I have not talked much about bicycles and cycling — what it is like to ride a bike in Berkeley or my observations while on a bicycle — because this is, after all, a walking blog. However, I do have noticed a few things about this subject while out on walks. First of all, there are many bike lanes and bicycle boulevards in Berkeley, mostly in the flatland areas. Cyclists do not generally need to go too much out of the way to ride on streets that accommodate bicycles, and can connect lanes and boulevards to find an easy route across town. Because of the bike routes and the flat roads, there tend to be all sorts of people out on bicycles, and all varieties of bicycles from fancy to rusty. In the Berkeley hills, however, there are only a handful of roads that are popular bike routes (Spruce, Euclid, Grizzly Peak, and Wildcat Canyon), and in the Claremont area, most cyclists travel from Russell Street up Tunnel Road (with a few connecting to Tunnel from The Uplands). In contrast to the flat areas of Berkeley, in these hilly areas I have mostly seen only cyclists who are out riding for exercise on road bikes.
The bicycle boulevards are signed, often with the distance to destinations such borders with other cities, BART stations, points of interest, parks, and schools. This is handy for me as a walker, as well, to know the distances to different landmarks. I have also found that I really enjoy walking on the bicycle boulevards because it is fun to see what bicycles people are riding, what they are carrying, and what types of people are out on bikes. Admittedly, it is also more pleasant to hear the sounds of bicycles and people laughing and talking than only cars whizzing by. Last night I realized that another thing I like about the bike boulevards is the increased level of safety provided by them. I don’t often walk alone at night, but yesterday I went to a meeting that finished after dark and was walking home along Milvia Street. Other side streets seemed deserted, but Milvia was just the opposite because of the number of people on bicycles. Extra people and extra light (from streetlights and bicycle lights) made the walk enjoyable. I was reminded of another idea from Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which I mentioned in my last post about parks: that streets that have a high concentration of people coming and going at different hours of the day and night are safer and more pleasant.
In keeping with my aim of trying to observe as much around me as possible while walking, I have looked at lots of cars around town even though I would prefer not to think about them too much. I would much rather look at more bicycles. Although I have seen lots of bicycles whizzing by on the road, I have not had a chance to look at too many up close. Like most American cities and like most college towns, bicycle theft is a regular occurrence here. For that reason, most people do not leave nice bikes locked up anywhere. Any bicycle that is halfway decent or that has quick-release parts is likely to be taken in part or in whole. Mostly what I see locked to bike racks are beat-up bikes or bikes with various parts missing. At some cafes with outdoor seating, there will be higher concentrations of bicycles because owners can keep an eye on them. Also, there is a Bikestation in the downtown Berkeley BART station that provides secure bike parking on weekdays.