Emeryville Braces for its annual Holiday Tradition: Traffic Gridlock

Published On December 2, 2013 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

A former Emeryville City Manager famously commented that “We want to have a traffic problem” when Emeryville was of course more of an industrial dump than the retail mecca that it has become. He was of course implying that if Emeryville ever became a destination and brought traffic along with it, than the city planners would have accomplished their goal of turning the city around and that they’d deal with it then. As the old adage goes, “Be careful what you wish for”.

Black Friday (or even “Grey Thursday“) is a tradition that officially kicks off the holiday shopping season … and dread for some residents. But to a city that has embraced consumerism as a mode of tax revenue, it’s probably a welcome time for the city’s coffers as 25% of our revenue comes from sales taxes collected largely at the four major retail centers. This Season, Bay Area consumers are forecasted to buy more than others around the country because of the pace of the economic recovery here, according to some economists. Bay Street, The Public Market, Powell Street Plaza & the Target-anchored East Bay Bridge shopping center will undoubtedly be immersed in holiday lights … and tail-lights! While new shops like Uniqlo, Forever 21 & the just announced Design Furniture Now have fortified Bay Street as a destination, little has been done to offset the traffic impact that the influx in shoppers will bring to our city. E’villains should feel fortunate that the plan to expand Bay Street to include a Macy’s department store has been killed.

Seasoned Emeryville residents will steer clear of the Western side of the tracks as much as possible until it subsides in early January. This holiday surge will undoubtedly translate to more cars in our already bottlenecked area and longer trips across town for residents. Traffic, pollution and the life-shortening stress of time spent sitting in one’s car are all consequences of the questionable city-planning that has concentrated the “Christie Core” area of our city with more retail than it can accommodate. The City already has the second highest instance of childhood asthma in California because of our proximity to the Bay Bridge and The Maze, but also because of the amount of car-starts and circling vehicles searching for parking.

What are our options for reducing this traffic and incentivizing people to use alternate forms of transportation? The Emery Go-Round shuttle is completely taxed and no additional service will be added until additional revenue sources can be allocated. The Region is exploring a Streetcar system, but this could take years. The proposed Bay St. Bike/Ped bridge continues to languish in the State’s appeals court. The question is, will the traffic problems cause shoppers (and ultimately residents) to flock elsewhere? Will the City Manager & Council proactively dedicate more resources into creatively solving these problems … before it’s too late? Below is a list of intersections that we have deemed some of the worst (there are plenty more). What are you own “Top-5” worst?

An incomplete & unscientific list of the five worst spots:

Shellmound & Christie: The worst of the worst. You’ve successfully escaped the Trader Joe’s parking lot or gotten off the Powell exit from 80? Now you just have to contend with Bay Street & IKEA. Throw in some confused shoppers trying to make a left turn from Shellmound onto the one-way section of Christie and you have utter chaos.


Ohlone & Bay St.: The mostly unsupervised intersection of this pedestrian right-of-way, 4-way stop mixed with vehicles’ brazen attempts at finding curb parking, loading/unloading passengers and back-ups from those exiting the paid parking garages make this intersection a frustrating ordeal.


Ashby & 7th: The problem isn’t just an Emeryville problem as our notorious “Anti-Car” neighbors to the north are complicit. The mysteriously timed traffic lights at Ashby & the adjacent Potter St. (a mere 187 feet away) routinely backs cars up all the way to Hollis. (The Traffic Engineer for the City of Berkeley should be updating his resume as far as I’m concerned.). Deplorable road conditions and some unconventional merges also contribute to this maddening intersection.


40th/Shellmound Bridge IKEA parking lot: Traffic going south along the 40th St/Shellmound bridge has been exacerbated by its reduction to one lane when it was deemed too narrow and endangering bicyclists (Not all drivers understand the vague road markings here and routinely drive on the shoulder). Want to “pop in” to IKEA to grab that missing allen nut for that Klackbo you purchased? There’s one way in and one way out. Don’t even THINK about coming here on a weekend.


65th at Shellmound: The intersection at the railroad tracks is routinely backed up in all directions by the frequently passing trains and ill-timed traffic lights. Getting on to Hwy 80 via Aquatic park? Make sure you have 4-Wheel drive!


What is the worst traffic bottleneck in Emeryville?

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About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

One Response to Emeryville Braces for its annual Holiday Tradition: Traffic Gridlock

  1. The Resident says:

    Another consideration is not just the retail traffic. Wait until all of the apartment units which are currently being built in and around Emeryville are populated. It has the potential to be December retail traffic all year round. A perfect storm of gridlock on already congested streets is brewing.

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