LIVERMORE — The City of Livermore completed the first phase of its effort to enhance safety and mobility of multiple modes of transportation along East Avenue when it conducted a third community workshop last week.
Four alternative modifications to the roadway were proposed as the city looks to balance the varied needs of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Bob Vinn, Livermore city engineer, said simply widening the road is not an option due to cost constraints. Without an option to widen the road, each alternative offers both benefits and drawbacks.
The city’s active transportation plan (ATP) – approved in 2018 – identified the 2.5-mile-long segment of East Avenue from South Livermore Avenue to South Vasco Road as a priority corridor in need of improvements. The busy roadway connects downtown Livermore with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“What started out as just a bike lane study turned out to be an entire corridor study looking at a bunch of different aspects,” Vinn said. “Of course, the controversial piece of it is the reallocation of the right-of-way to try to accommodate bike lanes. Everybody is in agreement that we should have more lighting, that we should have better safety at the (pedestrian) crossings.”
Currently, East Avenue runs east to west and consists of four lanes with intermittent turn lanes, medians and a bike lane, which extends from Vasco Road to Madison Avenue. It passes by residential areas, parks, schools, light industrial locations, offices and community centers.
“The feature of mixed land use makes it a really attractive corridor for people living and working close by to commute by walking and biking,” said Ruta Jariwala, principal with TJKM – a Pleasanton-based consulting firm contracted to guide the project's first phase.
The study kicked off in April 2020; the first community workshop was held in August. Notices were mailed to more than 9,500 homes, with an online survey drawing 880 responses. Primary concerns identified by the public outreach were the need for congestion relief near the schools and improved lighting.
Public feedback from the April meeting led to the presentation of three alternatives during the second community workshop in November.
Alternative 1 retains four lanes of traffic but eliminates all but eight of the 215 parking spaces along East Avenue to accommodate the creation of bike lanes from Madison Avenue to South Livermore Avenue.
Alternative 2 eliminates one lane of traffic in each direction from South Livermore Avenue and Madison Avenue. It retains 198 parking spaces while accommodating the extension of the bike lanes. Converting auto traffic lanes for other uses is referred to as a “road diet.”
Alternative 3 eliminates one lane of traffic in each direction for the entire 2.5 mile stretch of East Avenue. It retains 109 parking spaces while allowing the extension of bike lanes and adds features to improve pedestrian safety.
A survey found a preference for Alternative 1 among respondents, with 70% saying they found the option either somewhat, very or extremely desirable, while 55% of respondents answered the same way for Alternative 2 and 37% of responders answered in kind for Alternative 3.
A hybrid alternative was developed based on public input and presented during the June 8 workshop. It employs elements from the three alternatives and utilizes two, three or four lanes of traffic at different points along the roadway.
With multiple objectives, varied interests and limited options, attendees of the June workshop had little trouble finding aspects of each plan that were unpalatable. Many questioned why so much effort was being made to accommodate bicyclists when alternate bike routes on less congested roads were available. In an interview with The Independent after the meeting, Vinn pointed out that city planning calls for the accommodation of bicyclists along all major thoroughfares.
Livermore resident Carol Garberson emailed The Independent to echo the concern of many in the area about the elimination of parking. She noted that homes, a mortuary, cemeteries and preschools all currently utilize street parking.
Phase two of the project will include a pilot program to try different options in real-world conditions. This effort is planned for the fall and will be funded by a grant from Caltrans.
“The next step is commonly termed these days as tactical urbanism,” Vinn explained. “That’s a fancy term to say we’re going to demonstrate the potential improvements using temporary improvements, like cones and barricades and striping, so people experience it and provide more input. I’m hoping that maybe some people’s fear may be allayed by this demonstration where they actually experience it. The opposite may be true. We may find that people find impacts they weren’t even thinking about.”
A draft report summarizing the phase one study is due next month, with the final report expected in August. Community outreach will be part of the next phase as well.
Emphasizing that the alternatives presented to date are not final, Vinn said, “We’re not anywhere close to coming to a decision. We’re still collecting information from the community. Ultimately, at the end, we’ll be going back to the city council with a report and a recommendation. The council will get to weigh all of the input, the data and the public comments, and decide what they want to do. That’s probably at least a year and a half or two years away.”