Opinion: Towards a car-free North Berkeley BART

As long as the North Berkeley BART development meets regional needs while also benefiting the neighborhood, I believe it could be of significant benefit to residents.

The North Berkeley BART station is slated for redevelopment. I believe that, with the right approach, this project can greatly benefit current and future residents alike.

Since we’re in the public input phase, I want to suggest some design guidelines:

The zone should be car-free

  • The interior enclosed by Sacramento, Delaware, Virginia, and Acton should be a pedestrian and bicyclist oasis.
  • Without cars, I imagine the area would be: safer for kids to walk and play; better for business; greener; quieter.

A diagonal bike path should connect the Ohlone Greenway between Sacramento/Delaware and Acton/Virginia

  • The Ohlone Greenway is a popular route for pedestrians and cyclists, who must now pedal around the North Berkeley parking lot to traverse the greenway.
  • A direct diagonal path would provide safer, more convenient cycling and walking.

The BART station should have two entrances in the center of the zone, one on each side of the bike trail

Placing entrances on each side of the bike path would reduce bike/pedestrian interactions.

There should be a generous allocation of open space

  • This project represents a key link along the Ohlone Greenway.
  • The land reclaimed from parking and roads could be better spent as parks and open space.

The development should be mixed use

Creating the right mix of residential, retail, and commercial office space should address the region’s housing demand, provide walkable retail amenities, and foster transit-friendly commutes.

The bounding streets can serve as a pick-up and drop-off zone

Buses, casual carpool, kiss and ride, taxis, etc. can use the bounding streets as a clockwise-flowing loading zone.

Pedestrian walkways should connect the BART entrances to the adjacent blocks

Walkways should run parallel to the bike path and should connect the station with the corners of the adjacent blocks (in the corners and middles of the zone).

Building heights and setbacks should be designed to reasonably avoid casting shadows along neighboring sidewalks and lots

Buildings could be taller near the center of the zone and shorter along the perimeter.

The architecture should respect the surrounding neighborhood

In keeping with the character of the neighborhood, the buildings and landscaping should be designed at a pedestrian scale.

The design should minimize traffic impacts on neighboring streets

  • Adjacent traffic-calming barriers should remain so that the capillary streets don’t experience increased traffic.
  • Passenger loading should be permitted in the clockwise direction only.
  • Buses and large commercial vehicles should be allowed to stop on Sacramento only.
  • (Special parking permits might be issued to homeowners directly across the street so that only they may stop in the counterclockwise direction.)

It’s too early to worry about placing buildings or paths precisely without more feedback from neighbors and a clearer scope of development. Despite that, I have sketched out an example for illustration:

What about parking?

  • Living or working minutes from a BART station means the opportunity to plug in to one of the most dynamic regional economies in the world. Is the nearby land better used storing empty vehicles or enabling more homes, commerce, and parks?
  • The answer becomes even clearer considering the current shift away from private vehicle ownership (which requires all-day parking) to transportation-as-a-service (which requires no parking).

All this represents one opinion out of more than a tenth of a million; this being Berkeley, I know everyone has their own set of ideas.

What points would you add or subtract from this list? I look forward to reading the comments (I think).

The debate around development has been characterized as a battle between NIMBY and YIMBY forces. I’ll conclude by coining “MIMBY” — “Maybe In My Back Yard — as long as the development meets regional needs while also benefiting my neighborhood.”

I hope MIMBYs can add their voices to the discussion as this project rolls on.

Dylan Saloner is an engineer residing two blocks due east of the North Berkeley BART.