Changing how we get on and around 580

By Jerry Barclay

On any given day the intersection of Grand Avenue with Lake Park and Santa Clara Avenues is frenetic with Grand Lake traffic and people moving every which way.   Cars and commercial vehicles head to the WB 580 onramp from three directions.  The path from one of those directions will be changing.

Highway 580 through Oakland was built between 1962 and 1966 (after cars beat out the extensive train system).  It was awarded First Prize in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Second Annual Highway Beauty Awards Competition in 1969 (thank you, Lady Bird Johnson).  The original Splash Pad Park was created as part of the freeway project.  Ken Katz wrote on the Splash Pad website, “When Highway 580 was built, palms and other landscaping were planted around a concrete-lined pond into which water splashed giving the park the name it has since retained. Eventually, the fountain became inoperative and the landscaping was sadly neglected.” The park and adjacent side street became an underutilized void until the City of Oakland – with significant community involvement – redeveloped the site into the current Splash Pad Park in 2003.

Not much street infrastructure has changed since the late 1960s other than traffic signals and related street traffic adjustments.  Now, however, the ‘slip lane’ – that opportunity to turn right from Grand onto the WB 580 onramp will be going away.  Yikes!  For those of us who live here, that seems so surprising, raising concerns and questions.

As reported in the February Splashpad News, due to seismic concerns, Caltrans will be removing the existing pedestrian overcrossing that spans 580.  The removal forces Caltrans to make appropriate improvements at street level to help people navigate safely from one side of the street to the other.  Caltrans and the City of Oakland’s Department of Transportation (OakDOT) have been collaborating on improvements that will achieve mutual objectives.  Slowing down the speed of vehicles on their way to 580 (“traffic calming”) will create a safer environment at the Grand Ave. intersection.

I can hear the wailing now from those who foresee all of the problems a loss of the slip lane and a new plaza would create.  I’m sure this sounds like a terrible idea to some people:  longer wait times getting through the intersection; unhoused congregations hanging out in the plaza; and a loss of five parking spaces.  I get it.

But this should be viewed in a larger context.  For many years, urban planning policies across the country have evolved to emphasize the value and importance of pedestrian-oriented environments.  There are many outstanding examples where prioritizing pedestrians over vehicles has produced great results for neighborhoods and communities.  Caltrans and OakDOT believe that creating a public plaza by merging the sidewalk, slip lane, and existing landscaped area would be a preferred outcome—a new public amenity.

It holds promise.

Let’s look at the potential upside.

  • Establishing the programmatic criteria (i.e. type of uses) for the plaza would be crucial to creating the best and most appropriate design.  Participation by stakeholders to identify possibilities would be very important, as would stakeholder support for that programming over time.  Bringing the community together in this process should be a positive.
  • Improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists is a good thing.  Creating a more appealing and safer environment will encourage more use by pedestrians and cyclists.
  • A dual (two-way) bicycle lane will be incorporated as a separated path from vehicular traffic from Grand up to the right ‘turn’ of Santa Clara.  This would replace the single unprotected, scary bike lane currently hugging the curb next to traffic zooming up towards the freeway.
  • A preliminary plan for the plaza was prepared in mid-2022 by local landscape architect David Thorne and his staff (pro bono – thanks David).  See the plan below to start visualizing the possibilities.  Seat walls with new landscaping create opportunities for individuals or small groups to meet.  Caltrans has prepared a simplified version of Thorne’s but there hasn’t been direct community dialogue yet about the plaza’s function and potential uses.
  • A related change will happen where Santa Clara hangs a right ‘turn’ above the slip lane.  Improvements to the crosswalk configuration at that intersection will greatly improve the pedestrian experience.  Motorists turning right from Santa Clara to enter 580 will also benefit.  There is hope that where the crossover structure will be removed, Caltrans will push back the fencing, improve the landscaping, and provide a sidewalk bench as a public amenity. 

Caltrans responded favorably to an email but hasn’t yet responded to questions I submitted.  I expect a follow-up with them for future SPN updates.

Anthony Bennett, the property manager for the corner building adjacent to the slip lane (HR Block et al) and president of the Grand Avenue Business Association, indicated that there is a mix of attitudes amongst the tenants toward the plaza concept – pro and con.  Those with clients who visit their businesses are naturally concerned about the loss of parking, especially for their more senior customers.  Others wonder if the plaza could be something useful for their business.

I encourage your feedback to the Splashpad News.  Let us know what you think and stay tuned as next month’s article will look closely at the City’s plans for a makeover of Grand Avenue.  Controversy is coming.


Jerry Barclay is a graduate in architecture from UC Berkeley. After a long career in construction and real estate development – which included the redevelopment of Old Oakland, construction of Stern Grove, and a management role for the Christ the Light Cathedra – he is now happily retired from Intuit where he oversaw the company’s expansion of its HQ and global workplaces. Jerry served as the Chair of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Grand Lake Farmers Market for fourteen years.  He and his wife Caryn have lived in the Grand Lake Neighborhood since 1983.


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Comments

16 responses to “Changing how we get on and around 580”

  1. Jerry Barclay Avatar
    Jerry Barclay

    Wendy, your point is valid. I don’t know if you read my introductory article to this subject in February’s edition of SPN. I did provide a explanation of two proposed projects closely tied together. In my article coming up in the April edition I’ll go into detail about the Grand Avenue makeover project. This will be an ongoing discussion. I hope you continue to read on.

    BTW, I doubt OakDOT thinks they made a terrible mistake further up Grand.
    Jerry

  2. Why would this project not be considered in the context of ‘other changes coming to Grand Ave’ referenced in the article? We should know by now, that one change has great impact for several blocks in any direction. What are the other changes in planning? And what is the City doing to ‘fix’ their terrible mistake further up Grand (where traffic backs up at any time of day from Wildwood to Elwood; making a left from Mandana onto Grand is a mess…)? Let’s improve the entire stretch.
    Wendy S

  3. Jerry Barclay Avatar
    Jerry Barclay

    Caltrans plans to remove the overpass and not replace it. That is why it will be making improvements at street level to benefit pedestrians and bicyclists.

  4. Daniel erwin Avatar
    Daniel erwin

    So what about the pedestrian overpass? Gone? No replacement?

    1. Ken Katz Avatar
      Ken Katz

      Daniel,
      If you’re at all curious about the planning process for the Caltrans project, an April 2022 Splash Pad News article is at this link: https://splashpad-originalsite.sitedistrict.com/2022/04/one-less-bridge-to-cross-part-two/

  5. Jerry Barclay Avatar
    Jerry Barclay

    Thank you all for your comments. All express valid points and concerns. A lot more about the intersection and risk of delays will be discussed further in the April SPN edition. I will reply to a few comments as a direct reply.

  6. Gabe Ets-Hokin Avatar
    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    This will mean 2-5 years of construction, traffic delays, mess, etc for a project of this scope and scale. And what will we get? Longer wait times to get on the 580 ramp, more road raging, more red-light running, more idling cars and more pollution and waste. Who will benefit? 3-8 homeless folks who will likely build a shanty town under the new tree plantings. Yay.

    1. Jerry Barclay Avatar
      Jerry Barclay

      Gabe,
      More to come next month on potential traffic delays especially pertaining to additional changes the City wants to make. Regardless, the construction of a plaza should not take more than a year, including demolition, once work commences. It could easily take less, but we are talking about public contracted work that always seems to take longer.

  7. David A. Avatar
    David A.

    I agree that the current slip lane is problematic. I often see drivers ignore it altogether (probably to avoid the stop sign) and just turn right at the intersection. As long as the proposed plaza doesn’t turn into a campsite, I don’t see a problem.

    1. Jerry Barclay Avatar
      Jerry Barclay

      David,
      I agree concerns over homeless encampments and behavior are a very legitimate concern, and a plaza design would have to consider how to enable effective visibility and law enforcement. I, for one however, don’t think the opportunity for new community amenities should be discarded solely because of fears of the unhoused population. I do expect critics of the plaza concept to make a big deal of this.

  8. My family frequently walks down Santa Clara to shop on grand or go to the farmers market. The slip lane here and on the other side of 580 are scary and dangerous. Drivers routinely make illegal left turns from the theater or blind right turns from the other side to get into it and it freaks me out. Honestly I can’t believe there would be any hesitation at all to closing this dangerous noisy strip that saves drivers 2 seconds.

    1. Gabe Ets-Hokin Avatar
      Gabe Ets-Hokin

      It’s more than 2 seconds of time savings; that light cycle sometimes takes almost 3 minutes to complete, meaning cars can take up to 6 or more minutes to travel the 2 blocks radiating out from the Grand/Lake Park intersection. Multiply that times thousands of cars a day, cars and trucks that emit many times the pollutants when idling than driving a sustained speed, and you’re dumping thousands and thousands of tons of greenhouse gasses and pollutants into the air and lungs of the folks living in the neighborhood.

      1. Marcus Avatar

        Even if your numbers were correct (and they seem pretty off to me) any added pollution from cars slowing down would be offset by pedestrian improvements, after all, the safer it is to walk, the less we need to drive our cars. I do appreciate the creativeness of the “if I have to slow down it will add to global warming” argument, though!

  9. Marshall St. Clair Avatar
    Marshall St. Clair

    Repeated examples of traffic calming manifesting as a euphemism for traffic creating doesn’t seem to create public learning. One needs only to look further down Grand Avenue to see the ‘larger context’ of long lines of cars parked in traffic, overflow of cut throughs through neighborhoods and decreased patronage of local businesses. Roads that facilitate efficient travel from a to b are also a public amenity.

  10. Jennifer London Avatar
    Jennifer London

    Hi there. Are the current trees going to be removed? It seems like when trees are removed/replaced, no one bothers to care for the newly planted ones and they just die off.

    1. Jerry Barclay Avatar
      Jerry Barclay

      Jennifer,
      It is likely that the tress will be removed. They are not particularly healthy or attractive. I understand your concern. New landscape plantings will have to include an irrigation system. Maintaining new trees would have to be a City responsibility that will need to be monitored by the community at least until they become established.

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