A Street for All in Berkeley, California

This is worth a big shout out:

From my home city of Berkeley, California and featured on a local news journal website, here is an excerpt of the article. See the full feature at Berkeleyside.com.

 

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Hearst Avenue Complete Streets project.

Photo courtesy of Pete Rosos

“Berkeley unveils a ‘street for everybody”

By Mary Rees
Jan. 29, 2018

“This is the moment when we become a true biking city,” said City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn on Friday at the grand opening of the Hearst Avenue “Complete Streets” project. This was one of two celebrations marking finished street improvement projects that border the Cal campus. The second took place at the corner of Bancroft Way and Dana on the same morning.

Several speakers, including the mayor, addressed the crowd of nearly 60 people. Many wore plastic bicycle-shaped lapel pins. René Rivera, executive director of Bike East Bay, spoke and rang a cowbell.

Using over-sized scissors, with city councilmembers reaching in to touch the blue handles, Mayor Jesse Arreguín cut a thick red ribbon on Hearst Avenue next to the new bus-loading island across from Arch Street.

The two islands on Hearst allow buses to stop for riders without blocking bikes, as the bike lanes follow the curb behind the islands. “This is a model Complete Streets project, and what we need to be doing throughout Berkeley,” Arreguín said. The Complete Streets concept embraces not just bicyclists and drivers, but transit-users and pedestrians as well.

“Finally the elements are talking to one another,” said Greg Harper, director of AC Transit Ward Two. “There was a time when the city would do something,” Harper said, “and AC Transit would say, ‘What have you done to our bus stop?!’”

Buses come by every six minutes along Hearst, carrying as many as 1,600 riders a day, Harper said. David Sorrell, transportation demand manager for UC Berkeley, said this project “allows our staff, faculty and students to enter campus as efficiently as possible.” The rate of people driving alone to campus is about 39%, Sorrell said, and “that’s low for the Bay Area.” Sorrell expects additional projects to get that number even lower.

The Hearst Avenue work “started as a sidewalk completion project and developed into a Complete Streets project,” said Farid Javandel, transportation division manager for the city of Berkeley. The initial problem to solve was an almost 900-foot stretch on the campus-side of Hearst without a sidewalk, where wheelchair-users and pedestrians had to travel on the street, next to moving cars.

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“In 2015 we built the first popup protected bike lane [along Hearst between Walnut and Shattuck], Jui said, “with duct tape, orange cones, cardboard and green spray paint.” Protected bike lanes are placed along the curbs and are separated from moving traffic by a line of parked cars.

“We want you to ride through this and really feel … what is the experience of riding through a protected bike lane,” said Rivera. “Ah! you get to relax a little bit on your bike.” After seeing the one-day popup lane in action and talking with the neighbors, the city agreed to extend the plans for protected bike lanes all the way to Shattuck, Jui said. That is now also completed.

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In addition, unforeseen issues always arise with paving and excavating, Salonga said. On Hearst they found an old cobbled road about 18 inches below the existing pavement, and on Euclid there were old brick pavers beneath the surface. The problem with those discoveries is that most dump sites don’t accept that kind of material, Salonga said, and deciding how to handle it caused some delay.

With this type of street project, “there’s also the expectation that they’ll damage utilities,” Salonga said, and that also happened. “All in all, they did great work and were easy to work with,” Salonga said. The city of Berkeley currently has a smaller project on Ashby Avenue with the same contractor, he said.

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The new features on Bancroft are a two-way bike lane along the south side of the street and a bus-only lane, painted red, along the campus side of the street. Bancroft remains one-way downhill for motorized transportation.

Like the one on Hearst, this project evolved from its initial limited scope. It started out as a paving project, said Javandel.

While looking for bids to repave Bancroft, Public Works personnel realized that the city’s draft bike plan called for bike lanes, Javandel said. “Changing the striping [with paint] was something we could do relatively easily,” he said. When the city shared the concept plans for bike lanes with AC Transit, the agency “indicated an interest in also considering a dedicated transit lane to improve reliability of transit service through the area south of campus,” Javandel said later in an email.

Now bicyclists and bus passengers can experience the difference. Jui, communications director for Bike East Bay, said, “We can go uphill, and that’s HUGE! I used to have to go two blocks out of the way.” Jui said she’s also “noticed that traffic is calmer [on Bancroft].”

Before the repaving and repainting, buses traveling west along Bancroft “were averaging five miles an hour from College Avenue,” said Harper of A.C. Transit. The delays were depressing for riders, he said. Now, “this is just paint, but look what it’s done!” Harper said. Buses now travel from one bus stop to the next without having to pause or stop for the cars, motorcycles, and scooters that turn onto Bancroft at nearly every block.

Mayor Arreguín called the bus lane “the first and, hopefully, soon-to-be one of many red transit priority lanes in the East Bay.” This is part of “an initiative to make transit prioritization a reality,” he added. “It’s amazing how far we’ve come since the one [protected bike lane] on Oxford,” Rivera of Bike East Bay told the crowd at the corner of Bancroft and Dana.

The goal is “a network of connected, protected bike lanes,” Rivera said. “We want to get everyone out there — students, families going to Cal women’s basketball games,” using their bikes to come to campus, Rivera added. “This is going to make that possible.” And the city wants something back from the users of these newly transformed streets: “We view it as a pilot,” said Javandel. “Tell us what you like; tell us what you don’t like.”

 

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Road and Trail in Berkeley CA

Living in Berkeley means I can be on my bike year round, whether for recreation, commuting or running errands. And for recreation, we have world class rides that take us up into the hills for both physical challenge and spectacular views of the Bay Area. I love both road riding and trail riding and living car-free means most rides are a combination of both. Here is a great road/trail ride that blends both worlds seamlessly into a pleasurable outing any day of the year.

bicycle-rider-1107345_960_720

Starting the morning with a meet-up with friends at Peet’s on Solano Avenue, we head east towards the hills by cutting over at The Alameda and up Los Angeles to pick up our first leg of the ride at The Arlington, alertly navigating The Circle, a hectic roundabout ala Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, with cars coming and going every which way. For a few miles, we’ll stay on this fairly easy climb into Kensington, a mild-mannered, academia rich hamlet just northeast of the Berkeley flat lands with street names like Oberlin, Cambridge  and Purdue.

As a side note: Another option for a starting point is from the village here, grabbing a homey breakfast at the Inn Kensington.  At around mile three, we pass the Kensington Park, a multipurpose recreation center, on our right. At nearly mile four, we take a right onto Rifle Range Road until it dead ends at a park entrance to Tilden Park’s trail head for Rifle Range Road Trail.

road ends at rifle range

Get ready for some fun as we cut loose on this downhill introduction into Tilden Park’s via a lesser traversed access point. At the bottom of the trail we pick up Wildcat Creek Trail to our left at about mile five, cross the idyllic bridge over the creek to find the cattle gate at Mezue Trail in front of us, mez at wildcatthe gateway to getting reacquainted with our grit.

Our road ride was a warm up to this grand challenge that is meant for the seasoned trail biker as the climbs, the wind, the cows and the technical aspects are indeed rigorous. But you will feel like you are riding upward into the open skies of heaven, in between those gasps for air, I promise you!

I mention the cows as they are not only part of this bucolic rolling hills scenery but because they leave their mark in patties and deep, weathered ruts and cracks all about the trail increasing the challenge ten-fold. But forget about it, just test your mettle and get on with it. The scenery is spectacular as we get to the crest eventually, topping out with sweeping vistas and valiant, heroic euphoria.

mez viewWhile this area can often be windswept, finding a spot to tuck in for a snack or rest break is not without possibility as we do on this particular day, taking in the majesty of this shangri-la and refueling for the next leg.

As we continue to amble onward through the hills, we find the connector Fire Trail Number 3 which intersects into Nimitz Way, which will eventually meet pavement again, and hence, the masses. It feels like a roller coaster ride now with excellent payoff views of Mount Tam to the west and Mount Diablo to the east, incredible beauty all around and a sense of communing with others out recreating in all manner of ways.

nimitz

At mile 11, yes, mile 11, we exit the park at the popular Inspiration Point and turn right out of the parking area onto Wildcat Canyon Road to finish the ride back into town. It all seems easy-breezy now, and once we hit Spruce, it is literally all downhill from there to complete this feat at 16.5 wonderfully diverse miles!

Such an accomplishment deserves a prize and re-entry into the flats will land you at any number of great eateries in the Gourmet Ghetto or downtown. And this is just one of many great outings like this in our great town of Berkeley, a cycling playground.

Mt. Bike resting on a tree in the vincity of Mt. Hood, Oregon State

For a map reference of the route starting from Peet’s on Solano, click here

Check here for any trail closures prior to your ride

Ride safely

This post will also appear on YourBerkeley.com in Summer 2016

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Getting the Dog out to the Woods!

Thanks to this great video from Eco Bicycle, this 1949 idea is one to reconsider today for those of you with dogs but no car to get them to new and exciting nature venues for walks, runs and big adventures!  Here is the precursor to all the great cargo bikes we know and love today!

 

 

 

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CARGO, car going, car gone!

“To market, to market…” ah, but the traffic, the parking, the kids need to get out.config_gogetter_gourmand02 cargo bike

More and more people are finding that travel on two wheels is far superior to negotiating traffic jams, dodging parking tickets, and draining the bank account dry by supporting far-flung oil wars. And luckily a few genius innovators are at the helm to make our heavy-duty errands, transporting of kids,  and commuting experiences more enjoyable and limitless!

First and foremost on my mind are local entrepreneurs whose labors of love shine bright. Enter Ross Evans, founder and CEO of Xtracycle, based in Oakland, CA, whose vision started while traveling through villages of Central America where he noted the use of bicycles lacked efficiency. The wheels literally started turning for Ross, and his unique personal amalgam of being an inventor, humanitarian with heart, Stanford-trained engineer, and yogi all came together beautifully to create Xtracycle. He truly embraces the philosophy of “Be the change you wish to see in the world” espoused by proponent of  a kinder society, Mahatma Gandhi.

truckerguitar

Ross also teamed up with Worldbike, “an organization focused on designing innovative bicycle prototypes to advance development in poor countries…used in small-scale development programs in africa bikeCuba, Mexico, Rwanda, Senegal and Thailand”. The mission? To empower disadvantaged communities with ease for transporting goods and people and enable easier access to local resources and services.

Bringing it all home, Xtracycle offers a variety of options for getting around town car-free no matter what your cargo needs are! Check out this must see video to get an idea how easy and rewarding it can be!

Also noteworthy contributors to this cause are the folks at Yuba. Based in Sausalito, CA, Yuba offers utitlity bikes as electric and pedal-power models. The popular Mundo bike can be customized to suit your needs and the company touts it as “replacing the mini-van” for all your family’s needs!

mundo w paddlebord

If you’re inclined to design your own, get some help from Republic Bike. As they say on their website, “You pick, choose, swap and decide, and we’ll build it, box it, and ship it out. It’s a bike we design and build together.” With a colorful and whimsical styling, start with their “Socrates” model, shown below.

republic_socrates_hello_world_side_648w

There are several companies world-wide that are picking up on this trend so get to your local bike shop and get the wheels turning for a greener, more enjoyable ride to market!

Kangaroo-Plus-5-Cargo-Bikes

*All photos and videos borrowed by company websites

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Berkeley Sunday Streets festival

A friend who grew up in Berkeley who now lives in NYC e-mailed me this: “O.I.B.” and he’s right, “only in Berkeley” would you see some of these sights. On a super-hot October afternoon, the first annual Sunday Streets festival in Berkeley happened to be just steps away from my apartment so I wandered over there with my dearest to see what was up.

Other than the fact that the streets are closed to cars for a 17 block stretch of Shattuck Avenue and accessible only by hoof or by wheel, I had no idea it would be so bicycle focused. But, it turns out, the main sponsors of the event were Livable Berkeley, The Ecology Center, and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. What also sets it apart from other street festivals is that it mostly features merchants who already “live” on the block, rather than bringing in outside vendors.

And to make it even more top-notch on Momma Wheelie’s list, was the feature of music, lots of it, and so varied as you made your way along the avenue. Our ears were treated to jazz trios, klezmer bands, and bluegrass jams to name a few.

At the northern most end of Shattuck Avenue, we happened upon this collaboration between audience, musicians, and a unique organization called Rock the Bike.

 Local songbird, Mana Maddy teamed up with all of the above and belted out her tunes on a stage powered entirely by pedal power. And just behind this scene, a school of hula-hoopers, from small to large and varied abilities, moved their hips to the lilting tunes. Check out this video of Maddy and friends in action.

Further on up the road we came upon booths with all manner of information on cycling and hiking, car-free transportation, and other eco-minded solutions to our currently overly oil-dependent communities. Check out this innovation of a bike powered blender!

Music was fun and surprising, like these 2 fellas calling themselves John Brothers Piano Company, whose energy could have been harnessed to power a kitchen full of blenders at least!

Moving to a mellower rhythm, was this dude, who just fit right in to the flow of movement at this scene.

We entered a raffle to win free tickets to local theater, watched members of The Berkeley Chess Club play a match on a life-size chessboard , got a quick (and free) brake fix at The Missing Link bicycle cooperative’s booth, sampled some tasty treats from a variety of outdoor dining options including a slice from Cheeseboard Pizza, a cool beverage from colorful Brazil Café, some truly French fries from Gregoire, and a wine tasting from Vintage Berkeley, a wine shop in the converted Vine Street EBMUD pumping plant.

I loved all the variations on the bike theme, like a bike accommodating man’s best friend, or this one that made no sense to me at all except for just its visual weirdness.

And you know what Momma Wheelie always says, there is just nothing like the bike, baby! Ride on!

 All videos and photos: T. Mario Spadafora 2012                           

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Ride Naked

Picture Burning Man meets Critical Mass and that just might boil it down to the essence where activists, eco-forward thinkers, nudists, bike lovers, and exhibitionists come together for the annual World Naked Bike Ride, 500 + wheeler strong, this year in my old hometown of St. Louis, MO.

The event started in 2004 and has been held in cities all over the world with an intent on underlining a message of freedom – from oil dependency, the stresses and encumbrances of the modern world, and media’s false advertisement of flawless body image. I wasn’t there for the event, personally I really dig my uber-padded bike shorts, but old high school friend “Planet AL” and his friend Amy attended, and reported back to Momma Wheelie about their experience!

The pair found out about this event through The St. Louis Adventure Group, an organization whose motto is “We’re Ready for Anything: hiking, bicycling, camping, kayaking, geocaching, backpacking, climbing or anything else that might make us laugh.”  Well, there ya go. Can’t go wrong with that group, right? And if you’ve ever been in St. Louis in the summertime, you know they can throw a helluva street party!

It was Amy and Planet AL’s first go at the ride, both being avid cyclists, activists, and all around fun-seekers and both said emphatically they would do it again. They were ready to find solidarity with like-minded folks, meeting among others, members of the FBC (the “Fucking Bike Club”) who arrange full-moon night rides through the city.  Mostly, Amy was surprised and elated to see how many people were so in love with their bikes and eager to prove that two-wheels are better than four – anytime, anywhere! She adds, “No clothes goes along well with minimal consumption. Then add on the fun of being on a bike and being naked/mostly naked with a group of others and it’s exciting!”

So, you’re wondering about the Naked part of this ride, no doubt, and well, isn’t public nudity illegal after all? According to the two A’s, there was no police presence or protest from Buddhists Against Nudists (ok, I made that one up) or any vibe of prudish, Victorian sentiment whatsoever. In fact, AL said the police helped block traffic and keep cyclists on route!

Naked interpretations were of a varied sort, from partially clad, to body-makeup enhanced nudity, to full-on birthday suit! And on a hot, humid St. Louis summer night, it was easy to peel down to skin. This event gave new meaning to Missouri’s emblematic moniker “The Show Me State”, one could say!

The group created a moving circus feel wending through downtown neighborhoods for 10.8 miles with colorful displays, political messages painted on their bare backs, and custom designed bikes of all kinds, along with other-wheel transports like The Mad Hatter on rollerblades, and some skateboarders.

They both loved a collection of “Tall Bikes” that stood out above the rest.  There, too, a reveler with a 3-wheeled bike with a 25-foot pole attached for pole dancing attracted attention!  AL described the overall vibe of the event as happy; participants as well as high-fivin’ side-liners, smiling from ear-to-ear.

Post-ride events included a gathering at The Handlebar, a local watering hole near Forest Park that caters to the urban cyclist, including hosting an art gallery of unique home-made bikes. No doubt, Planet AL loves this place as he enjoys finding old bikes and restoring them. He also came upon other side-street festivities with tents and live music.

Gee, all of this fun and camaraderie just might inspire this home girl to make a trip back to ol’ St. Lou to connect with this wonderfully expressive community of cyclists. In the meantime, I keep rolling on two. And fully-clad – well, it’s that Bay Area fog, ya know!

Photo credits:

Image 1: the Arch at night – WikiCommons

Image 2: street riders – Steve Truesdell / The Riverfront Times

Image 3: Naked Dave: Planet AL

Image 4: street riders – Steve Truesdell / The Riverfront Times

Image 5: Pole dancer – Planet AL

Image 6: Super tall – Steve Truesdell / The Riverfront Times

Image 7: Street Band – Jon Gitchoff

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Mt Tam East Peak Climb

Mt Tam

Mt. Tamalpais’ 2,571-foot peak stands out across the bay and throughout much of Marin County. On a clear day, spectacular views of Marin’s lush green hills and European-style villages of wealth, San Francisco, and the East Bay are all within one’s view. On especially clear days,  views as far out as the Farallon Islands or the Sierra Nevada’s snow-covered mountains are available from the peak.

“Mount Tam”  offers up 6,300 acres of stellar hiking and mountain biking trails through redwood groves and oak woodlands to peaks, cascades, beaches, campsites,  a natural stone amphitheater, and a couple of watering holes – The West Point Inn and Mountain Home.  History records the name Tamalpais  as being a Miwok word meaning “coast mountain” while another version holds that the name is the tribe’s word for “sleeping maiden”, an image one can  easily allow to emerge from beholding the mountain from a perch in the East bay.

Tam train passing West Point Inn circa 1915

The Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railroad was completed in 1896 and ran from Mill Valley to the East Peak summit. A hotel, restaurant, and dance hall followed shortly to make Mt. Tam a popular destination around the turn of the century until 1930. One can imagine the elite congregating for a festive day and evening on the mountain!

Today, we mountain bike up to the East Peak. Borrowing a friend’s car, we drive along the gorgeous Panoramic Highway and park at Mountain Home Inn. Just a few parking spots here and we’re lucky to nail the last one we see, eagerly unloading our bikes and heading out. On past rides on the mountain, we chugged uphill from downtown Mill Valley from Blithedale Park to connect to Railroad Grade, making for – on a hot, dry Tam kind of day –  a fairly grueling 8-1/2 miles to the top. Today we simply connect up to Old Railroad Grade from Gravity Car Grade –

Winding our way up the mountain

a mile or so connector trail – which takes us on up to the peak, for a total of 5-1/2 miles of steady but moderate climbing. It’s a fair challenge if you’re a beginner, but if you’re more seasoned, it’s a steady but easy pump ever upward into enchanting views and sensory elation; an obvious playground for international tourist hikers and mountain bikers of every ilk.

Gary on the mountain (*photo Fisher Bikes)

The trails are the best in Marin, no surprise that the sport of mountain biking took hold here in the ’70’s with such literal trail-blazers as Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, and Tom Ritchey –  pioneers and early developers of bike technology suited to the sport.

Tam skyscape nonpareil

Lovely madrone

Refreshing!

We continue to round one rock enveloped bend after another, opening up our views of not just city life beyond but extraordinary sky-scapes of billowing clouds against robin’s egg blue. We take in the beauty of ephemeral waterfalls taking up temporary residence after recent rains, chocolate manzanita and madrone, a lone deer clinging to a rocky outcrop in the distance, and a lizard or two peeking out from cracks in the earth; a refreshing fern gully inspires a momentary rest to remark on the stunning perfection of the day!

The half-way point is where we round the next curve to the historical West Point Inn. Set under the canopy of redwoods, the veranda and

The West Point Inn today

picnic tables are welcoming.  A front parlor with fireplace are also open daily and there is lodging for 25 people. It’s a hang-out spot for hikers and bikers for brief respite or even a game of horseshoes. Sundays in warm seasons host all you can eat pancake breakfasts – hmmm, food for thought for future rides up here!

East Peak outcrop

We haven’t earned our break yet, so we set off straight away on the final 2 miles or so up to East Peak. Should be a breeze, but the absence of a breeze suddenly renders it a tough stretch as the afternoon’s hot, dry forest-scented air of Tam kicks up the challenge. You keep thinking you’re almost there, but it’s not until you hit pavement that you know it. About a half-mile up the road and a parking lot and snack bar come into sight.

Tommy rocks it!

My brother Miles used to run the joint, and an added attraction to making it to the top was the treat of enjoying a good hour of shared storytelling and laughs with him. A pang of melancholy sweeps over me as I pull across the parking lot and pass right by without stopping, as he has since “retired” from his post there.  We lock up our bikes and stroll up the path to the rocky perch for stunning views, camaraderie with other bikers,  and lunch! We’ll contemplate great potentials with a vast and expansive consciousness and gaze, and gaze, and gaze!

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