Work on a pavement “bulb out” on the corner of Solano and Colusa is part of series of planned improvements for the area. Photo: Ira Serkes

Solano Avenue, one of Berkeley’s principal commercial districts, has been hit hard in recent years by recession-induced vacancies as well as more typical business turnover. But among small signs of a turnaround — like the move of Five Star Video to a new location near the top of the avenue — there’s a concerted effort by local businesses, the city and the local councilmember, Laurie Capitelli, to give a boost to Solano.

Some of the improvements — a series of pavement bulb outs — result from a 2009 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for “Safe Routes for Transit”. Others are spurred by the Solano Business Improvement District’s (SBID) advisory board.

“We did a poll two years ago,” said Capitelli, “and it’s clear the people want more street seating and more trees. I’m thrilled to see it finally get going.”

The plans for Solano were presented last month at a public meeting of the SBID advisory board. David Peattie, a board member of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association, took notes for Berkeleyside:

At a special meeting open to the public at the Thousand Oaks Baptist Church on July 18, landscape architect and long-time North Berkeley resident John Roberts presented his vision of possible future Solano Avenue improvements to the Solano Business Improvement District (SBID) advisory board. Roberts presented sketches of three different phases.

An initial sketch shows Solano Avenue between Modoc and The Alameda as it currently exists. Then a first phase sketch showed it as it will be after the forthcoming and fully funded tree planning and bulb-outs (sidewalk extensions) that will take place over the next few months. More than 50 Red Point Maple trees will be planted along Solano Avenue (these light-textured, deciduous trees grow to 40’ at most), and two bulb-outs, comparable to the one in front of Peet’s Coffee, will be put into place on the south side of Solano at Colusa at La Farine and the 76 gas station. Additionally, a new bike shelter will be built on a sidewalk extension on the south side at the 76 gas station. Councilmember Laurie Capitelli explained that the funding for these improvements was secured through a Safe Routes to Transit grant.

John Roberts then presented his vision of further improving Solano to the advisory board, with the understanding that funding for implementing such a vision does not exist, and no official agent of the city of Berkeley has even reviewed these plans at this phase.

A drawing by Tatiana Vashchenko showing a proposed phase 2 of Solano improvements. Source: John Northmore Roberts & Associates

Phase 2 shows widened pedestrian walkways comparable to the sidewalk on Center Street between Oxford and Shattuck in downtown Berkeley. The plans include additional bulb-outs on the north side of Solano at Colusa by the Starbucks, at all four corners of Fresno, in front of the Rosebud gallery (by the pedestrian alley), and in front of Hannah’s, and then an extended bulb-out for the bus stop at the top of Solano, which would wrap around the corner onto The Alameda. On the south side a bulb-out would be added at Modoc by Shoes on Solano that would prevent traffic turning from Solano south onto Modoc (but traffic from Modoc could get through to Solano). An extended bulb-out would run the length of Solano, on the south side, from Modoc to the bike shelter, closing Colusa to through traffic. Additional tree planting and seating would be planned for these sidewalk extensions.

A rendering of envisioned phase 3 of improvements. Source: John Northmore Roberts & Associates

Phase 3 includes additional bulb-outs and adjustments to the parking configuration. Roberts explained that lost parking would be made up by restriping spaces at a sharper angle. Currently parking on Solano is at a 38 degree angle and is only 8 feet wide. Changing that to a more standard 60 degrees (as in the Albany portion of Solano), would keep the same number of parking spaces and even permit widening each space by a half foot. The width of the driving lane would be reduced, but there is plenty of room for that, as the eastern portion of Solano Avenue is unusually wide for two lanes.

Several members of the BID advisory board and the general public were concerned about what would happen to traffic flow with the closure of Colusa on the south side, and the narrowing of the Fresno Avenue entrance, which would hinder large trucks turning from Solano to deliver to Andronico’s. In addition, the narrowing of the traffic lanes would mean that delivery vehicles double-parked on Solano would cause traffic problems. Roberts explained that Berkeley’s transit department would have to weigh in if this proposal starts to move forward, but for now this is purely a preliminary presentation of a Solano Avenue that is significantly more pedestrian focused. Roberts, a longtime landscape architect who lives in the neighborhood, volunteered his time to design the possible revisions.

The Solano BID advisory board will discuss the presentation at future meetings, hold community workshops, and come up with a long-range plan for Solano Avenue to submit to the city for review.

All of the renderings and plans shown at the July meeting can be accessed through DropBox.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...