Community imagines Telegraph Avenue without cars

photo of businesses on Telegraph Ave
Charlene Wang/Staff
The city of Berkeley is in the process of considering redesigns for Telegraph Avenue. Community members discussed renewing the space to be suitable for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders and businesses, rather than for cars.

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As the city of Berkeley’s Southside Complete Streets project considers plans to redesign Telegraph Avenue, community members are imagining the thoroughfare as a renewed space for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders and businesses — but not cars.

The project is soliciting public input for four design options for Telegraph Avenue from Bancroft Way to Dwight Way, according to its website. Some, including Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, have voiced support for design option four, which includes wide sidewalks, a designated bus lane and a shared lane for bicycles and cars.

“We have a prime opportunity to redesign this commercial district and these streets around people and not cars,” Robinson said.

Robinson noted that although all of the design options include a place for cars — option four could lead to the future elimination of private vehicle traffic on the street by flattening the curb and creating a plaza.

Robinson’s sentiments are echoed by Councilmember Lori Droste, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Riya Master and Telegraph for People, a student-led organization initiated two weeks ago that advocates for a pedestrianized Telegraph Avenue.

“It’s historically been a space for people,” said Telegraph for People co-founder Sam Greenberg. “And I think it’s time that the demarcation between cars and people is removed, and cars are also removed entirely.”

Greenberg said that transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists do not feel at place on the car-dominated avenue, which in turn harms businesses that depend on these customers for revenue.

Removing cars, Greenberg added, would also improve pedestrian and cyclist safety and be a bold stance against climate change.

Despite the faults noted by community members, Telegraph Avenue is still cherished by many. Telegraph for People member Luke Leuschner said the avenue showcases the complexities of urban life, while campus senior Jacob Dadmun noted the proposed improvements will build on an already rich history, culture and community.

“Recently I’ve loved seeing the public chess tables near Dwight and Telegraph,” Dadmun said in an email. “It’s a pure expression of community and solidarity and shows the value of having true public spaces.”

Student voices are underrepresented in city government, said Telegraph for People co-founder Brandon Yung, who previously served as a reporter for The Daily Californian. Yung added that a goal of the organization is engaging students in these important local issues.

To that end, Telegraph for People is encouraging students to attend the Southside Complete Streets project’s open house Nov. 10 and advocate for a carless option four on the project’s design survey, according to Greenberg.

“Students should be the primary voice in the room,” Yung said. “Not the only one, but the primary constituency, in influencing and giving input to what would be the future of this neighborhood.”

Contact Gabe Classon at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @GabeClasson.