Owens Drive lane reduction remains in place, for now

Council majority supports monitoring new alignment for a year, as residents call for immediate change

A stretch of Owens Drive across from the BART station appears on track to stay at one lane, at least in the short-term, after the Pleasanton City Council declined to alter the new configuration Tuesday after hearing from residents lamenting the loss of the old three-lane layout.

Though they didn’t formally vote on the matter, a majority of council members said they supported leaving the one-lane alignment on eastbound Owens Drive in place for a year and monitoring the effectiveness of recent traffic-signal adjustments nearby aimed at alleviating driver delays through the area.

“I’m in favor of waiting a year, not do anything for the next year and see if these changes that we’ve made at the crossing pan out,” Councilman Arne Olson said toward the end of the nearly two-hour meeting Tuesday night. “I would not be in favor of making any changes right now.”

In dissent, Councilwoman Karla Brown recommended immediate changes in support of residents demanding more than one lane in front of a new four-story apartment building with ground-floor retail soon to be opened at Owens and Willow Road.

“The citizens have made a great argument for restoring the lanes, and I support that,” Brown said. “I don’t think you should have to wait another year. When I drove through there, I couldn’t believe the narrowing. It’s like an hourglass.”

Mayor Jerry Thorne also endorsed an accelerated timeline, saying he would like to see an update report from city staff in six months with options for bringing back two lanes to the area.

Rebuilding Owens Drive to two or three eastbound lanes would cost an estimated $1 million for construction, a change that might save drivers 10 to 15 seconds of delay, according to city staff.

The debate could return next week when the council meets to discuss its goals for the next two years, and all five members indicated support for considering Owens Drive for the priority list.

“If it’s not something that’s working, if it is as flawed as some of you feel, so be it. Then we have to backtrack and take a look at it,” Vice Mayor Jerry Pentin said, endorsing a review after one year.

The council placed the Owens Drive debate on its agenda for Tuesday after hearing from residents in December and January whose complaints ramped up once fencing came down around the apartment project and new curbing and lane closures showed the narrowing was permanent, and not a temporary change due to construction.

About a dozen citizens spoke Tuesday night in opposition of the one-lane configuration, which city staff says is aimed in part at enhancing safety and usability for pedestrians and bicyclists as part of a transit-oriented development.

“My point is very clear: Give us the road back,” resident Chong Wang told the council.

Roughly 50 people attended the debate in the council chambers, a majority of whom criticized Owens’ new setup. Brown also referenced an ongoing online petition, which had about 725 signatures in opposition to one lane, as of late Tuesday night.

The lane reduction wasn’t a recent choice.

The decision to decrease the lanes was made by the council in 2012, and the debate actually dated back to 2010 and 2011 as part of the city’s public consideration of the Hacienda Transit Oriented Development Standards and Design Guidelines, according to city staff.

Narrowing the eastbound side, and associated roadside changes, serve to help encourage pedestrian and bicyclist use in the area because wide roads with longer crosswalks and higher vehicles speeds are often deterrents, according to city traffic engineer Mike Tassano.

Jim Van Dyke, a 30-year Pleasanton resident, was one speaker in favor of the new Owens Drive configuration, citing “life-saving” additions to help cyclists such as bulb-outs and more pronounced bike lanes.

“While we don’t want to see anyone slowed down, there’s a difference between convenience and one losing life and limb,” he added.

Pedestrian and cyclist use is a key component of transit-oriented development, as is a retail-supportive design, assistant city manager Brian Dolan said.

The new apartment complex on Owens Drive features diagonal on-street parking in front to serve the new building’s retail sites, and those parking spots were about half on developer property and half on city property — something that drew the ire of several speakers Tuesday night.

“It feels like we’re giving something to the developer that is our public right-of-way,” said Bennie Tschirky, a 21-year Pleasanton resident who works on Willow Road.

But most of the residents’ concerns Tuesday night focused on traffic flow — or lack thereof — on Owens Drive eastbound through the segment.

Owens westbound, across the median, remains at three lanes. Long-range plans call for Owens to be a two-lane roadway, one lane in each direction, between Willow Road and the Kaiser Permanente driveway, if development were to occur on the Dublin/Pleasanton BART parking lot.

City officials anticipated some eastbound traffic delays, on the range of 20 extra seconds, because of reducing the three lanes down to one, but an unexpected factor was the impact of the signalized Iron Horse Regional Trail crossing at Owens Drive near that area, Tassano said.

The pedestrian button at the trail would stop traffic for 30 seconds each time and cause traffic to back up to Willow Road, he said.

In response, city officials in January changed the 30-second crossing to a two-stage crossing of 10 seconds for the eastbound lane and 20 seconds for the westbound lanes, having trail-users wait at the median in between if they can’t make it across.

Tassano said he thinks the Iron Horse Trail signal modification will help minimize long car lines and backups into the Owens-Willow intersection.

He showed two videos — one from October and one from mid-February, both from around 5:15 p.m. — to demonstrate how traffic conditions have improved since the signal change. But several residents criticized the videos, questioning whether they fairly depicted problems during peak evening commute.

In the end, the city staff presentation did little to quell the concerns of citizen critics who spoke Tuesday night.

“This whole area is a design failure because it’s the worst intersection in town and most poorly placed,” Tom Corbett said. “The whole area is a mess and to take three lanes down to one lane, that’s stupidity.”

“A well-vetted bad idea is still a bad idea. What concerns me is the lane reduction still seems to be seen as a good thing even though this was a bad idea. It’s not working,” resident Julie Testa said.

“I was shocked to hear the way that (city staff) spoke that our wide roads out in Hacienda were a wasted space,” she added. “Those are our roads. I don’t feel they’re wasted when I can drive them comfortably without traffic.”

Testa, and several other speakers, shared a concern with Brown about whether the one-lane configuration could handle traffic increases from the new Owens Drive apartments and other potential residential developments in the area.

“I think it was good intentions at the time,” Brown said of the lane reduction. “I will absolutely credit the people who worked on this with the idea of making it pedestrian-friendly. I think it just went too far and it’s not a success.”

The mayor said he was ready to support waiting for a report in one year — sentiment expressed by council members Olson, Pentin and Kathy Narum — but was swayed by citizen feedback Tuesday night, especially from a couple residents concerned about how the one-lane layout would impact emergency responders.

“We can’t restore all three lanes, that’s not possible. That land is gone … but I would like to see some options to make that at least two lanes,” Thorne added. “You folks have kind of convinced me that we made some mistakes.”


19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2017 at 9:15 am

How is it not possible to restore it to 3 lanes? Of course it is. Cement can be removed. It depends on the willingness of the city to hear its residents, instead of hearing (most likely) a developer.

I have always thought Pleasanton made good decisions, most of the time.

Two really bad moves that come to mind though: the above issue, and putting a Chick-a Fillet where they did. What a mess it has created!

20 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 8, 2017 at 10:26 am

The ironic thing is this was designed as a transit development next to BART but they took out city roadway to give more parking for the development. If it were truly transit oriented development, they would not need this extra city property for parking.

City Employee 1: Let's approve a transit oriented development next to BART so it will not put more cars on the road.

City Employee 2: Sounds great. While we are at it, let's give that development some city land so it can increase the development's parking. We all know that transit-oriented developments still produce as many cars and trips as other developments in town, plus students for our schools, but if we call it transit-oriented, people think there will be less traffic and it will be easier to get approved.

18 people like this
Posted by Hansen Curious
a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 8, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Hansen Curious is a registered user.

A few questions for the City Council:

1. Why were two lanes of Owens Drive in front of BART gifted to the developer? What did we, the taxpayers, gain from this gift?

2. If the new parking spots in front of the development are actually built on City land, then do we, the tax-payers, have the right to park in those spots when we ride BART?

3. The article indicates the BART parking lots on Owens will be developed in the future and Owens narrowed to two lanes in the West bound direction. If the parking lot is developed, where do you expect BART users to park?

6 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Mar 8, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Karen is a registered user.

I recall that the City wanted retail there and they required the diagonal parking and lane reduction to accomodate that street parking when the apartments were built. It was not a gift to the developer, it was simply a bad decision foisted on the development design by the then commissions and council to create a transit oriented mixed use area near BART. . Councilwoman Brown fails to understand that the city can not now after the fact require the developer to do the widening. That $1M estimated work would be on the backs of the taxpayers and to pretend otherwise is a classic case of alternative facts. People need to figure out other routes like Chabot and back to Hopyard if they dont want to wait 10-12 more seconds per the traffic report. As a taxpayer, Im not paying to fix a perceived inconvenience. Id rather use $1M of our hard earned money to fund important things.

15 people like this
Posted by Flightops
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 8, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Flightops is a registered user.

@ Hansen curious. 3 great questions!!! Would like to add a 4th- If the developer had only been allowed to put buildings on that lot that fit that lot would they still need to take away our public streets for their gain?? I have never seen this done in any other cities in the Bay Area, we may have set a new precedent where the taxpayers buy the land, put the streets and infrastructure in then give it to the developers for their own gain!! Now we find out that the Bart parking lot may soon go away to more developers and Owens will be further narrowed? Maybe I'm missing something here but didn't our tax dollars pay for that parking lot also?

8 people like this
Posted by Hansen Curious
a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 9, 2017 at 9:36 am

Hansen Curious is a registered user.

@ Karen - I respectfully disagree. The developer was given a footprint to work within by the City. The footprint in this case was not only the dimensions of the empty lot, but included two lanes of Owens drive. The gift from the City to the developer was the ability to build additional units and meet the City's requirement to developed mixed-use units. Without the gift from the City, the developer would not have been able to build as many units and not be able to maximize their profit.

The City gave away public property to enrich the developer (and possibly themselves through kickbacks and/or campaign contributions).

14 people like this
Posted by Shpcapt
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Mar 9, 2017 at 10:45 am

Shpcapt is a registered user.

This was a bad decision by the City and I see it as a free gift to the developer. But like everything else the City staff and the majority in the council does not give a damn if the residents get inconvenienced. Maybe the best solution will be to make two lanes on both sides. Secondly why are we making this are pedestrian friendly? That should be downtown.

3 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Mar 9, 2017 at 10:49 am

Karen is a registered user.

Dear Hansen - thanks for being respectful in your disagreement. I think the cost to the builder to re-construct the new street ( curbs, drainage, signal relocation, etc) would probably be the trade off for any new units which was by the way needed for RHNA per the affordable housing lawsuit. Plus it appear the vacant retail space was also another builder cost and will unlikely be profitly leased if Dublin transit center is any example. The point is, the City required it so to have the developer now go back and fix it at another $1M is not fair nor legal. Perhaps the City can do a better program of posting alternate routes since many people use only Owens to get to the freeway. I still dont understand why they dont turn right and go back to Hopyard or go to Stoneridge to El Charro.

14 people like this
Posted by Flightops
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 9, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Flightops is a registered user.

I'm 99% sure the developer overbuilt on that lot for maximum profit and not because the city or state or Feds required them to do so! Somebody really sharpened their pencil on this project and now it's all money in the bank. If I add a low income rental unit on my property can I bump it out into my street and maybe over pass my property line into my neighbors yard, I'll even throw in a small retail store on the bottom floor! It's great to be a builder in this town, anything goes.

10 people like this
Posted by Hansen Curious
a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 9, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Hansen Curious is a registered user.

It appears from the City Council meeting this past Tuesday the same situation is going to occur in the near future. This time, the City and BART are giving away the tax-payer funded BART parking lot off Owens to developers. Will the development include a parking garage or will it go the same way as in Dublin where the BART parking lots were converted to housing units forcing BART riders to park over a mile away?

The BART parking lot will be developed into high density housing, the City will gift the developer one, possibly two lanes of Owens Drive, and the tax-payers will be left with no where to park and a further narrowed Owens drive.

8 people like this
Posted by Really
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Really is a registered user.

Here's the real truth - the City MADE the developer include the retail space. The Developer was opposed to this as there is no market for it. THEN, the City (both former council members and former and current staff) MADE the developer add the parking and make the lane reduction - at the Developer's cost. There was no GIFT to the developer. It was an additional COST that they had to absorb. When it comes to development - there are never and GIFTs to Developers - it's all cost until they can get the project to market after risking MILLIONS of $$ and time and then HOPEFULLY, the will make a profit and then pay TAXES to support all of the GIFTS that government makes to everyone else.

13 people like this
Posted by Sachin B
a resident of Fairlands Elementary School
on Mar 11, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Sachin B is a registered user.

Owens drive is huge safety issue for walkers, drivers and all.We need the 3 lanes back. Pls do show for on March 14, Tuesday night at 6:00, at the Operations Center, 3333 Busch Rd and speak. We will also ask for request an 'Amendment to the Hacienda development agreement that will not allow future lane reduction without a public vote'. Also below is a copy of letter I sent to the Mayor and council, after the Mar 7 meeting. Pls do sign the online petition.
Web Link
To: City Council Member

Re: The Narrowing of Owens Drive
Attention: Mayor Thorne

Thank you for putting Owens drive on agenda and having a discussion.
We understand this decision was made in 2011, but as you have learned from multiple speakers, its a big safety issue and a nightmare for commuters going for work and earn their livelihood using BART.

Thee time has increased from a few seconds to several minutes thus taking up to 10 times to travel to.

None of us got your point that narrowing the road helps walkers/bikers. For example, Santa Rita and Las Positas, Hopyard near Pleasanton Sport park are our best examples, where we have 3 lanes each with many more walkers crossing safely.

When a walker has to cross 3 lanes such as Santa Rita, he/she is very careful. At Owens where narrowed, people think its just one lane, and rush across the walk wait signal, to catch the train, as traffic engineer admitted. That is why most cities create a walk over bridge in front of BART.

Thank you for acknowledging the emergency vehicle issue. Owens drive is unique as it has John Muir Urgent Care and Valley Care hospital at opposite ends. Even if one person in ambulance is struck and suffers due to this, it is one too many.

Again, I request you to acknowledge this serious problem and take it up in the next plan meet to widen Owens now; not wait 6 months. What we have now, I believe, has not happened anywhere in California and we all should not put Pleasanton on the map.

Appreciate your support.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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