The city has announced new delays in the Hopkins Street redesign, a hotly debated plan for more accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists in North Berkeley, due to pervasive staffing shortages, unresolved safety issues and looming regulatory concerns.
The City Council was scheduled to hold a special meeting April 18 on the project. That has now been canceled, with no new date yet announced.
In a letter to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the City Council Tuesday, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said “vacancies and project management changes within the Transportation Division of the Public Works Department” mean the city needs more time before advancing the project.
“Additionally, new proposals, external reports and deeper analysis of this project require a continued review of the work product to date along with a new timeline,” Williams-Ridley wrote.
Proponents of the new plan, which would bring a protected two-way bike track to part of Hopkins Street in North Berkeley, have been branded the “bike mafia” by their counterparts, who in turn have been accused of being “neighbor NIMBYs.”
The project began as a street safety effort after motorists struck and killed two people, one pedestrian and one cyclist, in the area in the first half of 2017. A protected bike lane could supplant parking spaces, drawing criticism from some residents and businesses in the neighborhood.
Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who represents Northwest Berkeley and sits on the council’s Public Safety Policy Committee, said the postponement “was an operational necessity made because of a lack of staffing resources.”
“I understand that this news may be disappointing for the community and all of you, especially given that the Hopkins Corridor project has been in development for the past two years,” Williams-Ridley wrote to the mayor and council.
The understaffed public works office was affecting “multiple infrastructure projects citywide,” Arreguín wrote in an announcement Wednesday.
The organization Walk Bike Berkeley, which advocates for pedestrians and cyclists, posted on Twitter that they were “deeply disappointed” in the postponement.
The transportation office’s “staffing crisis is partially related to mistreatment they’ve suffered through the Hopkins project,” the organization’s statement read. “This postponement continues a wasteful, demoralizing cycle, further challenging efforts to fill vacancies and retain excellent staff.”
“So long as we create a toxic environment, set staff up to fail (and) drum up hostility against public servants, then our staffing crisis will deepen,” Councilmember Terry Taplin, who chairs the Public Safety Policy Committee, posted on Twitter.
In an email newsletter Wednesday, the group Friends of Hopkins Street, which opposes a new two-way bike lane on Hopkins, said they were “beyond excited” that the project had been postponed.
“Our concern extends beyond the safety issues raised by emergency vehicle access and disaster evacuation,” the email read, alleging that a protected cycle track would actually be more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.
The April 18 meeting would have been the third time a version of the plan has come before the City Council. Officials previously said the now-canceled presentation would include information on how the city would manage parking in the business district, how trash pickup and deliveries would work in the redesigned roadways and how much the project is expected to cost.
Among other concerns, part of the project’s proposed area crosses into a Very High Fire Danger Severity Zone, where firefighters must have 26 feet “of unobstructed width,” Williams-Ridley wrote. State regulations for evacuation and wildfire management could conflict with proposed changes to the roadway, Williams Ridley wrote.
Other “traffic calming devices” that are part of the plan require approval from a fire code official, which they haven’t got, she said.
Part of the project proposal involves 10.5-foot-wide lanes which, for city firefighters’ 10-foot-wide trucks, could allow for mere inches of clearance if a vehicle is approaching them in the opposite lane, according to city officials.
The Hopkins Corridor was one of several projects that would “need to be reprioritized,” Arreguín said. “As such we are unable to provide a timeframe on when this project will return to City Council.”