Berkeley residents got their first look at the city’s plan to redesign traffic patterns around Shattuck Square on Tuesday night at an open house in the Aurora Theater.
The room was lined with illustrations of the project plans and grids where attendees could rate the current pedestrian, cycling and driving conditions of Shattuck Avenue. Around the displays, engineers, city officials and urban designers associated with the project were on hand to answer questions and provide additional information.
Read more about traffic safety in past Berkeleyside coverage.
The Shattuck Avenue reconfiguration and pedestrian safety project is a part of the larger Downtown Area Plan, which was adopted by the City Council in 2012 and encompasses environmental goals, transit and access, community health, economic development and more.
Among the most dangerous intersections in the city for pedestrians, the corner of University Avenue and Shattuck is number two on the list for pedestrian-car collisions and near misses.
“There’s no protected phase for pedestrians to cross,” said Farid Javandel, city of Berkeley transportation chief. “We considered changing the [street] light pattern,” but the problem is larger than that, he added.
The plan is to change the traffic patterns on Shattuck between Center Street and University. Currently, each side is one-way, with traffic on the western stretch running south while the eastern stretch holds northbound traffic. The problem, stated by multiple officials at the open house, is the “dog-leg” turn (left onto University followed by an immediate right to stay on Shattuck) that northbound traffic is forced to take if it continues on Shattuck.
The solution, as proposed by the reconfiguration plan, is to turn the western span of Shattuck into a four lane, two-way street, while the eastern span would be narrowed and intended for buses, deliveries and traffic whose destination is in the downtown area, explained Aaron Sage, the project manager.
“The west side is for trans-city traffic that’s going straight through,” while the east side is for “local traffic” whose destination is nearby, Sage said.
To accommodate four lanes on the western side, its sidewalks would be narrowed slightly and street parking would be eliminated on the bay side of the street. On the eastern span, the reverse would happen: Sidewalks would be widened and the lanes reduced from three to two to make space for diagonal parking, making up for the loss of parking on the other side. The rejigging would result in a net los of one parking space.
Tuesday’s open house was the third and largest of five events to allow public feedback on the project. Sage estimated that the project would begin no sooner than spring 2017 and last between six and 12 months, though he stressed that these dates were very early projections.
“This is the first time a lot of people are seeing the project,” said Jack Mong, an engineer working on the reconfiguration. He estimated that the project is “at the 35% stage,” with ample room for adjustments to the plans if need be.
Rebecca Edwards, a Berkeley resident who attended the open house, acknowledged that the intersection needs to be changed, though whether the proposed plan is the best option has yet to be seen.
“I’m open to it,” she said after looking over the diagrams on display.
John Gordon, owner of Gordon Commercial Real Estate, had more doubts. Gordon owns several buildings along the span of Shattuck under consideration and was particularly concerned about the narrowing of the sidewalks on the western side of the street.
“I think they’re going the wrong direction,” Gordon said. “They’re taking away the bulb-outs” that make pedestrian crossing safer.
The removal of parking along the western stretch irked Gordon as well.
“The buffer parking makes you feel safe,” he said, especially in the outdoor seating at restaurant and bakery PIQ.
The few elected officials who stopped by the open house felt positively about the proposal. Mayor Tom Bates called the project “an exciting opportunity” before he rushed off to a tumultuous city council meeting.
Councilman Kriss Worthington, whose district ends one block away from the proposed site, said that a change to the intersection was essential.
“There are massive amounts of pedestrian safety issues,” Worthington said.
Private developers showed up to inspect the plans as well. Matt Taecker, the principal planner and community liaison for the hotel proposed at the Bank of America location on Center Street, said any plan that makes the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly is a good idea.
“I really believe that the more foot traffic downtown has, the more welcoming it becomes,” Taecker said.
Taecker emphasized that, as part of the planning process, the hotel project has aimed for a fusion with the work underway by the city.
“We’re trying to sync up with the city’s plans for Shattuck,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story was revised after publication to include some corrections relating to traffic flow in the most recent plan, parking on the western leg and traffic on the eastern leg.
Eden Teller, a junior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a Berkeleyside summer intern. She is majoring in media and cultural studies and minoring in geology.
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