For four years, Berkeley has been planning improvements on Hopkins Street, a high-injury corridor that was the site of a pedestrian fatality in 2017. After many community meetings, in May 2022, the council voted 8-1 to advance safety improvements on Hopkins. This process was timed so the city could build these improvements when Hopkins is slated for repaving in 2023.
However, at the Sept. 28 agenda committee meeting, Councilmember Sophie Hahn (with Councilmember Susan Wengraf) added a surprise item to the Oct. 11 council meeting: to “reconsider” the Hopkins corridor plan by freezing the status quo from Gilman to McGee, the busy commercial segment. The reason — due to a loss of parking spaces — is unconvincing. The concepts were clear about the trade-offs, which is why everyone on different sides of the debate mobilized so actively throughout the process. Whatever the motivations, this reconsideration would be a huge setback for safety, equity and climate action.
First, the project for this corridor has been in process for four years. Hahn would delay planning until fiscal year 2024, with an unknown timeline afterward. This would add years of delay to an already drawn-out process.
Second, this proposal undermines the initial timeline’s dig-once efficiency while furthering Berkeley’s inequities. Construction would happen after the scheduled Hopkins re-paving. No Berkeleyan should feel good about tearing up freshly laid asphalt. Plus, she demands $400,000 for this reconsideration in wealthy North Berkeley. That money should be spent on street safety improvements in West and South Berkeley.
Third, Hahn would continue building any planned cycle tracks outside the commercial blocks. Without the through-connectivity of these blocks and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, Hahn would dump cyclists and scooterists onto shared streets facing the wrong direction. Travelers should hate this: as a result of this item, this part of the Hopkins corridor may have more conflicts and injuries. Let’s give MLK students a safe, connected bike route.
For what Hahn would do wrong, here are what the concepts would do right:
- Narrow car travel lanes force drivers to drive more carefully.
- Create a protected lane (the two-way cycle track) for people on bikes, scooters, and other low-speed mobility options. This establishes a low-stress network so more people can make a car-free trip.
- Narrow the crossing distance for pedestrians against cars.
- Add a bus bulb, providing a bigger sidewalk to share between transit riders and pedestrians and improving bus efficiency.
- Add a raised crosswalk at Monterey, slowing drivers.
- Improve the traffic signal controls at Sacramento to eliminate conflicts between people driving, walking, and using the cycle track.
For these to work, some vehicle parking will indeed be removed. This undoubtedly makes some business owners anxious, but research shows that businesses benefit because it’s not about the number of cars you can park but how many people you bring in.
Berkeleyans undertook a years-long journey to May’s approvals. For the council to walk back the decision now would breach any trust they can commit to their goals. Furthermore, this lack of leadership is detrimental to getting community support for Measure L, a much-needed housing and safe streets bond. The mayor and the council should reject this item and move forward with the concepts passed in May. Charge staff with finishing their work and building a safer Hopkins in 2023.
Chris Lee-Egan is a software engineer. Jacqueline Erbe is on the coordinating committee of Walk Bike Berkeley, a volunteer organization that advocates for safe, low-stress, and fun walking and biking in Berkeley for people of all ages and abilities.