Placebreaking on Hopkins: A Dossier, Part One

Berkeley Daily Planet, May 22, 2022

Shortly after midnight on May 11, the Berkeley City Council took another ideologically driven, data-challenged action and voted 8-1 to approve a disputed conceptual design for adding two side-by-side bike lanes on the south side of Hopkins Street from Sutter in the east to Gilman in the west when the street is repaved in summer 2023.

The approved design generally reflects the final recommendations of the Hopkins Corridor Traffic and Placemaking Study that evolved in the course of eight online public meetings and Transportation Department staff “outreach” to “stakeholders” between 2020 and 2022. The study was initiated by a January 2018 referral to city staff from District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn.

Adding the bike lanes will require the narrowing or eliminating auto lanes, removing an unspecified number of parking spaces, and eliminating a bus stop. Other changes include raised pedestrian crosswalks, bulb-outs (sidewalk extensions) and bus boarding islands.

A supplemental proposal authored by Hahn and Mayor Arreguín added some amendments to the Study’s recommendations, including the removal of the widely despised bicycle infrastructure at the Hopkins-Alameda intersection; extending the two-way parking-protected bike lanes along the entire south side of Hopkins east of The Alameda; establishing Residential Preferred Parking both on and/or surrounding Hopkins; and widening the proposed bike lanes from 4 feet to a minimum of 4.5 or 5 feet each wherever possible by narrowing traffic lanes, without eliminating additional parking.

In response to a supplemental proposal from District 1 Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, Hahn and Arreguin also asked staff to study extending the bike lanes to San Pablo. In response to an amendment suggested by Wengraf, the council asked staff to study adding a traffic signal at Hopkins-Monterey intersection. Also approved was Hahn’s request that the city’s Office of Economic Development be engaged to address the concerns of the businesses on Hopkins.

A traffic plan that increases congestion

Those who are unfamiliar with the current conventional wisdom in transportation planning might suppose that the goal of a traffic study is to ease auto traffic. They would be mistaken. The goal is “traffic calming”: slow down auto traffic to facilitate safer cycling and walking.

As a major connection to the shops at the Monterey-Hopkins intersection, to Sacramento Street south, and to Gilman Street to San Pablo and then the freeway, Hopkins is heavily traveled by automobiles. Adding bike lanes will require removing the “slip lane” on the north side of the Hopkins-Sacramento intersection—the lane that westbound cars now use to avoid the backup of cars turning south onto Sacramento. The bus stop lane on the northeast corner of the Hopkins-Monterey intersection will also be eliminated; now vehicles will have to wait while passengers board and exit the bus.

It follows that turning Hopkins into a two-lane auto road with bike lanes will make the traffic jams around the Hopkins-Monterey retail hub and the Hopkins-Sacramento intersection worse. That’s how traffic calming is supposed to work.

Criticism from cyclists

On April 24, fifteen cyclists who live in the Hopkins Street area sent a letter to Councilmember Hahn with a mixed review of the proposed changes. The letter was posted by the Planet. The authors “approve and appreciate all efforts to increase safety for pedestrians,” including “the proposed bulb-outs, raised crosswalks, added stop signs, and striping.” But the “protected two-bike lane” located on the south side of Hopkins “seems to raise more problems than it solves.”

For starters, it puts west-bound cyclists in a place that rightward turning drivers will perceive as “the wrong side of the street.” It also “requires cyclists to cross back and forth across the car bike lanes to enter and exit the bikeway.” Cyclists who want to turn north will be forced “to cross back and forth across both traffic lanes,” an especially hazardous situation at both Albina and Hopkins Court, where there are no traffic controls.

Moreover, adding medians between Gilman and California will force cars backing out of driveways to “pull across the bike lanes while waiting to enter the flow of traffic, instead of being able to wait on the edge of the paving”—an especially problematic situation, with cyclists coming from the right, going west, where again, drivers do not expect them.

The cyclists’ final concern is that even experienced riders like themselves will not use the dual bikeway. “We believe that riding on the wrong side of the road and having to cross back and forth across the traffic lanes places us in greater danger than sharing the road with the cars.”

They conclude with a list of suggestions to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Hopkins.

· Most importantly, “repave the street” and keep the road clean.” Now the broken glass and potholes require cyclists to “swerve in and out ito the lanes of traffic to avoid obstacles.

· Add sharrow striping and signage.

· Change the color and/or material of the paving to alert drivers to the likely presence of cyclists.

· “[M]itigate the issue of people rolling through the stop sign at Hopkins and Gilman,” perhaps with a raised crosswalk.

They end by stating that the current proposal raises “too many unanswered questions…for the Council to make an informed vote on this plan,” which “will cost the City of Berkeley”—that is, its taxpayers—millions of dollars.”

To date, the cyclists’ concerns have not been addressed by anyone in City Hall.

The city’s bogus rationales for bike lanes on Hopkins

Why put bike lanes on a street heavily trafficked by cars in the first place? Why not put them on a nearby side street that parallels Hopkins—for example Rose, Ada, or Sonoma? At the May 10 meeting, Wengraf posed that question to the city’s Deputy Director of Public Works for Transportation Farid Javandel.

In reply, Javandel said that “a lot of destinations are on Hopkins”—for example, the North Berkeley Library branch, schools, the shopping hub at Hopkins and Monterey. He added that the side streets are steeper than Hopkins, and that “bicyclists don’t like to go uphill if they can avoid it.”

What he didn’t say is that putting bike lane on Hopkins would extend the “continuous low-stress network” of cycle tracks envisioned in the city’s 2017 Bicycle Plan. According to the Plan, “for the network to work”—which is to say, to foster maximum bicycling in town—“it must be complete, without gaps,” and it “must link to all key destinations in Berkeley.”

Nor did Javandel state two of the leading rationales for the creation of such a network. Cited in Hahn’s 2018 referral, these justifications were and reiterated again and again during the online public meetings. Only a stylized version appears in the perfunctory May 10 staff report, folded into the recommended council resolution:

“WHEREAS, the Berkeley Vision Zero Action Plan has documented severe and fatal crashes on Hopkins Street; [and] gaps in the low-stress protected bikeway network on Hopkins Street result in connectivity problems that discourage bicycling for transportation…” These claims are connected: a high-injury street is a high-stress street, and thus one that discourages bicycling.

On May 6, Hopkins neighbor Donna DeDiemar sent the council a packet that included an in-depth critique of the research behind these claims. (Her full argument is posted in the Planet.)

First, she disputes the depiction of Hopkins as a high-injury street for severe and fatal traffic crashes. Checking the California state dabatases referenced by the city’s transportation planners, DeDiemar found that the period cited by the city, 2016-2019, within which four serious and/or fatal accidents occurred in the Hopkins Corridor, was “an anomaly.” Moreover, she writes, “the three serious injury accidents” documented during that period were all attributed to the cyclist.”

She adds: “[C]ounter to the assertion in the budget referral, there were no other deadly incidents in the area, nor any other severe ones, going all the way back to 2010.” Citing Berkeley police records, she says that “there were no other fatal accidents in at least the last 38 years,” and that “there have been none since 2018.”

DeDiemar further challenges the staff claim that Hopkins is a “high-injury street” with “a disproportionate number of crash-related severe injuries and fatalities” by comparing its accident history with that of other Berkeley streets. She argues that charts in Berkeley’s Vision Zero Action Plan make it “quite clear” that “the Hopkins Corridor has a much lower number of accidents than other areas in the city,” most notably the area bounded by University, Sacramento, Ashby, MLK, Telegraph and Shattuck.

Next, DeDiemar debunks the the research behind the claim that gaps in the city’s low-stress cycling network result in connectivity problems that discourage cycling. The May 10 staff report omitted the metric that staff, citing the city’s 2017 Bicycle Plan, repeatedly invoked during the online public meetings: 71 percent of Berkeley residents would be willing to bike if the right bikeway facilities were provided.

According to the Bicycle Plan, the Santa Cruz-based consultancy Civinomics interviewed 660 Berkeley residents, whose responses they sorted into one of four types, “based both on their current bicycling behavior and their bicycling comfort level on different facility types and roadway conditions”: “Strong and Fearless,” “Enthusiastic and Confident,” “Interested but Concerned,” “No Way, No How.” The types were drawn from a 2012 study conducted in the Portland region.

Civinomics’ findings:

“Seventy-one percent of Berkeley residents were classified as Interested but Concerned, which means the majority of Berkeley residents would be willing to bike if the right bikeway facilities were provided….[S]urvey results showed that Interested but Concerned riders responded that they would be very uncomfortable if there were no bicycle facility, somewhat comfortable if a bicycle lane was added, and very comfortable if there were a bicycle lane separated from traffic by a curb or parked cars.” Staff described these findings as “statistically significant.”

The trouble with this research, DeDiemar explains, is that “people living south and west of the Cal campus (Zip codes 94702-94705) Shortly after midnight on May 11, the Berkeley council took another ideologically driven, data-challenge action and voted 8-1 to approve a disputed conceptual design for adding two side-by-side bike lanes on the south side of Hopkins Street from Sutter in the east to Gilman in the west when the street is repaved in summer 2023. The No vote was cast by District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf.

The approved design generally reflects the final recommendations of the Hopkins Corridor Traffic and Placemaking Study that evolved in the course of eight online public meetings and Transportation Department staff “outreach” to “stakeholders” between 2020 and 2022. The study was initiated by a January 2018 referral to city staff from District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn.

Adding the bike lanes will require the narrowing or eliminating auto lanes, removing an unspecified number of parking spaces, and eliminating a bus stop. Other changes include raised pedestrian crosswalks, bulb-outs (sidewalk exensions) and bus boarding islands.

A supplemental proposal authored by Hahn and Mayor Arreguín added some amendments to the Study’s recommendations, including the removal of the widely despised bicycle infrastructure at the Hopkins-Alameda intersection; extending the two-way parking-protected bike lanes along the entire south side of Hopkins east of The Alameda; establishing Residential Preferred Parking both on and/or surrounding Hopkins; and widening the proposed bike lanes from 4 feet to a minimum of 4.5 or 5 feet each wherever possible by narrowing traffic lanes, without eliminating additional parking.

In response to a supplemental proposal from District 1 Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, Hahn and Arreguin also asked staff to study extending the bike lanes to San Pablo. In response to an amendment suggested by Wengraf, the council asked staff to study adding a traffic signal at Hopkins-Monterey intersection. Also approved was Hahn’s request that the city’s Office of Economic Development be engaged to address the concerns of the businesses on Hopkins.

A traffic plan that increases congestion

Those who are unfamiliar with the current conventional wisdom in transportation planning might suppose that the goal of a traffic study is to ease auto traffic. They would be mistaken. The goal is “traffic calming”: slow down auto traffic to facilitate safer cycling and walking.

As a major connection to the shops at the Monterey-Hopkins intersection, to Sacramento Street south, and to Gilman Street to San Pablo and then the freeway, Hopkins is heavily traveled by automobiles. Adding bike lanes will require removing the “slip lane” on the north side of the Hopkins-Sacramento intersection—the lane that westbound cars now use to avoid the backup of cars turning south onto Sacramento. The bus stop lane on the northeast corner of the Hopkins-Monterey intersection will also be eliminated; now vehicles will have to wait while passengers board and exit the bus.

It follows that turning Hopkins into a two-lane auto road with bike lanes will make the traffic jams around the Hopkins-Monterey retail hub and the Hopkins-Sacramento intersection worse. That’s how traffic calming is supposed to work.

Criticism from cyclists

On April 24, fifteen cyclists who live in the Hopkins Street area sent a letter to Councilmember Hahn with a mixed review of the proposed changes. The letter was posted by the Planet. The authors “approve and appreciate all efforts to increase safety for pedestrians,” including “the proposed bulb-outs, raised crosswalks, added stop signs, and striping.” But the “protected two-bike lane” located on the south side of Hopkins “seems to raise more problems than it solves.”

For starters, it puts west-bound cyclists in a place that rightward turning drivers will perceive as “the wrong side of the street.” It also “requires cyclists to cross back and forth across the car bike lanes to enter and exit the bikeway.” Cyclists who want to turn north will be forced “to cross back and forth across both traffic lanes,” an especially hazardous situation at both Albina and Hopkins Court, where there are no traffic controls.

Moreover, adding medians between Gilman and California will force cars backing out of driveways to “pull across the bike lanes while waiting to enter the flow of traffic, instead of being able to wait on the edge of the paving”—an especially problematic situation, with cyclists coming from the right, going west, where again, drivers do not expect them.”

The cyclists’ final concern is that even experienced riders like themselves will not use the dual bikeway. “We believe that riding on the wrong side of the road and having to cross back and forth across the traffic lanes places us in greater danger than sharing the road with the cars.”

They conclude with a list of suggestions to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Hopkins.
• Most importantly, “repave the street” and keep the road clean.” Now the broken glass and potholes require cyclists to “swerve in and out ito the lanes of traffic to avoid obstacles.
• Add sharrow striping and signage.
• Change the color and/or material of the paving to alert drivers to the likely presence of cyclists.
• “[M]itigate the issue of people rolling through the stop sign at Hopkins and Gilman,” perhaps with a raised crosswalk.

They end by stating that the current proposal raises “too many unanswered questions…for the Council to make an informed vote on this plan,” which “will cost the City of Berkeley”—that is, its taxpayers—millions of dollars.”

To date, the cyclists’ concerns have not been addressed by anyone in City Hall.

The city’s bogus rationales for bike lanes on Hopkins

Why put bike lanes on a street heavily trafficked by cars in the first place? Why not put them on a nearby side street that parallels Hopkins—for example Rose, Ada, or Sonoma? At the May 10 meeting, Wengraf posed that question to the city’s Deputy Director of Public Works for Transportation Farid Javandel.

In reply, Javandel said that “a lot of destinations are on Hopkins”—for example, the North Berkeley Library branch, schools, the shopping hub at Hopkins and Monterey. He added that the side streets are steeper than Hopkins, and that “bicyclists don’t like to go uphill if they can avoid it.”

What he didn’t say is that putting bike lane on Hopkins would extend the “continuous low-stress network” of cycle tracks envisioned in the city’s 2017 Bicycle Plan. According to the Plan, “for the network to work”—which is to say, to foster maximum bicycling in town—“it must be complete, without gaps,” and it “must link to all key destinations in Berkeley.”

Nor did Javandel state two of the leading rationales for the creation of such a network. Cited in Hahn’s 2018 referral, these justifications were and reiterated again and again during the online public meetings. Only a stylized version appears in the perfunctory May 10 staff report, folded into the recommended council resolution:

“WHEREAS, the Berkeley Vision Zero Action Plan has documented severe and fatal crashes on Hopkins Street; [and] gaps in the low-stress protected bikeway network on Hopkins Street result in connectivity problems that discourage bicycling for transportation…” These claims are connected: a high-injury street is a high-stress street, and thus one that discourages bicycling.

On May 6, Hopkins neighbor Donna DeDiemar sent the council a packet that included an in-depth critique of the research behind these claims. (Her full argument is posted in the Planet.)

First, she disputes the depiction of Hopkins as a high-injury street for severe and fatal traffic crashes. Checking the California state dabatases referenced by the city’s transportation planners, DeDiemar found that the period cited by the city, 2016-2019, within which four serious and/or fatal accidents occurred in the Hopkins Corridor, was “an anomaly.” Moreover, she writes, “the three serious injury accidents” documented during that period were all attributed to the cyclist.”

She adds: “[C]ounter to the assertion in the budget referral, there were no other deadly incidents in the area, nor any other severe ones, going all the way back to 2010.” Citing Berkeley police records, she says that “there were no other fatal accidents in at least the last 38 years,” and that “there have been none since 2018.”

DeDiemar further challenges the staff claim that Hopkins is a “high-injury street” with “a disproportionate number of crash-related severe injuries and fatalities” by comparing its accident history with that of other Berkeley streets. She argues that charts in Berkeley’s Vision Zero Action Plan make it “quite clear” that “the Hopkins Corridor has a much lower number of accidents than other areas in the city,” most notably the area bounded by University, Sacramento, Ashby, MLK, Telegraph and Shattuck.

Next, DeDiemar debunks the the research behind the claim that gaps in the city’s low-stress cycling network result in connectivity problems that discourage cycling. The May 10 staff report omitted the metric that staff, citing the city’s 2017 Bicycle Plan, repeatedly invoked during the online public meetings: 71 percent of Berkeley residents would be willing to bike if the right bikeway facilities were provided.

According to the Bicycle Plan, the Santa Cruz-based consultancy Civinomics interviewed 660 Berkeley residents, whose responses they sorted into one of four types, “based both on their current bicycling behavior and their bicycling comfort level on different facility types and roadway conditions”: “Strong and Fearless,” “Enthusiastic and Confident,” “Interested but Concerned,” “No Way, No How.” The types were drawn from a 2012 study conducted in the Portland region.

Civinomics’ findings:

“Seventy-one percent of Berkeley residents were classified as Interested but Concerned, which means the majority of Berkeley residents would be willing to bike if the right bikeway facilities were provided….[S]urvey results showed that Interested but Concerned riders responded that they would be very uncomfortable if there were no bicycle facility, somewhat comfortable if a bicycle lane was added, and very comfortable if there were a bicycle lane separated from traffic by a curb or parked cars.” Staff described these findings as “statistically significant.”

The trouble with this research, DeDiemar explains, is that “people living south and west of the Cal campus (Zip codes 94702-94705constituted 81 percent of the survey respondents. ….[N]ot a single resident of 94708 (the hills) was queried.” A bit of clarification: Zip codes 94702 and 94703 are sandwiched between San Pablo and MLK; Hopkins runs along their north edge. The street runs along the south edge of Zip codes 94707 and 94708.

DeDiemar comments: “It seems unlikely that responses from that area, with an older population living in a steeper terrain, would have mirrored those from the younger population living in flatter terrain, who are much less likely to be traveling the Hopkins Corridor.”

The skewed results reflect Civinomics’ peculiar method, described in the Bicycle Plan’s Chapter 4, “Needs Analysis”:

“The survey firm Civinomics used the publicly available zoning map of the City of Berkeley to categorize each street based upon its zoning designation. Streets were then randomly selected from each zoning category in proportion to the number of residents who live within each category. Each street within a certain zoning designation had an equal chance of being selected compared to other similarly zoned streets in the same area. Some streets have multiple zoning designations through multiple jurisdictions. In such a case, the street is separated out by designation and jurisdictional area and treated as multiple streets.”

The initial choice of zoning designations is bizarre; such designations are not uniformly distributed around the city. Civinomics should have used the population-based council districts.

The consultants further skewed their sample to favor student respondents. From the Bicycle Plan:

“One goal of the survey was to include UC Berkeley students in the respondent pool, as they compose a large percentage [of] the city’s population. In addition to the interviews with students that occurred as a result of door-to-door interviewing, outreach representatives conducted interviews at several of the university’s dormitories.”

The results of such a biased survey cannot possibly represent the bicycling preferences of Berkeley residents at large.

To date, DeDiemar’s concerns have not been addressed by anyone in City Hall.