City gives green light to improve safety at five intersections

Vice Mayor Teddy Gray King listens to a city staff presentation on the proposed safety improvements for five local intersections

PIEDMONT —- The City Council Monday night told city staff to proceed with planning and design work for safety upgrades of five local intersections, including two on Oakland Avenue that council members consider particularly high priorities.

The two more significant projects are permanent “bulb-out” and associated improvements on Oakland Avenue at the intersections of El Cerrito Avenue and Jerome Avenue. These “traffic calming” devices, physical alterations that shorten the crosswalks and make the streets narrower at that point, are designed to shorten the crossing distances for pedestrians and slow vehicles down on Oakland Avenue, which doesn’t have stop signs at those corners.

A city staff report says these two intersections are ripe for improvements, given that Oakland Avenue is a popular school route and a direct access route from lower to central Piedmont.

“Along with Moraga Avenue, [Oakland Avenue] is in particular need of traffic calming and would benefit greatly from several safer street crossing spaced a reasonable intervals along its length from Highland Avenue to Grand Avenue,” the report says.

Residents told the City Council Monday night they agree those intersections need to become safer, especially for students walking to and from school..

“Even the crossing guard who stands there has to fight to get cars to stop.”

Resident Hugh Louch, who lives next to the Oakland/El Cerrito corner
Cars pass through the Oakland Avenue-El Cerrito Avenue intersection

Under the preferred plan, both that intersection and the Jerome Avenue intersection would get double-sided, bright rapid flashing beacons (brighter than the current lights there now) with user-activated buttons to prompt the flashing lights. All-new pedestrian ramps for each direction on each corner are also proposed, with landscaping a future possibility.

Schematic of the proposed changes to the Oakland-El Cerrito intersection

Those designs are fairly elaborate, and expensive — perhaps $700,000 for those two projects. Though a variety of bond measure funds and tax money will pay for much of the work, council members Monday night said they assume some city money, including general fund dollars, will be needed to supplement that. And the amount of such money available won’t be known until the 2019-2020 budget is approved, likely in mid to late June.

Council members said it’s possible, depending on available money, that the two bulb-out intersection projects may have to be done in a more thrifty manner, at least to start with. That, city staff members said, could mean more street stripe painting and “bollards” — short posts anchored to the pavement designed to guide or divert traffic, such as those found on Moraga Avenue just east of Piedmont city limits west of the Highway 13 off-ramp in Montclair  — in lieu of “hardscape” measures like the bulb-outs.

Such bollards may figure in to less costly proposed traffic-calming designs at three other intersections — Grand and Fairview Avenues, Oakland and Greenbank Avenues and Magnolia Avenue and Nova Drive. Tentative plans at those intersections call for street paint, raised lane delineators and signs to improve traffic calming at these intersections.

Grand and Fairview and Oakland and Greenbank have been described as launching points for cut-through routes to avoid the Grand Avenue-Oakland Avenue stoplight. Neither requires slowing for a 90-degree right turn, but in their current configuration allow relatively fast, and some said more dangerous, turns.

Casey Bivins said he and his family live right near the Oakland and Greenbank intersection, and that drivers heading from Oakland onto Greenbank often make that turn too fast.

“There are speeding drivers daily swerving around our open (car) doors,” said Bivins, who called the painting and other measures a great first step in making the situation safer.

The Grand and Fairview intersection offers a similar opportunity for fast right turns in using Fairview as a cut-through for traffic from Grand to Oakland. Rosie Newhall, who lives near that corner, said she isn’t sure that paint and bollards are enough to slow traffic there. She urged the city not to skimp on costs, even though Piedmont has many such intersections to address, and pay for.

“All it takes is one life lost on that street.”

Resident Rosie Newhall

Of the paint and bollards, Mayor Robert McBain said, “This is where we start.”

In the end, council members directed city staff to move ahead with existing plans for all five intersections. Chester Nakahara, Piedmont’s public works director, said the goal is to do the projects this summer, before the 2019-2020 school year begins. Questions of funding will be addressed closer to that time, he said.

To see the city staff report on these bulb-outs, including the city Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan’s list of intersections designated as high-priority spots to install enhanced street crossings, click HERE.

All photos by Sam Richards

Reach Sam Richards at

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