Lincoln Avenue — the arterial that traverses Alameda Island from east to west — has only produced bad headlines recently:

The news in terms of funding could be worse. The staff report continues: "In January 2024, the City and Alameda [County Transportation Commission] executed a grant agreement to partially fund the design totaling $567,000." That external funding will help continue to move forward the designs for the Lincoln Avenue/Marshall Way/Pacific Avenue Corridor Improvements project. But it will require securing more funding to ever actually implement the designs — and thereby actually decrease the odds of future fatal crashes along Lincoln Ave:

The concept includes a road diet — going from four to three travel lanes with a center turn lane and bike lanes — as well as a roundabout at Lincoln Avenue/Fifth Street/Marshall Way, flashing beacons, pedestrian/bicycle signals, modernized traffic signals, crosswalk improvements, school frontage improvements, stormwater gardens, street trees, disabled parking and loading zones, improved lighting and bus stop enhancements.  The concept will likely be phased in over time, as street sections are resurfaced and constructed with grant funding.  Immediate action will occur on Lincoln Avenue at Walnut Street with the installation of flashing beacons and increased intersection visibility. 

The "immediate action" mentioned is in reaction to the crash that killed Fred Zehnder at Lincoln and Walnut in 2021. This is what staff and consultants presented to City Council on April 18, 2023:

The justice system moves slowly, but it has moved toward a resolution in that the person at fault served his jail sentence, has completed an alcohol rehabilitation, and will now be on a period probation (according to the Mercury News article I mentioned at the beginning of this post). It's unfortunate that in this case the local traffic engineering system moves even more slowly. The "immediate safety improvements" in reaction to the 2021 fatal crash are, as far as I know, still plans on paper.

To be frank, I'm not sure how valuable these safety improvements are given that they aren't immediate — and that this intersection already had an established history of crashes.

In October 2019, "Six-month-old Alameda twins escape injury when SUV plows into their home" was the headline in the East Bay Times about this same exact intersection. "The babies and their mother had to be extricated from the home by firefighters." (!)

In response, the City did reduce the lane count by re-striping paint and placing plastic bollards:

Left: Lincoln/Walnut as it was for the October 2019 crash Right: Lincoln/Walnut after improvements Aerial imagery (C) Nearmap

This is a meaningful "quick build" improvement. But it wasn't sufficient in 2021 to protect Zehner when he was walking across this intersection from a driver with four beers and four shots of whiskey in his system.

To be honest, would the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons in the planned "immediate safety improvements" be sufficient to protect an elderly pedestrian from that threat?

The "good news," if you will, is that as of 2023, the City's newly instituted Fatal Crash Response Program now prioritizes improvements to improve safety at the site of any fatal crash. So while the "immediate safety improvements" at Lincoln/Walnut will continue to remain in the queue however long, the Fatal Crash Response Program will now be prioritized to have the unfortunate opportunity to evaluate the intersection of Lincoln and 9th (the site of Sunday's motorcycle crash) for safety improvements.

Here's my attempt to interpret the sad situation in terms of traffic safety along Lincoln Ave:

  • The extra wide width of Lincoln Ave, which encourages and enables drivers to speed, will probably only be fully addressed once the city is able to land sufficient grant funding to adjust the entire corridor. I hope city staff will keep on trying.
  • In the meantime, Alameda's electeds would do well to think more critically about the physics of car crashes. City Council recently spent $350,000 on special decorative concrete barriers to protect parklets along Park Street and Webster Street. The majority of these parklets sit parallel to a constrained roadway with auto traffic that is often going at 10 to 20 MPH. Yes, a car could unexpectedly shift laterally into a parklet. Yes, that would be bad. Yes, it would be good to protect against those situations. Yes, two to three of the wood parklets have been damaged around the edges by vehicles. However, that's not the type of collision in which a vehicle often arrives with a massive amount of kinetic force. It's situations like the senior being hit in the crosswalk at Lincoln/Walnut, and the six-month-old twins' house right at that intersection, that benefit from higher levels of protection. (Unclear what happened in the motorcycle crash, although it's probably reasonable to assume high speeds by one or more of the drivers involved.) City Council spent $350,000 to feel good about traffic safety in portions of the business districts — when instead they should have celebrated that the road diets on portions of Park and Webster are succeeding at reducing speeds as designed — and they should have directed that money to true traffic safety improvements elsewhere.
  • Alameda's Public Works department has been severely understaffed and the Planning Department has not had a full complement of staff assigned to transportation. I hope now that the departments are now getting staffed up again, there's a chance to work through the backlog of projects like the Lincoln/Walnut "immediate safety improvements" and yet another Fatal Crash Response site. There may not be a giant grant to support it all — but perhaps it's time to embrace frugality and go for effectiveness. When the Fatal Crash Response Program evaluates the site of the Lincoln/9th crash, the toolbox of potential treatments shouldn't just be limited to "soft" quick-build materials like paint and plastic bollards. I strongly encourage city staff and their consultants to consider adding concrete K-rail, decorative concrete planters, and other hard materials to toolkit for this Fatal Crash Response site.

To reduce the odds of future crashes along Lincoln Ave, it's time for the city to get serious about using the funding at hand to put in place hard concrete improvements that force drivers to reduce their speeds.

Bad news along Alameda's Lincoln Ave