Oakland Alameda Access Project Kicks Off With a Car-First Focus

It May Be Well Intended, But This Study Treats Other Road Users as an Afterthought

The entrance to the Posey Tube. Cars transitioning from the tube to I-880 turn Oakland's Chinatown into a traffic sewer. Image: Alameda County Transportation Commission
The entrance to the Posey Tube. Cars transitioning from the tube to I-880 turn Oakland's Chinatown into a traffic sewer. Image: Alameda County Transportation Commission

Thanks to I-880 and its complex of on and offramps, walking or bike riding through Oakland’s Chinatown, downtown, or on routes to Jack London Square and the estuary, can be pretty awful.

That’s why a series of projects, some official, some grass-roots, including Walk this Way and Connect Oakland, are trying to fix some of the damage done to the fabric of the city during the freeway-building age.

The study area. Image: Alameda County Transportation Commission.
The study area. Image: Alameda County Transportation Commission.

One of these, at least ostensibly, is the Oakland Alameda Access Project, an $83 million plan that kicked off its initial scoping meeting last night at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. This project, which is starting environmental work, is led by Caltrans and the Alameda County Transportation Commission.

One of its major stated goals is to reduce traffic volumes through Chinatown. Right now, a lot of that traffic is generated by cars and trucks transitioning between I-880 and the Posey and Webster tubes to Alameda. Cars have to follow a circuitous route on local streets, effectively creating a surface-level freeway ramp complex through the neighborhood. Large parts of Chinatown become a traffic sewer during rush hour.

This video/rendering lays out the intended changes to the road transitions between the tubes and the freeway:

The project also boasts the addition of bike lanes to 7th Street, a mixed use path leading to the Posey Tube, and the opening of the northside maintenance path inside the tube to bikes (see diagram below).

The good news, from a livable streets perspective, is it calls for the removal of the northbound Broadway I-880 offramp. That will reduce the width of the freeway through Chinatown. But it also calls for the Oak Street offramp to be widened to “accommodate the traffic volumes.”

Here’s some more video rendering of what they want to do:

One thing that quickly becomes apparent from watching the video is that the study is focused on automobile flow (the camera follows the car–why doesn’t it ever show us the perspective of a cyclist or a pedestrian?) The sidewalks, as depicted, are just as narrow and uninviting as they are today (despite the ghostly pedestrians in the rendering). And the on-street bike lane on 6th Street offers no protection for cyclists, something that is critical next to cars coming off the freeway at high speeds. The rendering also shows no improvements to the freeway undercrossings, at Jackson for example, and still depicts the area under the I-880 as parking lots enclosed by chain link fences–how is that going to reduce the barrier effect of the freeway, a stated goal of the project?

A diagram from the study. No project should be permitted to proceed until bike lanes are protected. Image: the Oakland Alameda Access Project study
A diagram from the study. No project should be permitted to proceed until bike lanes are protected. Image: the Oakland Alameda Access Project study

Nicole Ferrara, Vision Zero Coordinator with the City of Oakland, was at the meeting. She and others assured attendees that many of these issues will be addressed by Walk this Way, another nearby access project.

Meanwhile, opening up the maintenance path on both sides of the Posey Tube sounds like a positive step but, as anyone who has ridden through it knows, it will remain a loud, polluted hellscape. Caltrans engineers said they will also widen the existing pathway by a couple of inches, narrowing the road width by nine inches. They also plan to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph, so motorists leaving the tube do so at city speeds. But they’re going to depend on law enforcement to get cars to actually slow down, and we know how well that works.

Improve bike space in the Posey tube is part of the project. Image: Alameda County Transportation
Improve bike space in the Posey tube is part of the project. Image: Alameda County Transportation

The project will also create a bike ramp/switch back to the Posey Tube entrance (that’s visible in the above video rendering). Ultimately, though, the right way to get cyclists between Oakland and Western Alameda is a bridge–as advocates for BikeWalk Alameda have been saying for a couple of decades.

That said, Streetsblog asked why they couldn’t do something more radical with the tunnel crossing. The void at the top of the tube is used for ventilation. The tube was built in 1928, and one has to wonder if modern air flow systems wouldn’t allow the possibility of building a bikeway inside it, using the sides of the void for ventilation and the center for bikes. None of the engineers at the meeting seemed to have an answer. A 2009 study by the City of Alameda said only that “The study team did not consider converting the ventilation shaft, which is the upper part of the tube, into a bike/pedestrian path because it is needed for ventilation.” Bottom line, a better way has to be found to let cyclists and pedestrians get to Alameda. Adding a few inches to the maintenance ways of the tunnel doesn’t cut it.

Either way, as one engineer with the study group pointed out, it’s going to take a series of projects and a great many years to reconnect Oakland and its waterfront, and to undo the damage done by I-880 to Chinatown and the downtown core. But fixing these problems should start with bikes and pedestrians, and then they can worry about automobile traffic flow. Instead, this study, at least so far, seems to have that backwards.

To leave a comment on this project, go to the Oakland-Alameda Access Project web page.

  • Harris

    99% of commutation in the US is by car. Why would we not consider vehicular transit as the paradigm?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    On the hierarchy of pedestrian needs, it feels like walking to Alameda is pretty low. Although I did this thing exactly once, it was sort of pointless. Oakland, meanwhile, has much lower-hanging fruit than this. For example the Acorn neighborhood is cut off from the waterfront by a tent city and a lot of impassible sidewalks, like this one on Market. These basic things need to get fixed before we start rearranging the ductwork in the tube.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d4138b119194eacb6f08ba04cecb6171056ddfcdf81ff579f21037c1f217802d.jpg

  • City Resident

    Because the primacy of the automobile has ruined neighborhoods and is greatly contributing to global climate change and recurring natural disasters, to say nothing of the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who suffer preventable injuries and deaths due to our prioritization of automobiles on city streets.

  • Harris

    That’s your opinion but you should at least accept that a vast majority of American residents, voters and taxpayers disagree with you, and believe that private vehicle greatly enhance their lifestyle and choices.

  • The reason most people commute by car is because it’s the often only viable option. Riding a bicycle sandwiched 3′ between cars traveling at freeway speeds is dangerous and it’s not going to make riding a bicycle viable for 99% of people.

    The reasons to change this paradigm are obvious. We’ve all seen what our cities look like when the only way to get anywhere is with a car, and it’s truly awful. Why should people be forced to rely on using expensive and dirty cars just to safely get between two short distances?

    When considering congestion and parking time, traveling between downtown oakland and Alameda is often times faster on a bicycle. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of people would actually prefer riding a bicycle to get to where they’re going if it was actually safe to do so.

  • Flatlander

    That’s like breaking both of someone’s legs and asking if their crutches “greatly enhance their lifestyle and choices”

  • Harris

    No, it’s like accepting that in a democracy that an individual sometimes gets outvoted and doesn’t get what he wants or prefers.

  • Flatlander

    You should just admit that your inane statement about what Americans “want” is flawed rather than trying to make it about my “preferences” of which you know nothing.

    We’ve built a world that constrains people’s choices tremendously. Time to start undoing the damage.

  • Harris

    I get that you don’t like the way the nation is. There are always a minority who feel that way. But ultimately we have the nation we have because a majority vote the way we vote.

    Youre entitled to think we’re all wrong but, as long as we outvote and outnumber you, it won’t do you any good other than make you feel vain and arrogant

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    “is greatly contributing to global climate change and recurring natural disasters”

    That’s not an opinion. There is consensus among scientists that it is a fact.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    You need to study the history of the American city. After World War II, city planners and traffic engineers rebuilt American cities around the automobile. There was no democratic choice and no vote about it.

  • Harris

    The politicians who made those decisions were elected. The politicians who could reverse that are elected. If enough people agreed with you, something would be done about it, but they don’t.

  • Harris

    And maybe we will all drive electric cars in 50 years time.

    “Right” or “wrong” can be subjective notions. You and I both think we are right but we may disagree 100% of the time.

    That’s why we have elections – a beauty contest to decide who the majority think is right.

  • joechoj

    Who optimistically rendered the jogger in the Posey Tube?!? As if biking wasn’t horrible enough – who’d want to spend 3-4x as long down there breathing exhaust and cowering from airport-level sound levels? This graphics tech must be forced to jog the route as penance, and then see if they’d still include a jogger!

  • joechoj

    I must say, the changes seem mostly positive, even if the planning paradigm disappointingly continues to throw bike lanes onto car-centric streets as an afterthought. The removal of the offramp on 6th and the containment of tunnel entry & exit loops to the 880 footprint (and out of Chinatown) is commendable.

    I’d be fine if this was a 2-step process, where this was the car camp’s first draft, and now it’s the bike/ped team’s turn to modify it to those needs. The problem is, the 2nd step never comes.

  • Stuart

    It’s pointless to try to reason with RichLL (currently known as “Harris”) on this topic. This is a mainstay of his content-free argumentation: If a government body/agency does something he likes (e.g., anything that favors cars), then he states that it’s the will of the voters because if the voters didn’t want it they’d have voted for different officials. If a government body/agency does something he doesn’t like then he complains about unelected bureaucrats opposing the will of the voters, and/or excessive power wielded by special interest groups (e.g. bicycle advocacy groups).

    He just picks whichever of the two stances supports the position he prefers for any given topic, states it as fact, and then demands that anyone who disagrees prove the opposite.

  • dustinjamesfoster

    Should follow NACTO standards- 10 ft lane widths.

  • dustinjamesfoster

    It’s probably closer to 80% of commute trips…

  • dustinjamesfoster

    ‘And maybe we will all drive electric cars in 50 years time.’

    …So we won’t be solving the climate crisis in any meaningful way, then?

  • Harris

    That’s a matter for the voters

  • p_chazz

    Wrong. The planners and engineers worked for mayors or city managers who were elected.

  • You do not speak for the “vast majority”, and in fact, in most places, that simply isn’t true. You’d do well to open your mind to the positions of others, and step outside your bubble.

    As for it being an opinion, you’re wrong, it’s a fact, backed up by empirical evidence.

    Even if it was true though, that does not mean the majority (car drivers) get to dictate their will on the minority, fair democracies always must protect the minority from having their rights subverted (and in this case killed) by the majority.

    You wouldn’t argue it is acceptable for 300,000 of the wealthiest 20% of Americans (a similar percentage to those who don’t drive) to be killed on a yearly basis would you?

  • Wow, I guess you’d have been against civil rights then?

    This is one of the most entitled statements I’ve ever heard.

  • Harris

    WTF? Where does that “logic”come from?

  • Harris

    Again, if a majority accepted what you say as “fact” then we would live in a very different society. But we do not, and your problem is that you have not convinced us that you are right.

  • Harris

    Even in SF, 60% of commutes are in a car. In many areas it is over 90%

  • Yeah, I’m only quoting the US census. I’m sure you know better.

  • Civil rights were about denying the ability of the majority to subvert the minority. Basically what you’re arguing against.

  • Harris

    I think that is what is called a straw man argument

  • Harris

    Funny, because that was exactly what I was quoting

  • By all means link me to the US Census document showing that 99% of commuters travel by personal vehicle today.

    Given that I’m the one who’s provided links to data, at this point, you’re little better than lying.

  • No, that’s called an analogy. If you cannot understand such abstract arguments, well, I cannot help you with that.

  • Harris

    You are not a protected minority. You’re a minority with a bloated sense of entitlement and precisiousmess.

    Majorities decide what kind of nation we have and if you don’t like the result then you don’t understand Americans and America.

  • Harris

    I’m not doing your homework for you unless you pay me. Show me where in the census my number is wrong – I’m guessing that you already looked and realized I was right.

    Outside of a few congested cities, cycling is not considered a viable form of commuting. It’s a fringe activity

  • I’ve already provided links. You didn’t say anything about cycling, you said car commuting was 99%. You cannot back up that number because it’s false. I’m glad you acknowledge what I’ll generously call a mistake, you made.

  • *shrugs*…you’re wrong, and an arrogant hateful asshole, but I suppose that’s your right as an American.

  • Harris

    I notice that you cannot refute my assertion that you are a small minority group.

  • Harris

    You have produced no link that categorically states that 99% of US commutes are not by car. You’re just guessing and hoping.

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