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Berkeley is proposing a new bike lane on the uphill side of Tunnel Road between the Claremont Hotel and the city line, near Highway 24, a road busy with recreational cyclists as well as bike commuters. Image: Google Maps

Plans for a bike lane on Tunnel Road — under negotiation for the past year between the city, residents and biking advocates — will be discussed Thursday night at a city Transportation Commission meeting.

Last fall, the city proposed a bike lane on the uphill side of Tunnel Road between the Claremont Hotel and the city line, near Highway 24, a road busy with recreational cyclists as well as bike commuters. The proposal eliminated all parking, making many residents unhappy.

“We take the brunt of all the traffic,” said Jacquelyn McCormick, president of Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association. “To ask one street to give 100% of something is unfair.”

At a meeting Oct. 9, city staff, residents and bike advocates discussed a revised plan, which restored many but not all of the parking spaces along Tunnel Road. Most of the 40 or so residents at the meeting were far happier with this plan, but the sticking point was the block between Oak Ridge Drive and The Uplands, where the road narrows and parking (enough room for up to 20 cars) was still eliminated in favor of the bike lane.

In a letter to the city, a group of Oak Ridge residents said eliminating the parking on Tunnel near Oak Ridge “would make our very congested street even more congested and dangerous than it is now.” With parking on only one side of the narrow, dead-end street, the extra spaces on Tunnel are needed by delivery trucks, construction trucks and visitors, the letter said.

Several people at the meeting proposed that parking in that section of Tunnel could be restricted at certain times. For instance at rush hour, when cars and bikes are at a high, parking would be restricted, opening up the parking lane as a bike lane. During mid-day and overnight parking would be allowed.

Farid Javandel, Berkeley’s Transportation Division manager, liked that suggestion, saying it would be far cheaper than the alternative of pushing back the curb and sidewalk to create enough room for both parking and bikes. “That’s not within the budget of this project,” he said. “Time limits (on parking) are the most promising and easy thing to add.”

Dave Campbell, an advocate from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, said the group would like the timed parking “as an add-on,” not a replacement for a bike lane. Campbell said the coalition would like to see bike/parking lanes wider in some areas to truly accommodate both a parked car and a bike.

The downhill side of Tunnel already has a bike lane in the upper section, but won’t get one on the lower section, as space is limited, and bikes are better able to keep up with cars going downhill.

Funds from Caldecott lawsuit

The money for the bike lanes ($140,000 budgeted) comes from a settlement with Caltrans over adding a fourth bore to the Caldecott Tunnel. That addition, due to open before the end of 2013, is expected to create more traffic on Tunnel Road.

Several neighborhood groups filed the lawsuit in 2007, winning $2 million for projects to reduce the impact of added traffic. The bike lane on Tunnel is one of many projects that the $2 million will cover, but, so far, has been the most contentious.

Another $40,000 of the settlement money will pay for marking an alternate route for cyclists wishing to avoid lower Tunnel Road: from Domingo Avenue, to El Camino Real and The Uplands.  “Sharrows,” share-the-road arrows with bikes, would be painted on those streets.

Some have called for no bike lane on Tunnel Road, and the use of the alternate route. However, the alternate is somewhat steeper. Also, the Complete Streets Policy adopted by the city last year calls for making all streets accessible to all users, hence a bike lane and pedestrian improvements on Tunnel.

Other projects covered by the settlement money help protect pedestrians along Highway 13 (Tunnel Road and Ashby Avenue). Those include higher visibility crosswalks at Claremont and College avenues and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, a pedestrian-activated red light at Hillegass, and a flashing beacon at The Uplands, like the one on Ashby near Malcolm X Elementary School.

All the projects in the Highway 13 Corridor Improvement Project can be seen on the city’s website

Another part of the Improvement Project calls for new signs on Highway 24 to direct more Berkeley-bound traffic to exits other than Tunnel, such as Telegraph Avenue. That requires negotiation with Oakland, Javandel said.

The latest version of the Tunnel Road bike lane will be considered by the Transportation Commission Thursday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center (1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King).

Javandel said the commission can either OK the plan, sending it to Caltrans for approval, or send it to the City Council for a more formal approval, or send it back to the drawing board.

The very soonest work on the bike lanes could start, he said, would be February or March of 2014.   A bike lane for Tunnel Road has been on the countywide Bicycle Plan since 2006.

View the full proposal for the Tunnel Road bike lane, including designs and photos.

Metered parking changes launch today in Berkeley (10.15.13)

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Mary Flaherty is a freelance reporter who has lived in the Berkeley area for since 1994. She earned a masters in journalism from UC Berkeley, and has reported for several local papers and copyedited for...