Archive for Paths and Stairways

Another Berkeley Walker!

I was very excited to receive a note from Andy Datlen, a Berkeley resident who has also been attempting to walk every street and path in Berkeley! He started when he retired from EBMUD in 2003, and is about 3/4 of the way done at this point. Like me, he has been using the Berkeley Path Wanderers map to record his progress. Here’s a nice excerpt from Andy’s note, describing his walking experiences in Berkeley:

I was walking in the area North of Marin today around Maryland Ave, and the views across the Bay to the City and Mount Tam were spectacular because it was so clear. In the hilly territory I do about 2-3 miles, whereas in the flat area I used to do about four. Some of those stairways are really steep. I walked the Maryland Steps today, down and back up, and it almost killed me. I do this to keep fit, because I have a serious heart condition, with a pacemaker. If I drop dead on one of the stairways one day I can’t think of a better way to go!

Andy would enjoy being in touch with others who are walking the Berkeley streets. Rather than subject him to lots of spam, please either leave a comment here or email me at jen.in510 [at], and I will forward your contact information to him.

Progress of Andy’s walk, recorded on the Path Wanderers map

In my series about Why People Walk, I covered exercise in general and spiritual and meditative walking, but Andy’s correspondence made me realize that it would be great to talk about walking and medical conditions. If you have walked to recover from an illness or injury or walk as ongoing therapy for a chronic condition, and would like to share your story, please contact me. Your identity, of course, can remain anonymous if you wish. And if you are in Berkeley and walking has been recommended to you by a medical professional, you are indeed lucky — as you can see from Andy’s comments. While the walking itself may be painful or difficult, you will have a chance to enjoy wonderful views, hidden stairways, interesting architecture, and unique sights.


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Path Wanderers Walk, Bay and Ridge Trails

A number of readers are interested in gardens, so I thought I’d let you know that I will be leading a “fall harvest” walk for the Berkeley Path Wanderers on Saturday, October 20. The walk (which is free and open to the public) starts at 10 a.m. at the North Berkeley BART station, and will visit school and community gardens in the Northbrae and Westbrae neighborhoods to see what is ready for harvest and what is being planted for the fall and winter seasons. The walk may last 3 hours, but it is completely flat and there will be places for people to break off and return to the start. For those interested in fruit trees, we will be on the lookout along the way for trees that have fall fruit, such as citrus and persimmons.

I’m also excited to announce that the Path Wanderers asked me to be on their board for the next term starting in 2008. As you know, I have been using the Path Wanderers map to track my progress of walking all of the streets and paths in Berkeley. A new edition of the map was just released, which you can get at local bookstores or order by mail. Unlike many maps, this one has been extremely durable; despite many, many foldings and unfoldings throughout the course of my walk, its has not ripped. I also have enjoyed using the map because it is clear and easy to read, especially the markings for the stairways and paths. In addition to the map, the Path Wanderers repairs and maintains paths and stairways and offers monthly walks on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Berkeley and in other East Bay locations. Membership is $5 per year, and the group accepts monetary donations and tools.

The Path Wanders annual meeting is next Thursday evening at the Hillside Club, and is also free and open to the public. The featured event at the meeting will discuss two trails that will eventually circle the Bay Area — the Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The Bay Trail, which I mentioned in a post awhile back, runs close to the Bay’s shoreline and (when completed) will form a 400-mile network of paths and trails for walking, biking, and other recreational activities. The Bay Trail is extremely varied, as it passes through both natural areas and industrial and urban settings. The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by contrast, circles the Bay along the ridgeline and will be 500 miles long when completed. It passes through many parks and open space areas, and is used by hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. The Berkeley section is complete, and runs through Tilden Park. The completion of both of these trails will be a challege because of the multiple agencies and owners that have to be negotiated with to open up the trails. I would like to think that in my lifetime I will get a chance to walk one of these trails in its entirety, but it will likely be some time before that happens. In the meantime, though, there is plenty to explore on the large sections of the trails that are open!

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Street to Trail

After first moving to Berkeley, a friend gave us a copy of East Bay Out, a guide to the East Bay parks written by Malcolm Margolin. The book was published in 1988, so it is probably not the best guide to use on its own when hiking in one of the parks, but I highly recommend it nonetheless. The writing is great, and it provides quite a bit of interesting natural history of the area. Although I wanted to eventually explore all of the parks listed in the book, the description of Claremont Canyon stood out to me because of its proximity to the streets of Berkeley. A couple of months later I walked behind UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus and found the entrance to the steep trail up the hill. Not having a map of the area, I wasn’t sure how far the trails went, but I could see that there was more out there that I hadn’t explored.

This Sunday, after a short but strong rainstorm the night before, I set out to walk some of the streets at the back of the Berkeley campus that I had not yet tackled — Stadium Rim Way, Centennial Drive, and some of the surrounding streets. Sunday turned out to be a big sporting event day at the campus; there was a rugby game, soccer, people using the sports fields and facilities, lots of people and loudspeakers. Usually my Sunday mornings are pretty quiet, so I was a bit surprised by all of the activity, and it was a little bit of a relief to suddenly jump onto a dirt fire road off Centennial Drive. The trails here run along and then away from Strawberry Creek, and intersect with the Claremont Canyon trails. Eventually I was popped out on the street again, near all of the fraternities and sororities and lots of activity again. It was sort of a shocking and fun experience to go from lots of noise and activity to trees and water, then back to all of the activity again.I really like the idea of being able to access trails easily just by walking off the city street and onto the trail. If you live in the Berkeley Hills, Tilden Park can be accessed easily from the street, as I mention in my post about Tilden a couple of months ago. However, the Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon trails are even more available because of their proximity to Downtown Berkeley BART. In fact, I found a very nice self-guided tour of these areas written by the Greenbelt Alliance. I plan on going back soon with to do their variation on the walk with the added historical details.

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Santa Fe Right-of-Way & Ohlone Greenway

Last fall I wrote about the multi-use pathway that opened along a section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way. Over the past few months I have used the path quite often, and am finding that it has slowly been discovered by other walkers and cyclists. Where this paved section ends at Delaware Street, path users must take the street for a few blocks to connect to the Ohlone Greenway along the BART tracks. Recently a fence in the connecting section of the trail was opened on a trial basis, so I decided to check it out. Actually, I had previously walked both of these undeveloped trails up to the fence on either side, so it was a nice feeling to not have to backtrack along my route this time! It was a very pleasant and quiet walk between houses and through the grassy field (which I imagine wouldn’t be so grassy if it was paved like the other section).

After walking the Santa Fe section, I popped onto the Ohlone Greenway and walked north a bit through Berkeley to the Albany border. The trail continues through Albany, past the BART stations in El Cerrito to Richmond. There are several rail-trails and other multi-use trails in the Bay Area, most of which I have walked or cycled at some point. I am a big fan of trails like this that can be used for transportation and recreation, especially here in the population-dense Bay Area. The Ohlone Greenway is used quite a bit, but does not seem to be as wildly popular as some other trails I have visited. Some other trails can get so busy to the point of being unpleasant. If you have never been to a path like this, imagine a trail filled with lots of walkers, runners, cyclists, wheelchairs, strollers and baby joggers, people with headphones, people walking three or four abreast and talking, inline skaters, etc. — it gets to be pretty dangerous. This has not been my experience with the Ohlone Greenway; commute times and weekend afternoons are moderately busy on the trail, but it has never been over-run by people. Also, there are separate cycling and walking paths in most sections, and often an additional informal trail through dirt/grass on the side — in other words, plenty of space to avoid most collisions.

So what makes certain trails more popular than others for recreation use? Part of this is probably the setting. The most popular multi-use trails I have visited are in some natural setting — either through parks or along the water (Bay, reservoir, etc.) — as opposed to an urban area. It is probably an appealing combination for many people to have a flat, paved path that is easy to navigate with a bike/wheelchair/stroller, and get to experience nature at the same time. Another factor may be how much a trail is separated from traffic. Some trails avoid street crossings in some way, such as by an overpass or underpass. The Ohlone Greenway has many street crossings, some of which do not have traffic stop signs or lights. This isn’t too much of an issue for walking, but on a bike it can be a bit frustrating to have to stop so often, and dangerous in places. For fans of urban walks, though, the Greenway offers diverse sights, particularly in the Berkeley section: metal sculpture, murals, historical displays, exercise equipment, creeks, community gardens, benches, etc. Although I see plenty of people jogging along the Greenway, it is as much a place for strollers enjoying the sights along the way. This is not something you see much of on heavily used recreation trails.

So the section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way is open for a six-month trial period. Why a trial period? My walk in the daytime on the Santa Fe and Ohlone pathways was a pleasant one — spring flowers blooming, birds chirping, dogs being walked, cyclists on the way home from work or school — but this walk was during the day. Nighttime is a different story. While a few incidents of crime have occurred on multi-use paths in the Bay Area during daylight hours, the activity increases at night when it is dark and there are fewer people out and more secluded areas. There is also the concern that a fair amount of gang activity and drug dealing happens by bicycle, and creating an easy route between Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland opens up all of the cities to more crime. I am not an expert in city planning, but it does seem that one of the better solutions to minimizing this problem on the paths is to keep them well-lit. The section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way that was completed last fall has many lights, and people on the trail are visible to passing cars and walkers. There is no dense shrubbery in this trail section, and there is an emergency call box at University Avenue. Some other trails are closed at night, but this isn’t very possible with the number of entrance points to the trails in Berkeley.

If you want to check out the trial section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way, you might want to start at University Ave. (just across the street from the Montessori school), walk the section that was paved last fall, cross Delaware St., and continue along the dirt pathway and through the now opened gate to connect with the Ohlone Greenway.

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Walking Near Tilden Park

The northeast boundary of Berkeley and of the area I am walking is Tilden Park. I originally thought that my walk of every street and pathway of Berkeley might include Tilden, but the park is actually located in unincorporated Contra Costa County. Although I like Tilden and its hiking trails, I am grateful that I do not need to walk the roads in the 2000-acre park, many of which are pretty hazardous for the pedestrian. Tilden offers hiking opportunities on a variety of levels — everything from a pleasant flat stroll to a strenuous trek up to Wildcat Peak or Vollmer Peak, plus a swimming lake, picnic areas, trails open to mountain bikes, steam trains, a botanic garden, a farm and environmental education center, and more. I have been pleased to learn from walking near the Tilden border that the park and its amenities are more accessible without a car than many other Bay Area hiking areas. For one, the 67 AC Transit bus runs every half hour or so from downtown Berkeley BART up through the park on weekends, and near the entrance on weekdays (line 65 also comes within a few blocks of the park). I also found that there a number of other ways to pop onto to trails in Tilden from the surrounding neighborhoods. This has been one of my favorite parts of walking near Tilden; to be strolling down the street and suddenly see a trail entrance.

A few days ago I was reading an article in the Chronicle about the Berkeley State of the City address, one of the focuses of which was a vision for a more environmentally sustainable Berkeley. In the article, one Berkeley councilmember was quoted as saying that the environmental goals were “very optimistic”; “It’s going to be very hard to change people,” she said. “In my district alone, we’ve got to stop people driving up and down the hill four or five times a day.” This statement reminded me of the observation that I have found that the most unpleasant streets for walking are not just near the freeway entrances. Cedar, Hopkins, and Marin are particularly car-choked, especially on weekdays from about 2:30 on, as people pick up children from school, run errands, and come home from work. These streets seems to have a constant stream of traffic as the main thoroughfares from the Highway 80 and the flatland areas of Berkeley up into the almost entirely residential Berkeley hills.

I am not the best person to come up with ideas for getting people to drive less and reducing the amount of traffic in the hills. My idea of what is doable in terms of walking is unreasonable for most people, and it is not my place to make judgments about how people use their time or the decisions they make about how they go about their lives. I have often thought that one area where traffic could be reduced is trips to parks and hiking areas. What if, for instance, shuttles (run on alternative fuel) ran every 15-20 minutes or so from transit hubs (such as BART or Caltrain stations) or downtown areas of Bay Area cities to the various city/county/regional/state parks? If you made it easy and pleasant, some people might be willing to leave the car at home rather than drive up winding roads and worry about finding a parking spot at the park. Realistically and logistically, this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so we have to make do with what is available. I hope eventually to research the best car-free ways to get to parks and recreation areas in the Bay Area, as it is often confusing to figure out and sometimes involves two or three different transit agencies. Tilden, luckily, is fairly straightforward and not too much of a hassle if you live in Berkeley or near BART. I also want to know what the shortest route on foot is from a the North Berkeley and downtown BART stations to Tilden. One of the nice things about Berkeley’s stairways is that a pleasant walk could be had up the various stairways from the flatlands to the park, avoiding some of the steep and winding streets.

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Santa Fe Right-of-Way

You may remember my post awhile ago about the playground construction at Cedar-Rose Park. A trip by there this weekend showed definite progress. It’s not done yet, and the turtle has not yet been re-installed, but the structure of the play equipment is there. Appearing closer to completion is the multi-use pathway along a portion of the Santa Fe right-of-way stretching from Delaware Street to University Avenue. The current section of the path that has been paved ends up at Berkeley Montessori School, which resides in what was one the Berkeley train depot for the Santa Fe Railroad.

Much of the rest of the right-of-way, which used to be the route of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, is currently fenced off. Various proposals have been made for a continuous path along the right-of-way, from the Ohlone Greenway in the north through to Sacramento and Oregon streets in the south. All of this takes time and money, though. In the mean time, it will be interesting to observe this section of the trail, especially at the University end. Will students use the trail to walk or ride their bikes to school? Will traffic on University be affected by the crossing? (University is a thoroughfare to the freeway, and is regularly backed up with traffic to the site of this crossing.) After I had spent some time on the path with no one else in sight for some time and was walking back and pondering these questions, I was suddenly passed by a cyclist who seemed like he had used this route many times in the past even though it had just been built.

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North Berkeley Paths & John Hinkel Park

This weekend’s walking took me up to some of the streets and paths of the Berkeley hills. As I have mentioned before, I have been using the Berkeley Path Wanderers map as a guide to include all of the passable paths in my walks. I have been wondering about other cities that have lots of paths and stairways. San Francisco has lots of them, and so do Los Angeles, and Portland,OR. What other cities have them? If you know, please post a comment!

Photo by Joe Reifer

The stairway pictured here is in John Hinkel Park. My first visit to this park was during the winter, when it had been raining quite a bit. The water was flowing through the creeks and everything was very green. It was still quite nice on this summer visit. It includes an outdoor ampitheatre, a clubhouse that is in need of restoration, and some nice picnic and play areas. My favorite part of this park, though, is the nicely designed stairs and paths that allow you to meander through the park.

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