The City of Alameda recently published a presentation from a June 4th community workshop on the Central Avenue Complete Streets project. We examined the project last month and subsequently published an op-ed in local publications including the Alamedan, Alameda Journal, and Alameda Sun. As personal injury attorneys, we see too many instances of people seriously hurt when walking, biking, or driving on streets like Central Avenue that prioritize speeding over safety. We believe it is critical to understand what’s at stake when it comes to improving street safety, especially when the lives of 2,500 neighborhood students are at stake. We must do everything we can to minimize the risk of collisions and injuries for everyone.

The City’s initial road diet concepts for Central Avenue offer considerable safety improvements over the existing design. These concepts include:

  • Two-way cycle track and bike lanes with a median turn lane between Pacific/Main and Third/Taylor (similar to Fernside Blvd)
  • Either a cycle track or buffered bike lanes with a median turn lane between Third/Taylor and Fourth/Ballena
  • Bike lanes with a median turn lane between Fourth/Ballena and Sherman/Encinal
Rendering of Central Avenue road diet between Fourth/Ballena and Sherman/Encinal. (Source: City of Alameda)

Rendering of Central Avenue road diet between Fourth/Ballena and Sherman/Encinal (Source: City of Alameda)

In each of these segments, it is important to note that these designs offer substantial benefits beyond just bicycling, improving safety for people driving and walking. People driving would benefit from improved visibility, less speeding, and the addition of left turn pockets – all improvements that create a more orderly street with fewer conflicts and erratic maneuvers, making driving on Central a less stressful experience. People walking would benefit from shorter crossing distances (only crossing two through lanes, instead of four), and would also gain from improved visibility and less speeding. Overall, these design concepts represent a win-win-win for a safer street.

That being said, the City’s initial concept has a key weakness in its approach to improving safety where it is most needed at two key intersections – Central/Webster and Central/Eighth. This stretch happens to be one of the busiest for people walking and biking to/from local businesses, Washington Park, and several apartment complexes. Between 2008 and 2012, a total of seven people biking and five people walking were hit by cars on this segment, representing 33 percent of bicycle-involved collisions and 50 percent of pedestrian-involved collisions on the corridor. Yet, due to anticipated delays associated with future traffic volumes, the City is leaning toward maintaining four lanes with sharrows at these intersections. Given the close spacing of the two, it is probable that the entire two block stretch could remain four lanes, plus a block on either side.

Sadly, this approach to maintaining the status quo prioritizes on-street parking and future traffic volumes over the safety of existing residents. Without addressing the underlying speed differential and need for separation between people driving and biking, sharrows on high speed, high volume streets like Central are only symbolic (even local bicycle safety instructor Bert Hill was hit by a car on a similarly-designed street with sharrows last year). Without improvements like left turn pockets and median refuge islands, people driving and walking are also exposed to more conflicts and potential collisions. A stronger vision is needed to address these weak links that isn’t dictated by the myopic preservation of every on-street parking space or a hypothetical worst-case scenario for what traffic engineers guess might happen in twenty years.

The City is soliciting feedback about preferred street design options on the project website. We encourage all to share your thoughts.