Report from Union City: “City Hall looks Back”

Despite its mega-freeways, the Bay Area is the second or third most traffic-choked region in the entire country. So why do we have such bad traffic and why do larger cities with smaller roads have better mobility?

Perhaps the problem is that roads are virtually all we have. Like a foolish investor, maybe we’ve placed most of our eggs in one basket; namely in a transportation straightjacket that makes most of us overly dependent upon auto travel, to the point where much of the Region is now saturated in cars. What little mass transit we have is fragmented and often unreliable; a far cry from the world class network of trains and buses the Region needs and deserves. As a result, most Bay Area residents are forced to haul bulky personal vehicles with them virtually everywhere they go. Anyone who thinks that this is a good way of to get 4 million bay area employees to their jobs every day just isn’t paying attention.

By rights Union City should be delighted with Alameda County Measure BB. BB sets aside $40M for transit-first features designed to speed up the Dumbarton Express buses, allocates $75M to convert the BART station into one geared to efficient transfers between BART, ACE and a future Dumbarton Rail service, and earmarks another $10M to bicycle and pedestrian improvements in Union City. So where is Union City’s City Hall in all this? Well….it wants to redirect the Measure BB funds to help pay for another highway, euphemistically called the East West “Connector” (EWC). Apparently those calling the shots in City Hall regard it as less taxing to stick to the road expansion strategies of the past than to diversify into a well-balanced multi-modal transportation portfolio as other cities across the country are doing.

The EWC has been on the books for over half a century. Yet it has been deferred and put off for decades, in large part because of doubts about its merits. First, there’s the astronomical cost of $320 million of a project that delivers only 1.1 miles of new roadway. This high cost is a result of such challenges as digging a tunnel under BART tracks next to a polluted superfund site located over a fresh water aquifer, and constructing 3 new highway bridges over Crandal and Alameda Creeks.

The East West Connector is projected to make Union City traffic worse not better. See Chart.


According to the Environmental Impact Report, traffic congestion on many Union City streets would be heavier with the EWC than without it. For example, since the EWC stops short of connecting with I-880, it would actually degrade conditions at the Cabrillo Drive/Decoto Road bottleneck. In addition, since it would attract and generate significant amounts of new traffic it would adversely affect traffic conditions on the streets feeding into both Decoto and the Connector itself. Moreover, building a new east west highway in Union City would almost certainly increase pressures to increase the capacity of Highway 84 through Niles Canyon, which would inevitably generate still more new traffic. City Hall’s oversized roadway of yesteryear would also eliminate any possibility of developing an attractive park along the Creeks. And finally, it would make walking and bicycling in Union City less safe and undermine City efforts to foster more public transit use

Albert Einstein famously said: “You cannot solve your problems with the same line of thinking that got you into them”. One does not have to be a genius to see that a new highway in Union City would take the city in exactly the wrong direction. It is way past time to be accommodating more automobiles in Union City.

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 8. Click here to go back to the newsletter.

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