On Saturday, more than 100 cyclists rode down Hopkins Street in a rally for continued support of bike lanes and street safety in the city of Berkeley.
Supported by Bike East Bay, North Berkeley Now! and Walk Bike Berkeley, rally goers met around noon at the top of the Hopkins Street project area, riding the full length down to Kains Avenue before heading back up the commercial area and even stopping for some pizza, said Marc Hedlund, board member for Bike East Bay and lead organizer of the rally.
“It was a very festive experience,” said Warren J. Wells, a city resident who participated in the rally. “A lot of bell-ringing laughter.”
Wells, who live tweeted the entire rally, recalled seeing some familiar faces and a wide range of ages present as they rode, making sure to adhere to existing traffic rules. Hedlund shared similar experiences, recounting that one disabled man riding a recumbent bike just wanted the street to be safe for him.
Participating cyclists hailed from Hopkins to El Cerrito to Oakland, with a collective desire of seeing safer roads, Hedlund noted.
“One of the messages that frustrates us is when people say, ‘you’re not from around here so you shouldn’t be able to tell us how our roads work,’” Hedlund said. “My view is that it’s everybody’s road; the point of public transportation is to be able to get around, not to just be able to cut down the block.”
Some counter protesters took a stand on the sidewalks as they shouted their slogans, but despite the tension, both sides comported with civility, Wells noted.
In fact, hostility primarily took form on the streets as the bicyclists were passed aggressively by drivers, Wells recounted. However, he noted that the bicyclists were only taking up the lane because there isn’t a bike lane.
“Drivers are in a hurry,” Wells said. “And people on bikes just want to get where they’re going safely.”
Historically, Berkeley was an “early bikeway innovator,” especially in developing bicycle boulevards on quiet, suburban streets, said Ben Gerhardstein of Walk Bike Berkeley, a partner of Bike East Bay.
According to Gerhardstein, however, the city’s bikeway network was never completed. A budget referral for the Hopkins corridor was issued in 2018, Hedland said, but the bike lanes are still being fought over five years later.
“We have segments, but we don’t have a network,” Hedlund said. “It’s going to cost some parking spaces but injuries are down, deaths are down, climate change is helped, kids can ride to school, all these benefits.”
People biking in Berkeley are “regularly injured” in preventable collisions, Gerhardstein noted. In the city itself, six bicyclists have been killed, while another 100 have suffered severe injuries, Wells noted.
According to Hedlund, most crash incidents result from driving at high speeds. With bike lanes, the street narrows and traffic slows, making it harder for people to “tear down” the street, Hedlund added.
“As a result, cyclists are safer, pedestrians are safer, disabled people are safer, and drivers are safer,” Hedlund said.