The Key System “F” line traveling down Adeline Street at Ashby Avenue in an undated photo. The Key System operated local streetcars in Berkeley, Oakland and other parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties between 1903 and 1948. Credit: The Key System: San Francisco and the Eastshore Empire, Emiliano Echeverria and Walter Rice

Adeline Street in South Berkeley could look very different in 10 years — while harkening back to some of its past — under a proposal the city is considering for the Adeline Corridor Plan with housing at Ashby BART.

Catch up on live tweets from the meeting to see more details on the “road diet.

Over the summer the City Council approved 7-story housing complexes at the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations that could rise as high as 12 stories under density bonuses. This week BART decided on a team of developers for North Berkeley, which is planned to break ground in 2025.

Planning in South Berkeley is contending with a history of racist and exclusionary housing policies and the disruption of the historically Black neighborhood and business district when Ashby BART was constructed in 1973.

Part of that means reshaping the area surrounding the Ashby BART station, along with building housing units. The Adeline Corridor Specific Plan, the product of a complex, five-year community process, was approved in the fall of 2020 to meet numerous goals.

A key part of the plan is a permanent home for the Ashby Flea Market, which was born in the early 1970s and fought to have its current home on the BART lot.

The century-old Webb Block, a Berkeley city landmark, before BART was built, with key system rail lines in place. Credit: Lorin District archives
The Webb Block, present-day, Dec. 1, 2022. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

In line with the new plan, the City Council this week decided to commission a detailed engineering design for a proposal that could cut the existing, four-lane Adeline Street near Ashby BART into a two-lane roadway with traffic priority for buses.

The extra sidewalk space would create a wide plaza for the Ashby Flea Market at street level and other recreational or park uses. Councilmember Sophie Hahn floated the idea of chess tables and a European-inspired bocce ball setup in the “barren strip” that currently borders the station, as well as public bathrooms, greenery and movable tables.

Several council members emphasized that, along with road changes, the plaza needs to blend seamlessly with the new housing and retail units planned for the existing BART parking lot, which dips down from street level on Adeline Street before meeting Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The second option, approved by the council, would have a wider plaza and “queue jump lanes” for buses. It would also potentially get rid of a “slip lane” on Ashby Avenue on the east side of the intersection, and make the MLK/Adeline intersection a right angle. Credit: City Council presentation

In the current plan, the housing and retail aren’t flush with street level. And, while the narrower lanes might be more similar to what the roadway looked like 60 years ago, the high rises in the Ashby BART lot will offer a dramatically different vista.

“Instead of creating a dynamic neighborhood center, the proposed design would physically isolate residents from the community,” South Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett said in a statement, pushing for no “gap” between the proposed BART housing and the street-level plaza.

Bartlett referenced the historic fight to underground Ashby BART, which was partially successful, but said the ultimate product of development in the ’70s made the Adeline triangle a “dangerous sea of asphalt and underutilized opportunity.”

The engineering concept to come will include a “podium” design that would lift the housing and retail units up to Adeline Street, creating a more visible interaction with passersby.

Though the homes would no longer be small single-family homes and apartments like they were before the inception of BART, the city envisions an active neighborhood that could restore elements of the past.

A BART parcel map of homes that existed at Ashby BART before it was converted into a parking lot. Credit: BART

Years before BART came to South Berkeley, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way was still Grove Street (before the city changed it in 1983), the Adeline Corridor was a thriving Black business district.

Around the same time the Black population was increasing in the neighborhood, the Key System still ran its trains up and down North and South Berkeley, and neighboring cities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Archival photos from the Lorin District and literature about the Key System show above-ground rail tracks on Adeline Street, with two lanes on either side that the present-day corridor could come to resemble, in part.

The second of two options, which the council moved forward with, would create a larger plaza area by opting for a queue-jump lane that lets buses past the light first, instead of dedicated bus lanes. The overall roadway would be much narrower.

“For me, I think the most important element of this project is not just improving the safety of Adeline but also having a much wider sidewalk or plaza area,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said. “We should not permanently displace the flea market, which is a really critical cultural, economic amenity for South Berkeley and the East Bay, in the process of building housing.”

The intersection of Adeline and Ashby was identified in the January 2021 Berkeley Pedestrian Plan as a “high injury street” with severe traffic crashes, one of the 10 most dangerous in the city.

The new proposal has safety elements, like protected bike lanes, and, according to staff, only creates a 10-second delay for northbound traffic with little to no delay for southbound traffic.

Housing units could rise seven to 12 stories in the Ashby BART parking lot, which is bounded by Ashby Avenue, Adeline Street and MLK Jr. Way. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

Community groups in the area, like Healthy Black Families, are seeking continued involvement in plans for the corridor, and accessibility advocates have also raised concerns around the loss of parking when housing replaces the area around the station.

The next steps for the Adeline Corridor will include finalizing the memorandum of understanding for the Ashby project with BART, set to happen next spring, a standards review after that, and ultimately development and construction by 2026.

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...