On Saturday Berkeley citizens were given a taste of how their fair city might become quite a bit fairer when the people behind the Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan (SOSIP) held an open house to present a number of possible scenarios to prettify the downtown area.

Not to be confused with the Downtown Area Plan Forum, SOSIP is focused on making neighborhoods more pedestrian and bike friendly, with well-maintained streets, wider sidewalks, calmer traffic and lots more trees, greenery and vegetation. Proposals have been drawn up for five distinct but inter-connected areas: lower Shattuck/Park Blocks; mid-Shattuck/Boulevard; Shattuck Square/end of University; Hearst Street/Ohlone Greenway extension; and Center Street plaza and Greenway.

The photos above, for example, show how existing sidewalks on University Avenue (between Shattuck and Oxford) are relatively narrow, but could be widened and enhanced.

Some fascinating tidbits emerged at the presentation, made by Matt Taecker, Principal Planner for Downtown. For instance:

  • Half the blocks in downtown have no trees.
  • Except for Center Street, downtown’s main arteries have more traffic lanes than are needed: Shattuck, which historically had four rail-lines running down its length, could be narrowed to two lanes (on either side) without causing traffic problems.
  • 82% of Shattuck is taken up with moving or parked cars.
  • It would be possible to have a 64 ft-wide park running down the center of Shattuck.

All sorts of solutions involving planting, landscaping, addressing water run-off, lighting, public art and signage were shown at the meeting. All of them would help transform downtown into a more beautiful, more welcoming, healthier city center.

Input received from Saturday’s open house will be used by members of the four Commissions who will guide the SOSIP:  the Parks & Recreation Commission, the Planning Commission, the Public Works Commission, and the Transportation Commission. Financing options will be explored once specific plans are identified as having the most support.

Information and future meeting dates for SOSIP will be posted on their website. Matt Taecker can be reached at mtaecker@ci.berkeley.ca.us or 510-981-7487.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...