You have questions. We have Answers.
Who is ConnectOakland and what are your goals?
ConnectOakland is a self-organized grassroots advocacy organization made up neighbors, urbanists, planners, designers, and thinkers. Some of us work in the design community, while others of us just have a passion for making Oakland a more liveable place. We’re volunteering our time to promote rethinking the I-980 corridor into a vibrant, affordable, transit-oriented community that will connect West Oakland to Downtown.
Oakland has many other concerns. Why should I support ConnectOakland?
Oakland is confronted with many pressing issues including crime, public education quality, and affordability. The ConnectOakland vision should not supercede or divert necessary effort away from vital improvements. However, Oakland needs to keep one eye on the future so it can manage its growth in a careful and equitable way. Without planning for better transit and exercising local control over public land, Oakland will succumb to the powerful economic forces and special interests that dominate the Bay Area.
Who loses if I-980 is removed?
The conversion of I-980 to a boulevard will have the most impact on drivers traveling south from 580 to 880 and transbay drivers seeking to cut in front of the Bay Bridge toll plaza line using the Grand Ave. entrance. In both cases modern synchronized traffic control will result in travel time increases of only a few minutes.
The more important question is who will gain from the conversion of I-980? The integration of Caltrain and BART will improve access to Oakland airport, San Francisco, and the peninsula while the boulevard will better distribute traffic on under used surface streets and improve vehicular and pedestrian connections between Oakland and West Oakland.
Can’t we just put a park or a stadium over the highway?
Decks (wide bridges built over urban highways) have been designed to support parks and better connections between neighborhoods in some American cities. What makes I-980 different from places with successful decks such as Dallas and Columbus, Ohio is the configuration of the highway.
- I-980 negatively impacts a mile between Grand Ave. and the Nimitz Freeway, but a deck that long would have to be built like the Caldecott Tunnel at great cost.
- 25% of the length of I-980 is taken up by entrance and exit ramps that would be difficult to deck over. These entrance and exit ramps carry the majority of traffic on I-980, so removing them would also remove the reason to keep the highway.
- Based on the current cost estimates for a lid proposal in Los Angeles, a lid over 1.5 blocks would cost more than $300 million to mitigate highway effects on one block and maintain the current freeway. If Oakland is going to expend significant capital on such an infrastructure project, it should see significant benefits such as improved transit and public land.
Will it hurt surrounding neighborhoods?
The prolonged condemnation and destruction of neighborhoods for urban freeways wreaked unimaginable damage on the neighborhoods they cut through. Today the impact zone of the infrastructure extends up to a half mile from the corridor, and is characterized by illegal refuse dumping, surface parking lots, single story suburban retail, and increased crime. Rethinking I-980 will improve the quality of life for everyone in this area.
This sounds good, but will it work for the rest of the city? Won’t I-880 and I-80 just be more congested?
I-980 is one of the least used highways in the entire Bay Area. At peak traffic periods I-980 only carries 25% of its designed capacity and less than one third of the typical traffic on the Nimitz Freeway. The majority of the traffic that does exist on I-980 is entering and exiting on the ramps at 11th, 12th, and 17th streets. Through traffic on I-980 is actually already comparable to surface streets such as Octavia Boulevard across the Bay in San Francisco.
In comparison with city streets, limited access highways drastically limit drivers options and increase gridlock at entrances and exits. By replacing I-980 with a multi-way boulevard, drivers will have more possible routes to enter and exit downtown Oakland and traffic congestion will decrease.
This sounds really expensive. How can Oakland afford this?
The ConnectOakland vision will have a price commensurate with any large scale multi-decade infrastructure project. The land value of the current Caltrans right of way will provide a significant source of funding, whether sold by the City of Oakland or held and leased for development. Transit infrastructure funding will include federal, state, and local sources with air rights development over the rail yard.
Where has this been done before?
Highway removal has become a frequently used strategy to connect neighborhoods, revitalize waterfronts, and rebuild walkable cities.
New York City – 1973.
Within a week the traffic dissipated. It was weird. We couldn’t find any extra cars anywhere
— NYC DOT engineer Sam “Gridlock” Schwartz (link)
After part of the West Side Highway in Manhattan collapsed in 1973 and was indefinitely closed, traffic engineers predicted a traffic apocalypse that never materialized as vehicles found other efficient routes to their destinations.
The road was finally replaced by an at-grade boulevard in 2001.
Portland, OR – 1974.
They closed Harbor Drive today and there wasn’t a ripple.
— Portland traffic engineer Don Bergstrom (link)
Portland became the first U.S. city to intentionally remove an urban highway when, due to the efforts of the local group Riverfront for People, Portland replaced the Harbor Drive highway with Naito Parkway and Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette River. This change has been largely responsible for downtown Portland’s renaissance over the past thirty years.
Oakland – 1989. The Cypress Street Viaduct of the Nimitz Freeway was catastrophically damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989. The collapse of the upper level of the structure was responsible for two thirds of the fatalities of the quake. In the aftermath of the tragedy West Oakland took a stand and fought to relocate a railyard and reroute the Nimitz Freeway around the neighborhood. The footprint of the former viaduct was redesigned as Mandela Parkway in 2005.
San Francisco – 1989. Both the Embarcadero Freeway and the northern stub of the Central Freeway were also damaged in the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The never-finished Embarcadero Freeway had been the subject of escalating demands for removal during the 1980’s and San Francisco chose to demolish it after the earthquake. In 1991 the freeway was replaced with the current combination of boulevard, streetcars, and light rail.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors banned highway construction north of Market Street in 1992 prohibiting reconstruction of the Central Freeway. After a decade of politics between San Francisco and Caltrans, the highway was finally redesigned as at-grade Octavia Boulevard in 2005.
Seoul, South Korea – 2003 Seoul achieved one of the most dramatic urban transformations of the century when mayor Lee Myung-bak led an effort to remove a thirty year old elevated highway and daylight the buried Cheonggyecheon river through the center of Seoul. The river and park opened in 2005 and have witnessed significant improvements in ecosystems while becoming an iconic park for the city. The park itself is punctuated with significant works of public art and has encouraged Seoul to continue to increase pedestrian and cycling access. Cheonggyecheon the won the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design. (link)
Milwaukee – 2003. Milwaukee, under the leadership of Mayor John Norquist, removed the spur Park East Freeway and replaced it with the West McKinley Avenue boulevard. Over 60 acres of land was opened for urban development. Since the demolition the corridor has attracted a soccer stadium, mixed-use development, and housing.
I’m in! What can I do to help?
Stay in touch by joining our mailing list.
If you or someone you know lived in the path of I-980 between 1960-1985 and would be willing to be interviewed for an ongoing project, please contact us.