At the June 21 public planning hearing of the proposed Oak Knoll re-development project, residents offered recommendations to the developer SunCAL. The 167-acre site, which formerly housed the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, was acquired by SunCAL in 1996 and recast as a positive part of Oakland’s future. But residents have long complained about traffic during peak commute times and around the Oakland Zoo, East of Highway 580 and 98th Avenue.
After hearing many residents worry that adding more residents to the area could make traffic worse, the city required SunCal to contract with the city’s independent transportation consultant for the project, Fehr & Peers, to conduct the traffic analysis for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Working with the city, Fehr & Peers conducted detailed traffic analyses in and around the proposed development. Engineers evaluated 44 intersections and identified eight that would be significantly impacted by the project—along with improvement strategies that would mitigate current and future traffic issues.
According to Francisco Martin, an associate with Fehr & Peers, “Installing and coordinating new traffic signals at these intersections would improve conditions—as would altering the traffic lanes.”
The city and Fehr & Peers recommended expanded bus schedules and greater connectivity with BART to help ease the congestion. But some residents remain concerned and have questioned why the analysis did not include details on weekend traffic.
Martin said there is a simple explanation: “By evaluating the worst-case scenario, in this case weekday rush-hour traffic, we are able to account for the full extent of potential impacts—it’s an industry standard.”
He said the, “proposed mitigation measures to help with weekday traffic would also have benefits for weekend visitors to areas such as the Oakland Zoo.”
The mitigation plan will require SunCal to address these improvements at its own cost. At the June 21st meeting, however, at least one public comment suggested that many of the improvements called for by study would only make traffic worse. Martin refuted the concerns about traffic worsening by saying traffic conditions would improve.
“This analysis was all done under the guidance of the city, strictly following the city’s transportation and traffic study guidelines –along with industry standards,” he said.
SunCal plans to install the mitigation measures, including signals at intersections, in the first phase of the project so that surrounding neighborhoods and the community will see improvements before the project is built out. Despite these mitigation plans, some are still raising questions.
Martin responded, “It is important for anybody, whether it be a proponent or opponent of the project, to read thoroughly the analysis and documentation that has been done as part of this Supplemental EIR process to better understand project impacts and the proposed improvements that address these impacts.”
Martin also points out that this plan was developed based on considerable community and neighborhood input, years of public meetings and significant participation from city planners, engineers, the neighborhood and the community at large.
He said the study has been reviewed by city staff and peer reviewed by another independent traffic consultant so the public should have confidence in final plans and proposals.
“When we started this project several years ago, SunCal had a clear plan to reach out to as much of the community as possible,” Martin said. “I, along with city staff, participated in those meetings where we took community concerns and addressed those concerns in our analysis.”
While the June 21 meeting heard from some opponents who have long been against redeveloping the Oak Knoll site, over 100 Oak Knoll neighbors and members of the community also voiced their support and offered constructive comments.
“The developer must continue to work with the city, AC Transit, Caltrans, and the public for this to be a success,” said Martin.
According to SunCal, which has committed to community engagement and traffic mitigation, along with expanded public transportation, traffic congestion around Oak Knoll can be reduced. But none of these improvements can happen until Oak Knoll is given final approval by the city.
So, for now, residents must all wait in traffic.