Civic Data

Data-oriented thinking about where and how people live.

Thoughts on 51B improvements at Bancroft and College

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The intersection of Bancroft Way and College Ave is near the southeast corner of Berkeley’s campus. Caffe Strada, an extremely popular coffee shop, is on the southwest corner, and Freehouse, a relatively new gastropub that seems to be doing pretty well, is to the southeast. To the north is a large plaza which serves as a major entry point to the university. Tons of students walk through this intersection on the way to class from the dorms and apartments further down College Ave.

The intersection also serves the 51B, a major AC Transit bus line with a weekday ridership of over 19,000. The route goes north on College, turns west onto Bancroft at this intersection, and has a stop at the northeast corner. (I’m a regular rider — I take this line probably ~5 times a month to get to and from downtown and the Amtrak station.)

Currently, AC Transit is working with Berkeley to implement improvements along the 51B. This will entail moving bus stops to the far side of intersections, removal of a few stops, bus bulbs, “queue jumps” (removal of a few parking spaces in front of a signalized intersection, so that a bus can move ahead of stopped traffic), new traffic signals at some intersections, roadway widenings, possibly traffic signal priority or special signaling phases for buses. If AC Transit’s proposal is adopted, the line could see improvements of 7 minutes along the line — hugely significant, given that the total route length is only 30 minutes at rush hour.

AC Transit hopes to install a traffic signal at the Bancroft and College intersection to speed buses along. The many pedestrians at this intersection interfere with traffic, and a signal would force pedestrians to wait their turn while cross traffic moves through.

Despite enthusiastically supporting the speed-up plan, I dislike this particular proposal. My sense is that the main problem at Bancroft and College is mostly due to the fact that it’s simply way too large. The crosswalks are 45 to 55 feet from corner to corner, for an intersection which has two traffic lanes in each direction! Pedestrians take 12 to 18 seconds to cross, at typical walking speeds, and buses and cars legally have to wait the entire time that pedestrians are in the crosswalk. Then, because it takes so long for pedestrians to cross, another has generally entered the crosswalk by the time the first has left. It is extremely difficult for vehicles to get a nose in if they’re being polite (as they generally are, to Berkeley’s credit).

The image below shows a simple solution which uses sidewalk extensions to reclaim asphalt for pedestrians, reduce crossing distances to 25-30 feet (7-10 seconds), and generally make it easier for everyone (vehicles included) to cross the intersection.

shrunken bancroft and college

The shaded regions represent sidewalk extensions that would shrink pedestrian crossing distances to 25 to 30 feet.

The result would be an intersection that is more pleasant, safer, and more efficient for all parties — buses, pedestrians, and cars. (Many of the same considerations apply at Russell and College, another intersection which AC Transit has proposed to put in a traffic signal…)

Best of all, these changes could be implemented as a pilot project for a few hundred bucks with paint and planters. If after a few months it isn’t working, scrap it and start over!


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