Walk along Telegraph Avenue near campus and you’ll stumble across public chess boards and vendors selling colorful jewelry. One of California’s most renowned streets, Telegraph Avenue could become an even more vibrant space for students, vendors and community members. The city of Berkeley’s Southside Complete Streets project is considering and soliciting input on plans to redesign the street to improve safety and reduce traffic for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. Transforming Telegraph Avenue is an important step toward the city’s goal of tackling climate change and eliminating the use of fossil fuels.
Most UC Berkeley students reside, walk through and spend late nights with their friends on and around Telegraph Avenue. Largely underrepresented in city government, students must take this opportunity to make their voices heard. Students should complete Southside Complete Streets project’s survey, which describes four preliminary design plans and closes Nov. 28.
The project’s plans include reducing car traffic on segments of Dana Street and Fulton Street as well as on Telegraph Avenue between Bancroft Way and Dwight Way. While none of the plans completely eliminate a place for cars, one of the plans for Telegraph Avenue would likely prepare the street for the complete elimination of private vehicles in the future by flattening the curb and creating a plaza. As part of this plan, surrounding streets and intersections could still be open to cars, and at least one traffic lane would remain open on Telegraph Avenue. The other lane would be reserved for busses.
The city must follow through with its plans to incentivize walking, biking and using public transit throughout the city. Telegraph Avenue may be the best place to start. The street largely serves students, most of whom don’t own cars.
While some vendors are apprehensive about these possible changes, foot traffic may already comprise most of the business for shops on the avenue. Telegraph Avenue is often congested, and many Berkeley residents already avoid the street when driving.
The city of Berkeley has promised to prioritize climate action. The plans to reduce the use of cars on popular streets is an important development, especially given transportation is the city’s largest source of emissions.
These plans are exciting, but they could be complicated to implement. The city must continue to work with important stakeholders, such as AC Transit. Communities with disabilities, local businesses and students must also be consulted to ensure any changes prioritize accessibility.
While Berkeley has the second-highest bicycle commute mode share of any city in the country at about 9%, this is still a far cry from the necessary transformation to sustainable transportation. Any changes to streets as prominent as Telegraph Avenue will be an adjustment, but it’s time that the community truly commits to reducing emissions and championing climate action.