ConnectOrinda Projects Come into Focus

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(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
This view of San Pablo Creek behind 23 Orinda Way could one day transform to a more pristine view from an outdoor restaurant if Project #19 is implemented.

    Orinda’s goal to identify streetscape and transportation projects that beautify and improve travel through the downtown is expected to come a step closer to fruition at the March 5 City Council meeting.
    Scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Library Auditorium, the meeting will include a presentation by city staff and Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants on projects that received the most favorable responses from the community. Those responses came from ConnectOrinda’s second event on Jan. 29 when more than 100 people filled the Library Auditorium and the Founders Auditorium, as well as from online surveys.
    Attendees at the January event perused 19 potential projects: seven in the Theatre Square/Crossroads; seven in the area around BART; and five on the Village side of Orinda. The projects were a result of survey comments and staff/consultant input following the launch of ConnectOrinda in October, which built upon two broader planning processes that took place in 2017 with the Urban Land Institute and National Main Street Institute.
    According to City of Orinda Associate Planner Adam Foster, the effort solely involves streetscape and transportation; it is not a land use plan, does not address zoning and will not affect the General Plan.
    “We’re primarily focused on projects that are in the right of way; property that the city already has control over,” says Foster. “We have an emphasis on beautification projects and circulation projects that will make it easier for people to walk and drive and use other means of transportation.”
    Foster notes that some projects are small and doable in a short time while others require more planning and coordination with other entities, such as BART and Caltrans.
    A major goal of ConnectOrinda involves gaining community consensus on the projects ultimately selected. To that end, the city designed a web-based application that allows the public to see projects and respond online at http://www.cityoforinda.org/ConnectOrinda. Online responses, which continued until Feb. 15, were added to those received at the January meeting.
    “The ConnectOrinda event is a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together and communicate a vision for downtown improvements,” says resident Sue Severson. “I’m still learning about all the projects, so I haven’t chosen a favorite yet. One project that peaks my interest, though, is creating a pedestrian/bicycle connection between the Village and Crossroads areas.”
    A number of pedestrian/bicycle paths are proposed with one involving a direct street-level path (Project #12) connecting BART to the Village that would require either signalizing the westbound Hwy 24 on/off ramps or eliminating them. Another version of the pathway (Project #9) would eliminate the descent to street level that occurs before going up again to the overpass as pedestrians head from BART to the Village side of Orinda.
    “The idea is to elevate the pathway, so you don’t dip down and then rise up again – to make it more of a gradual slope that is inviting to people of all ages,” Foster says. “You could do a big concrete walkway or more of a floating, raised sidewalk that looks more like a bridge and would reduce costs and be more visually pleasing.”
    Several online comments, however, listed traffic noise as a major deterrent to any of the proposed paths.
    Project #19, which looks at opening access to San Pablo Creek on the Village side, received the most favorable comments. Potential locations to allow creek access include Santa Maria Road adjacent to the Chevron station, the parking lot behind 23 Orinda Way and behind the Village Shopping Center. While some comments listed traffic noise from Camino Pablo as a factor, most felt creating creek access was long overdue.
    “Opening up the creek on the Village side with access to Orinda Way and the possibility of restaurants with decks overlooking it is my favorite project,” says Realtor Holly Hinkle, who said she appreciated having posters of each project on view and the opportunity to make comments following the January presentation.
    While very impressed with the presentation and the amount of good ideas, architect Rick Kattenberg notes that all the proposed projects need to be vetted. He questions the advisability of closing part of Vashell Way (small alley between LaPiazza and Coldwell Banker) near Moraga Way (Project #4). “This is the main access for Casa Orinda restaurant’s suppliers, and while it would be nice to have outdoor dining and other events in the alley, it would be difficult for the restaurant and also for the people who live in apartments close to that end,” he says.
    Another local architect, James Phillip Wright, who upgraded and remodeled a 19th Century building at 209 Moraga Way (known as the Yellow House) into a monument to energy conservation, was also impressed with the ConnectOrinda presentation. The lack of traffic mitigation proposals, however, worried him, he said.
    “No one is addressing any mitigation of traffic nor the inaccessibility and congestion of BART,” Wright says. “I’ve learned a lot from studying Orinda’s historical photographs that show traffic patterns before the freeway. From those, I’ve devised a traffic bypass that would move the BART and freeway traffic off of Camino Pablo and direct it to a high-rise parking structure in BART’s current east parking lot or onto revised freeway ramps.”
    Wright’s plan also calls for traffic circles rather than signals and a pedestrian/bicycle connection from Moraga Way to Orinda Way. He plans to make a presentation to various local leaders.
    Following council and community input at the March 5 meeting, the consultant team will do more feasibility studies and, together with city staff, present detailed proposed projects that work well together at a May “ConnectOrinda Celebration.”
    To facilitate the implementation of approved projects, city staff already has entered into discussions with BART and Caltrans, and researched grant options for different projects.
    “BART is looking into projects within a half-mile of their stations that assist people walking and biking to BART while Caltrans is in the process of developing a pedestrian master plan which covers the Bay Area that could work in Orinda’s favor should it decide to pursue options that make it easier to get to BART,” says Foste
    For a complete listing of proposed projects, go to www.cityoforinda.org/ConnectOrinda. For questions, contact City of Orinda’s Associate Planner Adam Foster at 925-726-1749 or via email at afoster@cityoforinda.org.

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