Hearst Avenue improvement project to begin in coming weeks

Micah Carroll/Staff
Construction is planned to begin on Hearst Avenue in order to increase safety and efficiency for various forms of transportation.

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Construction on Hearst Avenue will begin within a matter of weeks as part of the city’s $3 million Hearst Complete Streets Project, which aims to improve transportation efficiency and safety on the north side of campus.

The project will include parking-buffered bicycle lanes, about 900 feet of new sidewalk between Le Conte Avenue and Euclid Avenue in the areas spanning Tolman Hall and North Gate and bus-boarding islands to reduce bike-bus traffic conflicts, among other additions.

“That corridor has a very high volume of people who … go by multiple means they go by bus, they go on foot, they use bicycles, they use cars,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “But that road isn’t designed for those purposes. There’s a concern for safety, a concern for moving people in an effective and safe way.”

Though there are numerous improvements to be made, city Transportation Division manager Farid Javandel said the first thing they plan to do is order traffic signal components for the intersection of Hearst and Le Roy avenues.

The construction will take between five to six months to complete, Javandel said, but could be finished faster if rain is limited. The project was originally slated to start this summer but was delayed because of scheduling conflicts with contractors completing other ongoing projects in the city.

With any new city construction, there are some people who have concerns, Javandel said. He added that the project generally received positive support.

“We had a number of meetings at the Transportation Commission where there were comments provided,” Javandel said. “We (also) had an environmental study that was done that was open for comments.”

But organizations like the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, or BNC, were never invited to participate in the project discussion and are neutral toward the construction, according to BNC chair Dean Metzger.

“We will have to wait and see if the project accomplishes its goals,” Metzger said in an email.

For the most part, howeverbusinesses on Northside will continue on as usual. Some businesses, such as The Stuffed Inn, located on Euclid Avenue, are even looking forward to the construction.

“I think any improvements (are) great. Even the inconvenience is worth it because in the long run, it will make it a lot nicer for people to come here and visit,” said owner Jonathan Lee. “It may be a temporary setback, but I’ve been here for 30 years so a few months is not going to kill me.”

Sorachai Sahabunyakool, manager of the nearby Jasmine Thai Cuisine, is also confident that his business will not suffer with the project. Rather, Sahabunyakool hopes the project will lead to improved safety, since he has witnessed numerous car accidents outside the restaurant.

Of the project’s $3 million budget, approximately $2.2 million comes from federal grants from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area Grant program, with additional funding from a 2013 grant from the Alameda County Transportation Commission. According to campus real estate spokesperson Christine Shaff, UC Berkeley contributed about $800,000 to the rest of the project’s budget.

“(UC Berkeley) actually started the project in 2011 — the campus commissioned a study to look at Hearst (Avenue),” Shaff said. “The consultants the campus hired worked with the city and came up with some of the initial ideas that ended up turning it into a partnership.”

The project is part of a larger plan to make transportation and travel in Berkeley more convenient, according to Javandel. He said that the 2013 grant is funding two other major capital projects — renovations for the Downtown Berkeley BART station and a “complete streets” reconfiguration plan for Shattuck Avenue.

Contact Fionce Siow at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.