Rendering of arch proposed for Telegraph Avenue near Bancroft Way. Photo: Jennifer MacDougall
Rendering of arch proposed for Telegraph Avenue near Dwight Way. Photo: Jennifer McDougall

A coalition of city and campus groups is proposing to erect a decorative lighted archway on Telegraph Avenue to better define the shopping district.

The arch, which would be erected near Dwight Way, would serve to “emphasize and celebrate the four blocks of Telegraph between Dwight and Bancroft that distinguish it from Oakland’s Temescal and Berkeley’s Downtown,” according to an encroachment request letter submitted to the city. Students standing at the soon-to-be remodeled Lower Sproul Plaza would be able to look down the street and see the arch, and those at Dwight could look north to the campus, creating a visual connection between the University and the Avenue.

“Here, where the width of Telegraph narrows, we can establish a special sense of entry and place,” reads the letter. “During dark winter months, when the deciduous trees on Telegraph have lost their leaves, the new archway will be readily visible and draw pedestrians the length of Telegraph.”

The group proposing the arch, which calls itself the Telegraph Connects Coalition, needs to get an encroachment permit from the city before it can proceed since the poles holding up the arch would be planted in the sidewalk. (There would still be a six-foot wide clearance along the sidewalk around the poles.) The group submitted the permit application in mid-October and hopes to have approvals in place by January, 2014.

But the proposal, which must be approved by the City Council, has drawn some criticism from Councilman Kriss Worthington, who represents the area. He is concerned that erecting the arch at Dwight will leave the storeowners with shops further south near Blake and Parker streets feeling like “foster children.”

“I am concerned how they are framing it as the gateway to the Telegraph district,” said Worthington. ‘It’s inflammatory and it doesn’t help up; it divides us. That’s a horrible message to send to all those businesses below Dwight.”

Worthington said the original proposal was to improve the lighting on a four-block stretch of Telegraph to make it more inviting to those walking on the Avenue.

The Telegraph Connects Coalition won a $100,000 Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund grant in 2012 to improve lighting in the area and install wi-fi. The coalition includes the Berkeley Design Advocates, Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development, the Telegraph Business Improvement District, Livable Berkeley, a number of UC Berkeley departments, including planning, the police, residential student services, ASUC External Affairs and the Graduate Assembly.

Originally, the Coalition wanted to string LED lights in a criss-cross pattern down the stretch of Telegraph Avenue from Bancroft Ave. to Dwight Way, according to Roland Peterson, the director of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District. The idea was to create a “room” of the area by providing a lighted “ceiling.”

But the Berkeley Fire Department nixed those plans because officials were concerned the strings of light might hamper their ability to get fire ladders into upper stories of buildings on the street.

The coalition then looked into setting up a series of arches down the street. They had wanted to connect the arches to existing light poles. Berkeley had no data, however, on the strength of the bolts holding up the light poles, casting doubt on whether they were strong enough, said Peterson.

The group then settled on the idea of a single, lit arch, he said.

“The arch came about as a result of lots of different ideas that morphed over time about what was doable,” said Peterson.

The Coalition decided to locate the arch at Dwight Way because the street is just two lanes wide there. It would be much more expensive to put an arch further south, where the road is four lanes wide.

Telegraph Avenue also curves near Dwight Way and if the arch was located further south, it would not be visible from Lower Sproul Plaza, according to Jennifer McDougall, a principal planner for UC Berkeley Capital Projects.

The concept has evolved significantly from the proposal approved by the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund. The Coalition has provided regular reports and the final project idea is close enough to the original proposal that it did not have to be reapproved, said Julie Sinai, the Director of Local Government and Community Relations for UC Berkeley.

The Coalition is not sure that it will go forward with installing wi-fi along the street, said Peterson. Technology has evolved so fast that many people use their cell phones to create a hot spot and many Telegraph Avenue cafes already have wi-fi. If they don’t install wi-fi along the street, the Coalition will not claim $30,000 of the $100,000 grant, said Peterson. The other $70,000 will be used to build the arch.

A number of Berkeley residents volunteered their time to conceive and design the arch, including Alex Bergtraun of Studio Bergtraun Architects, Alice Prussin of Illuminosa Lighting; Alex Rood of Fulcrum Structural Engineering and Allen Reaves at Borden Lighting, said McDougall.

Two riggers Sean Riley of Gravity Design and David Freitag also offered significant assistance, she said.

Berkeley aims to switch old streetlights with LEDs (10.30.13)
New Sproul, design ideas provide optimism for Telegraph (11.19.12)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...