New Berkeley parking spot — for bikes — honors Nobel Peace Prize work

Have you ever dreamed of winning a Nobel Prize? Or at least scoring a coveted Berkeley NL (Nobel Laureate) parking space? You’re in luck. Berkeley has a brand new NL spot, and it’s open to anyone. That is, anyone who rides a bicycle to and from campus.

Berkeley's latest Nobel Laureate parking spot is for bikes. (UC Berkeley photos by Gretchen Kell)

Berkeley’s latest Nobel Laureate parking spot is for bikes. (UC Berkeley photos by Gretchen Kell)

It sits to the left of a cluster of U-shaped bike racks outside the Free Speech Movement Café entrance. Gold, instead of silver, in color, the rack is flanked by an NL sign atop a matching gold signpost.

The sign honors Berkeley faculty who contributed to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former Vice President Al Gore. The Nobel was given for joint efforts by Gore and the IPCC “to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

Thousands of scientists and officials from more than 100 countries collaborated on innovative, Nobel Prize-winning research for the IPCC that led to greater certainty about the scale of global warming and sharpened the connection between warming and human activities.

Berkeley’s contributors to the IPCC research included Dan Kammen, a professor of energy and founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, whose tongue-in-cheek comment at a 2013 panel discussion on climate change at the Goldman School of Public Policy planted the idea for an NL bike spot.

“Somewhere in the course of the discussion, Dan joked — while talking about the work he and some of our other faculty had done on reports for the IPCC, which won the Peace Prize with Al Gore — that while Nobelists get NL parking spots, maybe (the Berkeley IPPC contributors) should at least should get an NL bike rack,” says John Wilton, then-vice chancellor for administration and finance, who helped organize and introduced the 2013 panel.

“Dan and I thought it would be a good, light-hearted way of both recognizing the contribution made by Berkeley to the Nobel Prize,” he adds, “and the virtues of cycling as a way to commute.”

The decision to create an NL bike space “also was tied to our broader efforts to provide enough bike parking in the right places for students, staff and faculty,” says Lisa McNeilly, Berkeley director of sustainability and energy, adding that “this spot is in a high-use area.”

"All cyclists are welcome," the sign says.

“All cyclists are welcome,” the sign says.

Wording on the sign says Berkeley “is committed to being a responsible steward of the environment, promoting global thinking and local action,” and that “all cyclists are welcome” to park there.

The most recent campus data on how people commute to and from campus show that bike usage continues to rise, says McNeilly.

Without fanfare, the sign recently was added to the landscape and is beginning to attract curiosity and, for some, a smile of satisfaction.

A joke also led to Berkeley’s first NL spot for a Nobelist with a car. According to a 2009 California magazine post, professor Czeslaw Milosz, who in 1980 won Berkeley’s only Nobel Prize in literature, at that time “jokingly requested it, after Chancellor Ira Heyman asked Milosz if the university could do something special to show its appreciation.” But it wasn’t until 1983, the story says, that the campus was ready to give its first NL parking space to Gerard Debreu for winning the Nobel Prize in Economic Science.

Today, there are 10 NL parking spaces — for powered vehicles — at Berkeley, seven of them along University Drive and one each in the Genetics Structure, the Boalt lot and on South Drive, according to Seamus Wilmot, Berkeley’s director of parking and transportation. They are reserved, and an NL permit is required to park in them.

Professors who win a Nobel Prize are asked where they would like their space to be, Wilmot says, but if they don’t have a preference, they are given one on University Drive.

“It’s a very impressive sight, the seven NL spaces lined up in front of Campbell Hall,” says Wilmot, “and quite the tourist attraction. You’ll find many families taking pictures. I also tell my staff that there are very few places in the world where you get to work and see a sight like this.”

No doubt that goes for the new NL bike space, too.