Alameda Point Explained: Taming traffic

Alameda Point Explained: Taming traffic

Michele Ellson
Alameda Point

Editor's note: The Alamedan wishes to acknowledge the team at Alameda Point Info for providing source documents for this story.

One of the primary challenges facing city leaders seeking to revitalize Alameda Point is how to manage all of the traffic that new homes and businesses will generate. Even if nothing were done to redevelop the Point, some of the city’s studies show, peak-hour traffic through the Posey Tube to Oakland could exceed its capacity by 2020, and with development, waits at some city intersections could increase exponentially.

City planners are putting new technologies in place that will speed the growing flow of traffic on city streets. But with a new tube or bridge across the Estuary highly unlikely, their primary strategy is to design a development that makes it easier to walk, ride a bike or take transit to work – a development they hope will attract residents and workers who are willing to hang up their keys.

“The city’s primary objective is to get people out of their cars during peak hours,” City Planner Andrew Thomas told the Planning Board on Monday during a discussion about the Point.

More than a decade ago, city leaders who were trying to figure out how to manage the traffic new development will bring decreed that developers seeking to build new homes and businesses west of Grand Street would have to come up with a plan to reduce that traffic they’re expected to generate – by 30 percent for businesses and 10 percent for homes. But doing so will be a huge challenge, at best.

Most of Alameda’s commuters travel alone in their cars, U.S. Census data show, a number that has remained steady while transit usage has dipped. Nearly two-thirds of the Island’s workers drive solo, census data from 2007-2011 show, while about 15 percent take transit – a smaller percentage than in 2000, the data show.

Consultants who drafted a February 2012 transportation system management plan for the city said reducing car trips by 30 percent at all the city’s commercial developments is not feasible, due to a lack of transit and surplus of parking, the separation of homes and workplaces and an imbalance of jobs and homes. But Alameda Point is a clean slate, and could be a different story depending on what’s done to make other travel modes more appealing.

“Site design, density, mixed use, transit availability and convenience, excellent walkability and bicycle access, parking restrictions and parking fees will all need to be considered to achieve the 30 percent (in vehicle trip reductions),” consultants with Dowling & Associates wrote.

The city’s plans show they intend to consider all of these strategies in their quest to develop Alameda Point in a way that doesn’t create rush-hour gridlock. While the number of homes and square footage of commercial space under discussion has changed over the years, the city’s planners have always sought to require whoever develops the Point to design neighborhoods that are walkable and navigable by bike. Also on the table: Charging businesses and residents separately for parking spaces, something that could convince business owners seeking space to look elsewhere.

Residents and business owners will be required to pay a transportation assessment that would fund a coordinator tasked with helping commuters find other ways to get to work. Car and bike sharing programs could also be funded by the tax.

But the centerpiece of the city’s effort to get new Alameda Point workers and residents out of their cars is a plan to make transit more available and easier to use, so that it is just as if not more convenient than driving solo. Planners envision shuttles to BART on the day residents and businesses arrive and eventually, higher-speed buses or the modern-day return of Alameda’s fabled streetcars. (They’re also hoping the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which took over Alameda’s ferry lines a few years ago, will agree to move the Main Street ferry terminal to Seaplane Lagoon.)

Right now, the bus that serves Alameda Point operates every half hour between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., while the Main Street ferry passengers can catch a ride every 65 to 85 minutes between 6:10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. Most of the planning for the Point envisions transit that runs at twice that frequency – service that could be funded by the fee paid by residents and businesses if that’s found to be the most effective way to get people out of their cars.

The transportation fee that residents and business owners would pay is expected to cover the estimated $400,000 annual cost to operate privately run shuttles to BART in downtown Oakland and could help pay for some improvements, like bus-only lanes. But other money would need to be found to cover the cost of hoped-for future items like a bus rapid transit or high-speed bus line on Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway, which would cost an estimated $20 million to construct.

Shuttles at the Harbor Bay Business Park and the new Cross Estuary Shuttle have had some successes in getting cars off the road – each carries 180 passengers a day – as have rapid bus services like the line that runs along Oakland’s San Pablo Avenue, which saw an 18 percent jump in ridership when it became high-speed. But it’s not clear how successful they have been in reducing congestion. (The Cross Estuary Shuttle, for example, has been popular with cyclists who would otherwise be facing a less-than-pleasant ride through the Posey Tube).

Still, planners are hoping to rely on another tool – the design of development at the Point – to attract new residents who don’t want to drive. They want to build apartments and other small-format housing that will attract singles, seniors and others who are less likely to drive than larger families.

According to the 2008 Station Area Plan, which laid out the impacts of three different development scenarios at the Point, 200 single-family homes generate the same number of peak-hour car trips as 388 multifamily units in a mixed-use, urban environment.

A mixed-use development with housing close to transit – which is what the city is now planning for – would generate an estimated 1,477 morning rush hour trips through the Posey Tube, about 100 fewer than the same number of single-family homes and duets that are more distant from transit, the study shows. Even if the amount of housing were doubled, it shows, a more compact, transit-friendly development would only add another 100 cars into the morning commute mix beyond the original, single-family oriented plan.

But even the smaller number of cars could be enough to max out the Posey Tube during the morning rush hour. The city’s most recent traffic counts from 2012 show an average of 2,656 cars going through the tube during the morning commute; its capacity is about 4,000 cars. (It may be fair to note here that the number of trips development at the Point is expected to generate vary widely in the studies that have been conducted over the years.)

Alameda Landing could serve as an important test case for the approach to be taken at Alameda Point. Residents there will pay $300 each to fund a shuttle to BART and other transit improvements and businesses – including Target – will pay a per-square-foot charge toward shuttles that are expected to be up and running when the store opens in October. And the development plans incorporate some of the same principles – including walkable neighborhoods, an array of housing types – that planners hope will come to life at the Point.

“Target is paying into the fund,” Thomas said of the Landing’s transportation assessment fund. “Alameda Landing is already starting to implement this program.”

Comments

Submitted by frank on Fri, Jul 12, 2013

What all these traffic plans overlook are the 'unique demographics' of our City. They are 'pie in the sky'. We continue to attract young families with children due to our good schools and relatively affordable housing. We do not have neighborhood schools in the traditional sense. We have a school lottery where someone on one side of town children might be attending school on the other side of town or at multiple schools in different locations. Combine this with the fact that both parents are working jobs. So does anyone really think that a parent will hop on multiple busses to drop their children off at schools and then another to get to work.

Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Jul 12, 2013

Development is not the problem--our current addiction to one-car-per-person is the cause of traffic congestion and the actual cause of the problem.

The problem of traffic congestion will only be solved--in Alameda and throughout the region-- when we get out of (mostly single-occupancy) private autos and start taking transit, walking, and bicycling more. The point of improving transit service (buses, shuttles, ferries, etc.) is to make them more competitive and more convenient than they are now. For buses, that means headways (service intervals) of 10-12 minutes, not 30 minutes.

Having more convenient bus service all over Alameda will make it easy for parents to take their kids to school on the bus, just like they do all the time in San Francisco. All we need is reasonable funding for transit instead of starving the most efficient systems available for moving people from place to place.

Providing easier to reach and more convenient transit service works, as we have seen on our own AC Transit lines (), OX, and W Transbay lines, 51A, etc.). So does designing our streets to accommodate bikes, buses, and pedestrians better instead of putting single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) automobile traffic first and always, and at all costs.

The Posey and Webster Tubes have plenty of capacity to move more people per hour--even at rush hour--if more people take transit and transit gets priority, as it should. A full AC Transit 51A bus can get 60 people through the Posey or the Webster tubes in the space of 2-3 cars, with a much lower carbon footprint and lower emissions per passenger than the 60 cars they would require if they drove alone--and we can no longer afford to destroy the planet or waste money supporting our SOV habit.

Alameda's first transportation systems were transit systems--trains. So all we are doing is returning to our historic roots when we restore transit to its rightful place in Alameda and the surrounding communities.

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