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Seeking a New Look For Downtown BART

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday May 02, 2006

Plans to redesign the downtown BART station drew a range of reactions at an open house presentation over the weekend. 

Consultants from Community Design and Architecture presented four sketches of design options for a reconfigured downtown transit area Saturday, under the stewardship of the city of Berkeley, AC Transit and BART. 

The schemes, paid for with a $75,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and $15,000 of city money, were outlined on poster board in the meeting room of the Berkeley Public Library. Public comment was invited. 

The primary goal of the study was to float ideas for improving downtown’s transportation accessibility while maintaining commercial and cultural development. 

“It’s clear people aren’t happy with what’s there today and want that redesigned,” said Phil Erickson, of Community Design and Architecture. 

Options range from implementing a few major changes to reconfiguring the streetscape to allot for a centralized “historical” transit hub. They are as follows: 

• Option 1 would maintain the existing street layout. The most significant change would be to design enhancements to the BART rotunda at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, as well as the possible addition of free-standing kiosks. 

• Option 2 would remove the Shattuck couplet—the division of Shattuck into one-way lanes flanking a commercial island north of Center—and reconfigure traffic to travel along two lanes in each direction. An open space on the east side of Shattuck at Center would also be included. The rotunda would be revamped. 

• Option 3 would remove the rotunda and place the main BART entrance on the east side of Shattuck at Center. Traffic along the Shattuck couplet would be redirected along four lanes on Shattuck west and two lanes on Shattuck east.  

• Option 4, referred to as the historical model, would create a centralized transit plaza for BART and buses in the heart of downtown. The BART rotunda would be eliminated, as would through traffic on Center at Shattuck. The traffic configuration on Shattuck would remain as is.  

All four plans include designated bus lanes for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the accelerated AC Transit line that earned a fair amount of criticism Saturday in the form of brightly colored post-it notes affixed to the designs: “Say no to BRT,” “There should be no bus-only lanes and no cooperation with AC Transit’s BRT scheme,” and “Really, really dumb. Don’t they notice that the monster buses are always empty?” 

East Bay BRT would run from San Leandro through Oakland to Berkeley, ending north of Center in downtown Berkeley. The project is still in an early phase, as an environmental impact report initially due out last fall has yet to be released. Tentative plans are now scheduled for summer. 

Nonetheless, some residents are ramping up their battle against a transit line they fear will be underutilized and harmful to city traffic flow.  

Principal Transportation Planner for the City of Berkeley Matt Nichols emphasized that design options must take BRT into account, regardless of whether it’s implemented. Besides, he said, the redesign aims to improve downtown transportation more generally.  

“It makes transit work better whether there’s Bus Rapid Transit or not,” he said.  

Public opinion on the four options varied from general concerns about public restrooms, preservation of trees and bicycle thoroughfares to design-specific comments, like the effects of closing Center to through traffic and how pedestrians would fare if Shattuck west became two-way. 

Cost estimates for the project are yet undetermined, though consultants say the more drastic options (three and four) would be pricey. Those options also seemed to garner greater public support than the other two. 

Transportation Commissioner Rob Wrenn advocated for a fifth option: running BRT north on Shattuck up to University Avenue, and south on Oxford Street, and closing that side of Shattuck to car traffic. That would make the street more pedestrian-friendly and remove the daunting task of fitting two designated bus lanes onto an already crowded artery, he said. The idea was floated by AC Transit, but was not included as a preliminary design option.  

The next step is to organize public comments then to whittle down the options, Erickson said.