At a public meeting held by Caltrans on July 30 to hear the preliminary findings of the Federal Highway Administration’s Road Safety Assessment for Highway 84 in Niles Canyon, the FHA stated that Caltrans’ proposed highway widening project through Niles Canyon is not warranted by the state’s safety data (see April-May Yodeler, page 6). The FHA proposed several dozen immediate measures within the existing roadway that can be quickly and inexpensively implemented to reduce vehicle collisions. The FHA proposed site-specific projects for five priority locations in Niles Canyon to reduce accidents.
“The FHA seems genuinely interested in proposing reasonable safety solutions that do not involve needless environmental destruction of Alameda Creek or Niles Canyon,” said Jeff Miller, director of the Alameda Creek Alliance. “We hope Caltrans will indeed start with the ‘clean slate’ they are promising for the Niles Canyon highway-safety projects and take FHA recommendations and community input on appropriate safety measures seriously.”
A Federal Highway Administration team of safety experts, independent of Caltrans, evaluated accident data in Niles Canyon since 2007, when a center-line rumble strip was installed that dramatically reduced collisions. The FHA also looked at traffic patterns and motorist behaviors to determine whether and where safety improvements are needed. The team identified five problem areas:
- the narrow Rosewarnes undercrossing near the bottom of the canyon;
- a low-speed curve near “The Spot”;
- the Palomares Road intersection;
- the intersections of Main Street and Pleasanton-Sunol Road with Hwy 84 in Sunol;
- the Alameda Creek bridge in the middle of the canyon.
The FHA is developing potential safety treatments for these locations that minimize environmental, visual and cultural impacts. The FHA is proposing less-extensive treatments for other areas of the canyon such as improving or extending shoulders, additional turnouts, and selected vegetation removal.
The FHA proposes a monitoring program to see how the immediate measures and site-specific projects improve safety and reduce collisions, before looking at the possible “need” in the long-term for more extensive road widening. In addition to motorist safety, the FHA is interested in safer conditions for bicyclists, although Niles Canyon Road does not lend itself to safe bicycle use, while an independent hiker-biker trail through the canyon would. The FHA will publish the Road Safety Assessment report in August.
“Based on the brief FHA presentation, some of their preliminary ideas have promise, such as paving existing gravel shoulders, installing traffic lights, extending some turnouts, and realigning small sections of roadway away from the creek toward hillsides at some problem areas,” said Miller. “Some of the solutions we will advocate include traffic calming (slowing vehicle speeds down in dangerous areas) through use of flashing and traffic lights, rumble strips, radar feedback signs, and enforcement. We look forward to suggesting, commenting on and evaluating any specific fixes at genuine safety problem areas to make sure they are warranted, effective, and done with minimal environmental impact.”
At the hearing Caltrans promised a “clean slate” on the Niles Canyon highway-safety projects and claimed it will consider FHA recommendations even if they do not comport with Caltrans guidelines. After the FHA report is finished, Caltrans will give the community a month to review it, and then hold a public meeting to discuss the findings in more detail. Caltrans will meet with stakeholders and the public before proposing revised projects. After that they will begin a new environmental review process.
Find out more about the Alameda Creek Alliance’s campaign to Protect Niles Canyon.