New bus-boarding islands prevent buses from cutting off cyclists. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

In case you missed the memo, Berkeley streets are no longer meant for cars alone.

Just look at what’s happening to several blocks of Hearst Avenue, along the north side of the Cal campus. That stretch was repaved in October, after a number of changes intended to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and bus-riders, as well as drivers, and the work will be finished this month, said Farid Javandel, transportation manager for the city of Berkeley.

“Traffic engineers used to think in terms of the level of service to car-users,” Javandel said, and factors such as reducing delay to cars were a top priority.

In recent years the city has adopted a “complete streets” approach that aims to consider all the various users — pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motorists — as it plans and undertakes roadwork.

Every time, “we look and try to make sure we’ve considered all of the users of the street,” Javandel said.

Now, Berkeley’s first Complete Streets project, comprising the changes along Hearst Avenue between Shattuck Avenue on the west and Gayley Road on the east, is … almost complete.

The Hearst overhaul began six or seven years ago, with analysis and a preliminary design paid for through “mitigation funding” from the university, because of the growth envisioned in its Long-Range Development Plan, said Javandel.

City employees presented the design to neighbors, bicyclists, pedestrians, bus passengers and motorists several times, said Javandel, and it’s gone through numerous revisions to incorporate feedback.

“The key thing Transportation has been working on is balance,” said Javandel. The question is, “how do you balance things so that everybody’s need is being addressed appropriately?”

To improve bus efficiency and reduce conflicts with bikes, bus-boarding “islands” — platforms for AC Transit-riders — have been built away from the curb at the intersections with Arch Street and Euclid Avenue.

A cyclist on Hearst Avenue. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The bike lane continues hugging the curb around the non-traffic side of the islands. Buses can pull out of traffic, pick up passengers and rejoin the flow without cutting off bicycles.

Making Hearst safer for bikes addresses the reality that many cyclists prefer using Hearst, even though parallel Virginia Street is marked as a bike route, said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay. Virginia Street is hillier, while Hearst is right there at UC Berkeley and “super-wide,” Campbell said.

“The strategy in Berkeley has been to pick a street one block away from the busy street,” said Campbell, and put the bike route there.

However, when riding on less-busy streets, Campbell said, there’s no safe way for cyclists to traverse the busy cross streets, whereas “the main arteries have been engineered” for crossing, usually with traffic signals.

Cyclists on Hearst Avenue. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Markings where new bike lanes will go on Hearst Avenue. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Bike travel along Hearst is being accommodated variously on different blocks, with either “buffered” or “protected” bike lanes. There will be buffered bike lanes, where the bike lane is painted green and separated from car traffic by plastic stanchions, on the eastbound side between Shattuck and Oxford and between Le Conte and Euclid, said Javandel.

The eastbound section between Oxford and Le Conte will be “parking-protected,” according to a press release from the city manager’s office. Bikes will ride along the curb, and parallel parking spaces will separate moving car traffic from the bike lane.

A parking-protected bike lane will also be installed on the westbound side of Hearst, between Walnut and Shattuck. On the westbound, downhill section from Gayley to Arch Street, “sharrows” will eventually be painted on the pavement, indicating that bikes and cars are to share the lane, Campbell said.

“This is downhill, so bikes are going faster anyway,” Campbell said.

But, Campbell added, it’s “not a bike project. It’s a Complete Streets project. There’s [also] a pedestrian angle and a transit angle.”

To improve pedestrian safety, Hearst has been narrowed at the intersection with Arch to shorten the crosswalk, Javandel said, and cars can only turn right from Arch onto Hearst. At Le Roy, near the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, a traffic light has been installed (though, as of early November, it had not been turned on), so that cars have to stop for students crossing to and from campus, according to a press release from the City Manager’s office.

For pedestrians and wheelchair-users, the street’s most dangerous area was the roughly 900-foot stretch of eastbound Hearst, between Arch Street and North Gate, where there was no sidewalk.

“That area of Hearst used to have people walking along a section of the street without a sidewalk, while cars drove by at regular speed,” said Javandel. Now that gap has been filled with a newly laid sidewalk.

After the bus islands, crossing light and narrower crosswalks were installed, the earth underneath the elevated westbound lane of Hearst, near the intersection with Euclid, was shored up, and then Hearst was repaved in early October.

This project isn’t isolated, said Javandel. Rather, it’s what Transportation’s been working on — improving the flow of people into and away from campus in the three main ways they get there and back: bike, bus or car.

“The largest draw of traffic in our city is the university,” Javandel said.

“All of the streets around campus do use all of these different modes intensively,” added Matthai Chakko, Berkeley city spokesman.

“This has been going along in parallel,” Chakko said. Transportation planners have also been working on the city’s bike plan, a pedestrian safety plan, and the reconfiguration of Shattuck Avenue. A lot of data was gathered and analyzed to assess what the needs were, said Chakko.

The Pedestrian Master Plan laid out exposures and risk rates for people on foot, and that led to the plan to reconfigure Shattuck, Javandel said.

The effort to coordinate street improvements with larger city policies extends to mitigating environmental damage.

“A lot of pollutants that get into the bay are washed off of the streets,” Chakko said.

A new bioswale at Hearst and Oxford is designed to catch, filter and clean rainwater on its way to the bay. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

To reduce the amount of run-off waste that reaches San Francisco Bay, Berkeley built a bioswale at the foot of the Hearst hill, at the corner with Oxford. A bioswale catches and retains rainwater and slows down its flow by providing layers of plant roots and soil, which then filter and clean the water as it flows down, Javandel said.

This initial Complete Streets project was funded by various sources, including a grant from the Alameda County Transportation Commission in 2013.

“The Project’s construction budget is approximately $4.3 million, which includes about $2.2 million in federal grants from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area Grant program, and local matching funds from UC Berkeley and the City,” according to the city’s website.

AC Transit also contributed $140,000 towards the bus islands, Javandel said.

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