Traffic Diverters


Traffic Diverters

Russell Street at Piedmont Avenue

Everybody agreed that traffic was a problem, but Berkeley’s 1975 “Traffic Calming” program agitated many. Protest erupted when concrete bollards designed to quiet neighborhoods by diverting cars to alternate routes were installed. Some drivers fumed at backed-up traffic on arterial streets. Others complained of feeling like rodents in a maze of forced turns, traffic circles, and dead ends while taking their kids to school. High-speed bicyclists warned of head/neck -first fall hazards when zipping through narrow barrier openings. Residents praised the plan for allowing them the best night’s sleep in years. Others bemoaned the surge of traffic ruining their sleep.

A truce was declared following anti-diverter rallies, bollard defacements, barricade rammings, public meetings, two ballot initiatives, legal challenges, and intervention by the State Legislature. It was agreed that some diverters would be removed, others made permanent. City plans to convert the remaining diverters into “landscaped features” were derailed by budgetary cuts. Neighborhood attempts at beautify bollards by planting them with flowers were derided by one resident as “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Seventy Elmwood residents on Russell Street undertook a more ambitious, aesthetically creative approach when they donated funds to rebuild the diverter at the corner of Piedmont Avenue. Beside the yard where Joe Engbeck, a world authority on redwoods, had planted a small redwood grove in 1965, neighborhood landscaper Bruce Mordecai designed a traffic diverter using native local plants and boulders from Sonoma, one of which acts as a bird bath in the rainy season. A bronze plaque commemorates completion of the project.

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2013

  • Piedmont Ave., Russell St. landscaped traffic diverter, photo (2012) R. Kehlmann

  • Concrete bollards near Claremont Hotel, photo (2013) R. Kehlmann

  • Fulton Street bollards planted by neighbors, photo (2013) R. Kehlmann

  • Unadorned southside traffic barrier , photo (2013) R. Kehlmann

  • Decorated Diverter, Ashby Ave. and Fulton St., photo Tom Dalzell,

More information:
City of Berkeley

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society