Healthy Streets program promotes socially distanced exercise, travel in Berkeley

Photo of intersection on Addison St.
Gisselle Reyes/Staff
The Healthy Streets program was created in an effort to help Berkeley community members get exercise and fresh air while remaining physically distanced. Certain intersections of the Healthy Streets network have been marked with ‘Do Not Enter’ signs to assist pedestrians and bicyclists by limiting car traffic.

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The city of Berkeley and a local organization have partnered to address concerns about continuing daily activities while following social distancing recommendations.

The Healthy Streets program was created to address the needs of community members who wish to exercise and travel in a safe environment. Signage and barriers designate certain streets where pedestrians and bikers can travel and maintain a distance of 6 feet.

“Our community faces an unprecedented public health emergency from COVID-19. … Many of the changes we’ve had to make in our daily lives will be with us for the foreseeable future,” states a June 10 city press release. “Healthy Streets will provide an additional option for outdoor recreation and safe travel.”

Walk Bike Berkeley, a volunteer organization that advocates for a safe walking and biking environment, proposed the idea to the city in March, according to Ben Gerhardstein, Walk Bike Berkeley coordinating committee member.

Because many city sidewalks are too narrow to allow community members to socially distance while walking next to each other, Walk Bike Berkeley proposed Healthy Streets to expand walking and biking areas on certain roads.

The program was relaunched Friday with “Do Not Enter” signs to further slow and limit car traffic and make streets more accessible for physically distanced pedestrians and bicyclists, according to an Aug. 31 city press release.

Community members can also use Healthy Streets rather than more crowded streets as a safe alternative path to get to essential businesses, Gerhardstein said.

“As the network expands … it will allow more Berkeleyans to get to essential jobs and services,” the press release states. “In the process, these streets address core needs of this time: allowing people to safely get exercise near where they shelter in place.”

Gerhardstein added that Walk Bike Berkeley was instrumental in developing the changes to the program and printing and posting signage.

The current Healthy Streets are Ninth Street from Hearst Avenue to Dwight Way, Russell Street from Adeline to Mabel streets and Addison Street from Sacramento to Grant streets. These streets encourage local vehicular traffic to pass through alongside pedestrians and bikers at a safe speed.

Gerhardstein said Walk Bike Berkeley hopes the city will expand the program to create an entire city network of Healthy Streets. According to a statement from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, expanding the program would require more volunteers.

“We have to have a network that’s robust enough to get the community from point A to point B,” Gerhardstein said. “I hope one of the things the city learns from this process is the value of … trying something new and learning from it.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.

A previous version of this article may have implied that biking on sidewalks in Berkeley is legal. In fact, it is illegal.