Tennyson Road is one of Hayward’s major backbones for people walking and biking, but it is also one of the City’s most dangerous. Two people have died and two have been seriously injured over the past two years at the I-880/Tennyson Road interchange, which connects the western and eastern sides of Hayward. Over the past month, 26 year old Jose Enciso Hernandez was killed in a hit and run while biking through interchange, while a pedestrian was also seriously injured. Last year, 21 year old Denesha Turner was killed while walking across the interchange with her baby, who also suffered critical injuries. Tragedy at the interchange is nothing new: between 2010 and 2014, four pedestrians and eight bicyclists were hit, and one victim was killed.
The Tennyson interchange contains several critical safety hazards that make it dangerous to walk or bike, including:
• High speed onramps and offramps which simulate a freeway-like condition and encourage drivers to accelerate through crosswalks
• Poorly marked crosswalks lacking appropriate signage, lighting, ADA decidable warnings, or high-visibility markings identified in California’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
• Inadequate sight distances and ADA ramps associated with overgrown vegetation on sidewalks
• Multiple-threat conflicts stemming from dual-lane onramps
• Class II bike lanes along Tennyson that terminate without warning when approaching the interchange; a design which exposes bicyclists to mixing with high-speed vehicle traffic or riding along sidewalks and poorly marked crosswalks
Given its dangerous design, few people would choose to walk or bike across the interchange, but many do so out of necessity. The interchange borders several low-income communities of color with below average vehicle ownership and poor transit access. Moreover, Tennyson is the only street in South Hayward with bike lanes that span either side of I-880, and it serves several key destinations including the South Hayward BART Station, Mt Eden and Tennyson High Schools, and multiple shopping centers.
A safety solution at the interchange by Caltrans and the City of Hayward is urgently needed. Caltrans has identified a series of best practices for improving interchange safety in its design guide, Complete Intersections: A Guide to Reconstructing Intersections and Interchanges for Bicyclists and Pedestrians. A review of the guide suggests a number low-cost, quick build improvements to address some of the critical safety hazards:
• Provide Rapid-Rectangular Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) and high visibility crosswalks with ADA-detectable warnings at all offramps and onramps to increase yield rates
• Trim vegetation around onramps to improve sight lines
• Restripe lanes to eliminate HOV lane entry prior to crosswalk and remove multiple threat conflicts
The good news is that Caltrans, in coordination with the City, is in the initial planning stages of implementing a set of improvements that incorporate these elements. However, these plans are progressing slowly and will not be implemented until 2018, with goals to finish construction by 2020. In the meantime, Caltrans intends to attempt to patch the issue by installing new signs sometime within the next three to six months.
Sadly, without a sense of urgency in implementing comprehensive safety improvements, several more people could be seriously injured or killed at the interchange. Hayward City Manager Kelley McAdoo said in a statement: “There are no quick or easy solutions to addressing some of the safety concerns identified by the community, but the city is committed to evaluating options and working with interested groups on these concerns.” While City Manager McAdoo is partially correct – an engineering study is needed to effectively design these safety improvements – this process need not take 16 months. Berkeley, for example, addressed a serious safety hazard along Fulton Street in a matter of weeks. One of the most basic yet critical improvements – trimming adjacent vegetation near where Jose Enciso Hernandez was killed – is a quick and easy step that could be done this week.
In the long run, signage and striping improvements will help, but they will not address the underlying fatal-flaws of the cloverleaf interchange design, which puts pedestrians and bicyclists at risk. Caltrans should work with the City of Hayward and the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) to rebuild this and other deadly high-speed cloverleaf interchanges to eliminate high-speed free flow onramps and offramps, and accommodate wider sidewalks, signalized pedestrian crossings, and bicycle lanes.
The bicycle advocacy organization Bike East Bay has been working to encourage the City and Caltrans to be proactive about lessening the burden of walking and bicycling in Hayward. In the coming year Hayward will be updating its out-of-date Bicycle Master Plan and Bike East Bay intends to address issues like the Tennyson/I-880 interchange wherever possible. Residents and community members interested in providing input and staying up to date on bicycling in Hayward can either join the new Facebook group Bike Walk Eden or sign up to receive Bike East Bay’s email newsletters. As it stands, the Tennyson overpass represents not only a significant safety issue but also a barrier to healthy, sustainable communities. The evaluation of a long-term solution should be a priority for the city and should start as soon as possible.