By Paul Grunland
The city of Berkeley, California is unusually blessed with an extensive network of pedestrian pathways. Named, for the most part, by the original land developers, the city has numbered the paths from #1 to #136. Most pathways are marked by signs at both ends. Pathway conditions vary widely from those with concrete steps and railings to those that are completely undeveloped or even absorbed and landscaped over by adjacent homeowners.
In the early 1900s, the hill areas east and north of Berkeley were largely owned by private developers and were located outside the city limits. The extension of rail and streetcar lines into Berkeley made it feasible for the developers to build street systems upon what was then open land and to offer lots for sale.
By the time that the hill areas were ready for development, it had become clear that the traditional straight-line grid pattern of streets was not appropriate for hill terrain. The result was a pattern of hill streets with intriguing twists and turns, built with a minimum of cut and fill, and neighborhoods with breathtaking vistas.
Building streets along contours resulted in the creation of some very long blocks, and the typical Berkeley area resident owned neither a horse nor a car. Purchasers of lots in the new subdivisions would need good pedestrian access to the rail lines, so a wide network of pathways was built to provide shortcuts through the long blocks.
In later years, as the City of Berkeley incorporated the new housing developments in the city limits, the pathways became part of the public infrastructure. Over a period of many years, the open lots sold and the hills filled with houses.
The pathways remain with us, a reminder of Berkeley's early days. To the harried urban resident, the pathways offer leafy garden corridors to quiet, removed from the world of noise beyond. The pathways continue to provide shortcuts to public transportation, shopping districts, and schools. In an emergency, they serve as critical evacuation routes as well as a means for rescue personnel to deliver aid. But day after day, as informal extensions of Berkeley's Park, the pathways give us more ways to enjoy the outdoors.
Berkeley Path Wanderers Association invites you to help preserve and extend our cherished path system.