Berkeley City Council votes to keep vegetation in traffic circles

Leo Tang/Staff

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Amid public safety concerns, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to keep vegetation within traffic circles at its special meeting held Nov. 12.

These concerns surfaced after vegetation within the traffic circles began to block drivers’ visibility, sometimes leading to collisions. Many, however, support keeping vegetation in the traffic circles — arguing that the safety concerns stem more from a lack of maintenance.

“(The traffic circles) need to be properly maintained, which I think is what our biggest issue has been here today,” said Robin Grossinger, vice chair of the city Traffic Circle Policy Task Force, during the meeting. 

In 2018, the Department of Public Works announced that the city would be removing large amounts of vegetation from traffic circles in the interest of public safety. After the announcement, Berkeley residents called for increased engagement with the city, leading Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín to create the Traffic Circle Policy Task Force in February 2019, which evaluates and addresses vegetation in Berkeley traffic circles.

The main goal of the Traffic Circle Policy Task Force is to “create a citizen facilitated policy,” according to Tano Trachtenberg, the task force’s secretary. Trachtenberg added that the task force “was challenged to balance public safety and beautiful vegetated circles.”

In its presentation, the task force recommended that the city keeps and better maintains existing trees and vegetation. It also cited the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Urban Street Design Guide, which states that keeping vegetation creates a “traffic calming effect.” 

During the meeting’s public comment, many voiced concerns about the vegetation, including some who shared stories about loved ones being hit because of lack of drivers’ visibility.

“We do need to think about (mitigating collisions) at those intersections,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “We are looking at how to move ahead with these circles as they are designed.”

Contact Robson Swift at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.