Jacob’s Wharf c. 1877. The beams of the old pier still make their presence known on east-bound Lower University Avenue
Jacob’s Wharf c. 1877. The beams of the old pier still make their presence known on east-bound Lower University Avenue

By Paul Kamen

After a contentious workshop session last Saturday, a number of projects slated for completion under the T1 Bond measure, which Berkeley voters approved in November by 86.6%, will not proceed as planned.

Much of the controversy at the session centered on lower University Avenue, particularly the bumpy eastbound lanes between the Marina and Frontage Road. Because this part of the road was built on bay fill, poured in and around the original Jacob’s Wharf Pier, it has been subject to uneven settlement around the buried beams of the old structure. Past attempts to smooth out the evenly spaced bumps and hollows have added paving material to fill in the low spots, but this only exacerbated the problem by adding more weight between the old beams, causing the low portions of the roadway to sink even faster while the high points over the beams do not sink at all.

The repair plan, estimated to cost between $2 and $3 million, calls for giving up on the south side of the road entirely and relocating all four lanes to the north. This plan would use part of the existing median strip for roadway, but would also cover the abandoned eastbound lanes with topsoil and landscaping.

The realignment plan was strongly opposed by Marina residents who disclosed that they had successfully lobbied for designation of the eastbound lanes as a new California Historic Landmark.

“Our favorite street is now officially recognized for its historic importance as ‘The Bumpiest Street in the World,’ said Roxanne Scholes, President of the Save the Bumps Coalition, as she briefed the participants in the public workshop. “San Francisco has benefited from the ‘Crookedest Street in the World’ since 1922. Lower University Avenue will be an even better tourist attraction, and will bring significant new revenue to local businesses.”

New signage for the eastbound lanes of Lower University Avenue

Workshop participants were divided into small break-out groups of six to eight people per group, plus a facilitator, to document their input to the city’s prioritization process. Three minutes later when the break-out time was up, a representative from each of the groups gave a brief summary of their group’s priorities for the new mix of T1 infrastructure expenditures.

“Our group sees Lower University Avenue as primarily an educational project,” said Sue Shi, co-owner of the market and deli at Frontage Road and one of the principal supporters of the Bumpiest Street coalition. “This is not just for tourists. The Visitor Center should feature exhibits depicting the original shoreline, the historic significance of Jacob’s Wharf, Spenger’s Fish Shack, the City Dump, and the geotechnical dynamics of bay fill and differential settlement. We expect this to become a very popular destination for school field trips and research scholars.”

“We had a good design,” said Waldo Graide, a civil engineer from Public Works who facilitated another break-out group. “Yes, it’s disappointing to see all the money we spent on planning, design, and permitting go to waste without ever breaking ground on this project. But with Landmark designation, now we can use the T1 funds where they are more urgently needed, upgrading the carpets and air conditioning in City Hall and the Veterans’ Building uptown. This will be an important part of the city’s emergency resilience program.”

2-lane proposal for the re-alignment of Lower University Avenue.
4-lane proposal for the re-alignment of Lower University Avenue. Thanks to California Historic Landmark designation, the re-alignment plan will be scrapped.

Jocelyn Shaike, who identified herself as a seismic safety consultant, reported that her break-out group was in agreement with the use of T1 funds for interior improvements to the city’s administration buildings. “Sheltering a large number of people in public buildings will be critical after an earthquake,” she stated. “Especially considering Berkeley’s mild climate and the abundance of tents and sleeping bags among local residents’ possessions… No, wait a minute, that didn’t come out right…”

Sue Nahmmie, a member of the City’s Resiliency Committee, pointed out that rising sea levels could only enhance the value of lower University Avenue as a historic landmark, especially if it had to be closed at high tide.

“Won’t the bumps be a major detriment to businesses on the waterfront?” asked a skeptical workshop participant.

“No, we’ll just change the speed limit to 40 mph,” explained Max DeTorr, the city’s traffic engineer. “At that speed, the bumps come too fast to cause resonance in the suspension systems of most vehicles. Only people who drive too slow will feel the full effects of the Bumpiest Street in the World.” He added that Axel Heist, who operates a brake and alignment shop on San Pablo Avenue, had agreed to sponsor the educational signage.

“I don’t know what everyone’s been complaining about,” interrupted one workshop participant. “I drive it at 30, and it’s no worse than sailing on San Francisco Bay on any summer afternoon.”

The Save the Bumps Coalition presented some candidate designs for the educational bronze plaques, one to be located at the west end of the road where cars enter, and another one for the new Visitor Center. Located right next to Sea Breeze market, the facility will be shared with the planned visitor center for the McGlaughlin Eastshore State Park.

Other break-out groups dealt with more contentious issues, especially the city’s overall policy for maintaining city streets.

“We should be requiring private developers of driveways and commercial parking lots to contribute at least 30% of the construction cost to the Paving Trust Fund,” insisted Phyllis Stein from the Progressive Paving Action Coalition.

“That’s not a scalable solution,” countered detractors of the proposal. According to Rick Shaw, of the Human Powered Transportation Alliance, “The Paving Trust Fund will only fund a tiny percentage of the streets that need re-paving. It does nothing to alleviate the crisis. Only those few streets that win the paving lottery will ever see new asphalt.”

“Have you no compassion for your car’s suspension?” the progressives shouted back.

“Of course we have compassion,” Shaw responded, despite pleas from the facilitators to stay within the workshop discussion format. “We need a city-wide solution. Market rate parking can fund the ongoing maintenance of all the streets in the city. It’s unfair to only saddle driveways and parking lots you don’t like with contributions to the PTF. That is not good paving policy, it’s paving obstructionism.”

Another member of the Progressive Paving Action Coalition accused the market-rate advocates of being nothing more than industry shills, accusing Mr. Shaw of being currently retained as a consultant for the Good Intentions Paving Company.

“It’s a fact that surrounding parking prices always go up as soon as one block allows new paving and market rate parking,” added Stein. “I don’t care if it is near a paving corridor, that does not justify the displacement.”

The workshop was adjourned while the two factions were each accusing the other of not being the real paving progressives.

The East Bay shoreline in 1884.

The next public workshop will be held exclusively for the purpose of providing input to the city and commissions regarding who the Bumpiest Street in the World should be named after.

“I don’t think this will seriously affect the city’s overall paving policy, or the implementation of other T1 infrastructure projects,” said Public Works director Dusty Street after the meeting adjourned. “We are on track, this is just a bump in the road.”

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