A man, a plan, a canal? Councilmember Scott Donahue’s radical idea to connect Emeryville via Temescal Creek

Published On March 26, 2015 | By William He | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

On January 5th, the Emeryville Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee met to discuss a new bicycle and pedestrian path that would connect East & West Emeryville. Councilmember Scott Donahue presented his plan for an access path through the Temescal Creek Canal under the I-80 freeway via an existing flood control channel. The plan utilizes an existing rectilinear bore going west-east from the wetlands towards an empty lot south of the Marriott Hotel. The plan is significantly cheaper than previous proposals and could develop a needed connection barred by the existing I-80 highway.

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The problem identified is a disconnection between the Watergate/Marina areas and the rest of Emeryville and a huge gap in the ambitious Bay Trail plan. The current bike/ped path via the Powell on-ramp is not only unpleasant, it is amongst the most statistically dangerous in Alameda County. The plan also provides an alternative to the cost-prohibitive nature of building another bridge over I-80.

The proposal to alleviate the danger of the existing route is to create a new Bike/Ped route going East-west under the freeway. A previous idea consisted of removing the on-ramp adjacent to the west side of the freeway and installing a bridge over the freeway. This plan was conceptualized eight years ago and priced at $60 million dollars. Ultimately, the project was abandoned and the City faces more traffic problems today.

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Council Member Donahue’s new proposal consists of creating a bike path alongside Temescal Creek Canal. The path will enter from the wetlands in the west and exit near the empty lot south of the Marriott Hotel. The lot was previously designated for a Volvo dealership but has been left vacant when the deal fell out. There are currently four bores going east to west, three circular and one rectangular. The proposal will utilize the existing rectangular bore that’s approximately 10’ – 6” wide, 8’ – 0” tall, and 200′ ft long. The eastern end will lead to the Bay Street Memorial mound, right behind the Old Navy.

The project takes into account occasional flooding (Like we atypically experienced this last Winter). Walls will be put up to allow for users to traverse for minor rises in the tide level. In the event of floods, the canal will be blocked off to pedestrians and bicyclists. The project also considered allowing canoes to go through it and into Bay Street at times flooding. Since the distance from Watergate to the western access point is quite long, an early notification system needs to be developed to alert riders when the canal is flooded. Riders will know to take a detour in the event of the Canal closing. The presentation moved on to cities that had similar canal/bikeway projects. Notable projects included canal paths in Reno, the Netherlands and the below High Line Canal Trail in Colorado.

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While many of the committee members were favorable of the concept, a few voiced their concerns. The first became the safety of the canal. Similar to the bike path that was argued over in the ECCL, the idea of criminals lurking inside the tunnel-like canal needed to be addressed. The second would be the jurisdictional hurdles that the project will face. East Bay Parks and Recreation manages the wetlands to the west of the canal, Flood Control manages the canal itself, and CalTrans will have input because we are right under the freeway. Essentially, the only piece owned by the City is the previous “Volvo” lot south of the hotel. Lastly would be the engineering feasibility of the project. The City needs an engineering team with experience with fluid dynamics and flood control to do a case study on the concept before moving forward. One thing that they did not mention was the sounds and smells; we are riding under the freeway after all.

At the end of the meeting the committee motioned for the City to conduct a feasibility study on the project. If this project moves forward it will be a timely connection with the stalled South Bayfront Bridge that has been tied up in litigation for years. The idea for a new bike path certainly has some enormous hurdles, but is a welcome endeavor as traffic continues to be a major issue for Emeryville.

About The Author

is a city planner for the City of American Canyon. He grew up in Oakland and moved to Emeryville in 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Urban Planning from San Jose State University and completed his thesis on the impact of redevelopment projects in Emeryville. His interests include community planning, land use optimization, and urban design. William lives with his wife in the Park Avenue District and enjoys photography and traveling on his spare time.

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