by Ken Katz
Chances are you know more about the fictional “Bridge on the River Kwai” than you do about the pedestrian overcrossing that spans 580 from MacArthur at Van Buren to Santa Clara at the westbound 580 on-ramp. That will likely change now that Caltrans has announced plans to tear it down as part of an effort to address safety and structural deficiencies at five locations between Webster and Fruitvale Avenues.At the February 16 Grand Lake Neighbors Zoom meeting, eight representatives from Caltrans explained that the existing neighborhood overcrossing doesn’t meet current seismic standards, which is their way of saying that it could collapse in a major earthquake. In addition, it doesn’t meet current requirements for vertical clearance or for ADA compliance due to access ramps that are too steep to accommodate people in wheelchairs. Due to limited space at the MacArthur end, Caltrans has decided that it’s not feasible to rebuild in the same location and they’re proposing two options.The first would be to build a brand new POC that would begin with a ramp on MacArthur across the street from Temple Beth Abraham and end on the other side of 580 on Crescent Street where it dead-ends. The other option would entail making major safety improvements to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists on Grand Avenue between MacArthur and Santa Clara. Jason Patton, the Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Supervisor for the City’s Department of Transportation (OakDOT), Safe Street Division, was also in attendance at the February 16 meeting, and he briefly outlined the overall concept and goals. Subsequently, Jason very kindly agreed to provide us with more details which are appended below:
In collaboration with Caltrans, OakDOT is developing concepts for possible improvements that could be made in lieu of building a new pedestrian overcrossing. In other words, what could be done to compensate for the loss of pedestrian and bicyclist access if the current bridge is removed and not replaced? OakDOT sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as the bridge was built in 1962 to address the construction of I-580 dividing the Grand Lake and Adams Point neighborhoods.Our approach is identifying possible pedestrian and bicyclist improvements on the surface streets that connect the two ends of the overcrossing. These streets include MacArthur Blvd (from Van Buren Ave to Grand Ave), Grand Ave (from MacArthur Blvd to Santa Clara Ave), and Santa Clara Ave (from Grand Ave to the westbound I-580 on-ramp, where Santa Clara Ave makes a right turn into the neighborhood). This is the path of travel people would take if the bridge did not exist, and our goal is to ensure that the proposed improvements would, as a substitute, provide similar connectivity.
On MacArthur Blvd from Van Buren Ave to Grand Ave, possible improvements include widening the sidewalk at the bus stops, planting additional trees along the freeway, and adding a bike lane. We are also considering how to calm traffic from the eastbound I-580 off-ramp to encourage drivers to transition from freeway to city driving before reaching Grand Ave. Ideas include narrowing the off-ramp (part of which is wide enough for two lanes but only striped for one lane) and having MacArthur Blvd be two travel lanes approaching Grand Ave (where there are currently three). The purpose of these changes would be to reduce drivers’ speeds and reduce the number of lane changes by drivers “jockeying for position.”
On Grand Ave from MacArthur Blvd to Santa Clara Ave, possible improvements include adding separated bike lanes (located between the sidewalk and parked cars) to provide more protection for bicyclists and to get car traffic further away from pedestrians. This would involve relocating the center median and building bus boarding islands at the two bus stops on this block. We are seeking input on how these changes could be made to work well with student pick-up/drop-off at the Lakeview Elementary campus, and for farmers market vendors who use the curbside parking along Grand Ave.
On Santa Clara Ave from Grand Ave to the westbound I-580 on-ramp, ideas include removing the Santa Clara Ave “slip turn” – the extra little one-way street that allows drivers on southbound Grand Ave to turn right before getting to the traffic signal at Santa Clara Ave. The area of this “slip turn” could become extra sidewalk and plaza space. It could also provide space for a much-needed two-way bicycle connection between Grand Ave and the Rose Garden and Piedmont Ave neighborhoods via Santa Clara Ave. We are investigating the Grand Ave/Santa Clara Ave intersection for opportunities to shorten pedestrian crossing distances, help bicyclists traverse the intersection, and get car traffic a little further away from the front of the Grand Lake Theatre. As with the off-ramp on MacArthur Blvd, we are examining opportunities to calm traffic and add trees along the Santa Clara Ave off-ramp.
Editor’s Note: Immediately after the February 16 Caltrans presentation, we emailed two Splash Pad News subscribers who happen to live on that short stretch of Crescent. Based on the minimal info that we provided, one was vigorously opposed and the other thought that a direct connection to Lake Merritt and downtown could be very beneficial, provided that the POC was adequately maintained. Whatever your own opinion, please use the “Comments” tab below and we’ll share the results with Jason and with Caltrans. If you want more info, Caltrans is making another presentation at the March 10 Adams Point Neighborhood Council meeting and a broader public meeting is tentatively scheduled for the Spring or Fall of this year. For further questions, you can also contact Caltrans Public Information Officer, Janis Mara at Janis.firstname.lastname@example.org.
POSTSCRIPT: Here’s a link to a follow-up article published on April 1.