Emeryville to Lose a Crosswalk but Gain a Bike Lane on Shellmound
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The advocates at Bike East Bay were furious over recently released designs for an improved railway crossing in Emeryville that will eliminate a crosswalk on an already squirrelly section of Shellmound. “I’m surprised & disappointed to find out that Emeryville’s railroad ‘quiet zone’ project eliminates a crosswalk at Shellmound/65th, & removes the bike lane for SB Shellmound at 67th to make room for a new L turn pocket (NB bike lane is also narrowed a lot),” wrote Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz on Twitter.
The loss of the crosswalk is regrettable. But the good news is, according to the City of Emeryville’s Senior Civil Engineer Ryan O’Connell, the southbound bike lane to be removed on Shellmound will be replaced with a protected bikeway. More on that later.
First some backstory: Emeryville has long sought a “quiet zone” at the railway crossings along Shellmound in this location. Federal regulators require trains to sound their horns as they approach a street crossing. All the noise, obviously, can deter developers. However, sounding the train horn can be left to the locomotive operator’s discretion if certain safety enhancements are made and the host railroad agrees. This usually includes, among other things, having four crossing gates come down instead of the usual two.
However, the requirements for creating “quiet zones” can be onerous.
Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), which owns the tracks, originally wanted to close the streets at 66th and 67th explained O’Connell. But after years of negotiations, a compromise was reached in which 66th Street will be closed, but 67th and 65th will remain open to traffic. Meanwhile, UPRR, along with federal and state regulators, insisted on removing the aforementioned crosswalk at 65th. The reason: it seems the rail regulators and UPRR decided that motorists who gridlocked on the railway crossing might be delayed in getting off the tracks if a pedestrian was still in the crosswalk.
From Streetsblog’s view, this is yet another example of “windshield perspective.” These regulators are prioritizing the safety of, frankly, incompetent and irresponsible motorists above people on foot. It doesn’t even make sense–whether or not a train blows its horn, a suicidal, inattentive, or just plain stupid motorist who doesn’t wait for the street to clear before proceeding onto and across the tracks can become gridlocked. In fact, it happens all the time. And a pedestrian can still cross there, just without markings to help remind drivers to look out for them. “Pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes enhance the policy behind quiet zones,” said Dennis Lytton, a rail safety expert with 15 years in railroad operations and administration. “Union Pacific, Emeryville, the Federal Railroad Administration, and other regulators should fix this.”
There’s good news, at least, about the bike lane. O’Connell explained that a developer of the adjacent property has been tasked with building a sidewalk-level, protected bike lane to replace the lane that’s getting removed. That will start construction this summer and should include a connection for reaching the Bay Trail, once the nearby Ashby/I-80 interchange bike and ped bridge is completed, just west of the grade crossings. More on that in an upcoming post.