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Traffic Nightmares: Shattuck Avenue Intersections

"Traffic Nightmares" is a series based on readers' feedback about the worst spots to drive and park in Berkeley.

Between Dwight Way and Carleton Street in South Berkeley, Shattuck Avenue begins to look like an expressway — daunting and, neighbors say, dangerous for a pedestrian or another vehicle to cross.

After the traffic light at Shattuck and Dwight Way, vehicles build speed and momentum. Following a curve after Carleton Street, the next traffic light is where Shattuck crosses Adeline Street at Ward Street, five blocks away from the last.

Why it's one of the worst

Berkeley Patch reader that a "major problem is the lack of traffic lights on the stretch of Shattuck between Dwight and Carleton streets. Cars go so fast that pedestrians take their lives in their hands when crossing."

Long-time employees of businesses on the stretch of Shattuck were quick to echo that it needs either traffic lights or stop signs. "I notice a lot of accidents — the reason is the last stop light is at Dwight Way," said Rody Wong, a 13-year employee of on Shattuck between Blake Street and Parker Street. "People speed and there's an accident almost every month. And a lot of people don't pay attention to the right-of-way of pedestrians."

Across the street at the corner of Parker and Shattuck, similar concerns were expressed for pedestrians and bicyclists. "I see people almost get killed on this intersection daily," said Ann G., who's worked at for ten years. "I hear a bang or a screech and I run outside to see."

"I think 10 times before I cross the street," she said. "I wait until there's absolutely nobody."

At Shattuck and Carleton, employee Parie Nozari said she sees 10 to 20 accidents at the intersection each year. "People come and make a left turn here, and that can be accident-causing," said Nozari. "Seventeen years I've been here, and I've seen that many times."

She thinks it needs a traffic light or stop sign to make turning less difficult.

What the city says

In South Berkeley, the city's Pedestrian Master Plan (PDF) recommends $550,880 worth of pedestrian safety improvements near, but not at, the stretch of Shattuck between Dwight and Carleton: sidewalk bulb-outs and additional signage are proposed for Shattuck between Russell and Ward streets, where Shattuck meets Adeline Street.

The plan also includes recommendations for pedestrian safety and streetscaping at Shattuck's Woolsey and Berkeley Way intersections and, in North Berkeley, from Hearst Avenue to Rose Street.

Funding is allocated for pedestrian plan projects in the city's five-year capital improvement program budget (PDF). The plan identifies improvements to the Gilman Street I-80 interchange and at the intersection of San Pablo and Ashby avenues as two of Berkeley's biggest transportation priorities, plus a Ninth Street bicycle boulevard extension adjacent to Ashby.

Farid Javandel, the transportation manager for the City of Berkeley, said the city's biggest priority on Shattuck is remodeling its intersection with University Avenue, where north-bound drivers must make a left turn onto University and then an immediate right to return to Shattuck. "It's difficult to operate well," he said, explaining that the city is in the early phases of determining how to make Shattuck a straight-shot across University for both south-bound and north-bound traffic.

Berkeley's Pedestrian Master Plan, finalized in January 2010, states that the intersection of Shattuck and University was "the site of the most auto/pedestrian collisions during a recent eight-year period."

If the city were to address residents' concerns about Shattuck between Dwight and Carleton, Javandel said the city would "look at a signal warrant," a series of tests to determine whether a signal is warranted at a particular intersection in the stretch. This includes looking at the volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic and examining the intersection's crash history for collisions that could have been avoided with a traffic light.

If, after analyzing its traffic data, the city decided a traffic light was warranted, then it would have to come up the money — around $250,000 Javandel said — to install one. The process may take years; the city might have to wait for a developer to do a major project in the area and require them to pay for the traffic light, he said.

Javandel said the city is currently trying to install a traffic light at Hearst Avenue and Fourth Street. "That's one that we've known has been needed for years, but there's no money for it," he said.

But a traffic signal isn't always the solution, Javandel warned. "It's a balancing act of factors, to figure out if a traffic signal is really going to be beneficial or not," he said. 

"In some cases, a signal could be done, but it might lead to other problems," Javandel said. "A common difficulty is more rear-end collisions instead of long-side crashes." If the long-side vehicle collisions are more severe than rear-end crashes would be, "then that's a fair trade off," he said.

Gilman Street, he continued, is an example of a stretch where signals would not be appropriate. "People were asking for signals," he said. "Because the cross streets are so close together, that's a place where traffic signals would make it worse" — a common problem in Berkeley that rules out traffic lights and stop signs because they create too many stops.

If signals are not appropriate, traffic calming mechanisms — such as speed humps or sidewalk bulb-outs — might be an answer. The city has a traffic calming program that residents can submit requests to. A request goes through a process to determine whether the street involved has a "significant problem" traffic calming measures could solve. The program has an annual budget of $50,000. Javandel said the program typically receives about six to 12 traffic calming requests per year, and up to half of the requests tend to be approved.

To get the city to consider adding a traffic light or other feature on a street, Javandel advises making a request via Berkeley's 311 service. He said residents may use the system to check on the status of their request — because of a backlog, it may spend six to eight weeks in queue before the city can complete its field review.

How to avoid the nightmare

Neighbors to the stretch said most of the accidents and near-misses they'd witnessed happened when someone tried to turn onto or cross Shattuck Avenue in the area without traffic lights. To avoid the problem, cross Shattuck at Dwight Way, where there is a traffic light.

For bicyclists and pedestrians looking for an alternative path, Milvia Street, running parallel to Shattuck, is delineated as a bicycle boulevard in Berkeley's bikeway network map (PDF).

Share your best tips to avoid a driving nightmare on Shattuck Avenue in the comments!

To share your own Berkeley "traffic nightmare," visit our .

Barry Barkan August 18, 2011 at 06:15 PM
Traffic engineering in Berkeley seems to be all about "No Left Turn Signs." The traffic from some six directions that come together at the Gilman Street entrance to I80-I580 is DANGEROUS from all directions. We don't need expensive studies. Quick common sense solutions are needed.
monica thyberg August 19, 2011 at 07:16 PM
I agree with B. Barkan about the extreme danger of the traffic at Gilman St. entrance to/from I80/I580! There are several lower cost solutions to that problem than the extremely costly--and something that will take forever to accomplish--"plan" for a "cloverleaf" proposed by COB engineers earlier. How about just putting some diverter "bumps" to divert those cars coming off the freeway ramp and cutting diagonally to the frontage road to get to Target faster. Make them go to Buchanan where Albany built an entrance! There are also at least two other lower cost solutions which I can think of needed there.

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