City of Berkeley plans increased use of public spaces

opening businesses outdoor dining
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The city of Berkeley recently adopted two initiatives to increase the use of public spaces and streets.

The Healthy Streets initiative, which the volunteer organization Walk Bike Berkeley has been pushing since March, involves limiting through-car traffic on streets and making them more accessible to pedestrians and bikers. The Berkeley alfresco program aims to open public spaces and streets for restaurant dining.

The Healthy Streets initiative was implemented on three Berkeley streets June 11. As of now, there are single barriers and signs reading “consider other routes” on segments of Ninth Street, Russell Street and Addison Street. 

Ben Gerhardstein, a coordinating committee member at Walk Bike Berkeley, however, said he thinks the city’s approach could go further. To deter motorists, Gerhardstein would like amendments to the signage, in addition to more barriers and cones on streets.

The signs do not directly prohibit motorists from driving on the streets, as neighboring cities such as San Francisco and Oakland have done, but rather warn them that there may be pedestrians or bicyclists, which Gerhardstein wishes to fix. 

“What we have now is just not effective in having a motorist reconsider if that’s where they want to drive,” Gerhardstein said. “Until more motorists are choosing a different route, people aren’t going to feel comfortable taking that space for walking and biking.”

The alfresco program is still in earlier stages of its design, and the City Council voted June 2 to move forward with creating a plan for outdoor dining.

The Berkeley public health order does not currently allow for dining, but that will likely change June 19. After that, the program will need to be finalized and approved before it can be implemented, according to Alex Knox, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District.

The city plans to announce a framework for the initiative this week, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

The plan is to expand existing sidewalk seating, to close or partially close some streets or to create temporary “parklets” in existing parking or loading areas.

Knox said restaurants will likely not begin outdoor dining before early July.

“We’re excited for the potential,” Knox said.

He added that although details have not been finalized, the program may help many Telegraph Avenue businesses survive.

“Each of these programs uses public space for the common good, and they benefit a wide range of people, including residents, merchants, restaurants – and the customers of those businesses,” Chakko said in an email.

Both initiatives are intended to be long-term projects and are likely to be in place as long as the city is in a local emergency.

Contact Clara Brownstein at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @clarabrownstein.