Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 24, 2012

At a crossroad

Filed under: Alameda, Transportation — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

Next week the City will be holding a community meeting to talk about the recommended design for the Gibbons Neighborhood on the East End.  This has been somewhat of an on-going process where this strange little intersection has gotten a lot of attention from the Department of Public Works and at least five different designs to calm the intersection that is unfortunately wide which — apparently — leads to people doing donuts and going too fast through the neighborhood.

It is interesting that despite the four other design alternatives all centering around a large traffic circle, which makes perfect sense for that intersection, the eventual design is some over engineered weirdly designed faux intersection with a strange side arterial and strangely placed crosswalks:

It seems like the biggest problem with that particular intersection is the width of Gibbons off Lincoln, narrowing the street would solve a lot of the problems without the overly engineered design that appears to be what the City would like to put there.

The other day John Knox White tweeted this quickie draft of how the City could narrow the street without necessitating all the sign clutter and lane demarcations:

Of course you have to imagine all the black as some sort of hardscape or parklet which would add a lot of possible interesting landscape to the area.  The narrowing of the street would force drivers to slow down and you could probably have a three way stop, as opposed to a four way stop in order to keep traffic moving on Gibbons if necessary.

Although personally, I think the area is rather ideal for a traffic circle because of the lack of a traditional intersection, that way no one has to stop, but rather yield into the circle.   The approach into a circle tends to make drivers more careful and thereby calming the intersection.  Although it appears that the traffic circle options done by the City were way overworked as well and overly fussy.

The meeting is on Tuesday night at Edison School if anyone is interested.



  1. You ever been there, Loren? How often do drivers do donuts there? How many complaints are there? Is this another JohnKnoxWhite plot to spend Federal transportation dollars in Alameda? Putting him on the Planning Board was a huge mistake! OMG, what won’t public works meddle with next? It ain’t broke. It doesn’t need fixin’. LEAVE IT ALONE! Go fix some potholes.

    Comment by the vigilante — February 24, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  2. Um, I don’t mean to speak for JKW, but I’m pretty sure he thinks the recommendations by Public Works are pretty silly and overworked too. I actually learned about the Gibbons calming plan through a series of tweets between him and a Fernside resident. Also, the calming was requested by residents in the neighborhood. And my name is spelled “Lauren.”

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 24, 2012 @ 9:39 am

  3. It looks to me like a lot of cost and engineering around a pretty minor problem. Have there been a lot of accidents? How broke is it that it needs such a costly fix? Couldn’t our public works dollars be better spent?

    Comment by Denise Shelton — February 24, 2012 @ 10:48 am

  4. At the public meeting to review the traffic circles, they were voted down (not without a certain amount of red-dot shenanigans). The traffic circles and other options were also opposed in the neighborhood because: (1) no one had been hit recently (true, no children squished in the 23 years I’ve lived on one of the intersections), and (2) traffic circles are too complex for drivers. The astronomical estimate for ongoing maintenance was also a turn-off for the idea. As for donuts, you can see tire marks from them in the intersection, so it happens frequently enough to keep the street marked. Finally, I thought altering the intersections with planted areas was a good idea to (1) reduce the expanse of asphalt that adds to the runoff into the bay, and (2) reduce local heating. Neither of these reasons were adjudged as worthy of consideration. I would prefer JKW’s alteration also.

    Comment by Tom Schweich — February 24, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  5. What staff has proposed is going to cause more problems and likely lead to more accidents and stop sign running. It’s like it was designed by someone with an obsession with playing Frogger.

    Alameda doesn’t appear to be able to implement simple traffic circles like other cities, they always feel the need to spread gallons of paint etc. Seattle puts in traffic circles at $10-15K a pop. they fit into the pre-1940’s small residential streets and they work perfectly.

    In Alameda, the planning of these things alone costs more than that. Staff designs something that “removes” 19 on-street parking spaces and then is surprised that nobody wants the circle (or maybe it’s by design?)

    In this case, it’s a Safe Routes to School grant that is paying for this project, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what route to school it is, or how this design is helping that. In fact, the only route to school that appears to intersect this intersection (Southwood to Northwood to Edison) becomes so convoluted and confusing that between cars rolling the back to back stop signs and kids not using the sidewalks because they make absolutely no sense in reality, that this project appears to achieve the opposite goal of the funding source. Just at Edison School there are more dangerous routes to school. This project appears to be an example (good and bad) of the City trying to be flexible in responding to the concerns of the neighborhood. Interestingly, the City did not do pedestrian counts at this intersection (which is very odd) and instead counted all the people walking on the other streets surrounding the intersection, but not the streets that go through the intersection.

    The history of this project is neighbors were concerned about traffic, donuts in the intersection and speeding. It looks like funding for Safe Routes projects was available, so somebody made the case that this is a school route project (though that was not it’s genesis and there doesn’t appear to be any data to support it) and they received the funding. Neighbors possibly get what they want (yay) but what of other, more necessary safe routes projects, they just sit (boo).

    This is what happens with no public oversight or prioritization in planning. Just a single project planned in a vacuum can sound like a good idea. So, the council gets a short, nondescript report in a consent calendar item for approval of the grant application (you know, for the kids!). It’s “free money” because it doesn’t come from the general fund. (who says no to free money). And away we go planning.

    City Manager Russo is changing things for the better, Public Works is now required to submit an annual project prioritization list (though it’s unclear whether this project would even fit on the list from the way that they have designed it) that is going to the TC, Planning Board and Council. Done correctly, then the opportunity costs of doing these projects (and other possible projects) can be identified and the rare Safe Routes to School grant money can be spent in the areas of greatest need instead of loudest voice.

    How the actual design of this project got so out of hand, I have no idea. But it’s par for the course on these things (witness the Fernside traffic calming project. In the end, the chosen design did nothing to alleviate any of the problems because staff insisted on over engineering the street as a truck route, despite it not being a truck route.) The neighborhood needs to be clear on its goals and insist on a low-impact project that meets them.

    Comment by JKW — February 24, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  6. What a tremendous waste of resources to “solve” a largely-nonexistent problem.

    Comment by Neal_J — February 24, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  7. Just wanted to mention that Alameda Patch columnist Judy Judy has written about this issue too:

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 24, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

  8. One of the objections to a landscaped traffic circle was the cost and maintenance of such a traffic control system. The proposal included a neighborhood parcel tax!

    Comment by Basel — February 24, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  9. Roundabouts can be unplanted so that they require no maintenance fees. Again, Seattle has been doing this for years. The low-grade version (100% cement) is the baseline, but communities can adopt them and take on the maintenance if they want greenery. (This is a neighborhood driven process, not a top-down bureaucratic one, neighborhoods only get traffic circles by asking for them, and they only have to maintain them by agreeing to do so.)

    The difference in Alameda is that city staff want a guaranteed funding stream for the maintenance and is unwilling to offer an option of neighborhood adoption out of fear that the neighborhood will get bored after a few years and stop caring about their traffic circle.

    The solution would seem to be a neighborhood agreement that gives the city some power to police the maintenance (based on complaints) if the neighborhood chooses to stop taking care of itself. Again, communities around the country (and world) operate on these types of models, it’s surprising that ours doesn’t appear to be able to.

    It’s kind of sad that the assumption is that Alameda is a town where community good-will is untrustworthy and that we get designs that do not reflect community desires because of it.

    Comment by JKW — February 24, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

  10. I really don’t know much about circles but if you’d like to see a case of the bumpouts not kept up, just take a stroll by St. Joe’s. They stick out in the street and have a few rosemary shrubs in them. I’m not sure who is suppose take care of them but they sure could do a better job.

    Comment by J.E.A. — February 24, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

  11. It’s truly unbelievable how Washington State is so much further ahead than California in designing and using roundabouts. We travel to Lacey Washington couple times a year to visit our kids and grand kids so have gotten used to roundabouts. I’d say returning to California is like returning to a third world country but third world countries have been using roundabouts for decades. What’s with this state?

    Roundabouts don’t totally solve traffic problems but they sure do make driving more efficient and fun.

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 24, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  12. what would an atypical tree look like?

    Comment by E — February 24, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

  13. Comment by John — February 24, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

  14. You have a Nicer Tree Jack but I have better backyard.

    Comment by John — February 24, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

  15. You better, John, hope that chick’s behind isn’t the nut cracker’s

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 24, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

  16. JKW — would be interested in ideas / resources / literature re bigger intersections/streets where traffic circles are not a real option. Thanks!

    Cross C

    Comment by broadway25 — February 24, 2012 @ 8:22 pm

  17. there are circles all over Berkeley ( Oregon/Stewart Sts near Fulton; Hearst at 8th) . They have stop signs so you stop and then enter. Amazed if they cost $10,000 a piece. Large circle at Marin and Arlington has always been a little hairly but I’ve never seen an accident. planting is minimal on most. Landscaping along the lagoon on Otis across from Southshore has been maintained by a neighborhood association, probably not without problems, but that’s how it’s been done.

    Comment by M.I. — February 25, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  18. 18
    Only dipshit cities like Berkeley would be stupid enough to have four-way stop signs entering a traffic circle.

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 25, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  19. can’t pass up a chance for gratuitous dig at Berkeley because of it’s history as leftism bastion and home of the “politically correct”, eh Jack? Marin circle which is huge has no stop signs. Some of the small ones in neighborhoods have stops in just two directions. in real use the stop sign which you can easily pass with a “rolling stop” is caution for inability to see oncoming traffic before you are right up on the intersection. The one at 8th and Hearst the houses have short front lawns and buildings block line of sight. Her’s one for you. It takes historically xenophobic town like Alameda to produce cranky old farts who take knee jerk pot shots at places like Berzerkeley or activists like JKW speaking well informed common sense.

    Comment by M.I. — February 25, 2012 @ 10:56 am

  20. Re: ‘cranky old farts’ , “Her’s one…” Mark! I’m ashamed of you calling Kate such names!

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 25, 2012 @ 11:57 am

  21. As someone who used to regularly use the traffic circle on Marin, it is extremely stressful for someone not familiar with the concept. Regular users learn how but visitors to the area really can screw things up. Once again, there’s a grant available that someone tries to apply to a problem whether it really is a fit or not. This “free money” rarely ends up being completely free. Couldn’t a well-placed speed bump or two do the job at a fraction of the cost.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — February 25, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  22. 22
    You are sooo right, Denise. This city is mosdef not ready for traffic circles. They would be way too stressful for drivers here. It’s a well known fact that the worst drivers in the world are in the US, the worst drivers in the US are in California, the worst drivers in California are in the Bay area and the worst drivers in the Bay Area are in Alameda.

    Probably car insurance costs would double in Alameda with traffic circles. Speed bumps on every block ought to get us back to the nineteenth century where we can bask in our Neo-Luddism.

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 25, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

  23. There are two traffic circles in my neighborhood regularly used by folks in the neighborhood and parents dropping off their kids at Ruby Bridges. No accidents yet, people seem to understand the basic concept pretty well.

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 25, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  24. Lauren, That’s because BAYPORT is such a cutting edge development, with forward thinking people living there.

    Comment by JOHN P. — February 26, 2012 @ 9:15 am

  25. Make that ‘cookie’ cutting edge, John, and you’ve nailed it.

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 26, 2012 @ 10:06 am

  26. I like the concept of a traffic circle here, with landscaping, but without stop signs. I would also like JKW’s alternative better if he narrowed the other side of the streets, so that Northwood, Southwood would just merge or diverge without the alternative of going through from Northwood to Southwood directly. Anything to avoid more stop signs that are unnecessary with good design. But JKW’s idea is fine too.

    Landscaping maintenance concerns — are you kidding, in this neighborhood? Someone I know who bought a house a few years ago in Fernside got an anonymous note — “OK, you have had your playtime– now it is time to do something about your front yard.” I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist. Anyway, I don’t think that a landscaped traffic circle would have a problem with neighborhood maintenance if it has some water source for shade tolerant drought tolerant plants.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — February 26, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  27. Is there a lot of traffic problem on the north intersection of Northwood, Southwood and Gibbons ? Why not make the southern intersection exactly the same as the northern one?

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — February 26, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  28. Jack, I was just kissing up to Lauren.

    Comment by JOHN P. — February 27, 2012 @ 9:08 am

  29. Seriously? They don’t want a traffic circle there because it might stress drivers out? At the risk of sounding insensitive, any driver that gets stressed out over a traffic circle probably shouldn’t be operating a vehicle in the first place.

    I rode my bicycle in that neighborhood extensively last weekend for a project that I’m working on. I did notice one set of skid marks in that intersection, but nothing that looked like a donut had happened recently. Traffic seemed fairly calm (even coming off of High St. onto Gibbons), but maybe I caught the neighborhood on an especially mellow weekend.

    It’s a shame that we didn’t grab those funds to calm another big traffic problem: 8th Street between Santa Clara and Central. There are wrecks and near-misses constantly along that stretch of road. As much as I dislike speed bumps (or lumps), one or two of them there might be a very good thing.

    Comment by Victoria — February 27, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

  30. I find it utterly reprehensible that the City can devote time and tax dollars to address a fairly unhazardous issue while numerous complaints have been ignored by the Code Enforcement office regarding a serious threat to the safety, health, and welfare of Central Alameda residents.

    Instead of the squeaky wheel getting the oil, it appears that the more affluent wheel gets the attention of City Hall.

    Comment by Bernice Wong — February 28, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

  31. #17, sorry for delayed response. Broadway is a tough one being a state route for half of it, and a designated truck route. Probably the best thing is corner bulbouts with plantings that visually narrow the roadway so that drivers sense that the streets should be traveled slowly.

    I don’t remember the traffic volumes, but building buffered bike lanes and removing the Two Way Left Turn Lane (TWLTL) in the center would both create a sense of security for bicyclists and narrow the street further slowing traffic down further. That said, my guess is that between traffic volumes being high enough to justify a TWLTL and staff resistance this is a complete non-starter (might not even make sense).

    Speed cameras would be a last resort.

    Anyone know what the outcome of last night’s meeting was?

    Comment by JKW — February 29, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

  32. Any body go to the meeting? What were the take aways?

    Comment by JKW — March 3, 2012 @ 9:45 am

  33. Here is this morning’s evidence of last night’s “side-show” in the intersection of Southwood, Fairview, and Bayo Vista. Took maybe 15 seconds to spin 4 do-nuts and then speed off. Late model sports coupe, in dark colors. Went down Fairview, and turned left on High Street. The large expanse of asphalt is an attractive nuisance. A little alteration of this intersection, such as a traffic circle or islands would discourage this behavior. Photo at:

    Comment by Tom Schweich — March 26, 2012 @ 10:39 am

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