Op-ed: Mending the urban fabric on Adeline Street

Everyone seems to agree that Adeline Street is too wide. The question is: what should we do with the extra land that we can get by narrowing the street?

Read more about the Adeline Corridor on Berkeleyside.

We could combine this land with underused sites on this street to create opportunity sites for new mixed-use development at a scale compatible with the neighborhood. Affordable housing could be built on the expanded sites, helping to maintain diversity of income in this neighborhood.

Fig01_PictureOfAdelineStSmall

There is plenty of land available. Adeline Street between Ward and Ashby is currently 180 feet wide. In 2010, a planning class at UC used traffic-engineering software to analyze this street and found that Adeline needs only one lane in each direction between Ward and Ashby, which would require about 80 feet for the total width of the street, leaving about 100 feet of width that we could use for other purposes.

Even if further studies show that we need two lanes in each direction (which is what the street has now), the street would only need about 100 feet of width, leaving 80 feet that we could use for other purposes.

Opportunity sites

There are many underused sites with surface parking lots on the east side of Adeline between Ward and Ashby, and there is an underused site on Shattuck just north of where Adeline begins.

As you can see in the illustration, these sites could be combined with unneeded street width to create opportunity sites for new development. This development would narrow Adeline Street physically, changing its character entirely and making it much more pedestrian friendly. The street land that is not in an opportunity site could become a park.

Fig02_NorthAdelineCorridorHorizontalSmall

These opportunity sites could be used for mixed-use development. The city could give the street land to developers of adjacent properties if they provide a very high ratio of affordable housing. The city could also acquire sites here to build affordable housing. With this new development, the small blocks near Ward would become a very interesting place to walk and an attractive shopping district.

Some sites could be developed sooner than others. The Berkeley Bowl is such a successful business that its site would probably not be developed for 50 to 100 years, but others could be developed sooner.

As a first step, the city could restripe the western half of Adeline between Ward and Ashby so this half of the street could carry two-way traffic. The city could also use restriping and bollards to convert the eastern half of Adeline between Ward and Ashby into parking pockets. Construction would be needed at the intersections of Adeline with Ward and with Ashby to connect this modified stretch of street with the surrounding streets.

The city would make it clear that the land not needed for the street is available to developers of the adjacent underused parcels if they provide high levels of affordable housing.

Complete streets

Now let’s look more closely at the intersection of Adeline, Shattuck, and Ward, so we can see how this area was blighted by 1950s traffic engineers, who ignored the needs of pedestrians and designed the streets solely move cars faster.

As we can see in the illustration, a pedestrian who wants to walk the short distance between the east side of Shattuck at Ward to the west side of Adeline at Ward must take a zigzag path that makes the walk twice as long as it needs to be. Someone walking north along the west side of Adeline finds that the sidewalk suddenly disappears when they get to Shattuck; the grass is worn away here to form a path, since many people walk where there is no sidewalk. Bicyclists on Ward cannot get across this intersection at all.

Fig03_AdelineWardBeforeSmall

It is not surprising that this anti-pedestrian design has given us a neighborhood filled with parking lots and other low-intensity uses.

This sort of intersection design was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but it is now contrary to public policy in California. State law requires cities to encourage the design of “complete streets,” which accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and automobiles.

We can make this intersection into a complete street by restoring the small stretch of Ward St. that has been removed. The 1950s design has wide turning radiuses that encourage cars to speed as they move from Shattuck to Adeline. By contrast, the opportunity sites form traditional city blocks and city streets, as you can see in the illustration.

Fig04_AdelineWardAfterSmall

Northbound cars can turn right onto the new section of Ward, travel a short distance, and then turn left onto Adeline. The tight turning radiuses make drivers slow down, so the intersection is safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Semi-diverters prevent drivers from entering the adjacent neighborhood streets but let bicyclists through. Note how much easier it is for pedestrians to cross the street: it becomes an ordinary crossing, instead of a lengthy zig-zag.

The map of this intersection is simplified to make it easier to understand. In fact, there are redwood trees planted in the medians, and this new section of Ward would be wider in some places, so trees could remain as plantings in Ward’s median rather than being removed.

This one intersection is a good example of the sort of changes that are needed throughout the Adeline corridor. Currently, this intersection is designed purely to speed up automobile traffic: it is hard for pedestrians to cross, it is dangerous or completely impassible for bicyclists, and it is surrounded by auto-oriented uses.

With the proposed design, it could become an attractive place to live and shop. The little triangular parking lot between Ward and Stuart is now too small to develop, but if we combine it with adjacent street space, it would be large enough for new development (as you can see in the illustration). The auto dealership north of Ward would also have an expanded site that could attract development.

Today, this intersection looks like a mini-freeway-interchange. The streamlined streets and surrounding parking lots tear apart the urban fabric. With these changes in street design and with new development on the opportunity sites, we could mend the urban fabric and make the area an interesting shopping district and a better place to live.

Read more about the Adeline Corridor on Berkeleyside.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions, as Word documents or embedded in the email, to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Charles Siegel was the proponent of Measure Q on the 2014 Berkeley ballot, the Flexible Work Time Initiative. He is the author of many books, including 'The Politics of Simple Living: Why Our Economy Is Making Life Worse and How We Can Make It Better.'