Berkeley rolls out new plan for Hopkins Street bike lanes

Berkeley rolls out new plan for Hopkins Street bike lanes
Drivers and a bicyclist navigate the busy intersection of Hopkins Street and Monterey Avenue. The intersection is set for a redesign and new safety features as part of a contentious reworking of Hopkins Street. Credit: Nico Savidge

Berkeley planners believe they have found some middle ground in the contentious effort to redesign Hopkins Street, with a new proposal that would beef up protections for bicyclists and pedestrians without removing most of the parking spots on its popular commercial strip.

A proposal set to go before the City Council next month calls for creating new protected bike lanes along nearly all of a mile-long stretch of Hopkins between Gilman and Sutter streets. Other changes aim to slow down cars along the busy corridor — traffic lanes would be narrower, stops signs would be installed at the intersection with McGee Avenue, and the intersection with Monterey Avenue, where a driver fatally struck a pedestrian in 2017, would get a raised crosswalk and redesigned layout to minimize risks for people on foot.

The plans will allow the city to preserve most of the parking in front of Hopkins’ shops and other destinations farther east, such as King Pool. But on several narrower blocks to the west, between Monterey Avenue and Gilman Street, the project will remove all on-street parking to make room for the new bike infrastructure.

You can find detailed drawings of the city’s plans for Hopkins Street on the project webpage.

Two earlier design options for the corridor presented an even starker choice between parking and protection for cyclists — one would’ve removed all on-street parking in front of Hopkins’ shops and eateries to accommodate protected bike lanes, while the other would’ve preserved those spots by forcing cyclists to ride in car traffic. The dueling visions led to hundreds of public comments and an at times heated debate over how Berkeley should allocate limited space on the street.

With their new proposal, North Berkeley Councilmember Sophie Hahn said city staff “have come up with a plan that significantly increases safety for pedestrians and bikes … and they’ve been able to preserve a lot of the parking.”

“I think they have achieved a really, really good rebalancing,” Hahn said.

Several cyclists who have followed the project — and worried the city could compromise their safety rather than lose too many parking spaces — are backing the new plan.

The city’s proposal for redesigning Hopkins Street would 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. The Monterey Avenue intersection would also get a new raised crosswalk meant to slow down cars. Credit: City of Berkeley

It would create a new two-way bicycle track along the south side of Hopkins from Gilman Street to The Alameda, separated from general traffic either with raised barriers or a row of parked cars. Between The Alameda and Sutter Street, plans call for bike lanes on either side of the road; eastbound riders would continue to have a parking-protected lane, while those going west would in some areas have to ride between traffic and parked cars.

“The fact that we’re getting continuous, mostly-protected bike lanes for the whole corridor is great,” said Ben Gerhardstein of Walk Bike Berkeley. The new design, Gerhardstein said, will improve safety “for everybody on the street, particularly people walking and biking.”

Advocates still see more work to do on the corridor, he said, since the new bike protections will abruptly end at the busy intersection of Hopkins and Gilman; Gerhardstein would like to see them continue down Hopkins to Ninth Street, one of Berkeley’s Bicycle Boulevards.

Along the commercial block between Monterey and McGee avenues, the city’s plans call for eliminating parking on the north side of the street, which only has a couple of spots, while preserving spaces along the south side. New parking meters will be installed for the remaining spots in front of Hopkins’ businesses, while the city also considers tightening time limits on some nearby blocks in an effort to free up more spaces.

Gioia Pizzeria and Northbrae Bottle Shop owner Art Kinsey was among a handful of Hopkins merchants who hung signs in their windows protesting the earlier proposal to remove all parking on their block, which many worried would lead customers who arrive by car to shop elsewhere. But Kinsey said he could live with the new plan.

“I think it’s OK,” he said. “I would rather see all the parking (retained), but the two spots across the street are not going to be huge.”

Kinsey, who lives just down the street from his businesses, likes the plan for a stop sign at McGee Avenue, and said that while customers might grumble about having to feed a meter on a block where parking is currently free, he’s optimistic the change would lead to more turnover of the remaining spaces.

A sign in the window of Northbrae Bottle Shop expresses opposition to an earlier proposal for Hopkins Street that would have eliminated on-street parking in front of the store. Under the city’s new plan, most of the parking on the block would be retained. Credit: Nico Savidge

Not everyone has been won over, though. The city’s plan for the west side of the corridor remain especially controversial — since that stretch of Hopkins isn’t wide enough to accommodate both the bike track and on-street parking, dozens of spaces will be removed. Diane Garcia, a resident of Hopkins Court, worried her small side street would have to absorb the cars that could no longer park around the corner.

“We’re going to have a hard time parking on our street,” Garcia said.

City staff are looking into adding Hopkins Court and some other nearby blocks to the Residential Parking Permit program, which would limit visitors to two-hour parking, in an effort to address that concern.

The proposed changes will go before the City Council on April 26; if they’re approved, construction is set to start in June of 2023. The redesign will be in place while the city develops a more extensive multi-year makeover of Hopkins.

Berkeley transportation planner Ryan Murray told attendees at a recent public forum that the city hopes the changes encourage more people to get out of their cars and visit Hopkins Street by foot or bike instead.

“If we create an environment that is low-stress for cyclists, low-stress for pedestrians [and] a slower environment for automobiles,” Murray said, “then perhaps more people choose to cycle, more people choose to walk and we can see those vehicle counts go down.”