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Posts Tagged ‘Berkeley’

Sacramento St in Berkeley is currently under construction for what is described as a “complete streets” project. Here is the existing conditions:

As you can see, this is an extremely wide 4-lane arterial running through a residential neighborhood. The roadway has very low traffic volumes, leading to speeding and dangerous passing. The obvious solution would be a road diet to reduce speeds and space for buffered bike lanes (or perhaps even cycletracks). Instead, the city is only proposing to put in some new intersection treatments without doing any lane reductions or other measures to reduce speeding.

Let’s compare to a very similar project going on along Oakland’s 14th Ave. Here is the existing road configuration, which as you can see is also a 4-lane residential arterial:

Given the similarity of the two streets, one might expect these neighboring cities to implement similar solutions. But aside from the intersection treatments, the approaches are quite different. Berkeley is not adding bike lanes and will maintain its street as a dangerous high-speed thoroughfare. Oakland is doing a full road diet to calm traffic. Thus, the Oakland project is complete, the Berkeley one is not. The sad thing is that the Berkeley project sits directly outside a BART station and connects to a popular bike trail. The top community concern in meetings was slowing traffic, so how did Berkeley end up doing the bare minimum?

Oakland 14th Ave road diet
Berkeley “Complete” Streets project

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All the national environmental organizations have a major blind spot for urban design. I guess it is easier to slam Exxon and Trump rather than local city councils for their car-centric zoning. Which brings us to a bizarre candidate endorsement from Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA.

Leonard has endorsed Sophie Hahn for Berkeley City Council District 5. Unless you live in Berkeley then you probably would not recognize the name, but most local advocates know Hahn all too well. During her time on the Zoning Board she fought against infill development, especially around the downtown BART station. In her first run for City Council, she was not only opposed to an AC Transit BRT project — but was in favor of voter Measure KK. That measure would have prohibited any reduction in road capacity for cars or parking unless first approved by voters in a general election. The measure would have severely curtailed work on the city’s bike and pedestrian plans.

Annie Leonard lives in Berkeley, has a Masters Degree in City Planning, and tweets non-stop about climate change — so she cannot use the excuse that she was not aware of Hahn’s problems. That makes the endorsement all the more embarrassing for her and for Greenpeace.

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Robert Reich is a NIMBY

Robert Reich, author of The System: Who Rigged It, wants to help the poor and homeless by….blocking infill development on his street:

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The “character” of his North Berkeley neighborhood was originally the result of racially restrictive covenants. After the courts outlawed the covenants, they were replaced by zoning rules which served the same purpose. Berkeley was one of the first cities in the country to use zoning this way.

And sadly, it is not the first time Dr. Reich has proposed keeping the working poor as far away as possible:

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Work crews are putting the finishing touches on a short cycletrack along Adeline, just north of the Ashby BART station. It runs for a few blocks before dumping bikes out into this mess of an intersection:

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Berkeley has now built three cycletracks, all of which have this problem. They run for a few blocks, then abruptly stop — right at the most dangerous location. If you notice, there is a cyclist riding out in the parking lane, because who in their right mind would use the roadway.  The entrance to the BART station is just beyond the traffic light, so this is a critical gap in the bike network.

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Fulton cycletrack is another half-assed job. It inexplicably comes to an abrupt halt 2 blocks from the traffic diverter at Dwight Way

 

 

 

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After months of construction, the new 2-block $10 million Shattuck “reconfiguration” project is now operating in downtown Berkeley. Whereas Shattuck used to split into a northbound and southbound leg, the road now makes the old southbound section two-way. The northbound leg is turned into a giant turn pocket:

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If you find the above diagram confusing, the red arrow indicates the old travel path for northbound traffic (Shattuck West used to be one-way). So $10 million was spent just to streamline northbound car traffic at the Shattuck/University intersection.

The reconfigured Shattuck is now more of a traffic sewer (even the left-turns were eliminated). For drivers, this is really great because they can blast through downtown. For bicyclists though, the new road is stressful. To fit 4 lanes in this section, the traffic lanes were narrowed. While narrow lanes can sometimes serve to calm traffic, in this case the result is impatient motorists passing bicyclists with mere inches to spare.

The Shattuck reconfiguration project is one piece of a package of projects to increase automobile access to the downtown, including a new $40 million parking garage (LEED Certified of course), and additional “back-in” parking spaces along Shattuck East. While other cities are creating cycletracks and even eliminating car traffic in their downtowns, Berkeley is moving in the opposite direction.

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Mayor Arreguin at the ribbon cutting for the new Center St. parking garage

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Shattuck construction

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Four car lanes, wider sidewalks — but no bike lanes or cycletracks

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This past week, Berkeley police were out in force writing $250 tickets to cyclists for rolling stop signs on Milvia and the Ohlone trail. For those who don’t know Berkeley, these are the two of the safest places to walk or ride a bike in the city.

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In a Tweet, Berkeley Mayor Arreguin denied responsibility for the crackdown. As he pointed out, it is actually city policy to use limited police resources on dangerous driver behavior.

But the Mayor and Council are not exactly blameless here. This crackdown is the result of a state grant City Council applied for. Each year the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) gives money to local law enforcement to conduct these kinds of stings. As one of California’s most dangerous cities for bikes/peds, Berkeley routinely receives OTS grant money. Apparently, one condition of the OTS grant is that recipients conduct targeted enforcement against bikes/peds. Berkeley and other cities have regularly used OTS funds for this purpose.

So in accepting the OTS grant, it was inevitable cyclists and pedestrians would get caught up in a dragnet, and many on the Berkeley City Council surely knew this because they’ve heard complaints about it before. One year in particular stands out, when an OTS-funded jaywalking sting was conducted near UC campus. Quite a number of UC students attended a City Council meeting that evening to vent frustration at the exorbitant fines.

The OTS is one of those highway agencies few have heard of, but which desperately needs reform. The OTS promotes outdated safety advice bordering on victim-blaming. OTS admonishes pedestrians to wear bright colors and carry flashlights. Bike helmets are heavily promoted, and the OTS warns against distracted walking. So it is not surprising that OTS traffic safety grants would fund some dubious enforcement strategies. Cities that want to promote bike/ped travel should avoid OTS grant programs.

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Now that Senator Wiener has re-introduced a watered-down housing bill, what are the chances the Nimbys get on-board? Not likely, to judge from these insane comments from Berkeley Mayor Arreguin:

In Berkeley the low-density residential neighborhood immediately around North Berkeley BART would automatically be up-zoned resulting in heights of up to 55 feet. This will create pressure on existing neighborhoods and will result in land speculation. There are historically low-income communities which do not meet the definition of “Sensitive Communities” who will face increased gentrification and displacement.

Ah yes, the millionaire slums of N. Berkeley…

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The City of Berkeley Zoning Board has turned down an infill housing project near the Ashby BART station, in order to preserve a gas station:

It had no residential car parking, but 48 bicycle parking spots and six commercial spaces for a planned ground-floor café. The site is less than a half-mile from the Ashby BART station.The application statement said in part: “3000 Shattuck will provide an essential combination of pricing affordability, an amenity-rich neighborhood, and easy access to public transit — key considerations for the modern workforce renter.”

“This is a way to actually get it built and provide the city with close to a million dollars into the affordable trust [affordable housing fund]. That’s the choice. Or the city can continue to have a gas station.”

It is worth noting that the South Shattuck Plan specifically calls for pedestrian-scale mixed infill development on underdeveloped lots. So once again the city doesn’t follow its adopted plans.

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The parking lot surrounding North Berkeley BART is the poster child for bad station-area planning. For decades city officials have made vague promises to put infill housing there, but nothing actually happens. The wealthy homeowners who live in the neighborhood vehemently oppose infill housing.

Sponsored by Assembly members David Chiu and Tim Grayson, AB-2923 would correct the problem by transferring planning authority to the BART Board. The bill requires the BART Board to put new transit-oriented-development on all its properties (including in Berkeley). Of course, the Berkeley City Council is siding with wealthy homeowners and opposing the measure:

The Council majority routinely opposes new apartments in the city’s many single family neighborhoods filled with homes selling for over $1 million. The area around North Berkeley BART is one such neighborhood.

Home prices in the area have skyrocketed over the past decade, and some longtime owners who have profited mightily from restricting supply do not want apartments built on the BART station. One way to accomplish this is to keep all decision making authority over the site under the Berkeley City Council rather than the region-wide BART Board.

This insistence on “local control” over a regional asset—BART stations—is why Berkeley will soon oppose AB 2923. Exclusionary zoning that produces class segregation is a way of life in Berkeley, and the Council majority aims to keep it that way.

At a March 15 community meeting to discuss building housing on the North Berkeley BART parking lot, most speakers favored housing. But as noted with Mayor Arreguin’s “support,” opponents routinely say they support the idea of housing while working against getting units built. Putting Berkeley on record against AB 2923 is part of this effort.

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