Berkeley approves new bike lanes on Hopkins Street

Berkeley approves new bike lanes on Hopkins Street
Kyoto Sushi & Bar and Raxakoul Coffee on Hopkins Street in the Northbrae neighborhood of Berkeley. Credit: Tracey Taylor

After a lengthy debate over how Berkeley should allocate space on its roads, the City Council voted just after midnight Wednesday to approve the creation of new protected bike lanes on a mile-long stretch of Hopkins Street.

The city will also study whether to extend the bike lanes by another half-mile to cover the entire length of Hopkins, though a final decision on that aspect of the project is still several months away.

Bike advocates cheered the vote as a win for street safety and the climate, saying the new path will save riders from the danger and stress of pedaling in regular traffic and encourage more people to visit Hopkins without using a car. Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who represents much of the corridor and said her office received more than 1,700 emails about the project, was among several city leaders who said it appropriately balances the needs of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

But some of the area’s residents and merchants vehemently opposed the plans. Making room for the protected lanes will require the removal of dozens of on-street parking spots along several narrower blocks of Hopkins. Critics said this will mean major headaches for anyone driving in the area. Others said they were concerned the bike lanes would make the neighborhood chaotic and hard to navigate.

Here’s a breakdown of what the City Council approved, why the project has sparked such a fierce debate and what’s next for Hopkins Street.

What changes were approved on Hopkins Street?

The plan approved early Wednesday morning calls for new protected bike paths, otherwise known as a cycle track, on Hopkins from its east end, at Sutter Street, to where it meets Gilman Street.

For most of that route — between The Alameda and Gilman, which includes Hopkins’ commercial strip and destinations such as King Pool — a two-way cycle track will run along the south end of the street, separated from the rest of traffic by either a row of parked cars or concrete barriers.

The City Council voted 8-1 to adopt an omnibus motion from Hahn that made several tweaks to plans city staff had proposed. On the wider section of Hopkins east of The Alameda, for instance, Hahn’s motion calls for continuing the two-way track while adding what she said could be a “beautiful, landscaped strip” to further separate bikes from cars; city staff had previously proposed splitting the track into more conventional protected bike lanes on each side of the street for that segment.

In another change, the bike track could also be extended as far as San Pablo Avenue, rather than ending at Gilman Street — more on that in a moment.

The project also calls for new features meant to improve pedestrian safety, as well as several landscaping and “placemaking” improvements. Many of those elements, and other details such as the placement of new loading zones or handicapped parking spaces, are set to be worked out as city staff continues engineering work on the project.

The new lanes are slated to be installed as part of repaving work on Hopkins Street, a $3.6 million project set to start next year.

How will the project affect parking?

This is one of the thorniest aspects of the plan, and the answer varies wildly from one side of the project to another.

Most of the corridor — the blocks from McGee Avenue to Sutter — will not lose any on-street parking. But the impacts get more significant on the narrower stretch of Hopkins to the west, which isn’t wide enough to accommodate the bike track without eliminating parking.

On the commercial strip between McGee and Monterey avenues, the city’s plans call for removing three parking spaces along the north side of the block. Spots on the south side of the street, in front of businesses such as Monterey Fish Market and Gioia Pizzeria, would be retained to form the barrier between bikes and traffic.

The biggest changes would be on the blocks from Monterey to Gilman Street, where all on-street parking would be removed.

The city’s plan for redesigning Hopkins Street will create a new protected two-way bicycle track along the south side of the street. The change would mean the removal of on-street parking between Monterey Avenue and Gilman Street, but most spaces in front of Hopkins’ commercial strip would be retained. Credit: City of Berkeley

Several speakers at Tuesday’s council meeting predicted that the loss would create a “nightmare,” as shoppers visiting the area and residents without off-street spaces would need to hunt for parking on side streets. Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who cast the lone vote against the project, said she was “quite concerned” about the loss of street parking.

With fewer spaces to go around, city officials are looking into several measures they say will help better manage the parking that remains. Changes could include installing parking meters and shorter time limits to encourage turnover on the block in front of popular businesses, and extending the city’s resident permit parking program to more blocks.

Opponents of the project say they don’t see enough bicyclists using Hopkins to justify the disruption caused by removing blocks’ worth of parking spaces, and called on council to repave the street without making significant changes.

“This plan is a solution in search of a problem,” North Berkeley resident Nancy Van House said.

Many of the project’s supporters countered that they are afraid to bike on Hopkins now, or let their loved ones ride there, because the street doesn’t offer enough protection from cars. Speakers said they would be more likely to bike to the area once the track is installed, and argued that losing street parking is a fair price to pay for making serious or deadly collisions with cars less likely.

“If the trade-off is between street parking or protected lanes, I will take the bike lanes,” said Chris Lee-Egan, who lives on Hopkins. “If I don’t have street parking, it’s going to make my life slightly more inconvenient — versus the status quo, where every time I get out on my bike I wonder, ‘Is this the day I get [hit] or worse?’”

How do the plans address pedestrian safety?

The project calls for installing a raised crosswalk meant to slow down turning vehicles on the north side of the Hopkins intersection with Monterey Avenue — the site of a fatal 2017 collision in which a pedestrian was struck by a driver making a left turn onto Monterey. Hahn’s motion also asked city staff to study whether the intersection needs a stoplight.

The busy intersection of Hopkins Street, Monterey Avenue and California Street is set for a makeover. Credit: Nico Savidge

Elsewhere, the intersection with McGee Avenue will become a four-way stop, and curb extensions called “bulb-outs” will be installed at several corners to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians. The project also narrows the width of traffic lanes for cars along much of the corridor, which transportation planners describe as a “road diet” that prompts drivers to slow down.

Some critics of the project charged that it doesn’t do enough to improve safety for people on foot and worried about the potential for conflicts between bikes and pedestrians on the cycle track, which they said could be especially intimidating for older residents and those with mobility impairments.

“To run bike lanes through the commercial area — it just seems so dangerous,” Monterey Fish Market co-founder Paul Johnson said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Proponents of the bike track rejected the idea that it would make the area more dangerous, saying the primary threat to pedestrians is from cars, not bicycles.

What will this mean for Hopkins’ businesses?

The two sides of the debate also disagreed about how it will affect Hopkins’ beloved locally-owned shops and restaurants.

Johnson said many of the area’s merchants oppose the plan and fear it will hurt their businesses. Several neighbors said they worry the reduced street parking and complexity of navigating the bike track would make the area less attractive for shoppers who arrive by car.

“This solution is so complicated and byzantine that it cannot succeed,” said former School Board president Shirley Issel, who lives in the Berkeley Hills and drives to the shops on Hopkins. “You’re threatening the viability of the very neighborhood gem that you say you love.”

Proponents called those fears misguided, arguing the infrastructure will make Hopkins more accessible, not less.

“I say to the merchants who worry about losing traffic: You will have so many more people if they know they can ride their bicycles,” cyclist Phyllis Orrick said.

Hahn pointed to the changes city staff are considering to manage the area’s remaining parking, which she said would help ensure spots are available for visitors who arrive by car.

“We are very aware of the need for people to drive in as well, and we look forward to demonstrating how we are going to make additional parking available,” Hahn said. “People are still going to be able to drive here and shop.”

Will bike lanes extend west of Gilman Street?

As one debate over Hopkins Street’s future winds down, another might just be getting started.

The council adopted a referral from Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who represents the west end of Hopkins, to study and hold public hearings later this year on whether to continue the track to San Pablo Avenue.

Advocacy group Walk Bike Berkeley has called for that extension, since current plans would leave cyclists to ride in traffic lanes with no dedicated space west of Gilman Street. Extending the track would better link the Hopkins bikeway with West Berkeley, Kesarwani said, and connect it to the Ohlone Greenway — giving riders a protected route to North Berkeley BART.

“We could really enhance our bike network by doing this extension,” Kesarwani said.

That idea could spark some of the same opposition from another group of Hopkins residents if it requires the removal of more on-street parking spaces from those similarly narrow blocks. City officials did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about whether an extension of the bike track would require the removal of more street parking, or how much such a change would cost.

The referral calls for holding at least two public hearings on the idea; council members hope to take a final vote on plans for that portion of Hopkins in October.