City, Walk Bike Berkeley to create program for safe, healthy streets through planned collaboration

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Ketki Samel/File

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Berkeley’s Transportation Division and Walk Bike Berkeley are planning to collaborate on a healthy streets initiative to facilitate the safe use of outdoor space amid physical distancing guidelines.

Walk Bike Berkeley, an all-volunteer organization that advocates for healthy and sustainable transportation, first introduced the initiative to the city in March, according to Ben Gerhardstein, a coordinating committee member of the organization. Gerhardstein said Walk Bike Berkeley suggested implementing the initiative through existing city infrastructure.

“We had ideas for how the city could help support people’s need to go outside and be safe when they’re making trips or exercising,” Gerhardstein said. “Our approach was to outline a potential network of streets that could help actually improve mobility in the city during COVID.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson added that the program would allow people to go outdoors while being able to physically distance from one another.

To support safe outdoor access for the Berkeley community during trips or exercising, Walk Bike Berkeley proposed ideas including closing bicycle boulevards to through-car traffic and adding A-frame signs indicating where bicycle boulevards begin, end and intersect, according to the organization’s initial proposal to the city.

Gerhardstein said Walk Bike Berkeley circulated a petition and garnered about 600 signatures from members of the community. Amid support for the initiative, Gerhardstein added that Walk Bike Berkeley is offering to work with the city while specific details of the initiative are developed.

“(What) we expect city to announce relatively soon is a proposal to do healthy streets on three segments, totaling about one and a half miles,” Gerhardstein said. “We’ll create healthy streets segments and monitor barriers that go up, put up signage to promote the safe usage of that space.”

Robinson expressed his interest in the initiative, noting the importance of increased street space for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The initiative is increasingly urgent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson added.

“Neighbors need room to enjoy the outdoors and get to essential businesses while physically distancing, and narrow sidewalks can make that impossible,” Robinson said in an email.

The city’s existing bike boulevards were first established in the 1970s, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn. She noted that more slow streets will be added and only local vehicle traffic will be allowed.

Hahn added that Berkeley residents would appreciate the additional slow streets with the current shelter-in-place order.

“Residents have been extremely patient and careful with shelter-in-place, and the desire for more space for socially distanced recreation is significant,” Hahn said in an email. “I know extension of our longtime slow streets programs will be greatly appreciated.”

Contact Hanna Lykke and Shylie Ati at [email protected].