Report: Trader Joe’s Project Would Add Traffic Congestion

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday April 18, 2006

Warped lane configurations on Telegraph Avenue and a traffic analysis of proposed mixed-use development on University Avenue topped the list of hot button issues on the Transportation Commission’s agenda Thursday. 

The traffic report for a proposed retail and residential project at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and University, where Kragen Auto Parts stands, points to potentially significant car congestion.  

Developers plan to build a 156-unit apartment complex, a 13,515-square-foot Trader Joe’s and 875-square-feet of retail space, plus an underground parking lot at the site. 

The project would usher in potentially significant traffic at MLK and University, said the report, prepared by Oakland-based civil engineering and planning firm Korve Engineering. MLK and Berkeley Way would also suffer heavier gridlock, as shoppers would gain access to the project’s retail arm via a driveway on Berkeley Way.  

However, implementing measures such as adding and changing signals and reconfiguring lanes would reduce congestion, the report concluded. 

Berkeley Way is a residential thoroughfare running parallel to University that some residents say should not endure more car traffic.  

“There are young children on Berkeley Way,” said Steve Wollmer, who lives on the street. “If there is not a barrier on Berkeley Way, we will fight the project to the best of our ability. It is a bottom line, absolute.” 

Alternatives to the proposed configuration have been floated. One would forbid left turns out of the retail driveway on Berkeley Way; the other would close off a portion of the street. 

Wollmer also expressed distaste for the project’s potential impact on parking along MLK between University and Hearst Avenue, which he fears will slash patronage of nearby businesses. 

The development would usher in 1,304 new car trips to the area a day, adding bicycle and pedestrian safety to a list of concerns. Between 1998 and 2002 the second highest number of bicycle and pedestrian collisions in the city took place at University and MLK. In recent years, collisions have dwindled, but the intersection remains cause for alarm because a high percentage of injury accidents still occur. 

Commissioner Rob Wrenn said that’s not reason enough to reject the project, since mitigation measures can be implemented.  

“There’s nothing about the pedestrian and bicycle problem that can’t be fixed,” he said.  


Missing car spaces 

On Thursday, transportation commissioners will consider another contentious issue: the mysterious removal of about 20 car spaces on Telegraph Avenue between Dwight Way and the Oakland border. Spots were replaced with parallel motorcycle parking, and lane stripes were repainted as wavy, “psychedelic” lines. 

Many shopkeepers are up in arms, claiming that the new configuration negatively affects business. 

“Some folks thought they were having flashbacks to an acid trip,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who represents the district, in a correspondence to the council in February. 

The City Council approved a citywide restriping initiative in 2004, and Telegraph was among the streets targeted for work. 

City staff took that opportunity to fix Telegraph’s bike lanes which, at four-feet-wide, were narrower than what state standards deem safe. 

To accommodate wider bike thoroughfares, some parking had to be eliminated and lane lines repainted. The decision was at the discretion of the traffic engineer and did not need the approval of City Council, said Peter Hillier, assistant city manager for transportation. Motorcycle spaces were selected because they fit the available space, he said.  

Worthington insists other alternatives were available, such as shaving off road medians or installing compact parking. Moreover, he rues the covert manner in which the spots were removed. 

“They didn’t have to remove the parking spaces to do the restriping,” he said. “But equally important, no one was told in advance. That’s a horrible way to treat small business people.” 

“No one in the city gave us any notification,” echoed Adam Shoehalter, owner of Zax Tavern on Telegraph, who has yet to see a motorcycle use the (now abundant) parking. “All the merchants there were screwed.” 

The commission will also discuss an upcoming community meeting to examine design plans for the proposed downtown Berkeley BART Plaza and Transit Area, the allocation of $200,000 payments from UC Berkeley for traffic management downtown, and a draft copy of the UC Berkeley Bike Plan. 

The Transportation Commission meets Thursday at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave., at 7 p.m..