Mr. Mayor, Councilmembers, and Commissioners,
We are writing to correct misleading information contained in Marc Hedlund’s June 11 (or thereabouts) letter to the mayor, council members, and commissioners.
Mr. Hedlund contends that Council has voted twice to approve the Complete Streets design and any change in policy must require a Council vote. In fact, Council has not voted to approve the Complete Streets design for Hopkins Street once, let alone twice. It has only ever acted on one half of Hopkins – from Gilman to Sutter – and only then after having been denied relevant information by staff. There has never been a vote to approve the cycle track on lower Hopkins, despite an attempt by Council Member Kesarwani to push it through in violation of the Brown Act.
A change in policy is not required in order to abandon the idea of the two-way cycle track on Hopkins. Section A. Complete Street Principles, Subsection 2. Context Sensitivity of the Berkeley Complete Streets Policy states: “In planning and implementing street projects, all departments of the City of Berkeley shall maintain sensitivity to local conditions in both residential and business districts and shall work with residents, merchants, and other stakeholders to ensure that a strong sense of place ensues.”
It is quite clear that merchants, residents, and many other stakeholders, such as shoppers, consider that the cycle track changes will, in fact, destroy the strong sense of place that already exists on Hopkins.
In addition, exemptions to Complete Streets are provided in Section C. Exemptions; Subsection 1. Leadership Approval for Exemptions (b) and (c) provide as follows:
Exemptions may be granted if (b) “The cost of establishing bikeways or walkways would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use” and (c) “Where sparsity of population or other factors (emphasis added) suggest an absence of need.” There have been no studies to determine need and no baseline measurements, as required by Section B. Implementation, Subsection 5. Evaluation: “All relevant Departments and Divisions shall perform annual programmatic evaluations of how well the streets and transportation network of the City of Berkeley are serving each category of users by collecting baseline data and collecting follow-up data on a regular basis.”
The neighborhoods surrounding Hopkins are populated, by and large, by an older demographic than the rest of Berkeley. There are many disabled residents (a protected class) and people with mobility issues. The commercial area is highly frequented by older residents, both from the area and from the Berkeley hills. While there are two schools located on Rose Street, information has not been produced to show how many of the students would be more conveniently served by bicycling on Hopkins Street rather than low-stress streets approaching from the north or south, or other low-stress east-west streets, such as Rose itself.
The cost of the hardscape for the cycle track, if built at the same time the road is repaved, is very high in comparison to the removable features that would be installed after repaving in a pilot program. It is unconscionable to think that council would wait to fund the repaving of Hopkins in order to install a very expensive type of bike lane without any studies to justify it, and which would have no ability to be evaluated for how well it is serving the city. To add insult to injury, it would not be able to be removed if it proved to be unsafe, as all the literature from public agencies (including our own bike plan) contends.
Mr. Hedlund further states that the City’s unfortunate staffing issues are continuing to worsen. This is not just a Berkeley issue; communities all over the state are reporting this same phenomenon. As such, a delay in repaving Hopkins could take many more years than even now anticipated if the allocated funds are redistributed to other parts of the city.
Because of the change in stormwater runoff regulations, staff has said that the street will have to be reengineered. That will take staff and time. It will also take staff and time to do the proper studies required by Complete Streets. In the meantime, the Council is being asked to prioritize something we don’t actually know we need over the safety provided by something we have known was a priority for at least six years, the length of time Hopkins has been at/near the top of the list for repaving.
As stated before, the plan for the cycle track on lower Hopkins has not been approved by Council. It will continue to be a major source of contention, even after the issue of emergency evacuation is resolved by the Fire Department, because it is unsafe in this application. The five-year moratorium on street cutting after new pavement installation is a red herring. If the street were repaved now, it would still be likely that at least five years would pass before the city was fully staffed and money could be found for the cycle track, studies could be conducted, and the elements of Complete Streets could be met.
And recall that Councilmember Hahn’s 2018 referral had nothing to do with a cycle track. To invoke that as the starting point from which to measure the delay in installing it is misleading at best. Even suggesting that there is a starting point is nonsense, unless we are being told that the cycle track was set in stone from the beginning, far before there were any consultants, any public meetings, any discussion of options. The most appropriate date, if picking a date to use were necessary (it is not), would be Oct. 11, 2022 – not even one year ago. And again, the plan for lower Hopkins has never been approved.
We take great exception to Mr. Hedlund’s characterization of the City’s deliberative conduct on this project. It is not, by any standard, a measure of the City’s inability to get work done to protect the public. It is, instead, a great testament to the City’s integrity and its commitment to get the process right in order to protect the public!
Finally, council members are not elected to impose their will on the people. They are elected to do what is right, as best they can balance competing interests. Friends of Hopkins Street is not interested in subverting anything. We are interested in making sure that we get the treatment of this street, in particular, and the values expressed in the Bicycle Plan, Vision Zero, and Complete Streets right.
We urge you to do the right thing and see to it that the funds to repave Hopkins are used for their intended purpose in the coming fiscal year.