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The Magnificent Seven

Submitted by on 1, November 24, 2008 – 8:30 amNo Comment

The Planning Board is set to consider Alameda’s first major update of its transportation plan in 17 years. Nestled amid the eye-glazing details about street classifications, modal overlays and bus bulbs is a bold proposal to bar the widening of roads and intersections to accommodate new car traffic, which would force developers to find other ways to manage the traffic their new homes and offices would create or potentially, see their development proposals nixed.

Alternatively, we can all discuss whether we want to deal with the traffic congestion the developments could create – or decide whether we want to hang up the car keys and find other ways to get around.

The updated plan, which has been more than four years in the making, comes just as city leaders begin in earnest to consider the development of 4,000 new homes and a few million square feet of office and commercial space at Alameda Point. It’s probably fair to say that development of the Point will drive the bulk of Alameda’s employment, population and traffic growth. And based on the council’s discussion of the plan for the Point last week, it’s probably also fair to say that traffic and how it is managed will be major considerations in what gets built.

City staff are looking for some wiggle room in this plan, the staff report to the Planning Board shows. They want to be able to widen roads under some specific circumstances, if nothing else they’ve tried has lightened traffic. But the Transportation Commission, which put together the plan after extensive public input, ain’t budging. The only exceptions under their plan, outlined as seven state-required policies, would be for left turn lanes, transit lanes or lanes for non-motorized vehicles (like bikes).

The Planning Board will make a recommendation on the plan either with or without city staff’s “wiggle room” request, and will pass that on to the City Council, which is expected to take up the transportation plan in January.

We checked in with fellowblogger John Knox White, who also heads the Transportation Commission. And he said the transportation plan is an effort to respond to Alamedans’ desire to limit traffic and to continue the Island’s run as a safe place to walk and bike. (It also includes a proposal to keep the speed limit on new roads at 25 miles per hour.)

“Essentially, this plan says, ‘Let’s protect what we have,’ ” he said. “You can’t keep building more and more and expect (traffic) to be less and less.”

Alameda may be uniquely suited for such a plan: It’s small and flat, it’s fairly urban compared to some of the Bay area’s newer suburbs, and the majority of its commuters are going to one of two places (Oakland or San Francisco). The Island already has one of the Bay Area’s highest concentrations of commuters who take public transit or carpool.

We’re also constrained by our Island geography and the lack of access points from here to the rest of civilization and back (unless you’re one heck of a swimmer), although that is also being looked at in a separate process looking at improving our Estuary crossings. In the meantime, getting on and off the Island is a major consideration for everyone, and adding car lanes on the Island won’t solve that problem.

SunCal’s Point plan relies in part on attracting residents who are less likely to drive, either by choice or because they can’t afford to. And according to this study, a plan with 4,000 homes would increase traffic but could also generate dollars for transit improvements the whole Island could take advantage of … decreasing traffic.

If you’re interested, the Planning Board will discuss this at its meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at City Hall. And all the transportation plan documents are available on the city’s website, here (it’s item 9B).

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