An updated plan of several busy streets near the UC Berkeley campus reignites debate over the priority given to public transit over cars along the most iconic blocks of the thoroughfare.
The result could be a radically different Telegraph Avenue between Dwight Way and the campus: one option considered by planners would be to reserve one of the two lanes of the street for buses, and also to elevate the street itself. at sidewalk level, creating a new square. Rigel Robinson, the council member who represents the neighborhood, said he supports the plaza option – and sees it as a stepping stone to his one-day goal completely ban private cars from these blocks.
“There is no better place to be brave and ambitious than the Telegraph corridor,” said Robinson, as the dense neighborhood is already full of residents in dormitories or apartment complexes who move around on foot, to bike and scooter rather than car. “It’s the perfect place to prove that the best practices we know are making streets safer and revitalizing shopping districts. “
But the idea is already meeting some of the same resistance as condemned the last attempt to create bus lanes on the avenue more than a decade ago. While many businesses are still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, several merchants have expressed concern about the potential impact of the proposal on customer parking, traffic jams and loading areas.
“I’m still against it,” said Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe’s Books. “It’s hard enough to run a business here – we don’t want to run into obstacles anymore. “
The changes on Telegraph Avenue are part of a larger project called Complete streets on the south side, which will also redesign sections of Bancroft Way, Dana Street and Fulton Street.
City officials have released several renderings of potential new street layouts and are asking the public to pick their favorites and provide feedback in an online survey. A virtual open house on the project is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday evening.
The changes could include extending Bancroft’s existing bus lanes and installing new barrier-protected bike lanes along Bancroft and Fulton. On Dana Street, the city could perpetuate a pilot project inaugurated next spring which will create another protected cycle path.
To make room for the proposed changes, these four streets could eliminate or ban cars from existing traffic lanes, while some blocks would also lose parking spaces.
Other designs considered in the project would preserve parking and car lanes and, therefore, force buses or bicycles to make do with less dedicated space.
Advocates of transit hope Berkeley moves forward with more dramatic makeovers that will shift priority on neighborhood streets: Drivers may have slower commutes, they say, but bus riders could avoid traffic jams. traffic jams in their reserved lanes, while pedestrians and cyclists would have safer trips.
“We can’t be sustainable in the structure we have now that is so focused on cars,” said Pari Parajuli, a UC Berkeley junior and associate student member at the University of California. “It’s a very small start … but at the end of the day, the goal is to make a city that is passable (and) accessible to all.”
The project is an opportunity to show “how serious the city is in transitioning to private cars,” said Brandon Yung, a UC Berkeley senior who co-founded Telegraph for People, a new group that will push to ban cars from the avenue. The car-free Telegraph concept isn’t one of the options planners are currently considering in the Southside Complete Streets project, but Yung – who previously worked as a freelance writer at Berkeleyside – said he believes it should be.
“We have a lot of symbolic gestures to show that the city wants to move away from car-dependent environments,” he said, “but we haven’t seen any really drastic changes in the built environment yet. this end. “
Officials hope to pick a plan for the redesigned streets in the coming months and kick off the changes in 2023. Construction and outreach is being funded by $ 8.3 million in grants from the Alameda County Transportation Commission and Caltrans.
There are signs that Telegraph companies’ views on a bus lane have softened since 2010, when they pushed the city to scuttle a plan to create transit lanes that would cross Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro. AC Transit launched a service last year along a shortened version of this route; its new rapid transit bus line runs through San Leandro and East Oakland, before terminating in downtown Oakland.
In 2019, Stuart Baker, then executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, co-wrote a Berkeleyside editorial with Robinson that championed a level plaza-style design for the avenue, calling for a ‘shared street’ that ‘gives priority to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.
But current district executive director Alex Knox said the group has yet to approve any of the four options planners are currently considering for the future of Telegraph, and its members want to know more about what the changes are. could mean.
For example, while the plaza design would include a lane for parking and loading areas, planners have yet to determine if some spaces could be removed as part of a street redesign; Robinson says he wants to make sure loading points are kept. Parking and loading areas are a major concern for Moskowitz, who noted that when customers come to Moe to haul used book collections for sale, they arrive almost exclusively by car.
“I like the idea that we all live without cars – but because of the company I’m in it doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Restaurants have similar concerns about access to edge space, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“We rely so heavily on delivery companies now like Door Dash and Uber Eats,” said Sliver Pizzeria CEO Eduardo Perez, “I don’t know how they will be able to access us merchants with this setup.”
Knox said business owners were excited about other aspects of the Southside Complete Streets project, such as improvements to pedestrian and crosswalk lighting. But he said it’s too early to say if his most dramatic changes will have the backing of traders.
“It’s a pretty ambitious vision,” Knox said of the plaza proposal. “There is a lot more to understand about what this means before you can say that one way is the right way to do it.”