City moves forward on shared streets plan, Dwight Triangle renovations

Maddie Fruman/Staff

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Last month, Berkeley City Council approved a referral to begin planning and securing funding for a “shared streets” proposal, which aims to refurbish parts of Telegraph Avenue in order to be more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

The shared streets proposal is part of Berkeley’s Telegraph Public Realm Plan, or TPRP, a project passed by City Council in 2016 that aims to revitalize the first four blocks of Telegraph Avenue with aesthetic and functional upgrades. Although many are excited about redesigning the street to be more inclusive to pedestrians and bike riders, another aspect of the TPRP has upended one of Berkeley’s local communities.

“Creating a shared street on Telegraph is a win-win-win — prioritizing pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, revitalizing our commercial district, and bringing Berkeley closer towards meeting our climate goals,” said District 7 City Councilmember Rigel Robinson in a press release. “This concept has been years in the making and I look forward to working closely with community stakeholders to make it a reality.”

With the goal of creating both a safer and more appealing space for consumers, pedestrians and bicyclists, the TPRP will eliminate the curb separating the sidewalk and street while installing pieces of public art, greenery and other furnishings between them. By creating a more plaza-like “shared circulation space,” the plan aims to encourage foot traffic and public transit on Telegraph Avenue from Bancroft to Dwight ways.

Robinson introduced the referral to plan and secure funding for the project at a City Council meeting last month in which it was passed unanimously.

The large scope of the shared streets plan and its hefty price tag kept it far from the top of the TPRP to-do list, according to Robinson. Now that his referral has been passed, however, the plan will be on the shortlist of priorities.

“It’s past time that we take a step back and see how we can redesign that street with the people first,” Robinson said. “Part of the price tag is the planning process — it will take the help of planners, architects and designers to zero in on what it will all look like.”

The shared streets plan draws upon similar projects that cities such as Seattle, Wash. and Venice Beach, Calif. have undertaken to revitalize pedestrian hubs. Robinson’s referral to City Council comes on the heels of the similar Better Market Street Project in San Francisco, which was approved just weeks before.

Since the referral’s approval by City Council last month, the shared streets plan has been endorsed by Cal Berkeley Democrats and the Telegraph Business Improvement District. Plans are now underway to secure funding through regional grant opportunities and other sources.

But not every aspect of the TPRP has received the same widespread approval. Another one of the plan’s proposals that has garnered recent attention looks to refurbish the triangular berm created by Dwight Way’s southbound turn onto Telegraph Avenue, a common meeting place for Berkeley’s unhoused population.

After the Dwight Triangle was recently fenced off, some members of the unhoused group who used to congregate there were displaced, according to David “Ninja Kitty” Teague, a local activist and member of the unhoused community.

“It was … kind of a little community gathering space where we didn’t have to be in the turmoil of People’s Park, an area where we could be off to the side without being invisible,” Teague said. “Fencing it off has actually made it so I’ve had to drop out of my college classes because the community and I had to part our separate ways … this has made it so I don’t have anyone to watch everything I own while I’m in class.”

Teague alleged that members of the Dwight Triangle community have been told by the police that if they are seen there moving forward, they will be charged with illegal lodging and presence on a median.

The Dwight Triangle, however, has not always been considered a median. The area was designated a park to commemorate local ecologist Chuck Herrick in 1968, the year before People’s Park was established. Since then, community members have used the space to congregate for more than 50 years, according to Teague.

Robinson, who hopes to “reopen this space ASAP,” recently met with staff members to emphasize urgency in completing the work on the triangle within the next few months.

“I think the fence being up sends the wrong message to the community,” Robinson said.

Contact Jacob Souza at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.