Opinion: Hopkins Corridor pits seniors vs. young people

The disruption to the neighborhood … is not worth the build-it-and-they-will-come gamble that the bike coalitions want to take.

There’s a war going on in Berkeley’s beloved Northbrae neighborhood. It pits the left against the left, the good against the good, but the young against the old.

The area now known as the Hopkins Corridor stretches down Hopkins from Sutter Street in the east to the Gilman/Hopkins split in the west, and is a major commute arterial from Interstate 80 into the heart of North Berkeley. A coup has erupted in this corridor, home to the revered Monterey Market, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, Monterey Fish, and several other homespun, vibrant local businesses that attract shoppers from all over the Bay Area. 

The well-organized and well-funded Berkeley bike coalitions decided years ago to include this area in the Berkeley Bicycle Plan. In 2017, some transportation commissioners casually added specific streets to the plan at the last minute at small subcommittee meetings, with no real public input or notification to residents. Staff obliged, failing to correct these errors. Fast forward five years, and on April 21 the tactic was used again. 

The chair of the commission, a bike coalition member, made a motion to insert bike coalition changes to the plan presented by staff. The motion to forward these recommendations to the City Council was seconded and passed, even though it now included a provision to remove the eastbound slip lane at Hopkins and Sacramento, something staff had specifically said was not possible because it made the turning radius for large vehicles too tight. At the time this was done, public discussion was already closed. 

The plan proposes to change Hopkins into a bike-centric route, not a car-centric one, despite its connection to the freeway. To do this, it squeezes lanes of traffic into narrow strips and removes all the parking west of Monterey Avenue and California Street, which includes half the commercial zone. Why? Because otherwise, it can’t fit bike lanes onto a street that was built too narrowly to accommodate them.

The plan requires building a two-way bike track, where both east and west-bound cyclers must travel together. This goes against everything a cyclist is taught from childhood: always go with the flow of traffic, not against it. Even the Federal Highway Administration advises against this. So why do it? Because the planners, dead set on putting the lanes on Hopkins instead of a less-trafficked street, can’t come up with anything better.

The planners anticipate that doing all this will enable who-knows-how-many people (truly, they have no clue) to quit using their cars and begin bicycling to their jobs, purchase groceries or pick up plants and a bag of compost from Berkeley Horticultural Nursery. 

This is where the changes become a war on seniors. The corridor is an area of largely older residents, frequented by the largely older residents from the Berkeley Hills. Seniors, unless already comfortable on bikes, generally walk or drive. Carrying large items or heavy bags is challenging, and they simply cannot, or won’t, do many of the things that the younger cyclists are demanding. They will drive to the area when necessary and, if they can find parking, this is what they will face: having to cross over two lanes of bicycle traffic to get to the sidewalk; having to open their doors into narrowed lanes of traffic; needing to decide if coming to Hopkins is worth their while when there are other places more senior-friendly. 

The truth is, there is very low bicycle use in this area now. The disruption to the neighborhood, including the shops, and the danger that will result from the Hopkins Corridor plan, is not worth the build-it-and-they-will-come gamble that the bike coalitions want to take.

Donna DeDiemar is a former business owner in Berkeley and a self-identified ardent environmentalist.