Commission Looks at Parking, Traffic Concerns

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday April 25, 2006

The Transportation Commission last week weighed in on a traffic report for mixed-use development at University Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Way, moved forward with a solution to parking losses on Telegraph Avenue and introduced design options for the downtown Berkeley BART station. 

Commissioners at the Thursday meeting developed a plan for improved transportation circulation at 1885 University Ave., where developers are proposing a 156-unit apartment complex and a 13,515-square-foot Trader Joe’s, accessible via a driveway on Berkeley Way. 

The project includes additional commercial space and both above- and below-ground parking lots. 

A traffic impact analysis drafted by Korve Engineering, a civil engineering and planning firm in Oakland, found that the project would exacerbate congestion in an already-bustling corridor, but that implementing mitigation measures—adding traffic signals, reconfiguring lanes and removing parking, for instance—would ameliorate poor conditions. 

“What this study tells us is cars will still move and they’ll probably move better with mitigation measures,” said Chris Hudson, who is co-developing the project with fellow Berkeleyan Evan McDonald. 

Neighbors have raised a number of concerns, nonetheless. Many residents complain that a commercial driveway on Berkeley Way will be dangerous for children who live on the street and play outside.  

“I think it’s monumentally presumptuous of the project to suggest all the traffic should come onto a residential street,” said Rob Browning, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years.  

He joined with several residents in advocating for a diverter on Berkeley Way to prevent Trader Joe’s shoppers from using the residential street as a thoroughfare. 

Commissioners Wendy Alfsen and Rob Wrenn took it a step further and called on developers to consider alternative entryways.  

“I just can’t believe there’s not a way to design this site so access to Trader Joe’s isn’t from Berkeley Way,” Wrenn said.  

Developers insisted they considered all alternative possibilities, and Berkeley Way was the only viable option.  

The loss of parking spaces along MLK between Berkeley Way and University was a further concern. Jerry Cho, who owns a business in the neighborhood said, “It will kill small retailers.” 

Other issues raised included pedestrian safety, residential permit parking, bike parking and construction. 

Alfsen made a motion to address those concerns; it passed with one commissioner opposing (Michael Issel) and one abstention (Nathan Landau). An additional motion urging developers to seek different entryways to the project’s commercial space failed. Instead, commissioners passed a recommendation to install a diverter on Berkeley Way, as supported by many residents.  

The Transportation Commission’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Zoning Adjustments Board, which will consider the project next month, said Peter Hiller, assistant city manager for transportation.  


Telegraph Avenue lane changes 

Also Thursday, commissioners instructed transportation staff to draft a solution to the removal of car parking and winding lane stripes on Telegraph Avenue. 

Late last year, residents and shopkeepers started complaining when they discovered that about 20 spots along Telegraph north of Ashby Avenue to Dwight Way, had been replaced by motorcycle parking, and accompanying straight lane stripes had been repainted to bottleneck at intersections. 

The reconfiguration occurred without public process, and multiple businesses say they’ve been adversely affected. 

“Customers have told me they wanted to come to dinner, and they couldn’t find a parking space, so they just left,” said Thomas Cooper of Le Bateau Ivre. 

The design was part of a larger plan to revamp road markings in Berkeley, but as transportation staff now admit, it didn’t quite pan out. Several years ago, a traffic engineer, who is no longer with the city, according to city Transportation Director Peter Hillier, configured Telegraph with bike lanes of substandard width. 

To correct the mistake, staff say they had to remove parking at intersections and redraw lane lines to accommodate wider bike thoroughfares. Compact parking was not an option, Hillier said, and rather than red-curb the affected spots, staff opted to implement parallel motorcycle parking.  

Many business owners say they’ve rarely—if ever—seen motorcycles use the parking, and they want car spaces restored. 

Commissioners heeded their demands and called on transportation staff to consider reinstating car parking by shrinking pedestrian medians where it is safe to do so, where there are traffic signals, for example. Of 17 intersections, eight are signalized. 

Hillier estimates that the work will not cost very much money, so long as staff can piggyback it onto another contract project.  

The commission instructed transportation staff to return with a proposal. 

Downtown Berkeley BART 

The Transportation Commission got its first look at four preliminary design options for the downtown Berkeley BART plaza, which members of the public are invited to examine and weigh in on this Saturday at the Berkeley Public Library from 1 to 4 p.m. They are: 

• Option 1: Shattuck Avenue would host an exclusive center bus lane, and left turns would be removed. Various design enhancements would be implemented at the plaza, such as a newsstand and a stage, but the existing BART rotunda would remain as is.  

• Option 2: Traffic would be reconfigured to two lanes in each direction north of Center Street. The east side of Shattuck Square would accommodate a northbound lane for buses only. Additionally, there would be more open space on the east side of Shattuck at Center. The BART rotunda would be similar to Option1. 

• Option 3: The main entrance to BART would be relocated to the east side of Shattuck and the existing rotunda would be removed. Shattuck would be reconfigured into a four-lane road to the west of Shattuck Square, and a two-lane street to the east. 

• Option 4: Shattuck would be reconfigured to create an open plaza on Center, and create a central transit station for buses and BART. There would be no through traffic on Center at Shattuck. The rotunda would be removed. 

Commissioners discussed the options briefly, with Comissioner Sarah Syed expressing support for Option 4. The other commissioners said theey had not yet formed opinions.  


Contact Suzanne La Barre at slabarre@berkeleydailyplanet.com.