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Posts Tagged ‘Berkeley’

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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Limebike, the dockless bikeshare service, is sprouting up in the East Bay. But one exception is Berkeley:

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This image above is what users saw a month ago.  The dire warnings have since been removed from the app, but there is still a gaping hole in service within Berkeley city borders. Limebike has been trying to reach out to Berkeley to start service, but to no avail:

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The irony is that Limebike was begun in Berkeley, at the Skydeck incubator center. Just goes to show how anti-environmental and anti-business Berkeley has become.

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Berkeley could become North America’s first major city to build a comprehensive Dutch-style cycle-track network. For the past two years, city staff has been developing a new Bike Plan, which is set to go before City Council in December. The plan would revolutionize cycling in a town with an already respectable bike mode-share. If approved, the plan would prioritize the construction of new cycle-tracks in the south campus area, and convert a downtown segment of Milvia into a cycle-track.

The plan also calls for cycle-tracks on the major arterials , including Claremont, Telegraph, Shattuck, University, and Adeline. Each those projects would have to go through a “multi-modal” corridor study. Berkeley staff says these studies are needed to accommodate other road users (buses, pedestrians, and automobiles). Hopefully, the studies will not used to sandbag the bike plan…

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Parking is one of those things everyone in Berkeley complains about (ironic for a city that is supposedly environmental). Merchants especially have complained about parking “deficits” in downtown and southside areas. And yet whenever city planners measured parking occupancy, they found empty spaces even during peak hours.

What was going on here — was there or was there not a parking crunch? As it turns out, both sides were right. Due to inefficient pricing, the prime on-street spaces were monopolized while garages and other areas went under-utilized. Drivers would typically drive in circles hunting for the cheap on-street parking, avoiding more expensive garages.

Could market-pricing strategies correct the parking imbalance, and result in more efficient utilization? The city received a 3-year Federal grant to test that hypothesis. The transportation department analyzed parking occupancy rates in three neighborhoods, continually adjusting parking hours and pricing based on demand. Price and time limits were set with a goal of always having 65-85% occupancy on each block. Where parking exceeded the 85% threshold, prices went up and time limits went down. Where parking occupancy dropped below the 65%, prices were reduced and time limits increased. Clear signage was installed to inform drivers their pricing options.

The results of the program are quite impressive:

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Here is another survey result:

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But the most surprising result is the large number of blocks where price and time limits were relaxed due to minimal parking demand (remember: price and time limits can go up or down depending on parking demand). On the map shown below, these are are indicated in green; i.e. the Max Parking Zones. It is interesting that areas that were thought to have very high demand, such as 2 blocks from campus, actually don’t have very high demand at all.

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The program is on-going. One of the next challenges will be automating the collection of real-time data. It is currently done manually, which doesn’t scale well. The city is exploring technological solutions to automate the process, such as the use of parking sensors or license plate readers.

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You Reap What You Sow

With vacant storefronts and burned-out lots, Telegraph Ave in Berkeley has been on a long downward spiral. To revitalize the corridor (and boost tax revenues), city planners once envisioned converting the auto-centric arterial into something more pedestrian friendly. The street would get a road-diet to calm speeding. The excess road space would be converted to bike lanes and a new Bus-Rapid Transit (BRT) service. Wider sidewalks were also proposed, with streetscape enhancements and outdoor cafe seating.

But merchants balked at loosing automobile capacity. Arlene Giordano, owner of the Le Bateau Ivre restaurant, vehemently opposed the plan. She put forth a ballot initiative with the intent of killing the project, and wrote some scathing editorials.

City Council relented, leaving Telegraph as a high-speed arterial. And this is the predictable result:

After the recession, its co-founder’s death and dwindling foot traffic, the fabled Berkeley hangout is losing money and struggling to survive in a changing landscape. Owner Arlene Giordano, who founded the restaurant 43 years ago with her late husband, Thomas Cooper, launched an Indiegogo campaign in September, hoping to crowd fund $60,000 to pay bills, replace kitchen appliances and get the business back on its feet.

She is now applying for a small-business loan from the city to stay afloat. Part of the loan would be used to install lights “which she hopes will help make it more obvious that the restaurant is open for dinner.” I guess she is finally discovering that drivers zooming by at high-speed won’t notice your restaurant.

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In 2010, the NY Times published article on the Northern Alameda Chapter of the Sierra Club. It was not a flattering article, as it went into the group’s reluctance to embrace smart-growth policies. Many of its members were opposed to in-fill development in the downtown area (near the BART station). At the time, I pointed out that the group was endorsing candidates opposed to AC Transit BRT.

Now comes the 2014 election, and to judge from their endorsements it is clear nothing has changed. They again endorsed Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin — even though both voted against BRT. As well, the Sierra Club endorsed the candidacy of George Beier, who organized neighborhood opposition to BRT.

Arreguin deserves special mention for sponsoring Measure R. It would reduce height limits and increase minimum parking requirements in the downtown. Groups such as Transform and Greenbelt Allliance are oppopsed to Measure R, but the Sierra Club is curiously silent on the matter.

If you visit the Sierra Club Transportation Policy web page, it states the following:

Walking and bicycling are best, along with electronic communications to reduce trips. Next are buses, minibuses, light rail and heavy rail (as corridor trips increase); electrified wherever feasible. Rail systems are most effective in stimulating compact development patterns, increasing public transit patronage and reducing motor vehicle use. Station access should be provided by foot, bicycle and public transit, with minimal, but full-priced, public parking. Accommodation of pedestrians, bicycles and public transit should be given priority over private automobiles.

Land use patterns should be designed to improve pedestrian access, encourage shorter trips, increase public transit use, enhance the economic viability of public transit and decrease private motor vehicle use (auto mobility). Therefore zoning, financing, land-use controls and other policies should concentrate employment near transit stations or stops, densify residential areas to allow shorter trips.

This a good transportation policy. What would it take for the National leadership to demand that local chapters adhere to it?

 

 

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