Letters to the Editor: Central Avenue needs a road diet

Letters to the Editor: Central Avenue needs a road diet

Letters to the Editor

Central Avenue has a safety problem. Between 2008 and 2012, 21 people bicycling and nine people walking were hit by vehicles between Encinal Avenue and Main Street. Crossing Central on foot can be perilous due to poor visibility, long crossing distances, and four lanes of fast-moving traffic; bicycling along Central is equally daunting for similar reasons.

When collisions do occur on Central, they are more likely to result in serious injuries compared to other Alameda streets because of rampant speeding. Cars typically average 30 to 33 miles per hour – exceeding the posted speed limit of 25 m.p.h. Considering that Central is home to several major schools and Washington Park, its unsafe conditions are troubling.

Central Avenue needs a safer street design to reduce speeding, improve visibility, and protect its most vulnerable users – people walking and bicycling to school, the park, and elsewhere on the Island. We have the ability to design Central as a more organized, predictable, and forgiving street that allows for a greater margin of error for people to make mistakes without grave consequences. Conversely, the status quo design is chaotic, unpredictable, and encourages ill-advised behavior.

The City of Alameda is presently examining improvements to make Central Avenue a safer street via a “road diet.” A road diet would convert Central Avenue’s four lanes to three lanes plus bike lanes. Road diets are among the most ubiquitous and vetted safety improvement measures utilized across the country.

By calming traffic speeds, improving crosswalk visibility, and providing separation between people driving and biking, road diets reduce conflicts and collisions. National studies from the American Association of State Transportation Officials demonstrate that road diets reduce crashes by 19 to 29 percent for all users. Alameda already has implemented several successful road diets, including along Broadway and Atlantic Avenue.

There are some groups in Alameda who oppose any consideration of a road diet based on unsubstantiated claims of increased traffic congestion, removal of parking, and detrimental impacts to local businesses. In reality, these arguments hold no water. Traffic volumes on Central are lower than on Broadway and Atlantic Avenue, suggesting a road diet is unlikely to result in congestion (an upcoming traffic analysis by the city will detail specific impacts). No parking removal has been proposed as a part of the project since the street reconfiguration only affects the lanes of travel. There are no studies nationally that have shown road diets detrimentally impacting local businesses – in fact, in some cases, like on San Francisco’s Valencia Street, road diets have actually increased sales by creating a safer, more walkable street.

Most importantly, in discussions over the future of Central Avenue, it is imperative that we remember what’s at stake. Maintaining the unsafe status quo of speeding and collisions has real consequences for the daily safety of Alamedans, including over 2,000 students attending schools on Central. We should consider all options, including a road diet, and work together to make Central Avenue a safe street for all.

Andy Gillin


Submitted by Jim Blakeney (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

A few years back,Vancouver BC added bike lanes on numerous downtown streets plus a "road diet" on a main bridge into downtown. The move was done to promote biking to work. The uproar was deafening.
Well, four years later, downtown merchants report increased business, drivers have adjusted and the city is now looking to provide more bike lanes as biking to work has become very popular now that it is safe.

Submitted by Michelle (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

With all the alternate streets, Pacific from Park to the base, Taylor from Saint Charles to 3rd st why not separate completely and designate more quite streets as bike/walk.

Submitted by Bluchvon (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

Andy, I like your idea and I agree with the rationale for "road diets." I watch kids trying to cross Broadway going and coming from school and I cringe when drivers speed through intersections while they stand in the cross walks. But, we have a problem. It's what the city did with Shore Line Drive. Read the recent Letters to the Editor about the engineering talent in our Public Works Department. It doesn't inspire confidence and that bow wave of skepticism will get in the way of good ideas that affect us all. For example, here's how "Liz" ended her comment, "Why isn't our city council on top of this? Why is the city not adhering to engineering guidelines? Why has there not been a credible traffic impact report conducted? Something is very wrong here." It's shameful, but public trust has been eroded and with Alameda Point and the North Shore developments unfolding, that erosion of faith and confidence is something we all have to address. Good luck with Central Avenue, but when you do your opposition research, keep Shore Line in mind.

Submitted by AJ (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

Yes I'll keep in mind how great Shoreline is as I ride it safely with my children along the beach. It is a success not a failure. Other than failing to remove the beachside parking lane, and kowtowing to people who believe that free street parking is an entitlement, Shoreline is great.

Submitted by carol (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

In the interest of Transparency, from AVVO: "Andrew Gillin is one of California's preeminent auto accident and personal injury attorneys".
Forgive my cynicism, but now you have me wondering if this "complete streets" concept hasn't just been cooked up by the Personal Injury/Auto Accident Attorneys as a practice builder. Because if there is one thing forcing more pedestrians and cyclists onto an arterial [State Highway 61] street already occupied by motorists, in the name of "complete streets", is likely to do, it is INCREASE the need for Personal Injury Attorneys! Well played, Mr. Plaintiff's Attorney-looking-to-do-more-business-in Alameda.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

Hi Carol: To be fair, Mr. Gillin included his title and firm at the bottom of his letter, but we typically don't include this information at the bottom of letters, so I removed it.

Submitted by Carol Fairweather (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

(I'm not the previous Carol)
If Shoreline Drive is an example of what the plan would be for Central, I say No! Shoreline went from being a beautiful relaxing walk/ drive to a crowded nightmare.
I used to take my visitors along Shoreline to show the beauty of Alameda and its beaches. Now I avoid it. To drive down Otis Drive was not why we bought a house in Alameda.
For many years I rode my bike to work on the base. San Jose was my preferred route and then Taylor. Why would I want to be on the same street used by multiple cars? Don't clutter up Central, making it, too, more dangerous. Use different streets to avoid disasters. Having many more moving objects in your line of vision while driving or biking or walking is way more stressful than the beautiful rides with which I used to begin my day. Enjoy the ride.

Submitted by AJ (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

Carol is upset because 1/2 an auto lane was used to make a bike path. Where other users now have safe access, she sees "clutter" and that forces her to drive more carefully, yet that is now somehow "dangerous". She complains that Shoreline is no longer beautiful but what does that mean? (she doesn't explain) Oh right, it means that the line of parked cars on the shore side that blocks the view of the bay is ugly. Parking on that side was only included because the city and our leaders did not have the guts to place higher value on fair access to public street space, than on providing free storage of private vehicles on public land.

Submitted by Fred (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

How about we get Alameda Police to enforce bicycle traffic laws and ticket pedestrians who walk into the street while cars are coming at them instead of waiting a minute for a clear spot in traffic. You can't get run over if you watch for traffic and cross the way our parents taught us to...when safe.

Submitted by Jasmine (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

Alameda needs better bike lanes, there is currently no east/west bike lane that completely crosses Alameda right now. Santa Clara's bike lane abruptly ends at Grand ave and Central's bike lane also abruptly ends. Having one of these be countinuous the entire length of Alameda just makes sense. I would prefer it be Central because on Santa Clara the 51A constantly blocks the bike lane.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

Jim, we are not in Canada nor is Alameda downtown Vancouver. It did not bring up any business there it actually dropped it with the removal of parking spaces. With regards to central ave it's 99% residential. A person can ride their bike to Mcdonalds for a cheeseburger. But can they ride to the new location of Pagano's hardware on Central and Webster to pick up a couple of 2x4's or maybe 10 cases of ceramic tiles weighing about 60lbs each? Tie all that up to the handle bars with a piece of red plastic at the end right? Great for business right? There is nothing wrong with Central ave. Worried about speeders? K well a few extra stop signs and maybe a stop light should slow traffic down.

Submitted by Theresa (not verified) on Tue, Jun 2, 2015

This is all about balance. If we want a street, or more than one street, that specifically has extra rooms for bikes (ala Shoreline and now possibly Central), then there should be a street that has extra room for cars, with few to no bikes. This would increase safety and access for everyone. We could use one east-west street for cars and one east-west street for bikes so that each could move freely, and more speedily, across the Island without endangering each other. When the roads were planned many years ago, they simply were not anticipated to have the amount of combined bike & car traffic that we have mixed together. The growth of cycling is wonderful, but not everyone can always go somewhere by bike. We need to think about ways to accommodate both, giving both sides speed and safety, without one side demonizing the other.

Submitted by Scott W (not verified) on Wed, Jun 3, 2015

You know, I'm about as pro-bike as possible, and I still don't think knocking Central down to one lane west of Webster is a remotely good idea. There's a very good chance that Site A development will include a ferry terminal to get people on and off the Island (that's good!). And right now we'd be asking people to drive down Central to a massive parking lot at Alameda Point to get on the ferry, because there's no good, fast option for people to travel through West Alameda. A dedicated bus lane that went down Central with limited stops at the main intersections would do *much* more to get people out of cars. I remain baffled that Alameda isn't looking more closely at free "loop buses" that move people around the Island without cars. (Yes, I'm aware nothing is "free".)

But if we build infrastructure to put in a bike-only lane behind barriers like we see along Shoreline, we can't also have a dedicated bus lane. There's just not room. We really, really need to offer an option to get people to an Alameda Point ferry without their cars. I'd love if this option was bikes, but... it's just not. There are many people who can't realistically use bikes to get to and from an Alameda Point ferry (seriously, I love bikes, but they aren't an option for everyone).

The bike lanes along the West End (Haight, Buena Vista) are *awesome*, and I use them all the time. We should direct riders there, with the quiet neighborhood atmosphere, more than onto the side of a major east-west road that we may need, very soon, for dedicated transit to a ferry that would otherwise bring a ton of cars to Central.

Submitted by Jack (not verified) on Wed, Jun 3, 2015

David- I go to Paganos all the time with my cargo bike which can carry 400 lbs. I buy paint, lumber, etc. and it is not a problem.

Submitted by Lauren (not verified) on Wed, Jun 3, 2015

In reference to Scott's early comment, Gail Payne gave a report to the transportation board on May 27th, in which she says "... With a three-lane road diet, there are expected to be three capacity constraints in 2035 if cumulative build-out were to occur:

 Fifth Street/Central Avenue intersection - delays at the all-way stop
 Webster Street/Central Avenue intersection
 Eighth Street/Central Avenue intersection

She also says their 2035 traffic estimates are conservative.

(http://alamedaca.gov/sites/default/files/document-files/5b_centralcomple...) I'm referencing page 4 of 7

Central Ave is not a good subject for a road diet with the the building that's already approved and with the future build up at the base.

Submitted by nora (not verified) on Wed, Jun 3, 2015

Jack, you are not a 110 lb woman. Not everyone can carry everything on a bicycle when they run an errand.

Submitted by Mary E (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

There are plenty of wide roads to the west end that can take cars to park at a ferry terminal (if there is parking there). Central Ave would be great with bike improvements as it would then be safe for young and old cyclists travelling to/from homes, parks and schools. Drivers can take Stargell, Ralph Ap. Parkway, or Lincoln/Marshall Way/Pacific -- all three were designed as thoroughfares.
The last one is very wide despite being residential and will lead directly to Site A past the historic airplane as they plan to straighten out the roadway within the Al Point.

Submitted by Mary E (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

I ride from west end to Franklin Park with a child. The child can ride on the sidewalk on Santa Clara Avenue. I ride in the "bike lane" and it is not very safe. I follow Santa Clara Avenue and share the road with the AC transit buses. I keep away from them. To get to Franklin I turn right on Sherman Avenue so that we can use the stoplight to cross Encinal/Central. But that block of Sherman is very narrow. If it is busy we both slowly use the sidewalk, stopping to walk if there are pedestrians. Then we can bike through quiet streets to Franklin Park.
Note the process of biking there safely - there are many compromises. One cannot simply bike efficiently in the least time possible. It also is not a form of biking that leads to peak aerobic fitness improvement.

If biking is to really be efficient transportation there need to be fewer unsafe stretches. And if I want to trust that my child can navigate by bike on his own it needs to be safer by design.

Submitted by Mary E (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

The real bottleneck is on 8th street where too many cars are moving to Otis after exiting the tubes onto Constitution.
There is no good connection between Otis' crosstown path and the tubes or the roads that lead west from Webster St. More people should be directed to proceed east sooner on Santa Clara Avenue or Buena Vista Avenue.

Submitted by Thaddeus (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Fred, make sure that you don't give anyone the wrong idea about pedestrian responsibilities. You're not saying it's the law that pedestrians should be "waiting a minute for a clear spot in traffic," are you? A pedestrian in a crosswalk, whether marked or unmarked, has clear right-of-way, and cars must yield.
Many times, cars fail to yield, of course, whether because of distracted driving, aggressive driving, or misunderstanding of the law. My sense, from crossing streets around town, is that drivers are becoming more aware that this is the law, and a few Alameda PD operations that have targeted crosswalk violators have also been helping. But no one should be under the impression that pedestrians, when they allow cars to violate their right-of-way either out of fear for their safety or out of courtesy, are in the wrong to have stepped into the crosswalk.
Also, I used to live on the stretch of Central that we are talking about here, and I fully support the "road diet" idea detailed in the article. Drivers definitely need to slow down on this stretch of Central.

Submitted by Lauren (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Here's a link to tonight's presentation, to be given at the workshop at Encinal at 6:30pm:


On pages 32-34 they discuss what impact a road diet will have on travel times currently and in the year 2035. It at least doubles the commute time.

Submitted by Scott W (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Mary E, I think this is where we differ. If there are "wide residential roads" leading west, that's exactly where I think we *should* put the bike path(s) instead of pushing cars onto the quieter streets. I'd really like to reserve the (already busy, I agree) Central Ave for dedicated transit to the new Site A ferry to get people out of their cars when they are getting off the Island. Alameda has an amazing number of ways for young and old cyclists to get to homes, schools and parks through the neighborhoods that aren't part of the main traffic route. Doing something that moves bikes closer to traffic and removes the possibility of a dedicated transit lane directly to the best non-tunnel route of the Island seems like a bad idea.

Submitted by nora (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Please remember that there are businesses along Central Ave. Many are small without off-street parking.

Submitted by Mary E (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Stargell is relatively new and amazingly was NOT designed with space for bikes in mind. Fortunately there is a bike path planned on the Cross Alameda Bikeway alongside Ralph Ap. Parkway.
This bikeway will be great for connecting people to the northern end of Main Street.
However, access to Washington Park, Crab Cove, Shoreline, and the schools (Encinal, Maya Lin, Paden) could only be served by using Central as a bikeway. Moreover, Central is vastly more appealing as it is shaded. Businesses should realize that many patrons do circulate by bicycle. I already see inadequate bicycle parking at Safeway during peak shopping times.

Submitted by Scott W (not verified) on Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Lauren, that's a good link. (And I still can't believe I'm arguing against bike lanes...). Ah, numbers: Below are travel times to Alameda Point (AM West bound) and back (PM East bound) with current traffic conditions and either 4 (current), three or two lanes:

AM Travel Curr(4) 3 Lanes 2 Lanes
Eastbound 6.9 min 7.6 min 11.7 min
Westbound 6.8 min 15.2 min 16.8 min

PM Travel Curr(4) 3 Lanes 2 Lanes
Eastbound 6.5 min 10.8 min 17.4 min
Westbound 7.0 min 8.6 min 14.1 min

Travel in twenty years (Alameda projections):
AM Travel Curr(4) 3 Lanes 2 Lanes
Eastbound 8.4 min 9.4 min 17.1 min
Westbound 8.9 min 22.4 min 27.2 min

PM Travel Curr(4) 3 Lanes 2 Lanes
Eastbound 9.1 min 20.0 min 48.1 min
Westbound 10.7 min 14.5 min 27.1 min

So... Alameda's projections, within the report (sort of) advocating bike lanes, reducing to three lanes would add seven minutes *just* to the commute West bound out to Alameda Point on this one part of Central. Reducing to two lanes adds ten minutes just to the commute to Alameda Point. Coming back from the Point in the afternoon would have an extra four minutes (three lanes) or eleven minutes (two lanes). That's if we see no substantive changes to traffic at Alameda Point. That's an extra 15ish minutes getting to and back from the far West End.

And the future... the report suggests if the pattern stays the same (four lanes), that in twenty years the commute out to Alameda Point (where, you know, essentially everyone agrees we want jobs for Alamedans) will go up 2-4 minutes each way. Let's call that eight minutes for the round trip commute out west to the Point and back. I can actually deal with that if it means the Point is really helping the West End.

But with three lanes instead of four, the AM commute to the Point would go from just under nine minutes (8.9) to 22.4. With two lanes, it's up to 27.2 minutes.

With three lanes instead of four, coming back from the Point would go from just over 9 minutes (9.1) to 20 minutes. With two lanes, it's up to 48.1 minutes.

If you think Alameda's projections for the changes to the tunnel with development at the Point are optimistic (personally I think they're likely to be more right than wrong), these projects say, up front, that bike lanes making Central three lanes would add (11+13) 24 minutes to the round trip commute to the Point in the future, best case, and reduction to two lanes would add (18+39) 57 minutes to the round trip commute.

From the entrance to the Point, to Sherman (not the whole Island, just to Sherman). For the commute. To and from jobs at the Point. Every. Single. Day. Without reserving a lane for at least the possibility of future rapid transit. Those are pretty stark numbers.

Submitted by Theresa (not verified) on Fri, Jun 5, 2015

Sorry if I missed this, but is there a specific public meeting coming up about this proposal? Thanks.

Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Sat, Jun 6, 2015

If the proposal for Central is anything like the Shoreline disaster then no, no, no. Shoreline used to be beautiful and relaxing. Now it's ugly and tense. If there's a bus or car stopped, there is no way around it until it moves. What is called traffic calming is really traffic stopping. I'm really disappointed that we've turned such a beautiful avenue like Shoreline was into an ugly mess. Please don't do this to Central!