Letter to the Editor | Is wishful thinking at play when considering traffic impacts of new housing?

The Housing Element (HE) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Moraga Canyon Special Plan study (MCSP) are moving their way through City Hall, not necessarily in the same direction. A key finding of the EIR is that the HE will increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and related GHG emissions by Piedmonters to a significant and unavoidable level. To offset that, the City has developed a VMT policy for multi-family housing that may require limited parking spaces and car share programs, satellite parking elsewhere, subsidized transit passes and if all else fails, contribution to a VMT offset fund. On top of that the EIR claims that pedestrian and bike ways through town as well as proximity to public transit will lessen the need for vehicles. As such, there is no assessment for neighborhood congestion or parking demand in the EIR because the VMT policy will reduce the demand for vehicles so these impacts won’t happen.

This is the kind of wishful thinking that comes with a programmatic EIR. The programmatic EIR deals with future and unknowable development proposals so actual impacts can’t be assessed at this time. The VMT policy has been developed by county transportation planners and whether it will work in Piedmont is questionable. Ridership on the 33/12 bus lines in Piedmont is virtually non-existent and over half of Piedmont cannot practically walk or bike for goods and services as the EIR claims. Multi-family sites on Grand Avenue may go without vehicles but the other remote sites will invariably use cars. How these sites will impact neighborhood congestion and parking is anyone’s guess.

If VMT increases can’t be helped, then the impacts can at least be planned for and that is where the MCSP comes in.  Four site options have been developed for Moraga Canyon with housing all placed in either the corporation yard or Blair Park. Directing vehicles in and out of future housing in the corporation yard works much better with the prevailing traffic flow on Moraga Avenue than the Blair Park site. The consultant says a traffic light will be needed on Moraga Avenue and, while that may be true, cars coming and going to the corporation yard site are less likely to trip the traffic light and cause congestion. Hopefully the MCSP consultant has the capability to analyze this impact.

The city will be surveying the community on the MCSP sites and readers can visit Moraga Canyon housing HERE to see the current designs.  

5 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | Is wishful thinking at play when considering traffic impacts of new housing?

  1. When the Blair Park Soccer Project was suddenly halted in 2012, it seemed that either the Moraga Canyon neighbor litigation or the failure of the unneeded ten million dollar supplemental sewer tax were the causes. EPA mandates were double counted and the excess money from the tax would no doubt have been used, in part, to pay the cost of moving the EBMUD main distribution line that runs underBlair Park. However looming in the background was the threatened litigation by Oakland on two key issues: water management and traffic. Moraga Ave is an aterial and emergency access route for Piedmont and Oakland. Developing a plan to safely get pedestrians across Moraga Canyon at Red Rock and Maxwelton is a daunting challenge.

  2. In my opinion, the planners who developed both the Housing Element EIR and the 4 proposed schemes for Moraga Canyon are in la-la land regarding Moraga Ave. 1)A traffic study done 10 years ago showed that a traffic light on Moraga is impossible because of insufficient sight lines (a state requirement). Moraga Ave. is a 24 hr., non-stop speeding traffic corridor. It is also the only evacuation route for hundreds of Piedmont and Oakland residents and was totally jammed in the Oakland Hills fire. Putting in sidewalks and more bike lanes sounds great, but how and where on this curvy, two-lane road will they go?

    • Good point Marge about the Blair Park traffic study. My recollection is that that project proposed a pedestrian bridge and then roundabouts precisely because site lines were insufficient to install traffic lights. The project did propose a pedestrian-activated crosswalk. But according to the draft EIR the site line problem can be overcome. From the draft EIR, page 399:

      “For example, potential new driveways on Moraga Avenue or existing driveways or
      streets that would serve new development would provide adequate sight distance as required byGeneral Plan Policy 12.2 (Maintaining Sight Lines). Therefore, the MCSP would result in a less than significant impact to transportation hazards.”

      Perhaps GP 12.2 addresses the state requirements you mention. No doubt this question of pedestrian safety will be addressed in the ongoing MCSP community workshops. The congestion that traffic mitigation on Moraga Canyon will cause won’t be addressed.

      Does anyone know – can a project be approved if an EIR finds that pedestrian accidents are a significant and unavoidable impact?

  3. Another point that is regularly ignored is that the population projections that HCD based its RHNA assignments never materialized. The state would need to be adding some 700,000 people per year. Instead, the population growth slowed and then declined. Yet, Piedmont’s 587 units number remains chipped in stone at the bureaucratic level.


  4. As usual, good work Garrett. I agree that the housing should go only on the north side of Moraga Avenue where there’s reasonable pedestrian access. Putting an increased number of pedestrians on the Blair Park side is inherently dangerous because of the danger of crossing Moraga Avenue on foot. That road is driven like a freeway offramp, which it is.

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