Eyes on the Street: Hellscape on Hesperian

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Alameda County’s Public Works Agency is holding a ribbon cutting on Saturday for its newly completed “Hesperian Boulevard Corridor Improvement Project,” billed as a “Major Infrastructure Improvement Project” that runs a half-mile from I-880 to West A Street. From the County’s release on the work:

The Project implements multimodal transportation improvements with enhanced safety features including advanced traffic light technology, wider sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as high visibility crosswalks and lighting. When completed, motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and residents within this San Lorenzo community will enjoy a revitalized, safe and accessible commercial corridor.

Rather than wait for the opening, Streetsblog decided to take a bike tour of the project Monday.

And as the lead photo suggests, Alameda County staff have again lived up to their well-earned reputation for not having a clue how to build a multi-modal corridor. This is yet another tragically missed opportunity to make a road safe for all users.

Bike racks on the approach to a freeway?

If the lead photo doesn’t prove that on its own, check out the bike racks above. Streetsblog didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Behind this position is a parking lot and across that are some shops. But this is basically an approach ramp to the freeway. It isn’t even close to a bus stop. Why put bike parking here?

That’s the point of this project: to pretend to be multi-modal, when it’s really just about car throughput and, to be charitable, a bit of sprucing up of a dangerous, high-speed, surface-level freeway.

Giant concrete barriers–on the wrong side of an unprotected bike lane?

The marquee aspect of this project is the supposedly protected intersection at Hesperian and West A. Street. But even here, the county only protected two of the four corners.

The schematic showing Alameda County’s two-corners only barely protected intersection.

Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz explained in an email to Streetsblog: “Protected intersections with missing corners aren’t unheard of elsewhere. Of the 19 protected intersections I’m aware of in the East Bay, 12 have four corners, 1 has three corners, 3 have two corners, and 3 have only one protected corner. This is usually because the extra corners are not needed like when a 2-way cycletrack meets an intersection, or for junctions of one-way streets. But at this Hesperian intersection the missing corners are to prioritize car movements, not for any bike safety or connectivity reasons.” [Emphasis added]

One of the two protected corners at the intersection

But even the protected corner shown above is the bare minimum, as seen from this view below, which has the auto turning pocket aimed right into cyclists. Alameda County managed to create a new street treatment: a mixing zone protected corner:

It took real incompetence to create a mixing zone at the protected corner.

This combines all the disadvantages of a mixing zone intersection and a protected intersection. The other protected corner is tiny for an intersection of this scale and isn’t much better:

The world’s tiniest protected corner, courtesy of Alameda County

Streetsblog submits that this doesn’t even qualify as a protected intersection. “Going southbound on Hesperian is particularly bad because the county built a new buffered bike lane in that direction coming all the way down from the 880 interchange, but then ended it just a block before W A Street to make room for the double left turn lanes. As such there was no room left to fit a protected corner. Until the bike lanes continue on Hesperian south of W A Street there probably won’t be much call for that 2-stage bike turn movement, but ending the bike lane before the intersection is still very bad,” added Prinz.

And what about the other intersections on the project, not to mention the gutter-pan bike lanes themselves, which are just striped? Those all have zero protection.

Well, almost. There are only two positives to say about this project: a couple of the bus stops have bike channels:

A bike channel at least reduces conflicts between bikes and buses

But this just highlights the missed opportunity–if the county was redoing the sidewalk, why not add a sidewalk-level protected bike lane, as nearby Fremont did on Walnut? Why dump cyclists right back into an unprotected gutter on a six-lane stroad where cars and trucks are hurtling past at freeway speeds?

The county also painted better crosswalks with minimal pedestrian refuge islands:

A minimal pedestrian refuge island is an improvement, fair enough.

These islands, while welcome, are still pretty minimal for a road this wide and fast–they’re not going to stop a drunk driver or a wreck from mashing a pedestrian, despite the yellow straws to warn clueless motorists not to crash into the curb. And the levels-of-service inspired turning cycles mean huge, multi-stage waits and beg buttons to get across.

There are also some bioswales and corner extensions. But to return again to the lead image, there are plenty of places where pedestrians are banned completely.

But the sidewalk stencils are nice.

I’m sure this senior appreciates the sidewalk stencils as he struggles to get around such a hostile, deadly environment

All in all, this project proves that Alameda County Public Works is staffed by people who have no real interest in equity or designing a multimodal corridor. They could have done something really transformational here, but instead they mostly slapped some paint on a stroad to try and make it look like a multimodal corridor.  If they’d wanted to actually make one, they didn’t even have to go to the Netherlands to learn how–Fremont already showed how to retrofit sprawling suburbs dominated by huge, multi-lane roads.

More photos of this project below:

You can look at the painting on this utility box while listening to the roar of traffic while you struggle to stay alive while getting around on a bike or foot
Note the heavy steel post to the left of this utility box–protect a utility box with steel but people with plastic and paint? Plus there’s no crosswalk AT ALL on the other side of the intersection.
Another look at the world’s most absurd bike racks
LOS lives on
And of course a truck parked in the bike lane entering the not-really-protected-protected intersection

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