Berkeley set for $12.7M in downtown transport grants

An early conceptual rendering of the new Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza.

An early conceptual rendering of the new Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza and the reconfigured two-way Shattuck Avenue. A lightweight roof canopy with photovoltaic cells provides daylight, natural ventilation and solar power to the station and the plaza.

Berkeley expects to get $12.7 million in grant funding for changes to BART Plaza, Shattuck Avenue and Hearst Street that should make life easier for people using the Downtown BART station and buses, biking to campus and even just driving through the center of town.

On Thursday, May 23, the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) voted unanimously on an initial approval of the city’s grant proposals for the three transit projects. Construction could begin in 2015, said Matt Nichols, principal transportation planner for the city. 

Although the draft approval is just one step toward getting the money, with more approvals still needed, this step was most likely was the biggest hurdle, said those involved. The unanimous vote helps, too.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who is also Berkeley’s representative to the ACTC.

The design process, with public input, will start this fall, said Nichols.

Renovation of BART Plaza


BART Plaza in downtown Berkeley will be redesigned under new plans. Photo: Keoki Seu

The biggest budget project is for renovation of the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza, to create better flow of pedestrians and better links between BART and buses, and to open up the plaza space, Nichols said.

Berkeley expects to get $7.4 million from the ACTC for this project. Additional funds come from the city, UC Berkeley and BART. The whole project should cost $10.5 million.

Initial designs call for the following:

The main rotunda at the BART station will most likely be replaced. A new sign at street level will provide real-time departure and arrival information. Signage in general will be improved to help pedestrians find their way. Also, BART’s other five downtown entrances will get rain canopies and be locked at night at street level, keeping people out of the stairwells.

The bus shelter along Shattuck Avenue would be enlarged two to three times.

The BART plaza will retain its triangular footprint, but be reorganized. Benches, trees, bike parking and lighting will be replaced and moved. Handicapped ramps on curbs will be upgraded. There will also be better soil for the trees, storm water run-off improvements, and opportunities for public art and performance space.

The Downtown Berkeley Association has been pushing for these changes for years, said executive director John Caner.

“We see the renovation of BART Plaza as key to the revitalization of downtown,” Caner said. “This is really important for bringing people and new investment to downtown.”

“If you look at that rotunda, it’s an old, dated design,” he said. ”The opportunity is to make that into a showpiece entrance.”

Straightening out Shattuck


Shattuck Ave. would be “straightened out” under new proposals. Photo: D.H. Parks

The second project “straightens out” Shattuck Avenue in the two-block area where it currently splits into two one-way roads, between University Avenue and Center Street. (A detailed plan of the Shattuck reconfiguration can be seen in this large pdf.)

The primary reason for the change is that the intersection of Shattuck and University, with so many cars making turns, is the most dangerous in the city, with 2.5 pedestrian accidents per year, Nichols said.

The project will turn the western arm of Shattuck, between University and Center, into a two-way street, so that northbound traffic can proceed straight through downtown without turns.

The eastern arm of Shattuck Avenue (currently the northbound lanes), would remain, but one lane of traffic would be removed and diagonal parking installed, roughly doubling the number of spaces.

The DBA’s Caner said his group would like to see the eastern arm of Shattuck revitalized, with more foot traffic and shopping. Eventually, that passage would link the planned Acheson Commons development to the north with BART.

This project will receive $2.3 million from the ACTC.  The city and UC Berkeley are also contributing, for a total budget of $3.7 million.

Bike and pedestrian improvements on Hearst

Bike lanes and bike boulevards are part of Berkeley's bike-friendly strategy. Photo: Nancy Rubin

New bike lanes on Hearst Ave. are planned. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The final project, called the Hearst Avenue Complete Streets Improvements, creates a bike lane and pedestrian safety features on Hearst, starting at Shattuck and proceeding uphill, along the UC Berkeley campus to the northeast corner at Gayley Road and La Loma Avenue.

The ACTC grant is for $2.1 million. The city and partners will pitch in for a total budget of $3.5 million.

Between Shattuck and Oxford Street, Hearst Avenue will lose a lane of traffic (but gain turn pockets), and get an eastbound (uphill) bike lane and a median strip, to make crossing safer for pedestrians.

Along the campus, from Oxford up to Euclid Avenue (North Gate), parking on the uphill lane will be eliminated and a bike lane and sidewalk will be added. The downhill side will not get a bike lane, just “share-the-road” arrows. The split-level divider along Hearst will remain in place.

At Le Roy Avenue, near the top of campus, a traffic signal will be installed to making crossing between campus buildings on either side of Hearst safer. And at several other intersections flashing lights – pedestrian beacons – will be installed at crosswalks for greater safety.

Dave Campbell, advocacy director with the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, said he has been pushing for this Hearst Avenue project for 15 years, and is happy plans are moving forward.

“The city has designed a modern, innovative bikeway for Hearst. It’s the type of bikeway that many other progressive American cities are starting to design and build,” he said.

Along campus, a physical divider will separate bikes from cars. “It will be the first physically protected bikeway in Berkeley,” he said.

The city worked closely with the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, as well as with BART, UC Berkeley, AC Transit, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the DBA to plan and design these projects, said Nichols.

But, he said, there is still plenty of time for public input, when the design and environmental review process starts this fall.

Grant marks a first

A view of Berkeley's downtown from the Skydeck. Photo: Tracey Taylor

More than 800 new housing units are planned for downtown Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

This year’s grant process marks the first time that the transportation commission has factored the link between transportation, housing and jobs into its ranking system, Nichols said. The Berkeley projects were highly ranked (numbers 1, 3 and 7 of of 69) in part because the projects tie together BART and buses, with an area that’s seen a big increase in housing and jobs in recent years.

According to Nichols, more than 1,050 new housing units have been built within a quarter-mile of the downtown BART station since 2000, and 25% of them meet affordable housing standard requirements. In addition, more than 800 new housing units downtown are either under construction, approved or in the pipeline.

Furthermore, downtown Berkeley has more than 9,000 jobs, as well as 1,200 Civic Center employees, 5,300 City College students, and 3,400 high school students.

UC Berkeley, one block away, has 36,000 students and 21,000 employees, and Berkeley Lab (accessed by shuttle from downtown) has 4,000 employees, and 3,000 guest researchers.

According to Nichols, Berkeley’s 2012 Downtown Area Plan and the amount of new development were major factors in Berkeley’s projects being ranked so highly.

Councilman Capitelli agreed. “I think we’ve worked very hard on the downtown plan,” he said. “We’re being rewarded for our hard work.”

Overall, the transportation commission gave $65.2 million in funding for transportation projects throughout Alameda County. Funding sources included the federal OneBayArea Grant (OBAG), Measure B and vehicle registration fee funds.

1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley [02.07.13]
Berkeley council approves plan to green downtown [01.30.13]
Berkeley approves number of bike-friendly initiatives [06.29.12]
BART Plaza to become an inviting spot [08.01.10]

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  • guest

    Eventually Berkeley will only house the very rich and the very poor. Middle class need not apply.

  • guest

    The latest trend in street furniture design, as shown by the new covered bike racks on Solano, is elaborately brutal. Let’s do better here. And why have ‘sculpture’ at all, considering the usual results.

  • iicisco

    Yes, 7-8. Now, what about the tow capacity and cubic space? All for efficiently, but I’m not impressed with the designs.

  • iicisco

    So, in your opinion what is more important, Safety or Space?

  • Charles_Siegel

    The current state of art and architecture is unfortunate.

    I can imagine that the results of a competition would have been very good – and very much in character for Berkeley – back in the days when Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan would have been among the competitors. The BART rotunda is in such a key location, visible all up and down Shattuck, that it would be great if we could have the sort of trellising there that Maybeck would have designed – something like the Christian Science Church, combining industrial materials and wood.

    Nowadays, we would be more likely to get a work of art like the giant tuning fork at Shattuck and Center.

    Incidentally, I think the reconfiguration of Shattuck will eliminate that tuning fork – a benefit in itself.

  • The_Sharkey

    Obviously a micro-car isn’t going to have the same interior space as a non-micro-car or any kind, nor is it going to have the same towing capacity. But who’s towing stuff to downtown Berkeley shopping districts, and how many people do you see parking their suburbans downtown and then loading them to capacity with stuff?

    When it comes to driving the kids to soccer practice or downtown to get a pizza, what makes more sense, a micro-van gets 50-60mpg or a Suburban that’s nearly twice as big and gets a miserable 13mpg?

  • Mbfarrel

    I hope that with the effort to make Downtown more pedestrian and visitor friendly, views of the Campanile from the Center of downtown are re-opened

  • Chris J

    You certainly can have both. A BASIC driving skill is the ability to either parallel park or, more easily, at a 45 deg angle. If a person can’t park their car safely in either, maybe they shouldn’t be driving in the first place.

    Still, one thing isn’t clear–to me, parallel parking is slightly more difficult than parking at a 45 deg angle–which presumably allows more cars to park–already a problem in downtown Berkeley. By providing EASIER parking with the 45 deg option, it follows it would be SAFER and provide MORE PARKING.

  • Guest

    I believe you are referring to “The Diseased Member” at Shattuck and Addison.

  • Chris J

    Sounds good. Learning to back in to a 45 deg space seems no more difficult than any other parking challenge method out there. Less risk pulling out than otherwise, but a higher risk rate to cars beside a newbie parking in this manner, I guess.

  • Mbfarrel

    Congestion (a little) here good.

  • Prinzrob

    The Berkeley Bike Station is indeed awesome, but is reaching capacity in both the free and paid areas on sunny summer days now. Additional bike parking, secure and/or covered, would be a welcome and well used addition to the BART station makeover plan.

  • iicisco

    I feel angled parking is dangerous because some careless driver will have the tendency to pull out into traffic or be hindered by a large vehicle and not be able to see if a car is approaching. This is Berkeley, and it has been well noted people don’t know how to drive safely and pedestrians don’t know how to obey traffic signals.

  • Mbfarrel

    Well the one benefit of the Tuning Fork was that it inspired the City to remove the dustmop of a tree that stood in the median.
    The tree was so out of place in that environment and looked so sad and tattered.
    It would have been perfect on a lawn next to a creek

  • Devin

    I agree and applaud the City for trying to improve bike safety, but dividers like this can be more claustrophobic and dangerous than a simple bike lane, imo. I’m not sure if people remember, but recently when Berkeley and Albany upgraded the BART tracks (last year and into 2013), they closed the Ohlone Greenway and provided a fenced-in bike lane on the street. Admittedly, this was a temporary measure and made of chain-link, but it was one of the scariest places to bike, especially when passing someone – there’s no place to bail, and even at a slow speed, I worried about catching my handlebars on the fencing. I’m sure there are a ton of safer-feeling barricades, but I would almost prefer a regular dedicated bike lane – it also has the added benefit of reminding cars to drive safely with bikers, rather than ignoring them because they’re separated.

  • Chris J

    That could be. I don’t have any statistics at hand to backup any claim I may make that 45 deg angled parking is less safe or more safe than any other type, like parallel.

    My consideration, all things being equal (if such is the case) is that angled parking allows for more parked cars than otherwise. This doesn’t even address the notion that all of our cars should be smaller, more fuel efficient, and that biking and walking should be more encouraged than driving in the first place.

    If wishes were horses, I’d call for a ban on all vehicles downtown except for delivery vehicles, vehicles for disabled, public transit, and bicycles…and pedestrians. There. Fewer accidents already. Oh? As for the businesses downtown who might rely on people in cars?

    Not my problem. My overriding concern is the planet, baby!

    (jus’ fantasizing…)

  • EBGuy

    “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs on the eastern end of Hearst. Discuss.

  • khn

    On what is called the West arm of Shattuck in the article, which would become a 2-way street, I hope they will stop the double parking of delivery trucks, between Univ. and Center. Currently in the morning there are 4 lanes but only 2 can be traveled due to parked trucks. Not sure how they are supposed to do their deliveries, but this would not be the place under the new plan as it would bring the main north-south route down to 1 lane in each direction. I agree with the straightening out of the northbound lane. There is never a good opportunity to make the final right turn currently, crossing pedestrian lines in both directions.

  • amyshiro

    Great story – thanks for including the city and university stats, I’ve been wondering about those!

  • Chris in Berkeley

    The circular lot to upload stuff at the El Cerrito Recycling Center has that type of parking. Go practice on it there when they are open to the public. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

  • Chris in Berkeley

    *unload stuff…

  • samothrellim

    The expansion of the bus stops on Shattuck next to the rotunda appears to eliminate the much used white car and hotel minibus pickup area, even though it occupies only two car lengths. Not a good idea since this is the only place near the rotunda where BART passengers can be picked up.

  • gist

    Rich folks, interspersed with a few subsidized Xavier Moore types hitched along for the ride.

  • gist

    “Slower traffic keep right”.

  • iicisco

    Sounds like you want me to buy three cars. One for parking in compact spaces on Shattuck, one for leisure/everyday use, and one for family events. Micro-cars in the U.S., with the norm of brute force and power over emissions and size just doesn’t stand a chance.

  • The_Sharkey

    Two will do, which is what’s common in a lot of Europe.
    A micro-car for around-the-town use, and a regular car for longer trips/vacation travel.
    Or better yet, buy a micro-car for daily use and then rent a larger vehicle the few times you need it. If you only need a car that’s capable of towing stuff a couple times a year, it makes more sense to rent than to buy.

    But I agree completely about micro-cars not fitting into the current US automobile environment. I think they’re interesting and fun to drive but there’s no way they can share the roadway with a lot of the hulking hunks of steel that Americans have preferred in the past. Until some very unpopular legislation comes out of Sac or DC to change that true micro-cars will never be viable for the US market and making special parking spaces for them downtown just doesn’t make sense.

  • FiatSlug

    I would like to see BART re-open the fare gates at the Allston Way end of the station. This is an opportunity to better utilize the Allston Way access points on both sides of Shattuck and make it easier to catch a bus leaving from the east side between Allston Way and Center St. Further, it would also improve access to locations on Allston Way and Kittredge Street from BART (like the Berkeley Public Library, the Brower Center, Berkeley High School, City Hall, and would open up a second route to the Cal campus).

    An opportunity to encourage use of mass transit by enhancing existing resources is available. It would be silly not to seize the opportunity.

  • guest

    Actually the east side of Shattuck will still have some through traffic. Take a look at the drawing. Drivers will still be able to turn right towards Campus and Oxford street. I see a lot of traffic doing that currently. Perhaps some of those drivers will take the new straight through portion of Shattuck and cross University to go to North Berkeley but I know my preference for that area is to avoid Shattuck through North Berkeley and take Oxford instead.

  • The_Sharkey

    On January 2nd 2003, a prominent new outdoor sculpture
    will be installed alongside the most heavily traveled pedestrian
    corridor in Berkeley. A project of the Berkeley Civic Arts Program,
    “Earth Song” is a deep-red painted steel sculpture by Po Shu Wang, a
    native of China and a Berkeley resident. It will be installed east of
    the downtown Berkeley BART plaza, in the median strip of Center Street
    and Shattuck Avenue, by the mature elm tree. An estimated one million
    people a year pass on foot between the BART plaza and the University of
    California, Berkeley campus. “Earth Song” is designed to stimulate the
    imagination and to invite interaction from passersby, including students
    and the many others who are sure to be intrigued by the sculpture’s
    metaphorical blending of art and science. The sculpture will be
    dedicated in a public ceremony later in January, on a date to be

    “‘Earth Song’ is sure to become a landmark for Berkeley residents,
    students and visitors,” said David Snippen, Berkeley architect and
    member of the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission. “Its beauty as a
    sculptural object is enhanced by Mr. Wang’s poetic interpretation of
    earth sciences, based on his extensive research.” “The way that this
    artwork interacts with the natural ‘music’ of the earth is fascinating,”
    adds Susan Levine, Civic Arts Commission Chair. “I believe it is
    unique for a public sculpture in a major metropolitan area.”

    “Earth Song” invites viewer participation. The tall (approximately
    42 feet high) but slender sculpture resembles a tuning fork, and was in
    fact conceived by the artist as a tuning fork for environmental
    vibrations. The steel sculpture is, in the artist’s words, “tuned to
    the oscillating frequency of the Earth,” an extremely low frequency at a
    pitch far below audible human range. It will be activated continuously
    with energy provided by the phenomena in its immediate
    environment—movement of BART trains, automobile and pedestrian traffic,
    and natural forces—all the while converting vibrations into the
    fundamental pitch of the earth. The base of the sculpture is 14 inches
    wide, narrowing as it extends upward and splits into two prongs of the
    ‘fork.’ At 36 inches above ground, there is a small steel bell
    suspended from the base that is tuned to a higher pitch, which is
    audible to humans. Pedestrians can ring the bell by hand, creating
    interaction with the sculpture and encouraging the viewer to linger and
    contemplate the sculpture’s conceptual underpinnings. Black granite
    pavers on the sidewalk etched with text explain the scientific basis of
    Mr. Wang’s concept.

  • Alexander Sinclair Merenkov

    You call that artist rendering of the replacement for the rotunda good! it looks like crap! Make the rotunda Fancier! The Rotunda at North Berkeley station looks sweet we should do something like that it has to look stylish though and emphosize the importance of the Berkeley station to Downtown it is our Hub the center of life.