Imagine a bike and pedestrian path stretching from Downtown Berkeley BART to Emeryville, lined with sheltering trees, parks, playgrounds, farmers’ markets and places to sit and eat.
That’s the vision of a new proposal for three miles of Shattuck Avenue, Adeline Street and Stanford Avenue. One day, the greenway proposal, which also calls for natural cache basins and engineered wetlands to mitigate flooding and filter out pollutants from runoff, potentially could connect to the Bay Trail, creating a bike and pedestrian pathway from Richmond to Hayward.
“This is an exciting project to really think about how we can re-envision our streets as open space, pedestrian space and an opportunity for increased bicycle infrastructure,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said at the annual meeting of the Downtown Berkeley Association on April 16.
The concept is detailed in an 80-page report titled the “Shattuck-Adeline-Stanford Greenway Vision Plan: From Auto Arterial to Community Corridor,” which was released in late March. Matt Taecker of Taecker Planning and Design, a former Berkeley city planner and principal author of the city’s Downtown Area Plan, developed the plan for Bike East Bay, an East Bay bicyclist advocacy group.
Arreguín said the next step would be to seek funding from the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) to further develop the proposal.
The idea for a long, intercity greenway, came out of work on the Downtown Area Plan and Berkeley’s Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan, which both call for the greening of Berkeley’s downtown roadways, said Taecker. It also builds off of work done on the city’s Adeline Corridor Plan, which would add green “linear parks” to the paved sections of Adeline Street from Shattuck to Alcatraz Avenue.
Although there is some disagreement about exactly how the idea first came about, John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, and Taecker several years ago discussed the idea of a greenway in Berkeley along Shattuck Avenue to Dwight Way. Later they expanded their ideas and incorporated planning from the Adeline Corridor Plan. Later on, conversations grew to include Bike East Bay Advocacy Director Dave Campbell, who suggested extending the greenway concept all the way down Stanford Avenue through Oakland and Emeryville and connecting to the Bay Trail and the Bay Bridge, according to conversations with all three.
“Think of all the people who might want to come from the Bay Trail to downtown Berkeley, to Cal, walking and biking,” Campbell said by phone of their brainstorming session. “They agreed that [that would be] a much bigger and better vision. That got us all super motivated and on the same page.”
The three secured financial and political support from various sources to convert their idea into a formal planning document. The project has taken two years to reach this stage at a cost of $43,450, according to Caner. The Downtown Berkeley Association ponied up $10,000, UC Berkeley contributed $15,000 through a Chancellor’s Grant, the Berkeley City Council gave $3,450, and the city’s Office of Economic Development donated $5,000. Two developers, the Austin Group and Lennar Multifamily Company, each contributed $5,000. The funds were used to pay for an assistant for Taecker, but otherwise, all work was done pro bono, according to Taecker during an interview at his downtown Berkeley office.
“It’s been kind of a skunk works. But it’s a big, bold concept.” — John Caner
“It’s been kind of a skunk works,” said Caner of the last two years. “But it’s a big, bold concept. You see the incredible success around these greenways across the country and Shattuck is such a problematic wide street. To create this green space makes it a more intimate space.”
The various concept drawings in the plan suggest reducing the width and number of car lanes to fit long multi-block linear parks. Some of the roadways along the proposed greenway are from 120 feet to 200 feet wide, and the asphalt could be reduced to 60 feet wide without impeding traffic, according to the report.
The proposal would keep the number of existing parking spaces along these roads the same—or even increase them depending on the design proposal, by using parallel parking instead of the large parking “bays” on Shattuck, for example, even as it reduces the total road space allocated for cars, according to Taecker.
Such changes, however, would not affect safety or drive times, according to Taecker due to leveraging new technologies that could reduce the space needed for cars without reducing safety or drive times such as self-driving cars and so-called “lane assist” or “lane departure warning” systems.
“It’s a very high-level concept at this point that has not had the benefit of technical review such as making sure all the intersections work and are safe,” said Taecker of his plan. “And it hasn’t had substantial community engagement.”
Campbell was quick to point out that although Bike East Bay was technically Taecker’s client, it isn’t a prescription from his organization to the community. Instead, he says, it’s a call for a conversation with residents, businesses, officials, and regional planners on how these wide arterial streets could be reimagined.
“It’s a vision with some concepts, [asking] what do you think of this?” he said. “We don’t want to make it seem like it’s Bike East Bay’s idea. We are a stakeholder, we want to have conversations about having a better future. We’ve learned from experience that it’s important to have something to show people, so they can see what we’re talking about. People like pictures.”
The report includes colorful maps and images of what could be done along these streets. The report also includes photos of Shattuck Avenue, contrasting what it looked like in the early 20th century when heavy-gauge Southern Pacific trains and electric streetcars shared space next to early-era automobiles, which is why the street is so wide, and today when it is almost entirely dedicated to car traffic.
“Any design represents values, embedded cultural values, the designer’s priorities, the priorities of the funders,” said Taecker. “A Shattuck Avenue that is 80-percent asphalt [as it is today] is a pretty clear indication that the priorities when it was designed were auto-oriented.”
The plan also cites several other projects that emphasize people over cars. New York City instituted a “road diet” in Times Square, eliminating cars on part of Broadway to create a pedestrian refuge in midtown, as well as on Pike Street in lower Manhattan where asphalt medians were transformed into flowering, tree-lined central pathways for people and bikes. Other inspirations cited in the report include Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Piazza Navona in Rome (which is equally as wide as Shattuck and includes fountains and hosts outdoor markets), Manhattan’s High Line pedestrian and bike path that runs along the West Side on an old elevated railway, and Chicago’s “606” elevated railway that was converted to a bike path.
Campbell is sensitive to the concern that residents who would be affected by any redevelopment haven’t yet been included in this process. The city’s Adeline Corridor Plan is a case in point. The plan, still being prepared, reimagines the area in and around Adeline Street. Some residents have expressed concern that the city’s interest in the area would lead to gentrification that would push them out.
“It’s a delicate conversation,” Campbell said. “We’re not saying agree with us so we can go build it. People misinterpret and think we’ve done a public process. The next step in all this is to do that. “
Neither Berkeley, Oakland nor Emeryville has formally supported the greenway proposal yet, nor has the ACTC considered it. ACTC has its own countywide bicycle plan and calls for a connection between the Ohlone and Bay Trails. However, Taecker said that he had spoken to officials in all three cities and the various commissions that would have oversight of any plan to get feedback and to incorporate their suggestions.
“We think we got it to a point where anything really troublesome is out of the document, hopefully,” Taecker said. “Also, everyone just admits it’s a concept. It could be considered a trial balloon, just to see what the community thinks.”
Attempts to reach officials in Emeryville and Oakland were not returned.
Jonathon Brown, president and chairman of the Lorin Business Association and vice president of the NAACP’s Berkeley branch, supports the greenway concept because it promotes several of his and his organization’s priorities for the Lorin District, including increasing greenery, promoting exercise, and helping to make South Berkeley more of a destination for people. These changes, he says, may not be popular with everyone in the neighborhood who might fear change, but business owners and other people that he represents would welcome them.
“We need South Berkeley to change,” said Brown. “It needs to be reimagined, reconstructed, it needs to be rebuilt. [This] may not be a popular opinion but it’s my opinion.”
He did caution that any redevelopment shouldn’t be done at the expense of people of color. “We need to make sure that people of color have access to all these wonderful things, all these wonderful services,” he said. “That people won’t be pushed out just because things get new and shiny.”
Brown is concerned, though, that more open space along Adeline might be an invitation for those without housing to set up tents.
Caner dismissed the concern that homeless encampments would spread along the greenway if it were designed in such a way that “activates the space.” “Cyclists and pedestrians [will be going by] every minute and I don’t think anyone is going to pitch a tent in a greenway,” he said. “If you activate a space, the encampments give way. We see that at [the new] Bart plaza, and people respect that.”
Ben Gerhardstein, a coordinating committee member of Walk Bike Berkeley supports this proposal as well. “At a very high level this is exactly the kind of bold thinking, bold vision that the city of Berkeley needs to be exploring,” he said. “This kind of idea fits squarely with the mayor’s Vision 2050 efforts, aligns with the city’s climate, pedestrian, and bike goals, and our values around equity.”
Like Campbell and Brown, he warned that all stakeholders would have to be part of any future planning and discussion. “Gentrification is one of the primary concerns here,” he said. “Ideally what this vision helps us build [is] a movement for improving our community that doesn’t displace people and leverages and supports the diversity that we have in Berkeley. We need everybody affected by this project to have a voice in it.”
One area that Gerhardstein thought needed more work was in regards to transit. The current proposal is focused very much on pedestrians and bicyclists but nothing in the way for buses, he said, which he cited as an equity issue.
The next step will be proposing this project to the ACTC to be added to its official work plans for the future to help secure further funding, said Campbell.
However, don’t look for the greenway anytime soon, said Taecker. It took BART and Berkeley 12 years to build the new BART Plaza in the downtown. Tacker estimated that this plan would take at least 20 years to bring to fruition.
“I just hope that people will give it a chance as an idea,” he said. “Let’s just get excited about a greenway, let’s not presume what the [final] design is going to be. Something really cool could occur.”