Op-ed: Traffic and Alameda Point

Op-ed: Traffic and Alameda Point

John Knox White

Rush-hour traffic congestion on Alameda’s bridges and through the Webster- and Posey tubes is a constant concern. Because of this, the city’s General Plan requires city planners to identify how new developments like the one being discussed for Alameda Point will impact transportation throughout Alameda and to figure out ways to reduce the negative impacts of growth rather than try to accommodate increases in auto traffic.

The city’s policy can initially look counter-intuitive. I mean, if we’re building more buildings, shouldn’t we be widening roads to allow for more traffic? Our city council and planners asked that question many years ago, and after much consideration realized a couple of things:

1. Total travel time matters: Our access points are already congested and projected to be more whether or not another development occurs. What is the benefit in building wider roads that speed vehicles along their way only to reach the tubes/bridges and sit in congestion there? It was decided that door-to-door travel time is what matters; whether a trip to work/school/etc. will take five minutes more or 30.
2. Neighborhood livability: Nearly every street in Alameda is a residential street. Wide roads and big intersections are unpleasant to live around, so they are not a problem-free solution to keeping roadway congestion down.

Because Alameda has limited points of exit and entry and because of space and quality-of-life issues, the city cannot simply build bigger, wider roads to avoid traffic congestion.

Past transportation planning pretended that congestion could be fixed by building gargantuan intersections like Webster and Atlantic. But all they did was push the problem up the road to the tubes. Travel time didn’t change for drivers, but a lot of money was spent rebuilding the intersection multiple times. Thankfully, the City Council stopped the last increase in 2008.

Based on these decisions, the General Plan now requires that with new developments planners create programs and policies that have been shown to reduce driving and its increased congestion.

The changes in the General Plan policies require the city look honestly at development and its impacts. If the traffic that is projected to come about as a result of a development cannot be acceptably mitigated, the City Council has the information that it needs to decide whether or not to approve the project.

The Alameda Point Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which looks at the impacts of a variety of development scenarios at Alameda Point, is out and can be downloaded at http://alamedaca.gov/alameda-point/drafteir. It’s a large document that provides information on impacts at over 50 intersections and multiple transportation corridors, as well as on actual environmental issues like air and water quality and native species. This document neither plans nor approves development at the Point. It’s an important tool in providing information on how a proposed development may impact the community.

If you want to comment on the veracity or thoroughness of the analysis, the city is accepting comments until October 21st. You can e-mail your comments to AThomas@alamedaca.gov.

If you’re interested in providing comments on what/how things should be planned at Alameda Point, the Planning Board will be discussing the concept and zoning for the Alameda Point development on October 14. There will be no master plan for the Point, except for the town center, so the zoning will likely be the only guiding document providing direction to city staff, the City Council and developers. The discussion and decisions made at this meeting will play a huge part in determining what will/can be built at the Point; this is the meeting to make your voice heard. You can send written comments before the meeting to AThomas@alamedaca.gov.

John Knox White is a member of Alameda's Planning Board.


Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Thu, Oct 3, 2013

Questions: Does the current disposition strategy, whereby the city sells parcels on a project by project basis, provide a greater ability to impose effective mitigation measures than the previous development attempts in which a master developer would have owned everything right from the beginning? In other words, does a developer lose some, or all, of the argument "our project doesn't pencil out if we agree to your robust shuttle requirement and therefore you can't make us do it" because they will know before they buy the land what the requirement will be?

Submitted by JKW (not verified) on Thu, Oct 3, 2013

Short answer is: NO.

Im' not sure that there's anyhing in Alameda's past history, at Alameda Landing or Alameda Point that suggests the premise of your question is something that has happened with a master developer. Alameda Landing is providing a shuttle starting next week with Target's opening. The city required the project to contribute >$350K a year in transportation mitigation funding to fund shuttles, etc. (adjust for inflation too). Master developer was clear on expectations from the outset. Alameda Point master developers have always been aware of their need to mitigate traffic impacts and provide solutions.

Adding in politics to every project decision doesn't necessarily mean that a council will push even harder on each individual project as it goes forward for approval, but it certainly increases the chances that a council might waive requirements for projects that they deem "important" for whatever reason.

It's all in how the policies around development are written. If done correctly, there will be clear guidelines on how the city will ensure that all projects pull their weight. The presentation at Monday's Transportation Commission/Planning Board meeting did a fine job of showing that the city is pursuing a strategy that is considering how to ensure a robust and effective program.

In the end, it's likely a wash, with similar outcomes in either model.

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Fri, Oct 4, 2013

Regarding the shuttle from Alameda Landing, is that a new service in addition to the Estuary Shuttle or just another stop on that route? The Alameda Landing website does not mention a new shuttle.

Submitted by SKS (not verified) on Fri, Oct 4, 2013

Whatever they do, the bike/walkway lane in the tunnel needs serious work. The railing is about to fall off, the lane is far too narrow (when passing other bikers, I have to get off and hold my bike over the railing to let them squeeze by) and the thing needs a pressure wash much more often.

How about a pedestrian bridge over the water?!

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Sat, Oct 5, 2013

Hey SKS: As I understand it, Caltrans is going to make some improvements to the bike/walkway in the tube, more here: http://alamedaca.gov/public-works/posey-tube-retrofit. And Steve, my understanding was that there was going to be a new, development-sponsored shuttle for Alameda Landing, but I will double check.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, Oct 5, 2013

Are the numbers being projected substantially different than when the station was in full operation?