Opinion: Realigning the streets in the Adeline Corridor could create a more pleasant urban experience

Much of the Adeline Corridor looks like a suburban freeway off-ramp. Adding some new streets could transform the character of the neighborhood for the good.

When BART was built, the Adeline Corridor was redesigned by mid-century traffic engineers to speed traffic from the Grove-Shafter freeway to downtown Berkeley and to I-80 via Stanford Ave. Much of the corridor looks like a suburban freeway off-ramp, and the intersection of Adeline Street and Stanford Avenue is particularly pedestrian-hostile.

Realigning the streets could make the neighborhood safer for pedestrians and create new sites for affordable housing near public transit.

South Adeline

The best opportunities are at the south end of the Adeline Corridor. Looking at the stores on the west side of Adeline between Alcatraz and 62nd Street, we can easily imagine the street’s history.

Adeline Street across from MLK. Half of the neighborhood shopping street was demolished by traffic engineers. Photo: Charles Siegel

There was originally a neighborhood “Main Street” here, with local businesses on both sides of the street. Then, when BART was being planned, traffic engineers decided to demolish one side of this neighborhood street, so they could widen Martin Luther King Way (then called Grove St.).

They combined the traffic of Grove St. and Adeline St. on one wide street. They created a massively overbuilt intersection with Stanford. They added a grassy area next to the BART tracks that is almost never used.

They demolished old-fashioned blocks of housing and shopping to create this bleak and unsafe cityscape.

We can restore the neighborhood shopping street and provide new land for housing by creating a new city block between 61st and 62nd St. west of BART, as shown in the map. We can also create a neighborhood park east of BART, where it is buffered from traffic.

We can restore the traditional urban fabric and create a new site for affordable housing.

The new block would have shopping on the first floor of its west facade, creating a neighborhood street with shopping on both sides. It would have ground-floor parking on most of the first floor. It would have affordable housing on the upper floors.

This street realignment would create a traditional street grid, which works for both cars and pedestrians. The pedestrian-hostile intersection at Stanford would be replaced by conventional urban intersections, and it would be safe to walk under the BART tracks on 62nd Street. Traffic engineers would have determine how much capacity is needed on the realigned streets, but no matter how wide the streets need to be, the realignment will make them safer.

After the city gets funding to realign the street, it will get the new site for housing as a bonus. The city already owns the land of this new city block, making it feasible to build affordable housing here.

Stanford Avenue

There is a similar opportunity on Stanford Avenue, next to this site. The site in front of Stanford Liquor store is the bleakest, emptiest space in Berkeley, a small building with a parking lot facing two excessively wide streets, Stanford Avenue and Adeline Street. The alignment of Stanford also makes it impossible to create a continuous bike line on Adeline connecting with the bike lanes on Adeline in Emeryville and Oakland, because traffic goes south on Stanford and then jogs over to Adeline.

The underused street space at Stanford/Adeline is a massive waste of land. Photo: Charles Siegel

We can make the street safer and create a new site for affordable housing by making Adeline the through street instead of Stanford, as shown in this map.

Realigning Stanford makes it safer for pedestrians and creates a site for housing.

In this proposal, Adeline becomes the through street while Stanford is cut short and merges into Adeline at close to a right angle, making the intersection safer for pedestrians according to FHWA guidelines.

The unneeded width of Stanford Avenue provides a large opportunity site for affordable housing. Optionally, we can make this site larger by also acquiring the Stanford Liquor site, as shown in the map, but this is not necessary because there would still be access to the Stanford Liquor site from 62nd Street and King Street, even if we removed this block of Stanford Avenue.

This change would make the site much more attractive than the current bleak and empty cityscape. If this proposal were combined with the previous proposal, there would be a massive improvement in neighborhood safety.

We would have to coordinate with Oakland on this project, because it is on the border and includes land from both cities, but the Adeline Corridor plan is the right place to start the conversation.

Build on the Draft Plan

Similar changes are possible on the northern part of the Adeline Corridor, and I discussed them in an earlier op-ed.

Some of these suggestions were adopted in the draft plan drawn up by the first Adeline Corridor consultant. In this map from the draft plan, the purple areas represent places where we can use street land to create opportunity sites for affordable housing.

The purple areas in the draft plan are street land that could be used for affordable housing.

Now that the city is hiring new consultants, I hope they build on this work in the draft plan by adding more possible opportunity sites, so we can undo the damage caused by the 1950s traffic engineers. Instead of looking like a freeway off ramp, the Adeline Corridor could become a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with new sites for affordable housing.

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Charles Siegel is a long-time Berkeley environmental activist and bicyclist.