The Alameda County Transportation Commission recommended $12.7 million in grants to the city of Berkeley on Thursday to fund three public transportation projects in the Downtown Berkeley area.
Following federal approval, grants will be provided to renovate the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza, Shattuck Square and Hearst Avenue.
One proposal plans to turn the western part of Shattuck Avenue into a two-way street, leaving the eastern part as a slow-traffic street with additional parking. The Hearst Avenue development seeks to add sidewalks and improved bike lanes along the campus side of the street. The Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza will also have major reconstruction, including an improved rotunda.
The city of Berkeley is set to receive funding later this year and has plans to start construction in spring 2015.
According to Mayor Tom Bates, Berkeley residents are generally supportive of Downtown redevelopment, and this has made the process easier. Similar projects have been developing for nearly a decade, and the city has already raised money to help fund planning for the projects.
This fundraising allows Berkeley to begin planning almost immediately after federal approval, Bates said. The ACTC also looked for realistic proposals with strong city support when recommending grants.
“This money is subject to federal approval, and the federal government is looking for someone who can produce,” Bates said. “So it’s win, win, win all around. It all comes together in a perfect storm.”
Nils Moe, climate change advisor for Mayor Bates, said that the projects also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bike lanes and a more efficient BART entrance will be more energy-efficient and promote alternatives to driving. These initiatives fall in line with the administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Berkeley transportation planner Matthew Nichols said that UC Berkeley has helped push for the Hearst Avenue redevelopment due to a high number of bike accidents on the street. However, the new lanes may reduce the number of parking spaces available by 16, according to Nichols.
But some business owners Downtown are skeptical of the proposals, saying the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza does not need renovating. They say the plaza is a memorable Berkeley monument.
“I don’t think it needs fixing,” said Janet Winter, owner of Games of Berkeley. “I don’t think it’s broken. It’s open, and it’s one of the most open places in Berkeley. Why are they getting rid of it?”
But Nichols said that the current state of the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza is hurting the city economically, noting that there are many vacant spaces in buildings surrounding the plaza. Using these grants to fix the plaza is the first step to attracting businesses, he said.
Contact Jose Hernandez at [email protected]