Ashby Avenue has a bumpy past -- literally and figuratively.
Ravaged from years of heavy commute traffic, Ashby, also known as State Route 13, has become an obstacle course: Cars dodge potholes and pedestrians dodge cars.
"Neighbors dont take Ashby," said Willard Neighborhood Council president George Beier. "We learned to avoid it a long one ago."
District 7 Councilman Darryl Moore has been negotiating with Caltrains to add improvements to the current $1.4 million resurfacing project, which begins at Hiller Drive and winds up at San Pablo Avenue.
"I know I always stay off of it because there is always heavy traffic, and because it's in such bad shape," Moore said. "We resurface our city streets more often, but with Ashby, because it's a state highway, we have to wait for Caltrans. And iit's very cumbersome dealing with a big bureaucracy."
Moore is pushing for a left-turn signal for motorists turning left onto San Pablo Avenue from eastbound Ashby. Caltrans has designed the project but has not yet secured funding, he said.
Ashby's checkered past includes a class action lawsuit on behalf of pedestrians with disabilities and a major lobbying campaign by parents who feared for their children's safety going to and from school.
The Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law firm, sued the agency and won a landmark settlement in 2009. Caltrans is responsible not just for road surfaces but for 2,500 miles of sidewalk that border old state highways like Ashby that run through cities and towns. The settlement obligates Caltrans to spend $1.1 billion over 30 years to make them safer for people with visual and mobility impairments.
Among other things, the agency must install curb ramps and yellow bumps so pedestrians can determine where the sidewalk ends and the street begins.
When the suit was filed, Berkeley man Dmitri Belser, one of four plaintiffs, described how he was walking on Ashby one day when a low-hanging sign cut into his head.
Around the same time Disability Rights Advocates won the settlement, a 6-year-old girl on her way to Malcolm X Elementary School was struck by a car as she crossed between Ashby and Ellis. She recovered from her injuries and parents swung into action, launching a relentless and ultimately successful campaign to have flashing lights installed in the crosswalk.
Those who have begged, badgered and barnstormed for an overhaul of State Route 13 are hoping now that Caltrans is finally rolling its milling machines into town, it won't stop with just the three-mile stretch from Hiller to San Pablo.
The road has badly deteriorated, but the most treacherous stretch of Ashby, from San Pablo Avenue to Seventh Street, will not benefit from this rehab.
Relief is on the way: A second project will concentrate on that section of Ashby next year, Caltrans regional spokeswoman Roquel Johnson said.
And more money will be on the way if Alameda County voters pass Measure B in November. The measure would extend the existing half-cent sales tax through 2022 for transportation projects. Twenty percent of net revenues, $1.5 billion, would go to the maintenance and safety improvements to local streets and roads.
The state agency expects to wrap up the current project by early fall. Residents can check Caltrans' progress and get detour information on the project website.
Motorists should allow for extra travel time through the construction zone, and are reminded to watch for workers.