Failing to fix a dangerous intersection

Over the last few years, many people have written about why America can’t build things anymore (eg. here, although this is just one of hundreds of relevant essays). Ten years ago, when I was 21 and had just graduated, a friend told me about a dangerous intersection in Berkeley. I tried writing to the city and asking for it to be fixed; I’m posting the email and reply here as a useful data point.

My request:

To the Berkeley Department of Transportation:

I write to urge the City to address a dangerous intersection, at San Pablo and Gilman Streets. When approaching the intersection from the west (on Gilman), there are two lanes of roadway, of which one is left-and-straight and the other is right-and-straight. However, on the opposite side of the intersection (east of San Pablo), there is only one lane of roadway. Hence, cars going straight are forced to merge in the middle of the intersection (with no warning), which is time-consuming and hazardous.

I and some fellow Berkeley residents propose that the lane arrows be modified, such that either the left lane is left only, or the right lane is right only. This way, there is only one lane of forward traffic, and cars do not have to merge in the intersection. This modification would cost virtually nothing, and would make driving easier for the thousands of City residents who use this intersection daily, as well as preventing a potentially fatal accident. We greatly appreciate your consideration.

Their reply is below. (Email is generally private, but in this case the communication, from a city employee about a government issue, should be an open record under the California Public Records Act.)

Dear Alyssa,

I forwarded your email to the Supervising Traffic Engineer, and have been asked to respond to your request with the following information.

San Pablo Avenue (State Highway 123) is under Caltrans jurisdiction, and any significant changes to the intersection must be approved by Caltrans. Recent communications from Caltrans indicate they have no immediate plans to upgrade their non-freeway facilities.

In theory the City could develop a modified striping plan concept and ask for approval from Caltrans to proceed. If Caltrans were to agree to the concept, the City would need to assign resources to develop the conceptual design, then a detailed design, obtain approvals from Caltrans, then put out and pay for a contract for implementation.

Though it seems simple enough as an idea, it does involve closing a state highway intersecting with a major collector street, and would be a significant resource-intensive task for the City to plan and execute a temporary traffic management plan.

We regret that we are unable to proceed any further with your request at this time, as it is not currently in our budget or in our approved Work Plan.

We do keep a “wish list” of unfunded projects from which we can draw should the appropriate funding opportunity arise, perhaps through mitigation funding from a future development project.

We already have a signal upgrade (with left turn phase) for the Gilman/​San Pablo intersection on this wish list, and will add your less- costly suggestion for a lane-restriping/​reconfiguration project to the list.

Unfortunately, that is all we are able to do at this time.

As of 2021, the intersection has still not been fixed.