Planning Commissioner decries building of I-80 Bike/Ped ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ at Ashby Interchange

Published On June 14, 2018 | By Guest Contributor | News & Commentary, Transit

This E’ville Eye guest piece is written by five year Planning Commissioner Steven Keller. Keller is a resident of Pacific Park Plaza and has lived in Emeryville since 2002. Keller recently updated a letter he originally submitted to our council in 2008 advocating against the prioritization of a pedestrian bridge near 65th as part of the forthcoming I-80 Ashby Interchange Improvements. The proposed bridge would connect to near where Point Emery is.

While current residents of Emeryville have almost universally advocated for improved safety measures at the Powell intersection, decisions were made years ago by our then local leaders to pursue a bike/ped bridge near Ashby. In the 2007 study session above, the project was noted to have been initiated nine years prior in 1998. None of the then Council or staff members involved in the decision currently serve on our local governement.

The proposed path shown in purple would start at 65th & La Coste and end near Point Emery.

Keller points out the overwhelming support from the community for a I-80 bike/ped bridge closer to Powell that should instead be prioritized. Keller advocates that a bridge at this location would provide for better connectivity within our city and address the safety issues that have plagued the intersection for years. This location would also address a huge gap in the ongoing Bay Trail project that could one day extend all the way to San Francisco.

Dream of Temescal Creek Bridge over I-80

Councilmember Scott Donahue, who was serving his turn as Mayor at the time, advocated at the May 2nd, 2017 Council meeting [1:00:04] his and many others’ vision for a better connection near Powell. “I mentioned to [now retired CalTrans District 4 Director] Bijan Sartipi about the connection possibilities for a bicycle pedestrian bridge at Temescal creek and he was all ears.” Temescal creek runs through Bay Street near where the Bay Bridge bike path Staging area is.

Academy of Art students pitched their ideas for a bridge across I-80 near Temescal Creek as part of an MTC IDEA grant.

Donahue added that other stakeholders were excited about the idea as well and that a study was in the works to demonstrate the viability of the project. Donahue has previously advocated for the study of retrofitting an existing bore at Temescal Creek to accommodate bikes and pedestrians.

Challenges

Planning Director Charles Bryant later cautioned that a bridge at Temescal Creek was not in the General Plan and may be a violation of the East Shore State Park General Plan that is a protected bird sanctuary. In order for a bridge to be viable at this location, it would either have to be closer to Powell or work within the ecological constraints of this area.

The 65th St. bridge is still in its planning stages but stopping the momentum of the project at this point is going to be difficult. “The project is still in the planning stage,” noted City of Emeryville Senior Civil Engineer Ryan O’Connell. “In the coming months/year there will be public meetings to gain further input. You can see the [embeded] fact sheet from the ACTC website. This shows costs and estimated timelines for this project.”

The City of Emeryville is the primary stakeholder and will be part of the working group to review and provide design input. The improvements  are partially funded by Measure BB which was passed by voters in 2014. The project is being managed by ACTC and will be constructed by Caltrans.

If you would like to join Keller by expressing your dissent (or support) for the project, please contact our ACTC Commission representative Emeryville Mayor John Bauters at jbauters@emeryville.org.


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Stop the Bridge to Nowhere!

By Steven Keller

Dear Agency Members:
Once again I find myself writing to ask you to not approve the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ over I-80. As you well know, I value, appreciate, and usually support the recommendations of our fine staff. And, even though I believe they have our financial best interest in mind when making this recommendation, I feel strongly that selecting the bridge at 65th Street as “the only option to be studied in detail for purposes of completion of the PID…” – will be a grave mistake, and will not serve the people of Emeryville.

The following is given in support of my belief.

As in asked in my note to you on May 20th, 2008, why are we spending so much money on a bridge that primarily serves regional needs while doing nothing for the expressed desires, wants, and needs of the people of Emeryville? Once again I remind you of what 100 Emeryville residents said in May of 2005, when they met at the Holiday Inn to give the city their thoughts and concerns. One of their major contentions was that we live in a disconnected city. A bridge located far to our north will do nothing to connect the residents or workers of the peninsula with the major activity nodes of our city: the Public Market, Powell Street Plaza, or the Transit Center.

Why would the agency support spending millions of tax payer dollars to build a bridge that would NOT:

  1. Support the residents and workers of Emeryville
  2. Provide viable connections for the peninsula, to and from our transit center, the Emeryville Public Market, or Powell Street Plaza
  3. Provide thousands of residents on the east side of I-80 safe access to the peninsula park
  4. Help us reach our goal to reduce global warming by providing safe and direct passage to the employment centers at Watergate, from the transit center, by walking
  5. Connect our disconnected city

If we were to place a pedestrian/bicycle bridge near the Ashby Interchange, people walking to and from the peninsula would have to walk an additional three-quarters of a mile. A distance that is not only unreasonable, but a distance no one will travel – they’ll drive instead. According to the Federal Transit Administration Trips Made by Walking chart, the percentage of people walking to their destination drops from 75% when walking one-quarter mile, to less than 10% when that same walk is over a mile. The agency’s focus should be to connect our disconnected city for pedestrians as well as bicyclist. Any bridge located between Powell Street or Ashby will be able to serve the needs of regional bicyclist regardless of its final location. Pedestrian/Bicycle bridges are about connecting people to places they need or want to go. The idea of spending any large sum of money, primarily for the convenience of keeping a regional route as direct as possible, while doing nothing for providing viable transit options to driving, or making better connections for the people of Emeryville, is a mistake of gigantic proportions. Report-after-report and study-after-study has told us that I-80 is a barrier both real and perceived. Several examples can be found in the General Plan Update Opportunities and Challenges Report alone: (paraphrasing)

Livability

This has been the most emphasized issue gathered from public input session. In Emeryville, key components of livability include:

  • Pedestrian Friendliness and Pedestrian Path/Bikeways. A vast majority of residents, as well as several non-residents, would like to see an increased network of paths that connect neighborhoods, open spaces, and destinations; provision of connections across major barriers…

Connectivity

Community stakeholders almost universally feel that Emeryville is physically a fragmented, disconnected city.

  • The unpleasant character or difficulty for pedestrians and bicyclists in using the under and overpasses that provides connections through the railroad and I-80. Both of these references come from the Introduction, page 1-4. But still, from this report comes:

Other Community Issues

The public outreach process also uncovered concerns about a lack of circulation planning (with too much focus on individual developments); (page 1-6). In this report there is further evidence that the people of Emeryville want connections that make sense – this statement is supported by:

Pedestrian Network

The pedestrian bridges at Powell and 59th (Amtrak) provide a connection to the waterfront and Bayfront commercial nodes from the city’s central employment corridor. However, the quality of these connections is affected by the lack of pedestrian facilities at either end… This lack of accessibility along the only direct route to the waterfront creates a perceptual barrier beyond the physical boundaries of the rail and freeway corridors (page 3-23).(Page 3-30)

Accessibility

Despite the presence of major commercial and recreational amenities, physical barriers and limited connectivity are detrimental to Emeryville’s livability and appeal…Many of Emeryville’s recreational amenities including the Eastshore State Park, Davenport Park, and the City Marina are separated from the city by I-80.

Emeryville Marinas

While residents of the Peninsula have direct access to the public marina, the remaining Emeryville residents are limited to primarily vehicular access along Powell Street via the I-80 underpass. Although pedestrian access under the freeway does exist the crossing is both dangerous and intimidating. As a result, the under pass is not often used by pedestrians or bicyclists (page 3-31). In looking at this statement as an example, no one living in our most populated areas of town are going to use a bridge at 65th to get to the peninsula…they’ll drive their car. And the report goes on to mention the city’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

Current Policies

The City’s Plan focuses primarily on development of a citywide bikeway network and designated “pedestrian ways”, including shared bicycle and pedestrian paths, but does not address pedestrian circulation…Barriers to pedestrian movement limit the viability of walking as a form of transportation in many parts of Emeryville, particularly for east-west circulation across the rail line and freeway…

I could give you several more quotes from this report alone, and I haven’t even started with the study by UC Berkeley’s Traffic Safety Center. But I think you see my point. The area of the peninsula and the areas of the North Bayfront is where the people and the action are. A bridge at Ashby and 65th will NOT serve any of these needs in the real world of a pedestrian. And until we provide safe crossing in this area, we will not be serving the people of Emeryville or work on reducing vehicle miles traveled – which leads me into meeting the recently approved plan to reduce our Greenhouse Gases.

Reviewing the recently passed Climate Action Plan I see several areas where a bridge at Powell Street will assist us in meeting our targeted goals, while a bridge at 65th will not. By considering the placement of the bridge at 65th Street we are missing the bigger picture. The current viewpoint of the staff memo stress on grant funding and serving regional bicycle needs when what we need to look at foremost is getting people from using their cars both to provide alternate transit options to and from work, and also during the lunch hour. Providing an option for workers to walk to lunch would take a significant amount of autos off our streets during the work day. Additionally, more workers on the peninsula would see taking the train to work and walking across the bridge as “doable” as opposed to walking under the underpass and crossing the street.

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3 Responses to Planning Commissioner decries building of I-80 Bike/Ped ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ at Ashby Interchange

  1. Fotchface says:

    Build a bridge where there’s already an overpass that pedestrians can easily walk through? I live right by that overpass, and I walk under it every day. It is no more intimidating than any other intersection in Emeryville.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The bug is a feature. The separation of Emeryville allows for their to be neighborhoods and communities that have distinctive features and qualities. We don’t have Ikea traffic overflowing into the residential areas. We have areas that are dead ends and which no pass-through traffic goes on. We have smaller stores and cafes in some areas that aren’t threatened by instant access to chains.

    Connecting everything in a nice high traffic grid (Berkeley) is normally followed by decades of adding traffic barriers to prevent high traffic through the grid (also Berkeley).

    The railroad tracks, the freeway, and the city design have divided the city into waterfront, retail / office, and residential / artist / small business sections respectively. This is a good thing.

    Save the money. Build none of these.

    And invest in community services, public safety, and the schools instead.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have lived in this area since 2005. There is no convenient way to get to the shoreline from 65tb- Ashby. I take my dogs to the waterfront almost daily. I put them in the car and drive over though it is walking distance.

    I cycle the Bay trail often. I either ride to the Berkeley bridge or risk the dysfunction traffic design of Powel. The 65th bridge is a great idea!

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