Trees and seating focus for Solano Avenue improvements

Work on a pavement “bulb out” on the corner of Solano and Colusa is part of series of planned improvements for the area. Photo: Ira Serkes

Solano Avenue, one of Berkeley’s principal commercial districts, has been hit hard in recent years by recession-induced vacancies as well as more typical business turnover. But among small signs of a turnaround — like the move of Five Star Video to a new location near the top of the avenue — there’s a concerted effort by local businesses, the city and the local councilmember, Laurie Capitelli, to give a boost to Solano.

Some of the improvements — a series of pavement bulb outs — result from a 2009 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for “Safe Routes for Transit”. Others are spurred by the Solano Business Improvement District’s (SBID) advisory board.

“We did a poll two years ago,” said Capitelli, “and it’s clear the people want more street seating and more trees. I’m thrilled to see it finally get going.”

The plans for Solano were presented last month at a public meeting of the SBID advisory board. David Peattie, a board member of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association, took notes for Berkeleyside:

At a special meeting open to the public at the Thousand Oaks Baptist Church on July 18, landscape architect and long-time North Berkeley resident John Roberts presented his vision of possible future Solano Avenue improvements to the Solano Business Improvement District (SBID) advisory board. Roberts presented sketches of three different phases.

An initial sketch shows Solano Avenue between Modoc and The Alameda as it currently exists. Then a first phase sketch showed it as it will be after the forthcoming and fully funded tree planning and bulb-outs (sidewalk extensions) that will take place over the next few months. More than 50 Red Point Maple trees will be planted along Solano Avenue (these light-textured, deciduous trees grow to 40’ at most), and two bulb-outs, comparable to the one in front of Peet’s Coffee, will be put into place on the south side of Solano at Colusa at La Farine and the 76 gas station. Additionally, a new bike shelter will be built on a sidewalk extension on the south side at the 76 gas station. Councilmember Laurie Capitelli explained that the funding for these improvements was secured through a Safe Routes to Transit grant.

John Roberts then presented his vision of further improving Solano to the advisory board, with the understanding that funding for implementing such a vision does not exist, and no official agent of the city of Berkeley has even reviewed these plans at this phase.

A drawing by Tatiana Vashchenko showing a proposed phase 2 of Solano improvements. Source: John Northmore Roberts & Associates

Phase 2 shows widened pedestrian walkways comparable to the sidewalk on Center Street between Oxford and Shattuck in downtown Berkeley. The plans include additional bulb-outs on the north side of Solano at Colusa by the Starbucks, at all four corners of Fresno, in front of the Rosebud gallery (by the pedestrian alley), and in front of Hannah’s, and then an extended bulb-out for the bus stop at the top of Solano, which would wrap around the corner onto The Alameda. On the south side a bulb-out would be added at Modoc by Shoes on Solano that would prevent traffic turning from Solano south onto Modoc (but traffic from Modoc could get through to Solano). An extended bulb-out would run the length of Solano, on the south side, from Modoc to the bike shelter, closing Colusa to through traffic. Additional tree planting and seating would be planned for these sidewalk extensions.

A rendering of envisioned phase 3 of improvements. Source: John Northmore Roberts & Associates

Phase 3 includes additional bulb-outs and adjustments to the parking configuration. Roberts explained that lost parking would be made up by restriping spaces at a sharper angle. Currently parking on Solano is at a 38 degree angle and is only 8 feet wide. Changing that to a more standard 60 degrees (as in the Albany portion of Solano), would keep the same number of parking spaces and even permit widening each space by a half foot. The width of the driving lane would be reduced, but there is plenty of room for that, as the eastern portion of Solano Avenue is unusually wide for two lanes.

Several members of the BID advisory board and the general public were concerned about what would happen to traffic flow with the closure of Colusa on the south side, and the narrowing of the Fresno Avenue entrance, which would hinder large trucks turning from Solano to deliver to Andronico’s. In addition, the narrowing of the traffic lanes would mean that delivery vehicles double-parked on Solano would cause traffic problems. Roberts explained that Berkeley’s transit department would have to weigh in if this proposal starts to move forward, but for now this is purely a preliminary presentation of a Solano Avenue that is significantly more pedestrian focused. Roberts, a longtime landscape architect who lives in the neighborhood, volunteered his time to design the possible revisions.

The Solano BID advisory board will discuss the presentation at future meetings, hold community workshops, and come up with a long-range plan for Solano Avenue to submit to the city for review.

All of the renderings and plans shown at the July meeting can be accessed through DropBox.

Berkeleyside covers all of Berkeley’s neighborhoods. If you know of something interesting happening in your neighborhood, let us know by emailing

Print Friendly
Tagged , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Alan_Tobey

    Disappointed to see no apparent consideration for bicycles, which should be part of any “complete streets” proposal.  Nice for pedestrians, though.

  • Alice Kahn

    Hope the seating isn’t at the gas station!

  • Charles_Siegel

    Bulb-outs with seating will help most if they are next to businesses with customers who would use that seating.  The bulb-out in front of the gas station obviously will not attract many people, and so it should not be part of phase one. 

    If they want this to be effective soon, they should:
    –look at all the bulb-outs they are proposing in all the phases.
    –identify the two bulb-outs that are near businesses that could make best use of the outdoor seating.
    –build those two first.

  • Jane Tierney

    “Additionally, a new bike shelter will be built on a sidewalk extension on the south side at the 76 gas station.”

  • FiatSlug

    To the best of my knowledge, AC Transit has a bus stop on eastbound Solano Ave. at Colusa Ave., in front of the 76 station.  Why wouldn’t you want seating there?

  • Charles_Siegel

     I would want seating there, just as there are benches and shelters at many bus stops.

    I would not want to spend money altering the sidewalk to add there, because there are many places on Solano where altering the sidewalk would attract many more people and be much more effective at revitalizing the business district.

    More precisely, I would ultimately like to see all the proposed bulb-outs built, including the one at this corner.  But (as I said above) I think we should give the highest priority to those the bulb-outs that would do the most to revitalize business here.

    It is a moot point, because it looks like they have already started work on this bulb-out (judging from the photo in the article).  But don’t expect this bulb-out to do anything to help with the problem described in the first sentence of the article:

    “Solano Avenue, one of Berkeley’s principal commercial districts, has
    been hit hard in recent years by recession-induced vacancies as well as
    more typical business turnover.”

  • Charles_Siegel

     That location is also a great place for a bike shelter. I am sure it will be very convenient for all the bicyclists who bike to the 76 gas station.  It will be less convenient for the bicyclists who bike to other Solano businesses.

    The idea of “complete streets” (the term Alan used) is that bicycle *travel* should be accommodated, not just that there should be shelters for bike parking. 

  • guest

    Bulb-outs are not just to provide space for seating areas. They also serve to narrow the street to encourage drivers to slow down and to make it safer for pedestrians because they’ll then have a shorter distance to cross while in the middle of the roadway.

  • I don’t know if that bulb-out at Solano and Colusa is going to help or hurt drivers on Colusa trying to make a left turn onto Solano. Sometimes the only way to make that turn is if someone is using the crosswalk on Solano that drivers on Solano stop long enough.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Yes, bulb-outs serve the dual purpose of 1) narrowing the street to slow traffic and make pedestrians safer and 2) provide seating areas, which could help stimulate nearby businesses.

    The location next to the gas station will serve only the first of these two purposes.

    Other locations could serve both purposes – which means that they would be more effective overall.

  • Julie

    “We did a poll two years ago,” said Capitelli, “and it’s clear the people want more street seating” Oh no! But soon sitting MIGHT be illegal. Oh, it only applies to certain people who look like they may be poor or homeless. Maybe it’s time if there is more seating, for the homeless to visit Solano Ave…

  • Zippie

     The bulb-out at the gas station adds a bike shelter to the bus stop, not tables and chairs. It is designed to encourage bicyclists to take the bus to and from work in SF, because the F  bus stops there. The theory is that bicyclists will feel that their bikes are better protected in case of rain and away from parking cars close to bike racks. This rationale was used to obtain the state funding for this corner, the other bulb-outs, and the trees.

  • Zippie

     Solano, with diagonal parking, is a poor choice for bike lanes, and Marin, one block south already has good bike lanes. Another good street for bicycling is Washington/San Lorenzo, one block north of Solano, which is unusually wide west of Nielson.

  • Charles_Siegel

     It is a bad choice for bike lanes, but biking should be accommodated on all streets – particularly since they want to lure commuter bicyclists to this street.

  • Henrik Bull

    I am disappointed that the sketches show “Cobra Head” lighting that is ugly, and only lights the top of the trees.  All over the US, these are being replaced by the “old fashioned” but more pedestrian friendly lower light standards.  An example is Arlington Avenue north of Marin Circle.
    Henrik Bull

  • Skleeberk

    Why aren’t people growling “Not enough pubic input! Stop this immediately until every voice is heard!” as they have done in the past and are doing now when the same things are proposed for north Shattuck?

  • Anonymous

     As long as they don’t install those those awful bike shaped bike racks that Albany has done recently on lower Solano I’m cool with it.  Novelty bike racks are about as useful as novelty chess pieces.

  • Biker 94703

    I am confused by the before and after drawings. Drawing #1 is captioned “phase 2”, but looks like the current street.  Perhaps we are already in phase 2?  Drawing #2 on the other hand, says “phase 3” and contains the image of a tiny man peeing.  Is that what we have to look forward to in phase 3?  I don’t get it.

  • Allen Cain

    Thank you; we appreciate the city investing into this highly unique district. See you at the Solano Avenue Stroll Sunday – 9/9 (thank you Berkeleyside for sponsoring). Allen Cain SAA 

  • Anonymous

     Drawing #2 is showing an anticipated homeless person who will use his free bus pass to take the 18 over from downtown in order to enjoy the new sitting and lounging facilities.  He has to urinate somewhere, why not right there?

  • guest

    I don’t think sitting on benches will be illega.

  • I have been wondering what all the construction is about — the sign on Solano said “bulb out project” and yet I couldn’t fathom why they were making one in front of the 76 station. Thanks for the info — still a bit confused as to why that location was chosen. I see the info about a bike shelter and all — it still seems a funny place for such a thing, but I guess time will tell if it is used.

  • ANON

    When I ride my bicycle by a bulb-out, especially on a busy and relatively narrow street like Gilman, I actually feel less safe as my ability to stay to the right out of traffic or not be squeezed by a car (or especially a bus or truck of some kind) is greatly constrained.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Sitting and lying down on the sideWALK are what sit/lie address.  If there are benches designed for sitting, then that’s where they should sit.  And yes, Julie, the homeless should visit Solano.  Maybe you could offer to shuttle some folks over there?

  • Carol

    This is fine but I would like to see when Berkeley is going to fix POTHOLES!