At long last, traffic and safety redesign for Nova and Magnolia gets green light

After multiple redesigns, at least one petition and several meetings of City Council members, city staff and residents, the council on Monday approved a revamp of traffic and safety design measures at Nova Drive and Magnolia Avenue, an intersection where previous measures to make the intersection safer have been panned.

The design approved Monday includes:

  • Installation of curbs around a newly defined island that provides better direction to drivers headed west on Magnolia Avenue through the intersection;
  • A crosswalk through the island to provide a “safe haven” for pedestrians;
  • An eastbound left turn pocket for vehicles turning left off of Magnolia, designed to provide better sight distance and increased safety than the existing left-turn situation.

The new shape of the island should enable all neighboring residents to maintain access to their driveways. The island would feature mulch landscaping, which could be upgraded in the future as funding becomes available.

City Public Works Director Daniel Gonzales said some sort of permanent plan for this intersection has been under discussion for almost a decade. The city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, in 2015, called for specific safety improvements at this intersection, especially given the “very long pedestrian crossing on Magnolia Avenue across Nova Drive,” according to a city report.

Instead of a permanent island there, as defined by curbs and landscaping, a “less permanent” one, including a striped median island, with bollards – non-rigid orange markers — helping define the edges of the painted-stripe island was installed in 2019.

But those changes proved unpopular in that neighborhood almost as soon as they were made. Residents there claimed the bollards and painted stripes, besides being unsightly, confused drivers more than protected them, and didn’t do much to add to pedestrians’ safety, either. The bollards created “poor sight lines” that make a left turn from Magnolia onto Nova dangerous. In May 2022, more than 120 residents of the Magnolia/Nova area signed a petition imploring the city to make substantial permanent improvements.

The new proposal will not restrict or eliminate any currently available street parking or driveway access, Gonzales said Monday, one of the biggest hangups on making a plan most parties can live with. The red curb at 102 Magnolia Ave. will remain, though, and Gonzales said some of the sharp angles, including one in the planned crosswalk, can be smoothed out a bit. 

Gonzales said the most recent in a series of meetings with neighborhood residents was on March 15. Councilwoman Conna McCarthy asked Gonzales where residents stand on the new plan.

“Generally, the plan was very well received,” he said. One of those residents, Jane Lin, said the plan isn’t perfect. But she and neighbor Mary Wells said they appreciate the city’s ongoing effort to reach a solution for this intersection, no matter how unpleasant those discussions were at times.

“I’ve had dental work that has been more enjoyable,” Wells told the council, adding that the newly approved plan comes as close to consensus as it reasonably can. 

City Administrator Sara Lillevand praised both Gonzales and City Engineer John Wanger, and the residents like Wells and Lin who have been meeting with the city for over two years, for their persistence in finding a solution as many people as possible can live with. Gonzales said there have been at least nine iterations of a plan to make this intersection safe for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. One of them, he added, included a roundabout.

Goodbye to Sara Lillevand

Lillevand’s last day is Wednesday, when she begins her retirement. Council members on Monday told Lillevand publicly how much her dedication and even-keeled leadership helped guide Piedmont during an especially perilous time, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councilwoman Betsy Smegal Andersen said there are tangible marks Lillevand has left – a renovated Hampton Field, the Corey Reich Tennis Center and, as of Monday night, “the banishing of the bollards” at Nova Drive and Magnolia Avenue. There are also the soon-to-be-tangible things, like the new swimming pool.

Less “tangible,” but no less important, Councilwoman Jennifer Long said, have been integrity, calm, warmth and thoughtfulness, and “helping me think about things in a tender way.”

And Councilwoman Conna McCarthy called Lillevand “a hometown hero before she ever set foot in City Hall.”

Lillevand, 54, was hired by the city in 2014 as its recreation supervisor, and she has been Piedmont’s city administrator since June 2019. Rosanna Bayon Moore, formerly Antioch’s assistant city manager, will assume Piedmont’s top managerial post on Thursday. 

Andersen invoked Lillevand’s stint as head coach of Cal State East Bay’s women’s basketball team when talking about the city’s leadership team, three members of which Lillevand helped hire.

“She helped build a city dream team,” Andersen said.

Lillevand was emotional, too, in saying she was proud of her City Council, of city staff and of Piedmont in general. She also said she’s ready for a break.

“I gave this job my all, and I’m really, really tired,” she said before getting a standing ovation. “Thank you Piedmont!”

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