Supporters of a car-free Telegraph Avenue held a rally Saturday, blocking traffic and demonstrating what banning cars on the street could look like.
Telegraph for People, the organization behind the rally, drew a crowd of about 250 students and community members that gathered on Sproul Plaza around noon and marched down Telegraph Avenue, according to Brandon Yung, a former Daily Californian reporter, who attended the protest.
“We blocked Telegraph from private automobile traffic and had fun both protesting and relaxing in the street, proving that the street should be pedestrianized for open space and that there are too many loud, polluting cars in Berkeley,” said Darrell Owens, a member of the East Bay Transit Rider Union, in an email.
The movement toward a car-free Telegraph Avenue aims to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety and reduce pollution and noise from cars, according to Owens. With the possibility of cars being removed from the street, supporters envision Telegraph Avenue to be more peaceful, accessible, clean and reminiscent of streets in European cities — many of which have converted throughways for cars into plazas and parks for people — he added.
Yung, who is a campus student, noted that other benefits of removing cars from Telegraph Avenue may include increasing business revenue, easing public transit and promoting livability on the street.
Option 5, the plan proposed by Telegraph for People, hopes to begin removing the ability to drive cars starting at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street and redirecting traffic to larger streets including Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue to minimize congestion, according to the Telegraph for People website. The city has begun moving forward with proposals to achieve this vision by including bikeways and bus lanes on streets such as Bancroft Way, Fulton Street and Dana Street, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.
“There’s magic in the air on Telegraph,” Robinson said. “This movement has been a long time coming. We can design our streets around people, not cars, starting with Telegraph Avenue.”
With City Council moving forward with proposals, Owens feels hopeful about the prospects that the generational-long effort to pedestrianize Telegraph Avenue will be realized.
Looking ahead, Owens said there are more streets in Berkeley that can benefit from removing private automobiles from driving through them. But for now, activists are eager to see their rallying efforts come to fruition if the City Council moves forward with proposals.
“When we succeed, Telegraph Avenue will be like Sather Road today,” Owens said in the email. “A bustling, exciting crowd of people daily spread out all over the street, hopefully with benches, grass and activities. Future generations will look back at Telegraph today the same way we react when they realize Sather Gate used to be a road for cars and wonder why anyone ever allowed that.”