Downtown Berkeley Works Toward Pedestrian-Friendly Streets

Starting the week of December 16, the previously northbound section of Shattuck Avenue between Center and Addison streets was closed off, and northbound traffic has been diverted to sharing the southbound section of Shattuck Avenue. This reconfiguration is part of a larger project to improve the Downtown Berkeley experience for drivers, bikers, commuters, and, specifically, pedestrians.

According to Public Information Officer Matthai Chakko, the city’s pedestrian plan considers improving pedestrian safety at the Shattuck and University intersection in Downtown Berkeley a “top priority.”

The reconfiguration plan addresses this priority, eliminating northbound left turns and clarifying traffic direction. Downtown Berkeley is a transit center for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit (AC Transit), with thousands of commuters passing through daily. Many AC Transit bus lines have stops in Downtown Berkeley, and it can often be confusing to find the right stop for a bus. Shattuck Avenue is not a bike boulevard, but Milvia, Oxford, and Fulton streets are parallel to Shattuck Avenue and all have bike lanes, leading to increased bike traffic in the area.

In a press release to the public, the City of Berkeley quotes City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, who said, “We want Shattuck Avenue to be safer for all, no matter if you come by foot, bike, BART, AC Transit, or car.”

The city recommends drivers to avoid using Shattuck Avenue during this time of construction unless essential, to alleviate traffic congestion in the newly-condensed streets. However, avoiding Downtown Berkeley is almost impossible for most Berkeley High School (BHS) students, due to the school’s proximity to Shattuck Avenue. Many BHS students take public transportation to school, and others drive or walk through Downtown Berkeley. Additionally, the construction has created more congestion during BHS’s lunch, inconveniencing both drivers and students.

Aaron Rumph, a junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), said that driving through Downtown Berkeley during construction is “frustrating right now, but the changes will eventually be beneficial to drivers.”

Berkeley residents have witnessed increased construction activity in the Downtown Berkeley area over the past few years. Although the city’s reconfiguration project is unrelated to these private projects, they “have coordinated with each of [the private construction projects] to minimize impact on those coming to and through the area,” said Chakko.

The final product is expected to be finished in late 2020. The redirection of northbound traffic is only one element of the five primary goals of the overall Reconfiguration project. The other parts of this new plan include consolidating all Downtown AC Transit stops to one central stop, establishing new pedestrian and bike areas, pavement raising to slow intersection traffic, and rearrangement of parking spaces to increase safety when parking.

According to Chakko, “businesses and others have been supportive of the overall change, which increases pedestrian activity and makes downtown a more inviting place to walk and more accessible to all types of transit: pedestrian, bus, BART and car.” Although the increased construction may stop some people from going to Downtown Berkeley, the end product is intended to invite more people into Downtown Berkeley, therefore benefitting local businesses and public transportation.

A major part of this new plan consists of a consolidated AC Transit stop. This new bus stop will be located directly across from the BART Plaza, a change intended to make transfers and commutes more convenient. The new BART plaza was completed in 2019, and many commuters have appreciated the updated station. Some current Downtown Berkeley bus stops are expected to be temporarily relocated in early 2020, another significant change that will affect the community, albeit briefly. This new, expanded bus stop will be called the Eastern Transit Plaza, and it will be located on the eastern sidewalk of Shattuck between Allston and Center streets. It will house stops for the multitudes of AC Transit lines that cross through downtown Berkeley. The consolidation of scattered Downtown Berkeley bus stops will eliminate the bus stops on the exclusively northbound section of Shattuck between Center and Addison streets.

Community members can look forward to these new improvements and can give the city of Berkeley input on pedestrian safety in the city through the City of Berkeley’s website.

Data from BPD via Berkeleyside

Above is a heatmap of crashes involving pedestrians in 2019.Notice the hotspots on Downtown Berkeley and south of campus.

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