Berkeley is pressing on with plans to build new protected bike lanes along Hopkins Street.
What remains to be seen, though, is whether the unanimous vote early Wednesday morning to continue developing the lanes while also more extensively studying how to address the reductions in parking they will require — a trade-off that has sparked fierce resistance from some residents and merchants — will be the final word on the long-debated project.
Berkeley transportation staff will have to prepare the study, which will among other topics cover how the city can manage the Hopkins area’s remaining street parking supply with meters or permit requirements, by the end of January. That’s when the council is set to approve contracts to repave the street and build the new bike infrastructure.
Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who represents the area and had called for transportation staff to halt work on the most controversial segment of the bike lanes, said she will push for the city to re-evaluate plans for the project once that study is in hand.
“It is my intent and it is my understanding that we will have the opportunity to either affirm, or modify, or say no to the project” early next year, Hahn said in an interview.
Supporters of the bike lanes contend that it would be too late in the process for the council to order changes, however.
Transportation staff and city spokesman Matthai Chakko did not respond to multiple inquiries on Wednesday asking whether the council could still modify the bike lane plan next year. City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley told Hahn at the council meeting that the item members later adopted “does not include a decision point” on the project in the future, adding, “We will be providing you with a report.”
If plans for the project do wind up before the council again, it would likely set up another contentious debate over space on Berkeley’s streets that has marked the years-long planning process for changes along Hopkins Street.
The current plan for the corridor, which the City Council approved with an 8-1 vote last May, calls for new protected bike lanes to run from Hopkins’ intersection with Gilman Street to its eastern end at Sutter Street.
Building the lanes would require removing all on-street parking from two narrow blocks of Hopkins between Gilman Street and Monterey Avenue — 35 spots in total — plus four out of 10 spaces from the block that includes shops such as Hopkins Street Bakery and Raxakoul Coffee and Cheese. Another 21 spaces would be eliminated between McGee Avenue and Sutter Street, almost all on less-busy blocks of Hopkins east of The Alameda.
Bicycle and street safety advocates argue there is no need to keep debating the project; its costs and benefits were always understood, they say, and the protected lanes represent a vital step to keep riders safe that is worth sacrificing some parking.
“If we want to improve safety, and we want to stop having 40,000 people die from auto-related accidents [per year], this is basic infrastructure,” Darrell Owens, a North Berkeley resident and housing and transportation activist, said during public comments on the proposal. “Please don’t delay this any further.”
Opponents of the plan contend the 60 parking spaces that would be removed to make room for the lanes will create too many problems for residents and shoppers visiting Hopkins’ local businesses. They say there hasn’t been enough clarity from transportation staff about how the project will affect parking in the neighborhood, and whether the city’s mitigation steps will be sufficient.
“We were looking for this kind of analysis for the past two years of public process,” Jim Offel, another North Berkeley resident, said of the report that will be due in January. “I’m skeptical, to say the least, that now the city can complete in 90 days what they were unable to do in two years.”