Will History Repeat Itself?

by Ken Katz

The 580 freeway completed in the early 1960s was so well landscaped that Parade magazine named it the “Most Beautiful Urban Highway in the USA.” One of its major features was the addition of a small triangular park (separated from the freeway by Lake Park Way) with a pond as its centerpiece and water jets that splashed into the concrete-lined bottom. Hence, it was dubbed “Splash Pad Park.” Although it may have been beautiful, it was never intended to be used and, aside from a homeless individual who camped out there for several years, it wasn’t. Over time, the fountain became inoperative and the landscape overgrown. Forty years later, in October 2003, a new iteration of the park designed by Walter Hood was dedicated with a design very specifically focused on usability.

Some twenty years later, we now have another opportunity to turn a Caltrans project into a space designed to serve the community, but this time from day one. In the March edition of the Splash Pad News, we reported on Caltrans plans to demolish the pedestrian over-crossing between MacArthur and Santa Clara Avenues. Option #1 was to replace it with a new POC higher up the hill; Option #2 (which you can view here) would invest in major safety and aesthetic improvements on Grand Avenue, and on the MacArthur and Santa Clara on and off ramps. As part of our April follow-up article, we included a summary of comments received to date. A very few respondents indicated that they do use the existing POC but deplored the unsafe feeling and the lack of maintenance. The majority of the comments, however, were in favor of Option #2.  Caltrans subsequently hosted an online meeting on September 21 to discuss this and other related projects. None of the roughly fifty community participants expressed support for a new POC, while stakeholders adjacent to the proposed endpoints on Santa Clara and MacArthur voiced vehement opposition.

Since it seems very unlikely that a new POC will ultimately be built, a small group of Grand Lake stakeholders has been talking about one specific element in the second option: the closure of the Santa Clara Avenue slip lane on Grand that leads to the westbound freeway onramp. This scenario, which is illustrated in the Option #2 plans above, has a two-way bike lane following the traffic island curb. Perceived benefits include the following:

  • The lengthy crosswalk at the entrance to the slip lane has always been a major hazard, so its elimination would create a far safer and more pedestrian-friendly avenue.
  • The closure would enable relocation of the existing, extremely hazardous westbound bike lane; provide a dedicated eastbound bike lane that is currently lacking; and potentially significantly reduce the number of auto burglaries and robberies. 
  • What is now something of a dead zone could be transformed into an attractive pedestrian plaza substantially benefitting neighborhood businesses and the community at large. 

David Thorne, the landscape architect profiled by Jerry Barclay in this article in our March 2022 edition, has volunteered to provide pro bono his office’s assistance in the early stages of the planning process. When we met on site with Ian Thompson, a Senior Associate in his office, Ian almost immediately switched from talking about how the street space could be used to the potential for incorporating the adjacent traffic island as well.

As the above plot plan above shows, the bicycle lanes would be relocated well to the left through the existing traffic island to provide substantially more space for new landscaping and for the pedestrian plaza. Ian’s plan envisions lots of new trees, planters, built-in seating and other amenities, but the final design proposal is going to hinge on input from the general public as well as local businesses and property owners. Please use the comments tab below to give us your feedback regarding how the space might be used and what features should be included. As an aside, this is the same process we used when we began lobbying for a new Splash Pad Park.

Caltrans is currently estimating that demolition of the POC will commence in January of 2025 and the final improvements will be in place by March of the following year.

Ken Katz founded the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum in late 1999 and, in his role as Chair, coordinated the community efforts to lobby for a new park and subsequently served as a liaison to the City of Oakland and to Walter Hood’s office during the planning process. The first Splash Pad Newsletters were emailed beginning circa 2006. Currently, he acts as a contributor to—and publisher of—the monthly Splash Pad News. Keila Diehl proofreads all the copy, filters content as needed, and makes everyone involved look good.



4 responses to “Will History Repeat Itself?”

  1. Beautification is always a benefit. However, after all the money that will be poured into this, if it happens, will we still have the homeless tents and all of their accumulated garbage under the freeway? Not a political discussion, just a question focusing on beautification.

    1. Ken Katz Avatar


      This is an excellent question for which I don’t have an answer but, hopefully, in three years when this project is supposed to be completed, the homeless issues will have been mostly resolved. If not, the more pertinent question is as to whether or not, we will be able to properly maintain a new pedestrian plaza. That has to be part of the discussion.

  2. Elizabeth H. Porter Avatar
    Elizabeth H. Porter

    I live at Grand Lake Gardens, the retirement community at 401 Santa Clara. In order to go to the commercial area or the farmers’ market from Santa Clara, you have to cross the dangerous slip lane, and then squeeze past the bus shelter on a narrow sidewalk.

    I like the plan! It would also be good to relocate the bus shelter slightly farther from Grand, widening the sidewalk. Some seating on Santa Clara would also be appreciated by us seniors who struggle to climb the grade here – a pace to sit and rest.

    1. Ken Katz Avatar

      Elizabeth, Absolutely delighted to get your input — especially since “The Gardens” is one of the biggest stakeholders. I can assure you that seating will be an essential element in the proposed pedestrian plaza and it’s also possible that the bus stop will be relocated to the corner adjacent to the school. One of the other objectives is to slow traffic in the freeway onramp which will also slow down cars turning right onto Santa Clara. Minor modifications to that crosswalk are likely as well. Please keep posting!