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.”