The City Council could slam the brakes on the most controversial piece of a plan to build upgraded bike lanes along Hopkins Street in North Berkeley.
Many of the corridor’s residents and merchants have fiercely opposed the project because it would require the removal of dozens of street parking spaces. But Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who represents the neighborhood, said that backlash is not what has prompted her to propose an item at next week’s council meeting to reconsider the plans.
Instead, Hahn said she wants to more extensively study the project after learning the bike lanes will require the removal of about twice as many parking spaces as had been previously estimated by staff in Berkeley’s transportation division.
According to Hahn, transportation staff had prepared a detailed estimate last April showing 60 parking spaces would be lost in total along the mile-long stretch of Hopkins Street being eyed for a redesign. Earlier estimates had predicted the loss of 30 to 35 spots.
But staff didn’t share that updated estimate with the City Council or the public ahead of a vote on the project in May, Hahn said, which meant the council didn’t have a clear sense of the project’s costs and benefits.
“This is about having accurate information, and we didn’t have that — the public didn’t have it, the press didn’t have it, council didn’t have it,” Hahn said in an interview. “That’s not how you make good decisions for your community.”
City spokesperson Matthai Chakko declined to comment on the proposal.
The bike lanes have been the most contentious aspect of a years-long planning process to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists along Hopkins Street, a busy North Berkeley corridor known for its popular strip of local businesses.
The council voted 8-1 in May to build new protected bike lanes along the eastern portion of Hopkins — from its intersection with Gilman Street until it ends at Sutter Street — and make several pedestrian safety improvements.
Supporters cheered the vote as a win for street safety: the protected lanes would encourage more people to get around Hopkins on foot or bike with less fear of being seriously injured or killed by a car driver, they argued, which was more important than preserving parking.
Opponents worried the parking reduction would make it harder for people to visit the area’s shops and cause problems for residents who normally park on the street; some also contend the bike lanes themselves could be a danger to pedestrians.
Proposal calls for new study of bike lanes
Hahn’s proposal, which is on the agenda for the City Council’s Oct. 11 meeting, would pause plans for new bike lanes along the three blocks of Hopkins between Gilman Street and McGee Avenue — the narrow stretch of the corridor that includes its commercial strip, and where the lanes have faced the most resistance. The item is co-sponsored by Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who cast the lone vote against the project last spring, citing its impact on parking.
If the item is approved by the full council, the city would proceed with plans to repave and add pedestrian safety improvements to Hopkins next year, and could still build the bike lanes along portions of the corridor east of McGee Avenue.
But the remaining blocks of the bike lanes would be on hold as the city undertakes another round of planning and public outreach for the project. Hahn’s proposal seeks $400,000 in new funding to pay for that process, which would study ideas like diverting the bike path off of Hopkins and onto nearby parallel streets.
Any changes “must first and foremost be focused on support for local businesses and community-building spaces,” Hahn wrote in her proposal, adding that “bike lanes are not the only goal.” Once that process is complete, staff would bring a final proposal for the corridor back to the City Council for approval.
The pause is necessary, Hahn said, “So that we and the community have a real understanding — a quantified, measured, accurate understanding — of what the options are … and what the tradeoffs are.”
Data on parking loss wasn’t shared
It remains to be seen whether a majority of the City Council will agree to Hahn’s proposal.
When the council approved the project last May, city transportation staff had made clear that it would require removing all on-street parking along the two blocks of Hopkins from Gilman Street to Monterey Avenue. The block that includes popular businesses such as Monterey Fish Market and Gioia Pizzeria would also lose some spaces, though most of its parking would remain.
But staff did not release specific estimates of how many parking spaces would be removed prior to the council’s vote. When Wengraf asked Farid Javandel, the head of Berkeley’s transportation division, for that information at the May 10 meeting, he told her, “We will do a count and send it to you — I don’t have the exact number.”
According to Hahn, though, workers in the transportation division had put together such a count weeks earlier, which found that 35 spaces would be removed between Gilman Street and Monterey Avenue. Four of the 10 spaces on the block between Monterey and McGee avenues would also be removed, as would another 21 spaces east of McGee Avenue, nearly all of them on the less-busy stretch of the corridor above The Alameda.
It’s not clear whether Javandel was aware of that count; he and Chakko did not respond to questions about the parking loss estimates.
Donna DeDiemar, who lives near Hopkins Street and opposes the bike lane plan, said she believes staff purposefully withheld the parking loss figures because they could weaken support for the project. The City Council must approve Hahn’s proposal, DeDiemar said, to restore residents’ faith in the planning process.
“If they choose not to act upon it, this will be devastating for the trust that an awful lot of people have in their city government,” she said. “The process wasn’t fair, it wasn’t transparent and it wasn’t honest.”
Bike safety advocates, on the other hand, aren’t happy that Berkeley might reconsider the new lanes. Ben Gerhardstein of Walk Bike Berkeley said that while the process could have been handled better, the city has spent enough time studying and debating the Hopkins Street project — and the higher number of removed spaces doesn’t change his view of why the bike lanes are worthwhile.
“We are looking to council to show its commitment to safe streets, equity and climate action by rejecting this proposal,” Gerhardstein said. “Our priority is providing safe, equitable mobility for members of our community — we believe that the use of that public right of way to reduce our carbon footprint and to get kids safely to [King] Middle School … is much more important than preserving car storage.”