City Council talks Berkeley Strategic Transportation Plan at special meeting

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Mitzi Perez/File

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At a special meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council discussed the Berkeley Strategic Transportation, or BeST, Plan, which outlines future transportation projects and goals for the city.

At the meeting, city Transportation Division manager Farid Javandel presented an overview of the plan to the council, including its goals, project bundles evaluation process and future course of action.

Javandel, who was accompanied by city principal transportation planner Beth Thomas, also spoke about the BeST Plan’s engagement with the public through surveys and open houses.

The BeST Plan aims to establish a framework for prioritizing funding and completing city transportation projects over the next 30 years. According to a City Council report, the city’s Transportation Division created the BeST Plan to better position the city when competing for Alameda County Transportation Commission, or ACTC, grants.

The plan consolidates transportation-related plans adopted by City Council, such as the Downtown Area Plan and the Bay Area Bike Share plan. Under the BeST Plan, individual transportation projects are classified into 25 “project bundles” — focused on improving a field or area — organized by location and type of work.

After an initial evaluation by the city’s Transportation Commission, five project bundles were identified as the “highest priority,” including West Berkeley, bike boulevard intersections, Downtown Berkeley, the Southside area and Telegraph Avenue Corridor projects.

Other bundles, such as improvements to the Ashby Avenue Corridor and the Shattuck Avenue Corridor, were designated as lower priority.

According to Javandel’s presentation, the Transportation Division conducted a community open house March 16 to obtain feedback on the proposed criteria for project bundle prioritization and screening.

A survey ranking criteria such as transportation accessibility and user safety was publicly distributed via the BeST Plan website. Javandel said during the meeting that about 436 people responded to the survey, which will remain open until April 8. The results of the survey, as well as feedback from future open houses, will be used to weight criteria and might change project bundle priority.

“(We) asked for feedback and criteria to ensure our scoring criteria are properly weighted so we can present the projects that are most important to our community,” Javandel said at the meeting.

During the meeting, Councilmember Lori Droste noted that Claremont Avenue was excluded from the BeST Plan and asked if the Transportation Division could consider it in the plan. In addition, both Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Linda Maio inquired after “quiet zones” in West Berkeley where train horns could not be sounded.

“The primary obstacle right now is the negotiation with the railroads to have them accept the quiet zones,” Javandel said at the meeting. “The initial conversation was if the city takes on all liability, then (the trains would) stop sounding the horns, but it’s not very viable for the city.”

Javandel said the city Transportation Division plans to hold focus groups for stakeholders through March and April. In addition, the city will hold public meetings on the final prioritization decisions, as well as the survey’s results. After the public meetings, a plan with local input will be drafted, and the Transportation Commission will meet in May.

City Council is expected to meet and approve the BeST Plan in June or July before the submission of the top-priority plan to the ACTC.

Contact Shradha Ganapathy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sganapathy_dc.