Parking vs. bike lanes: Berkeley’s Hopkins Street faces a stark choice

One plan would replace much of the corridor’s parking with protected bike lanes. Another would keep parking, but leave bicyclists vulnerable.

Hopkins Street in North Berkeley is at the center of a contentious debate over how the city allocates space on its roads. Credit: Tracey Taylor

The effort to redesign Hopkins Street has sparked a contentious debate among residents, merchants and bicycle safety advocates over the future of the busy North Berkeley corridor. And two newly unveiled proposals for what the street could look like for a decade or longer will likely do little to calm that conflict.

One plan calls for creating new protected bike lanes along some of Hopkins’ most hectic blocks by eliminating much of the street’s parking spaces — including spots in front of its popular shopping strip.

View plans in detail: Click here to see maps of the proposed changes to Hopkins Street and give your feedback on the ideas.

The competing proposal would preserve Hopkins’ parking, but leave most of the street without dedicated bike lanes.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who represents the neighborhood, is not happy with either of the options, which were presented to the public at a forum last week. Hahn contends the plans offer “a false dichotomy” in the dramatically different ways they call for allocating space on the street.

“I’m hopeful that staff is working on a third option that will be more of a hybrid,” Hahn said. “I’m not satisfied with the two options that we were presented.”

But a compromise could be hard to pull off, said Farid Javandel, the head of the city’s Transportation Division, because parts of Hopkins are so narrow that they can’t accommodate both a bike lane and on-street parking. Javandel, a bicyclist who was hit by a driver last week, said his office will pick a plan early next year once it has heard public feedback on the proposals. Work is slated to begin in 2023, when Hopkins is repaved.

“All the options have some kind of trade-off,” Javandel said.

Whatever design transportation officials pick will be in place while the city works on a more dramatic long-term makeover of Hopkins Street that is still in the early planning stages. That project includes substantial new bicycle and pedestrian safety infrastructure, which Hahn requested in 2017 after two fatal crashes in the area, as well as new “placemaking” features such as public art installations or seating areas.

The segment of Hopkins that is being redesigned — a roughly mile-long stretch between Sutter and Gilman streets — offers limited protections for bicyclists today. There are painted bike lanes on some blocks, but not on others, such as the busy stretch between Sacramento and Gilman streets, where riders would have to jockey for space with cars headed toward Interstate 80.

Both of the proposals for the street’s more immediate future call for pedestrian safety upgrades, such as “bulb-outs” and medians to provide more protection at crosswalks.

One proposed option for the redesign of Hopkins Street would install protected bike lanes along the length of the corridor, either with barriers or a row of parked cars. To make room for the bike lane, this plan calls for eliminating on-street parking west of McGee Avenue — though some of that parking would be replaced on Monterey Avenue and California Street. Credit: Parisi Transportation Consulting

Bicycle advocates cheered the first option for a near-term redesign that was presented at last week’s public forum. Under that plan, the entire segment would have bike lanes that are protected from automobile traffic, either by barriers or a row of parked cars, similar to a recent redesign of Adeline Street.

“We need continuous, protected bike lanes along the entire corridor,” said Ben Gerhardstein of Walk Bike Berkeley. The option “provides for a safer street for more road users,” he said, and would help Berkeley make progress toward its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“My kids have often described riding in an unprotected bike lane as being a car on a runway with an airplane,” said Liza Lutzker, another Walk Bike Berkeley member who spoke at the forum on the street redesign, which had about 200 participants. “I’m really supportive of making sure we have a lot of protection.”

Others recoiled at the price for that protection, however: The plan calls for eliminating all street parking along Hopkins from McGee Avenue to Gilman Street, while the blocks from McGee to The Alameda would lose about half of their spaces.

New angled parking areas along Monterey Avenue and California Street, which would become a one-way street going south, would replace some of the spaces eliminated from Hopkins’ commercial strip, leaving a net loss of five spots in that area. Other blocks would not see their parking replaced.

“It would be devastating for the merchants,” said Paul Johnson, a co-founder of Monterey Fish Market whose daughter, Kelley, launched an online petition earlier this year opposing changes that would reduce parking on the street.

While advocates contend plenty of customers could bike to Hopkins Street’s shops instead of driving, Johnson was not convinced.

“They will drive to Whole Foods, they will drive to Safeway, they will drive to Berkeley Bowl,” he said. “If they can’t park (on Hopkins), they will drive elsewhere.”

The second proposal calls for keeping Hopkins Street’s parking spaces while eliminating bike lanes. Bicyclists would be expected to ride with car traffic west of The Alameda. Credit: Parisi Transportation Consulting

Several speakers who attended the virtual forum on the redesign last week said they preferred the second option, which would not eliminate any parking spaces.

“Depriving people of parking in front of their house, for either themselves or friends who come to visit, to me just makes no sense,” North Berkeley resident Michael Fajans said.

But some bicyclists found that option unacceptable, because it doesn’t include any separated bike lanes west of The Alameda. Instead, the street would only have painted “sharrows” — lane markings meant to convey that cars and bikes must share the road, which many cyclists say do little to protect them from inattentive or impatient drivers.

“I’m surprised and kind of horrified that sharrows are being presented as a real option,” said Marc Hedlund, another speaker at the forum, adding that the markings “don’t help in any way.”

Both of the options would include bike lanes along Hopkins’ less busy final blocks east of The Alameda. Javandel said cost estimates for the near-term project would be determined once a design is chosen.

For now, the consultants who developed the street design ideas are taking public feedback via an online tool that displays the options in detail and lets people comment on them. Two Berkeley-based firms, PlaceWorks and Parisi Transportation Consulting, are working on the project.

Hahn criticized the consultants’ outreach strategies, however, saying the online feedback tool is “extremely complex” and the renderings of proposed changes that have been presented to the public are “overly technical” for lay audiences. Hahn said she worried that would make it difficult for less tech-savvy people to understand and weigh in on the proposals.

“It’s not appropriate for a public process like this because it is not accessible enough,” Hahn said. “We need real opportunities for input.”

PlaceWorks did not respond to inquiries about Hahn’s comments; a representative for Parisi Transportation Consulting declined to comment and referred a reporter’s inquiry to city staff.

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.