One Less Bridge to Cross?

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.mara@dot.ca.gov.

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s a link to a follow-up article published on April 1.


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Comments

9 responses to “One Less Bridge to Cross?”

  1. Alan Kren Avatar
    Alan Kren

    Replacing the POC by improving bicycle and pedestrian access and safety seems the best approach. In the 25 years I’ve lived in the area I’ve yet to see anyone using the POC.

  2. Matthew Myers Avatar
    Matthew Myers

    I might be the only one that uses the bridge on a regular basis! I often jog across it on my runs. Two major things stand out. I have virtually never seen anyone on the bridge. And my wife who also runs won’t take the bridge, it is nearly a 1/4 mile distance from end to end (with the dip behind the old OUSD elementary school), completely fenced in with nowhere to go if you need to get off. The only real person I did see on the bridge was a guy who was living under western spiral entrance who would scream at you every time you went by – it wasn’t pleasant to encounter him on the bridge proper. This leads to the second major thing. The bridge is just plain gross. Crap gets dragged up there and left (if you are missing your mail look up there (seriously), and CalTrans does not clean it, ever (the guy squatting under the ramparts was there for 6+ months and I can only imagine how many times the neighbors who looked out at him from their apartment windows called CalTrans and the City for help (for him who really needed it an for themselves). So while I would love a functional, well-maintained ped crossing (in the same location) hard to believe it would be kept up or maintained to make it worthwhile.

    As for the Crescent Street location. It offers none of the benefits location-wise of the current ped-bridge and is only two blocks from Chetwood Bridge (not super pleasant to cross but not horrible), so seems awfully redundant. So sadly, I am strongly in favor of ped and bike improvements along the surface streets.

  3. Spend the money to improve the pedestrian and bike crossing along the surface streets. Rebuilding the POC would be a complete waste of money.

  4. Caitlin Avatar

    I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 12 years (10 in GrandLake and 2 in Adams Point) and been carless for half that time, and have never run into how you even get to the POC. But based on its location and seeming infrequent use I doubt I’d feel safe using it. I agree improving the pedestrian/bike path they’ve defined would be the most useful thing to do (versus building another POC that won’t be used). However, it feels like any street “improvements” don’t actually take into consideration how the cars respond, which just leads to more car build-up. Following the re-stripe/bike lane on Grand, the Grand/Mandana light timing is a nightmare, and blocks progress up or down Grand during busy times. The light timing at Lakeshore and Lake Park where the right turn from Lakeshore onto Lake Park is at the same time as the pedestrian cross is unsafe for peds & bikes and extremely frustrating for cars (plus can block the traffic for anyone who was in the right lane but wanted to go straight). On the weekends you can’t turn right anywhere except Lake Park and you can’t go south down Lakeshore, so you’ll get pushed up into Cleveland Heights when you are trying to get to Adams Point. Honestly, I would support cutting cars drastically on some of these streets (close all of Lakeshore to cars, from Mandana to Lake Park, except deliveries between 12am-6am) but I feel like our current approach of just putting cars on a “diet” doesn’t work. Grand & Lakeshore are interstate exits AND heavily foot traffic/bike traffic areas….and I don’t think it can be good at being both. I feel like a lot of aggressive driving is coming from the fact that “regular drivers” don’t have any room — between the big truck deliveries and the personal car doordash people double and triple parking and all the ped/bike access and poor light timing and parking in&out it is an absolute nightmare. I don’t think anyone is happy with what’s happened to Telegraph, and it feels like Grand & Lakeshore are next. Personally I feel like Grand is a major car street and that should continue to be a priority while keeping it as safe and accessible as is reasonable given that it’s a car street. Lakeshore should be made less of a car street, except some provisions made for gas as large truck delivery.

    And one more specific reply note on the above, I don’t think the majority of cars coming off the ramps from 580 on Macarthur are “jockeying for position” re: the light, they’re trying to get into the lane for where they’re going. I exit my current neighborhood (Adams Point) to get to GrandLake via Van Buren, but I need to cross from the right (Lane 3) to the left (Lane 1) in order to get to Grand. I would need to cross to center (Lane 2) if I wanted to get to Lakeshore. If someone is coming off 580, they need to cross right (Lane 3) to turn right on Grand. I agree there’s a lot of criss-crossing and it is stressful and probably unsafe (though I’ve never seen an accident) but there are practical reasons why people are changing lanes aggressively in such a short span of time/space, it’s not primarily about speed to the light.

  5. Naomi Schiff Avatar
    Naomi Schiff

    It is remarkable how the urban fabric does not heal from these brutal freeway intrusions even after 50 or 60 years! Almost every area beneath and around freeway infrastructure is unthought-through, then little maintained and generally awful. I guess nobody thought about this “feature” beforehand. I do use that overcrossing occasionally. I don’t know about the seismic aspect, but it’s clear that CalTrans has spent little energy on its maintenance. (I also wish CalTrans would come up with an effective substitute for the rampant grape ivy along the fence lines, which grow out and block sidewalks all over town.) So whatever is constructed, neighbors should demand CalTrans step up the maintenance program in Oakland.

  6. Don Macleay Avatar
    Don Macleay

    I hope that there will be adequate outreach to have a meaningful neighborhood discussion that includes the people who use it now.

  7. Carter Avatar

    Getting rid of the slip turn is a great idea and I support making as many protected bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly measures to slow down cars and make getting around easier on other means. Narrowing the offramp will be particularly helpful for the area by the Euclid staircase too

  8. Russell Yee Avatar
    Russell Yee

    Besides the seismic and ADA issues with the current POC, it’s also a perennial graffiti magnet (especially the backs of the freeway signs). If a new POC is built, can it include adequate anti-graffiti defensive measures?

  9. I’ve lived on Valle Vista Ave. for 25+ years and had to think hard about which POC was being discussed here. I’ve never used it and rarely see anyone else using it. Even the portion over Santa Clara looks rather rickety and uninviting, it’s easier to walk/bike via Grand. Or, if I’m heading to/from downtown, I’ll walk/bike via the Chetwood OC. Perhaps a Crescent St. POC would get more use from some, but it likely wouldn’t alter how I walk/bike through that area.

    What would help is getting rid of the dangerous “slip turn” from Grand to Santa Clara. Far too many cars take that turn at excessive speed and some fail to yield to (or even notice) pedestrians in the crosswalk. Another thing would be fixing the current bizarre timing of the pedestrian beg signals on/across Grand on both sides of 580. There is far too much emphasis on getting cars across or onto Grand/580 and too little time provided for the heavy foot traffic in the area, resulting in myself and many others dashing across during the excessively long “Don’t Walk” periods with the light still green.