East Bay, Oakland

More Pleasant on Pleasant Valley

longs_pv1Most streets in North Oakland — lined as they are with trees, bungalows, and low-rise apartment buildings — have been built out on a comfortable and pleasant scale. But the shopping center located north and east of the intersection of Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue stands apart as, well, anything but pleasant. It is an uninspired 1960s autocentric strip mall, featuring a collection of low-slung buildings centered on a mighty surface parking lot. The shopping center has housed a large Longs Drugs; a smaller but still sizable Safeway; and a collection of smaller retail spaces. But some changes are afoot for this shopping center. The Longs will close, and Safeway will covet the larger space, even while it moves forward with plans to expand another of its stores at College and Claremont, just one mile north of this shopping center. Safeway’s proposal for the Broadway & Pleasant Valley shopping center would relocate an expanded Safeway (65,000+ square feet) to the northeastern corner of the site, which currently houses an 87,220 square foot Longs. Here is a picture and diagram of Safeway’s initial proposal for the site:

Aerial of Safeway proposal, courtesy of Eric Fischer (link to community mtg. photo set).

Courtesy of Safeway. Click here for a packet of diagrams and drawings (external link).

The design is, unfortunately, flawed. It basically perpetuates the current design, by maintaining long, squat buildings that surround the surface parking lot. It does add office space, and it fills in the perimeter of the site. But buildings remain set back from the street, offset by landscaping, and the prominence of the central parking lot is maintained; moreover, additional parking is added to the roof of the Safeway. In other words, the design remains wholly suburban. Pedestrian access to the shopping center is currently pretty miserable — sidewalks at the entry and exit points break off for the convenience of automobile navigation, or are omitted altogether. Based on these sketches, the new design does not completely address that problem either, except for including a few colored crosswalks.

Safeway’s proposal is a misstep in an urban setting. Indeed, a quick glance at a Google satellite image makes it clear that the current suburban layout is an anomaly in North Oakland. So why should it be carried forward any longer? This site presents a special opportunity to fill a vast hole with a development pattern that is more fitting for a city. We would encourage Safeway to take the time to think this through carefully, rather than rush into unimaginative proposals like the one above. Here is our (more ambitious) concept for this site.

The first step is to completely eliminate the surface parking lot, and instead use the land to extend the street grid. Currently, Gilbert Street runs through the apartment block located just to the south of the site and turns into a driveway to the parking lot after it crosses Pleasant Valley. Under this proposal, Gilbert would continue north for two blocks, toward what is now the Longs building — not as a driveway, but as a true street with sidewalks. There would also be a new east-west street that would run the length of the site, starting at Broadway and splitting the large site into small city blocks. As a nod to history, we named it McAdam Street, which was the name of the original street before Pleasant Valley Avenue was created to run from Broadway to Grand Avenue. Once the site is split into blocks, then we can apply the tried and true formula of ground-floor retail and several stories of upstairs housing, to fill in the new neighborhood:

Our alternative concept for the Broadway & Pleasant Valley site. Green = two height classes.
Pink = pedestrian alley/plaza. Yellow = commercial storefront (does not represent a different height).

4st_sf_wholefoodsThe above concept maintains one larger building, with an approximately 65,000 footprint, to accommodate the Safeway; here, too, we had in mind a ground-floor grocery and apartments above. An example, pictured at right, is the Whole Foods on 4th Street in San Francisco. That particular structure is bulkier than it needs to be, because the layers of parking were built above ground, between the store and the apartments; a better design would relocate (a reduced amount of) parking underground. But that is what the general feel of the Safeway would be; something that is a better fit for an urban environment. And in the case of the Broadway & Pleasant Valley shopping center, the northern back end of the site, at the bottom of the hill, is naturally dead space — so it seems like a good place to locate deliveries and parking entrances, in order to increase pedestrian safety on the interior streets.

The Broadway & Pleasant Valley intersection already has good access to transit; it is served by AC Transit lines 12, 51, 59/59A, and is less than one mile from Rockridge BART. The 7 bus line, which currently terminates at the BART station, could conceivably be extended south to serve the new development. These transit options should be emphasized at any new development on this site, with kiosks, maps, and clear signage installed in prominent locations that indicate the location of bus stops on Broadway, 51st Street, and Pleasant Valley, as well as the BART station. The adjacent bus stops should be upgraded to a more hospitable shelter design. Bicycle parking should also be placed throughout the site. The development would increase pedestrian and bicycle activity in the area, suggesting that some traffic calming at this wide intersection would also be in order.

The shopping center site was, until midway into the 20th century, the Blake & Bilger Co. quarry, which was then later replaced by this shopping center. So the land is sunken and is already set apart from the surrounding neighborhood. This development concept takes advantage of that distance and feeling of separation (as well as the natural barriers on the northern and eastern boundaries of the site) to include buildings that are somewhat taller than what currently populates the surrounding blocks, in the hope that North Oakland neighbors won’t mind extra height that does not directly shadow their backyards. Retail storefronts would face not just onto Broadway and Pleasant Valley, but also the interior streets. A pedestrian plaza and alley, both lined with storefronts, have also been included to provide a gathering place neighbors and visitors. The new retail would create a new commercial district anchoring the southern edge of Rockridge, hopefully also increasing pedestrian traffic on Broadway and on the quieter south end of College Avenue.

Lastly, as for urban form: building heights would vary to increase visual interest, somewhere in the 45-85 feet range, extending and intensifying the character of the apartment block located just to the south of Pleasant Valley. The map shows one possibility: concentrating taller buildings toward the center of the site, with the addition of a taller building on the prominent northeast corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley. Splitting the blocks into relatively fine parcels, and then building out a variety of design proposals, would also increase visual interest by giving the impression that the new blocks grew out organically. This will be especially important here because, as mentioned above, the site is already set off from the surrounding streets. The development must not resemble a gated or master-planned community. Instead, it should become a truly public place that draws people in, activating the surrounding streets and neighborhood.



45 thoughts on “More Pleasant on Pleasant Valley

  1. Apologies: already noticed a bit of an anachronism… I’ve been calling it the College of Arts & Crafts for ages, and it clearly has not quite sunk in yet that they changed the name a few years back. Will correct that later.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 9:03 am
  2. I still think of it as CCA&C, too. I remember when the ice cream place in Elmwood (blanking on the name) had a flavor called CCA&C that had ingredients for each initial.

    I like your alternative plan. It’d be more costly (non-surface parking costs more than surface parking to construct) which would make it a harder sell, but it’d make it soooo much more appealing than what’s there now, as well as be a much better use of space.

    Posted by Gene | 30 June 2009, 9:58 am
  3. Thanks for this—I’ve been meaning to sit down and play with it and haven’t had any time, but this is a great stab at an alternative scenario. The interface of retail with the street is particularly important (and particularly lacking in the current plan). While below-grade parking is costly, I would expect that much of this cost could be recouped through the additional development.

    On the transit front, it’s worth mentioning that the currently proposed AC Transit service cuts will eliminate the 59/59A, and frequencies on the 7 will be reduced to every 30 minutes. (Notably, though, there is a new crosstown route proposed to replace some of this and other cut service that would run from Grand across Pleasant Valley/51st to MLK between downtown Oakland and downtown Berkeley; this would actually be a huge improvement as there’s currently no crosstown service in that part of town, and would enhance access to the Safeway plaza. It would also, I expect, significantly increase the number of pedestrians accessing the plaza from Pleasant Valley/Gilbert versus from Broadway, which could be a game changer on the traffic front.)

    This plan is going before the Oakland Planning Commission on July 15th (6 pm, Hearing Room 1 at City Hall), so I’d STRONGLY encourage people to show up and voice concerns and alternatives there! (Sadly I’ll be out of town then, or I’d be there myself.)

    Oh, and given the huge number of things that still say CCAC (and given how much better that rolls off the tongue!) I think you’re covered calling it that even with the new name. ;)

    Posted by artemis | 30 June 2009, 10:46 am
  4. Their plan is terrible! New built area would be great, but they’re adding over 300 new parking spaces (50% increase) which will mean more emissions and more congestion. They are also apparently proposing to remove the sidewalk along most of the street frontage, in favor of an auto entrance to the parking garage. I find it doubtful they would even have the guts to do that, so maybe it’s a drawing error, but they DO show a sidewalk along the street in the southeast portion of the site.

    Posted by John | 30 June 2009, 10:55 am
  5. Hi artemis, thanks for your comment, and for mentioning the AC Transit proposals (bus riders should scroll down to about halfway through this PDF to read about those). I refrained from mentioning those here, because my hope, anyway, is that some of these service reductions and eliminations will eventually be restored, since a plan like this would take awhile to get going in any case. The real point for the purposes of this post is not so much the exact lines and their numbers, but the fact that transit serves and will continue to serve the streets immediately adjacent to the site.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 11:09 am
  6. Oh yes, please, Safeway folks, build this instead!

    And that’s great to bring back the McAdam name, even if it doesn’t quite match the alignment of the original McAdam.

    Posted by Eric Fischer | 30 June 2009, 11:12 am
  7. And that’s great to bring back the McAdam name, even if it doesn’t quite match the alignment of the original McAdam.
    Yeah, that actually bugged me a little bit too, but I suspect we haven’t yet seen the end of “Pleasant Valley.” ;-)

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 11:36 am
  8. Point taken. My note was mainly about the character of the lines that run there—the 59/59A and the 12 are what I tend to think of as “little lines”—serving a fairly limited area (albeit my area!) with relatively low ridership compared to the trunk lines (51, etc.). Both stop running around 7 pm, for instance, and have pretty limited weekend service as it is. A new cross-town line connecting to Downtown Berk and Oak would be another animal altogether, though, and would provide very different transit service along Pleasant Valley/51st from what exists today. Just food for thought!

    Posted by artemis | 30 June 2009, 11:57 am
  9. I saw the headline and was hoping you’d explore one of my pet peeves – the name Pleasant Valley. It’s not that the street is rather unpleasant (though that’s true), but the street is a wayfinding disaster. 51st becomes Pleasant Valley which becomes Grand which becomes W Grand, which is parallel to 51st but 30 blocks south. Enormous U-shaped streets are problematic enough, but does it really require four different names?

    Thanks for the mock-up of an urban infill-style development. Safeway claims they can’t build residential because the lease is only 50 years, but that seems like enough time to me. Considering how desirable this area is, and the limited development potential of nearby College and Piedmont Avenues, this is a unique opportunity for North Oakland.

    Posted by dto510 | 30 June 2009, 11:59 am
  10. Artemis:
    A new cross-town line connecting to Downtown Berk and Oak would be another animal altogether…
    Yes, it would, in fact it might be just the thing to recharge the 12, which ought to see more riders than it does.

    51st becomes Pleasant Valley which becomes Grand which becomes W Grand, which is parallel to 51st but 30 blocks south. Enormous U-shaped streets are problematic enough, but does it really require four different names?
    This is actually one of my pet peeves too. I’d like to see “Pleasant Valley” scrapped altogether and just replaced with 51st, but there, we run into problems. The intersection of Piedmont Ave & Pleasant Valley isn’t 5100 Piedmont Ave, so it throws the numbering scheme off. You could potentially change to “Grand” on the east side of Broadway, but then you’d have two intersections of Grand & Broadway, 30 blocks apart.

    …this is a unique opportunity for North Oakland.
    Well said. An opportunity, which, I’m afraid, Safeway’s proposal rather squanders.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 12:11 pm
  11. Interesting alternate design. My only concern is that this is clearly planned to be a “destination” Safeway (65k sqft is on the larger side for their stores). I doubt that having the Safeway at the back of the development with no frontage on either Pleasant Valley or Broadway would work for them – and having hundreds of cars turn into Gilbert just to go to the parking garage would negatively affect the pedestrian experience (and living experience) on that street, but perhaps I’m seeing it wrong or missed something – where would the garage entrance for the Safeway and other retail be? It would be great to not have to deal with garage entrances, but unfortunately that’s not happening any time soon.

    Posted by Chris | 30 June 2009, 12:28 pm
  12. Chris: the hope was to use what I’ve labeled as “Quarry Street” (which actually extends around the perimeter of the site, from Broadway north of “McAdam” to Pleasant Valley east of Gilbert) for grocery deliveries and parking garage entrances — exactly to keep curb cuts and garage entrances off of pedestrian-heavy streets. Of course, in the real world you’d do some sort of circulation study to see how that works.

    I doubt that having the Safeway at the back of the development with no frontage on either Pleasant Valley or Broadway would work for them.
    Yeah, this was another thing I considered. I justified putting Safeway in the back because really large grocery stores are usually well-known by the neighborhood anyway, and it would be easier for Safeway to advertise itself prominently on entrances than it would be for small retail shops. Also, the line of sight down Gilbert from Pleasant Valley isn’t really all that far (these are quite small blocks I drew in on here).

    One concern was integrating pedestrians throughout the development. Having Safeway right upfront might encourage people to walk in, do their errand, then leave without exploring the smaller shops. Putting Safeway in the back, but still within sight, encourages pedestrians to walk through other parts of the district before getting to Safeway — hopefully lingering, making the area a bit more vibrant. In any case, there is room to play around with it. The takeaway is the general framework, more than the exact placement of this or that.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 12:41 pm
  13. Great alternative Eric. The main concern I’d have would be the similar to Chris’ – I doubt Safeway would want to loose the prominent store placement they have right on the corner of Pleasant Valley and Broadway. Perhaps if the Safeway were dropped on the primary, high-visibility corner and a taller residential building were placed at the back they’d be more amenable to the idea.

    Posted by carbonxt | 30 June 2009, 12:55 pm
  14. carbonxt: The place where I put Safeway on this map is where they are planning to relocate per their own plans (i.e. where Longs is now). The big difference, of course, is that in their plan, nothing blocks your view of the Safeway from Pleasant Valley Ave. because they keep the big parking lot.

    As I mentioned in my previous comment to Chris, that doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem. I do think having Safeway at the back could carry greater benefits for the development as a whole — in addition to giving Safeway a building footprint that would better accommodate aisles in a 65-67K square foot store. But I agree that Safeway would most likely raise this issue, and there’s room on this site to move things around a bit in response. Also, some kind of advertising for Safeway could be maintained on the more prominent street frontages, and they could take advantage of the line of sight down Gilbert.

    Still, a few takeaways here, as I see it, are to (i) build housing, since the site could support hundreds, or north of a thousand units; (ii) have more opportunities for small retail by building some interior streets and breaking up a huge site; and (iii) improve pedestrian safety and add dedicated pedestrian space to make it more public and vibrant. Within those parameters, there’s a fair amount of rearranging you can do of what goes where.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 1:17 pm
  15. The consultant team who did Oakland’s retail revitalization study said that this site could host a large high-end mall. I don’t think it got into their report since they didn’t consider it a real possibility – Safeway’s plans have been well-known in the Oakland real estate industry for several years. Also, according to OaklandNorth.net, Safeway claims that they cannot build housing on this site for legal reasons, which isn’t true. I don’t know how much leverage the city of Oakland has in this situation. It seems pretty harsh to demand a higher-intensity use of land during a recession, but car-oriented retail in Rockridge doesn’t seem like a fit with the General Plan.

    Posted by dto510 | 30 June 2009, 2:33 pm
  16. It does seem questionable. Besides countless mentions of transit-oriented and mixed-use, the LUTE marks 51st and Broadway as an activity center particularly suitable for “small open spaces such as public plazas or tot lots, and housing for seniors and others who appreciate easy access to shops, services, and transportation.” And of course, the western edge of the site fronts onto Broadway, a corridor “envisioned as mixed-use urban environment with concentrations of commercial and civic uses” and housing in between. (emphasis mine)

    Safeway’s proposal, meanwhile, includes no housing, has inadequate public space and pedestrian amenities, and it does not resemble an urban environment. It moreover treats Broadway like a driveway, rather than a major commercial pedestrian corridor (note that the plan retains the two existing buildings on the Broadway side, neither of which actually activate Broadway itself at all).

    Admittedly, the map I drew is fairly intense, in that it basically suggests Tenderloin-level density. At the same time, though, there are not many large sites like this in the urban core that offer this much potential.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 3:15 pm
  17. I like your idea much better. A question though. One of the arguments made for strip malls is the convenience to park right in front of your store (or very close by at least). Regardless of how we feel about that argument it’s something shopping center developers seem to care about. Could your plan address this by including a couple of below ground parking structures? Say, one near the Safeway and another near the pedestrian alley/McAdam intersection? Perhaps it could spread out the auto traffic as well as address a possible developer’s argument against your superior plan?

    Posted by Turin | 30 June 2009, 4:19 pm
  18. Hi Turin, thanks. I included just a very brief comment on that in the post, that was easy to miss. This map does assume there would be some below-grade parking, as you mention. The idea was to use the alleyway that runs around the whole site, behind the buildings, for most parking garage entrances and delivery trucks. Many grocery stores in urban settings, like the pictured Whole Foods, put parking in a garage in the same building as the store.

    The garage can be integrated into the store, making it easy and safe for both drivers and pedestrians to enter the store. Shoppers with full shopping carts can roll their carts right from the grocery store and into the garage to their cars. Pedestrians, meanwhile, benefit from not having to navigate a large parking lot to get to the store.

    Posted by Eric | 30 June 2009, 4:34 pm
  19. Great post. I’d like to see the pedestrian plaza extended with some steps up to CCA(C) to create more of a college-town atmosphere. Also, bike and bus access to Piedmont Avenue must be improved, since currently the 59/59A service is pretty bad and Pleasant Valley is a bicyclist’s nightmare.

    Posted by Daniel | 30 June 2009, 8:26 pm
  20. I don’t see how anyone is going to be willing to build residential now in this environment – look at the big empty lot at the Uptown near the Fox. That said, I think anyway to more fully integrate the development into the neighborhood fabric and get away from a totally auto-centric plan is a good idea, but housing is going to be tough sell, and Oakland needs much more retail, here and downtown.

    Posted by Patrick | 30 June 2009, 10:45 pm
  21. Obviously, Oakland planners aren’t learning from El Cerrito Plaza’s mistake earlier this decade…a disgusting, auto-oriented strip mall with no housing or integration into the San Pablo commercial strip across the street from a BART station.

    I think greatergreaterwashington.org has recent coverage of Safeway/Giant proposals in the District that replace 60’s suburban-inspired stores with buildings that are not set back from the street with parking lots. Instead, they try to integrate housing and other retail into the schemes which aim for a seamless commercial/residential flow in the neighborhood. I also think there once was something similar slated for the big Market St. Safeway in SF, but after the recent remodel I doubt anything will happen.

    Posted by Mark | 1 July 2009, 10:08 am
  22. You’d think that Safeway would want to carve up some land for real estate… After all, one surface parking spot is worth something like 10,000-20,000 dollars.

    Posted by Daniel | 1 July 2009, 10:22 am
  23. First, thanks for an alternate vision–so much better.
    Second, Indeed the site has great potential to correct mistakes of the past. More housing should come on line as the sprawlburbs are being abandonned due to gas cost.

    Although AC is in death spiral (fares up, service down) we can only hope this will get turned around. As a part of their cuts they are proposing to split the 51 @ Rockridge–the backdoor double fare increase for riders.
    Doing this @ 51st could be more useful as the strip mall gets redone.

    Posted by david vartanoff | 1 July 2009, 10:41 am
  24. David, a quick note on the 51 changes—splitting the route is actually unrelated to the service cuts. That was the recommendation of a study to try to improve service on the 51 (which I think everyone can agree is appalling right now!) The idea is that splitting it will cut off the section that’s causing a lot of the delays (College into Berkeley) and allow the Alameda/Broadway section to function more effectively….and theoretically it will then be easier for ACT to adjust service on the problematic sections to improve them. The unfortunate side effect of fixing the line may be a transfer for some riders, but it’s not a fiscal strategy—the study was underway long before the current budget scenario played itself out.

    I would, however, *love* to see the split at 51st instead of at Rockridge BART—and then would love to see some sort of rapid line from there into downtown Oakland (since this is feasible on Broadway, but not on College). I’d actually support a second split of the corridor in that case: a bus from 51st and Broadway north to Berkeley Amtrak, a short rapid line (maybe even a center median streetcar, if money starts falling from the sky) from 51st and Broadway to Jack London Square, and a bus from Uptown into West Alameda, since presumably more service will be needed there anyway as that area develops and the Posey/Webster traffic gets worse.

    I think Rockridge BART was identified as the split in large part because there’s space for buses to queue up there while they’re waiting, so for ACT to be open to pushing it to 51st, the Safeway design would probably need to include a similar dedicated space.

    Posted by artemis | 1 July 2009, 11:22 am
  25. Some very nice aspects to your alternative site plan for the Pleasant Valley Safeway site. Although I would be surprised if the Safeway would be willing to build residential since they don’t own the land. It might be possible for the city to work with Safeway and the land owner to make it more attractive, but there would almost certainly need to be incentives to both from the city for them to do so. I don’t think that residential would really be critical in moving towards a denser development, retail and office should be enough.

    I do think that you totally gloss over the parking issues. Although the present parking lot seems excessive, it is full at times, and adding more retail area as in the Safeway plan would leave the parking lot undersized, and so I can see why Safeway would want more parking. Also, the underground and elevated parking that Safeway is proposing is expensive, and I really don’t think they would be planning on it if their data didn’t say it was needed. And if you add in the additional retail and residential in your plan, even more parking would be needed.

    Location of that parking is another factor. Underground parking is horribly expensive, and it is very unlikely that the developer would be able to recapture costs through the modest density in your proposal. Much denser, i.e. higher, development would be needed to recapture costs. I think that the recent developments in Walnut Creek, or even Emeryville, with an elevated parking garage surrounded and hidden by enclosing retail and/or residential, would be a more economically viable approach to reducing the amount of surface parking lot.

    Also, the apparent total absence of surface, e.g. street, parking is a problem. Many trips to the grocery store, and to other retail establishments, are only to peck up a couple of items. The parking garage is a disincentive to this, as more time is spent parking and walking to the store than actually inside the store. A limited amount of short term street parking, say 20 minute duration, would get around this problem. Short term parking for the quick errand, and the garage for the weekly shopping trip.

    Posted by Robert | 1 July 2009, 11:26 am
  26. This is great Eric. I think they should leave space for a subway station. But seriously, I’ve often wondered why groups never move their buildings to the edges and have the parking in the center. This front parking scheme is gross. Also, why not just excavate the whole space and have the whole area of the underground for parking. Just one big podium. Then build a sweet village on top. There’s going to be more than enough time for the market to rebound for housing. Considering this won’t be for a few years I imagine. Gotta time it right.

    Posted by The Overhead Wire | 1 July 2009, 11:34 am
  27. Robert: I believe it’s safe to assume there will still be parking available on surrounding streets, and maybe some short-term spots as well. Surely you didn’t expect street parking to be labeled on the map? Anyway, re: other parking. It’s “glossed over” because there’s really little point at such an early stage of mentioning it beyond a general level. You needn’t take the concept to be more than what it is — a concept. As I explained above, it’s more about design principles than the literal design. You’d want to do a study with actual numbers before moving forward with anything.

    Underground is preferable from a design perspective, but if it doesn’t pencil out, then above ground (like you see in the Whole Foods image) is better than using land specifically for parking and no other purpose, esp. surface parking. Some parking is needed, but we don’t want to overbuild it either. The idea that grocery stores need to be surrounded by gargantuan parking lots to survive is outmoded and outdated.

    Posted by Eric | 1 July 2009, 11:46 am
  28. Or another thought, use the second story of each building for parking…then when less parking is needed later on, that area can be retrofitted into something else.

    Posted by The Overhead Wire | 1 July 2009, 11:49 am
  29. David, Artemis: Thanks for raising the 51 split issue. In some instances, splitting lines can be a good thing, but it needs to be done in a way that minimizes inconvenience to riders. If too many riders have to transfer at 51st to ride another route up College Avenue, trip times are longer, total fare is higher for those who don’t buy a pass, and we’ll lose choice riders.

    I’m actually not convinced 51st Street is the best place to split. I don’t think the ACT study contemplated that intersection, but about 2500 riders per day would be forced to transfer if the line was split at Rockridge BART, about 2/3-mile away. Just anecdotally, based on my trips on that line, 51st Street isn’t a big “shuffle point.” Most riders stay put, and actually, Rockridge BART isn’t even as big of a shuffle point as one might think it would be.

    Anyway, a 51R would be a natural service to add, since the 51 local is already quite popular. Having a mixed-use activity center at Pleasant Valley would for sure generate more transit trips starting at 51st. But given that 51st isn’t a big shuffle point now, you have to wonder if we wouldn’t attract more riders on a 51R by just running a longer rapid route. College Ave. is too narrow for the service to be literally “rapid,” but you’d at least save the dwell time, and then you’d have room for dedicated lanes on Broadway. People getting on at 51st and going toward downtown would have a truly rapid route, but then you’d also open up incrementally improved service to Rockridge and Berkeley.

    Posted by Eric | 1 July 2009, 11:58 am
  30. Oh, and I forgot to mention, re: Robert’s comment. It’s an important observation that the City would need to get more involved here. We shouldn’t really expect Safeway to do great urban planning of its own accord. Safeway’s primary goal here is to expand and upgrade its store, and so it makes sense that they would pursue a design that does just that, and little else. But there should be a discussion about how Safeway’s goals can be fit into a long-term vision of how to improve this location, rather than just building Safeway’s initial proposal and calling it a day. The City would ideally step in with a vision, and then take steps to partner with Safeway so that the part of the plan that concerns Safeway can be implemented, as one step in the process.

    Posted by Eric | 1 July 2009, 12:28 pm
  31. The transfer issue is a very real one—but as one of the riders who would have to transfer, I would readily do it if it shaved significant time off my commute. (In fact, right now I often take the 1R to downtown Berkeley and pick up the 51 there; at peak hours, it can cut my door-to-door travel time by as much as half an hour on my seven-mile trip, so I happily pay the extra quarter.) I guess my thought was that Lower Rockridge and Temescal riders would be willing to walk to 51st to pick up a truly rapid line, but that might be a little idealistic. It would be interesting to see how the numbers affected compare between 51st and R’ridge BART, though—I’ve only seen MacArthur for comparison.

    A 51R could be a good alternative, though. My big concern there is just that, anecdotally, it seems that much of the 51’s delay along College and Bancroft comes not from dwell time but from traffic congestion and (near UC) pedestrian congestion. I’d worry about the buses themselves getting caught up there and then bunching by the time they’re back in the rapid corridor, where they’d move rapidly but in posses (which is already a huge 51 problem). On Broadway, in contrast, the delay is basically all from dwell time or hitting lights at a bad point, so it seems like there’s a lot more potential to fix that with infrastructure (BRT or otherwise).

    Posted by artemis | 1 July 2009, 12:40 pm
  32. Eric, regarding the parking, I was just going off your phrase that a reduced amount of parking would be available underground. No I would not expect street parking to be diagramed in at this point. But I do think that the amount of parking vs. amount of commercial/residential is something that needs attention early in the concept phase.

    The city does need to step in with a vision if this site is to be anything special. Currently both Plesant Valley/51st and Broadway are extremely pedistrian unfriendly. I think it is unreasonable to ask Safeway to plan a little pedistrian enclave without a plan and timeline for how and when their development would integrate into the overall environment. I am hard pressed to see Oakland ever providing this vision.

    Posted by Robert | 1 July 2009, 12:54 pm
  33. @TOW “I’ve often wondered why groups never move their buildings to the edges and have the parking in the center.”

    Be careful what you wish for! God forbid we end up with another 9th and Bryant/Brannan Shopping center showing nothing but its butt to the sidewalk.

    Posted by Josh | 1 July 2009, 1:44 pm
  34. Artemis: There is the possibility that a transfer would eat up whatever time savings you get from dedicated lanes, particularly when switching from a reliable BRT route to a route on College Avenue that is subject to the whims of traffic. And then there’s the issue that many or most riders don’t really like to transfer. In any case, our discussion is basically just laying some groundwork for the type of alternatives that a well-done Broadway BRT study should look at it. It’s important to get a sense of how riders are using the line, and to craft service improvements accordingly.

    Robert: You’re right, it should be planned carefully, and my apologies if I sounded a bit flippant in my earlier comment. Completely eliminating parking won’t happen, but at the same time, if you create a high quality destination with less parking than is “needed,” people will still want to visit — but those who can use transit will find that to be the better option. Encouraging patrons to find alternatives is also a component of ensuring good circulation. You can’t really build something of high urban density and then have everyone drive to it.

    By “reduced amount,” I really just meant reduced as compared to the current amount, which is an overabundance. I stated underground as a preference because the Whole Foods (and similar structures with garages embedded in between the ground floor retail and the upstairs apartments) do tend to look a bit bulky, and not as nice as buildings where the parking is hidden. Financial realities determine the final product, but to the extent that some parking can be moved underground, the option should be investigated.

    Posted by Eric | 1 July 2009, 2:06 pm
  35. At a local meeting a few years ago, I suggested alternative treatments for different parts of the site. The area towards Broadway would be developed like you suggest Eric, but the back area could remain “big box”. This part of Oakland doesn’t need a “mall”, however fancy. We have Rockridge, Temescal, Lakeshore, Piedmont Ave. and Broadway is clearly the next destination street. However, it is better to keep some big box stores in the city, than simply see them leave and create even more traffic. This is a big concern of many locals. Clearly the Chase bank building has to go if anything is to be done with this site.

    Posted by Mike Jones | 1 July 2009, 3:09 pm
  36. Hi, Mike: I am sympathetic to a desire to keep tax revenue within Oakland, goodness knows too much has leaked out already. And I agree, it’s necessary to have useful stores near where people live. Big box retail serves its purposes, and actually, I didn’t have an upscale mall in mind for this site. The post is silent as to what type of stores would go into these buildings, but as I imagined it, at least some shops would be neighborhood-serving retail, cafes, casual eateries, etc. rather than destination retail.

    In any case, it’s not so much the identity of the stores that I was after, but rather, what the built environment looks like. Adapting big box stores to an urban setting is no longer a new thing. See, for example, the Target stores in Chicago or Minneapolis. It’s possible to have both big box and a walkable environment.

    Posted by Eric | 1 July 2009, 3:36 pm
  37. I drove up Broadway on my way home today, and had a thought afterwards. There is currently nothing between 580 and Pleasant Valley now, and Auto Row redevelopment is still but a dream, but the College Ave scene is only a few blocks away. It seems much more realistic to focus on College as a location to tie the Safeway site in with. Development of Broadway above 580 is 20 to 30 years away, by which time the Pleasant Valley Safeway will be ready for its next incarnation. So maybe the focus should be on facilitating connection to College Ave. And if that is the city’s goal, it might be better to have more parking rather than less.

    Why you ask? The BART end of lower College currently has lots of parking evenings and weekends at the BART station. This currently doesn’t exist at the B’way end. More convenient parking might indeed allow better utilization of lower College. This would allow College to expand down to Broadway organically, and eventually up and down Broadway, much sooner than waiting for development to spread from Uptown to Safeway. This provides a second focus for commercial and residential development, which will always be faster than spreading from a single focus. While this doesn’t force folks onto transit immediately, it does provide a path for higher density development that will allow the natural evolution to non-auto oriented means of transit. By the time that Safeway is ready to remodel again, natural evolution of transportation will have decreased the need for parking. In the meantime, building elevated paring on the Safeway site will allow that to be repurposed gradually as parking needs decline.

    Posted by Robert | 1 July 2009, 9:01 pm
  38. Robert: I appreciate that you’re thinking carefully about the best way to treat this part of town — but, to be honest, it kind of sounds like you’re just rationalizing Safeway’s proposal. The Pleasant Valley shopping center has been there for decades. During those decades, there has been a ton of parking near the intersection of Broadway & College — in the form of the existing parking lot. And yet, no development from College has expanded organically to Broadway during that time period. Broadway has remained essentially an expressway: cars speed through, but few pedestrians linger. Why would adding rooftop parking for the new Safeway suddenly attract development, when an already enormous parking lot failed to do so for decades? Safeway’s plan itself would only add a modest amount of development to the site.

    Also, the lower end of College is already quieter than the area near the BART station. There aren’t as many popular commercial establishments packed in a row on the south stretch. It seems unlikely that the somewhat dispersed businesses on lower College would suddenly give rise to development on Broadway, when that hasn’t happened so far.

    The point is: more parking doesn’t suddenly create a destination if there isn’t already one there. You need to give people a reason to visit a place.

    The need for parking declines in part because we shape development that lends itself to carfree living. Change doesn’t occur in a vacuum — it occurs because we support and implement policies that effectively guide behavior in a certain direction.

    I’m not sure we need to think of this as development “spreading” from Uptown or from College. What we’re doing is concentrating on important nodes along Broadway, and improving those individually. The Upper Broadway Specific Plan would address Broadway through 27th. There’s the area around Pill Hill, and MacArthur/Kaiser. There’s already a little node at 40th that could be expanded and reinvigorated. And now we’re talking about 51st. Once we’ve really done a solid job on reinvigorating those hotspots, then, it’s easier to connect the dots, so to speak — to fill in the gaps to make the entire length of Broadway the really great street that Oakland deserves and has been missing.

    Lastly, I would just point out that planning itself takes a long time. It can take years to produce a finished plan (if it covers a large area), and then it takes even longer to implement, depending on economic cycles. If Broadway is really 20-30 yrs away from being developed, then serious corridor planning should begin now — not in 20 to 30 years.

    Posted by Eric | 1 July 2009, 9:36 pm
  39. Thank you for envisioning an alternative to Safeway’s plan! I think generally it’s quite good, but two things concern me: one, there’s quite a bit of driving going on. I would be interested in seeing if the eastern stretch of McAdam is necessary (in terms of car traffic). Basically, I’m seeing a lot of potential pinch points at intersections, and a lot of car movement through the space in general, and I’m wondering if that could be simplified (I really hate all the aimless driving through the complex if I am in the unfortunate position of going to the Emeryville Apple store).

    The other thing is that the wetland/pond is a nice view from a plaza, so I would want to take advantage of that. Instead of just having the one plaza smack in the middle of cars and shoppers (which can still be an enjoyably busy place to be), I would add another, possibly somewhat narrow stretch along the east side of the property that would connect to CCA and include bike paths.

    Overall it is a much more appropriate design that Safeway’s. I could see a bit more open space- as much as I dislike the creepy plastic vibe at San Jose’s Santana Row, their middle strip of pocket parks with benches and fountains is really well used.

    Posted by gem s. | 2 July 2009, 6:41 pm
  40. gem: Don’t forget about the street around the whole perimeter of the site, behind the buildings. That street (which would mostly be out of view for pedestrians in the interior) would, at least in theory, host many of the parking entrances, so that’s a more natural access point for drivers. I envisioned the interior streets being narrow with cars driving slowly. Design cues would make it clear to drivers that this is firmly a pedestrian area, and that they should tailor their driving accordingly. And, I know this will sound like blasphemy, but a few cars aren’t really a bad thing; it will make it seem more like an authentic city street, rather than a mall.

    Adding open space on the eastern end makes sense, and it’s not precluded here. In fact, Safeway’s drawing also included something to that effect. I was most interested in the interior of the site, because that’s where Safeway’s proposal was really inadequate. Note that you could enlarge the pedestrian plaza I included, or potentially even close “Bilger Street” or the last chunk of “McAdam Street” off to cars altogether, as well. And the pedestrian alley storefronts could have outdoor seating, making a bit more open space.

    Posted by Eric | 2 July 2009, 10:56 pm
  41. Eric, Artemis, and all, indeed, the 51 split IS in the service restructuring(CUTS)plan. And for the many riders who use it this will be a DOUBLE fare increase. I agree that transferring costs time–many transit studies show riders prefer a single slow ride over two faster rides w/ a wait between.
    As to actual ridership, a 51R overlay could be useful. Looping it through the center and then running it west to pick up the previous 12 route, but all on 51st not 55th could be useful to link the revived Temescal and ever metastasizing Children’s Hospital.
    The design of the rebuild needs to be pedestrian/transit friendly enough to stop some of the customers driving. (I am reminded of a deceased former neighbor who used to drive two blocks to buy cigarettes.) Insisting that the perimeter buildings have show windows and entry doors at the widened sidewalks is critical.

    Posted by david vartanoff | 6 July 2009, 10:22 am
  42. I read all the comments and agree with most; although I have concerns about adding residential to the plan. The city of Oakland has been overbuilding condos in the recent past and they are not being filled; i.e. the large development @ Broadway & Grand, Pleasant Valley & Piedmont Ave and buildings around the Jack London area. I am concerned about retail in Oakland. There just isn’t any to speak of…its fine if you are looking for small restaurants, coffee, boutiques and the like; but there isn’t any place to buy soft goods. My tax dollars are spent in the suburbs of Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, and Concord where I can purchase clothing, furniture, etc…Oakland just doesn’t have that available. Most women I’ve spoken to prefer one-stop shopping with accessible FREE parking. Currently if we chose to go to Sears we must park blocks away at a meter and pay now $2 per hour and that’s not enough time for serious shopping, and then to walk with packages to a car parked blocks away. Talking of buses is fine, but not for shopping…carrying groceries on a bus is not easy; especially for a family. I think the reality of it is that Safeway will build a large store on that site like it or not, and we will enjoy shopping at it…getting to that point will be a long and tedious process. The neighborhood doesn’t need another coffee shop, phone store, cleaners, bike shop, bakery…we need serious family retail available.

    Posted by Carol Neveu | 6 July 2009, 7:09 pm
  43. what was on the site before the shopping center? a large parcel like that clearly housed something before. was it ccac land?

    that longs formerly payless was at one time (80s/early 90s) oakland/berkeley/emeryville/piedmont’s only “big box” store (and its a real stretch to call a drug store big box)… back in the days before emeryville and the shopping centers along 880 between downtown and the airport. big box retailers were definitely late to arrive to the east bay.

    i think safeway is one of the few supermarket companies that is willing to think outside the suburban box, though they only seem to on really urban sites. but the broadway/college safeway site was promising.

    re: 59/59A bus service, not that it was even remotely a major transit destination or had the ridership but montclair bus service has been drastically scaled back. look at the bus service there 10 years ago and look at what it will be when the service cuts are enacted.

    Posted by Jon | 10 July 2009, 12:21 am
  44. Jon: the site used to be a quarry. In the post, I linked to an old quarry picture, and a couple of the made-up street names in the map are chosen to reflect that history.

    Posted by Eric | 10 July 2009, 12:33 am


  1. Pingback: What do we want for the Pleasant Valley Safeway project? « Living in the O - 1 July 2009

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