Gilman Street, I-80 interchange roundabouts receive Caltrans approval

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A traffic infrastructure renovation at the intersection of Gilman Street and Interstate 80 has moved closer to realization after Caltrans approved a proposed double-roundabout design to address chronic traffic problems and a high number of accidents and complaints.

The proposal includes two roundabouts, circular intersections in which incoming traffic yields to traffic traveling around the juncture. This design reduces fatal traffic accidents by as much as 90 percent, increases traffic flow — leading to reductions in emissions and fuel consumption — and promotes safer pedestrian access, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Eight entry points currently lead into the intersection, which is regulated only by stop signs. Backups at the two intersections, at the east and west access points for I-80, are among the problematic interchanges in Berkeley and lead to a slowing of freeway traffic.

The project will now proceed to an environmental-impact study in order to assess the consequences of the proposed construction. The impact study and the engineering and design work will cost approximately $3.5 million, and the construction costs are estimated at $9 million to $10 million.

Funding for the roundabouts is contingent on the passage of Measure BB, an Alameda County Transportation Commission sales tax. If the measure is passed by voters, the environmental review would be completed by 2017. Engineering and design work would then be finished by 2018, followed by groundbreaking in 2019.

Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay, says that this project will help close the gaps in bicycle-lane access and that funding for bike infrastructure is often only available as part of a larger initiative. The project will include bicycle pathways enabling cyclists to more easily transition between North Berkeley and the Bay Trail, a series of pathways that circumnavigates the Bay Area’s shoreline.

“Voter support for (Measure) BB is so important, because it’s going to fund improvements like this,” Campbell said. “These old interchanges that were built 40 to 50 years ago need to be upgraded to modern safety standards.”

As of June 2014, Caltrans has listed 21 existing roundabouts within the California State Highway System, with 35 in active development and 64 in the planning stage.

Beth Bush, a business manager for Hawkins Traffic Safety Supply, a business located in the vicinity, is skeptical about its effectiveness.

“I drive it every day, and I know how to maneuver it because that’s part of this issue — familiarity,” she said. “There is a sign that says, ‘No left after 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.,’ but folks still make the left turn.”

In a press release, the city of Berkeley expressed a desire for the new design to act as a “welcoming gateway” to the city in addition to providing improved access to the waterfront and nearby recreation areas.

Contact Isaac Smith at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @IsaacGSmith.

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  • Willliam Wallace

    Recipe for Disaster. What pack of fools ever approved a sick plan such as this. I will get off I 80 North or South one exit away from this garbage, which means I will not get off very often in North Berkeley-Albany and your businesses will suffer. F U, REI and the Japanese Market and screw all the restaurants on Gilman, the brewery (no loss)…..and others.

    I can get to substitutes easier anywhere else in the Bay Area.

  • Carmel IN, a suburb of Indianapolis, has built three double roundabouts that appear virtually identical to the one in this article. I drive them periodically and they work well enough. I prefer them to the alternative, which would be a signaled interchange. That said, a better solution would be one larger roundabout fed by a diamond ramp configuration that serves to clear both roads. I’ve driven those in Sweden and they’re fabulous.

    • Scott Batson

      Carmel (pronounces locally KAR-ml) is likely the city in the US with the most roundabouts per capita. Only one signal is likely to remain in another couple years, and only because it was the first in Indiana. The safety of the modern roundabout hinges on the low-speed operation. When you start increasing the diameters of the circular roadway, speeds can easily get above the 20-mph ideal.

      • Hi Scott, You’re correct that Carmel has a lot of roundabouts but they’re not going to get to one stoplight. I would bet there are still over 100 signaled intersections in town and the city has a bit of a debt problem. I doubt they’ll build out many more. The town of Speedway IN is putting in a huge roundabout on Crawfordsville Road/Main Street and 16th Street across from the entrance to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s a relatively high traffic area and it will be a 2 through lane configuration so it will be interesting to see how that works out. I hear what you’re saying about speed, but I’ve driven the Carmel double roundabout configuration and the Swedish configuration and the Swedish one was just more intuitive and easier to navigate…at least from my perspective. There’s a lot of turning involved in navigating the double roundabout and people who aren’t familiar with them struggle to get through. I’ve seen some crazy things…