Community members give input on Telegraph Avenue improvement project at meeting

Jamin Kim Sanders/Staff

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Community members provided feedback for a plan to make Telegraph Avenue more pedestrian-friendly and representative of the area’s historical culture at a Telegraph Business Improvement District, or TBID, meeting Tuesday morning.

The organization — which focuses on improving the Telegraph Avenue economy — presented the Public Realm Plan for the avenue corridor. The plan proposes more functional and aesthetically pleasing sidewalks, murals on the exterior of the Telegraph Avenue Bank of America building and LED pedestrian lighting, among other design elements. The planning and initial implementation of the project is financed by the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, according to Jordan Klein, city economic development project coordinator and contributor to the plan.

Additionally, the Berkeley Design Advocates — a local volunteer group of architects and urban planners — is also involved in developing the plan.

“This is an attempt to make Telegraph a much more coherent, culturally defined, socially aware district,” said Ruben Lizardo, campus director of local government and community relations.

The meeting, held at Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar, presented new changes to early design concepts discussed at the first TBID public meeting regarding the project June 29.

The plan includes a scramble intersection at Durant Avenue and Telegraph Avenue that will allow people to cross diagonally during their own green pedestrian light, as well as expanding a sidewalk to increase vendor sites and “Big Belly” solar-powered trash and recycling compactors.

During the meeting, community members voiced several concerns about the proposals, including potential vandalism to design elements and a decrease in vendor autonomy. Salma Muzaffar, a Telegraph vendor for 18 years, said she was concerned about the proposed effort to move vendors to consolidate businesses and make them appear more cohesive.

Some business owners said homelessness presents a more pressing issue than the aesthetics of the area.

The next step for the project, said Stuart Baker, executive director of TBID, is to “organize the feedback, make sure we’ve gotten enough feedback, and then start working with our elected officials to begin the process of securing funding for the projects that have the highest priority.”

Evan Linden, a hemp and wire art vendor on Telegraph Avenue since 1998, described the area as “a unique dichotomy of many different interests.”

“Years ago, (Telegraph Avenue) used to be a hub for intellectual and creative expression,” Linden said. “To see them put an effort towards the arts and that type of energy can be exciting — I just want to see that excitement turn into action.”

Baker said he anticipates that elements of the Telegraph Avenue plan will be approved and begin to be installed in 2016, with the “priority development district” eligible to receive additional funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Alameda County.

“How exciting to be here with practical, fundable, positive improvements,”  said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district encompasses the project, at the meeting. “We can bring money to Telegraph and really make improvements.”

Staff writer Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks contributed to this report.

Contact Amelia and Alexandra at [email protected].