Recently, the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) announced the remodeling of the Gilman Street and Interstate 80 intersection where North Berkeley and Westbrae meet.
With a two-part remodeling project, the ACTC and its partner, state construction agency Caltrans, aim to rectify Gilman’s hectic and intense intersection.
The intersection’s traffic accident rates are far higher than the state average, and are by-products of its cramped and dangerous conditions.
The intersection meets near a large shopping district and two parks, the Tom Bates Sport Complex and the Golden Gate Fields, which both increase the through-traffic and reduce space for movement and error to almost nil. In addition, the few safe spaces to cross are unclearly marked, resulting in their avoidance by pedestrians.
Tess Lengyel, executive director of the transportation commission, said that through public surveys and community outreach forums, the ACTC were made aware of the intersection’s insufficiency. This led them to add the issue to their 2014 expenditure sheet after extensive negotiations.
The expenditure sheet, which listed the ACTC’s financial goals for the coming years and had a budget of nearly $8 billion, was voted on by the public in the 2014 voting term. Over 70 percent of voters approved of the new construction measures.
In an interview, Lengyel clarified the two stages of the construction process. First, the ACTC will aim to increase pedestrian safety with a new pedestrian overcrossing, mirroring a preexisting one nearby. Opac Consulting Engineers, in their discussion of the bridge’s scaling, explained that the overcrossing will be a “tiered-arch bridge…echo[ing] the first [with] a consistent structural theme.”
If all goes to plan, the overcrossing will allow most pedestrians to avoid the intersection entirely, as well as providing efficient passage to and from North Berkeley and the Bay Trail.
Secondly, Caltrans will initiate a project to construct two roundabouts on either side of the intersection to facilitate a smoother, less accident-prone highway crossing.
Central islands, where walkers and bikers can stop in the middle of the street, are very pedestrian friendly, and roundabouts play crucial roles in reducing crashes. Gilman’s intense left-turn queues, a point of contention, will be unblocked by these roundabouts, allowing for more free transit through the city.
After overcoming the challenges endemic to Gilman’s location, Lengyel and ACTC still have a final problem to solve. Gilman’s crowded environment makes a remodel necessary, but until the completion of the project, which is scheduled to take two or three years, the construction will only exacerbate the issue. Traffic control will be a necessary evil over the coming years, and maintaining careful public communication, said Lengyel, is the key to managing it. Lengyel and her staff can be found at www.alamedactc.org, along with updates on the project and details on upcoming construction and other traffic ordinances.