 2011, almost twice as many as at Hearst Avenue and Shattuck Avenue, the intersection with the second highest number of collisions.

The greatest density of collisions occurred along the west and south sides of campus and in the downtown area.

“A lot of the downtown streets (have) so many people and so much traffic (that) we are never going to have a true boulevard experience,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to come up with better designs for downtown Berkeley.”

According to Farid Javandel, the city’s transportation division manager, records of previous collisions are often used by the city to engineer safer streets and intersections.

“The better we can understand the causes of the accidents, the more we can figure out if those would be solved by physical changes to the intersections,” Javandel said.

One example is the northwestern border of campus, which has recently been the focus of a proposal to reduce the number of car lanes on Hearst Avenue between Shattuck and Gayley Road. The “road diet,” as it’s called, would allow for the installation of a center median and two green bike lanes — including a short stretch of buffered bike lane, which would create a physical boundary between bicycles and automobile traffic.

Although Campbell said Berkeley had been reluctant in recent years to undertake projects with structural or design components not pre-approved by Caltrans, the state department responsible for creating and regulating transportation standards, he called the plan “a really creative project.”

“(They’re) putting some creative elements in there that we can replicate in other areas of the East Bay,” Campbell said.

Noting that other cities such as Emeryville have imitated Berkeley’s bicycle boulevard concept — which designates certain streets specifically for bicyclists — Campbell said he would like Berkeley to continue pushing the envelope.

“(The city has) been very resistant for the last five to ten years,” said Campbell. “They’ve fallen back into ‘if Caltrans approves it we’ll do it, and if not we won’t.’”

“We want Berkeley to start taking the lead,” he added.

Contact Dylan Tokar at dt[email protected].