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August 20, 2008 > City of Fremont - General Plan Update - Envision Fremont Boulevard

City of Fremont - General Plan Update - Envision Fremont Boulevard

By Simon Wong

The City of Fremont's recent General Plan Update meeting, "Envision Fremont Boulevard," was the second in a series of workshops to explore ideas for reducing traffic congestion and developing and improving one of the City's main vehicular thoroughfares. City Planners and architectural consultants of Field Paoli, invited public comment and design ideas developed at a May 2008 workshop.

Few people walk or drive the entire length of Fremont Blvd; most use sections to travel through sections of the City. The challenge of this exercise was to discover transportation options that address the future needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Public comments focused on economic vitality, promoting a pedestrian-friendly environment and balance between all forms of circulation.

Fremont Blvd, over eight miles long, was divided into four sections as distinct areas: Auto Mall (industrial segment from Auto Mall Parkway south), a "southern gateway," Central (Stevenson to Walnut), Centerville (Thornton to Central) and Decoto (from Decoto north) a "northern gateway."

A variety of techniques to affect traffic flow were discussed including changes to road width, lane configurations, inclusion of bicycle lanes, parallel and diagonal parking and medians. Narrow roads and lanes tend to calm or slow traffic. Frontage roads can be an effective means to access residential areas.

New residential, commercial and mixed-use buildings can increase density. Similarly, lower parking ratios can be achieved through shared surface parking and parking structures.

Buildings that face and interact with the street create "frontage." The proportional relationship between building height and street width can either contain or expand streets. Striking architecture draws attention to particular locations while the preservation and inclusion of landmarks and historical buildings lends character to streetscapes.

Store fronts are points of interest that enhance the experience for pedestrians. Projections such as awnings and attractive signage reach out to passers-by. Outdoor cafˇ seating in extension zones enliven an area. Pedestrians can be enticed by seating opportunities and public art that can double as a seat in pleasant locations.

Landscaping is not only attractive but can serve as a protective barrier between sidewalks and roads. Well-designed bicycle racks delineate the sidewalk from the street. Signs and graphics have a practical application but are also part of the streetscape and, if designed well, can unify an area. Pocket parks and linear parks with pedestrian pathways are spaces for people to walk and relax.

Public art can make a walkway more interesting; smaller pieces inviting close inspection. Blank walls transformed by murals and mundane things, such as utility boxes, may become canvases. One idea is to use the City's flower, Fremontia, as a unifying symbol of civic pride.

Visually appealing street medians and crosswalk signals can be used to enhance pedestrian safety. Paving materials and colors reduce pedestrian vulnerability. The creation of new intersections with crosswalks makes an area more pedestrian-oriented.

More ambitious, longer-term ideas were noted. A public transit line in the Auto Mall segment could connect with the proposed BART Station at Warm Springs. A grade separation at the train station for pedestrians and the feasibility of a trolley line in the Centerville section are others. Exposure of Crandall Creek on the north side of Fremont Blvd, currently underground, might create a facility for the Decoto section.

The concept of a bus shuttle loop was raised at the May 2008 workshop. Segments could take the form of bus, trolley or light rail. Field Paoli presented a hypothetical route from Paseo Padre Parkway in the north to NUMMI in the south, or beyond, with links to Fremont BART and Pacific Commons. A shuttle should complement existing AC Transit services.

Public response to Envision Fremont Boulevard was excellent. Members praised, criticized, cautioned against some ideas that were presented and proffered new suggestions. There was, however a sense of immediacy and urgency from some concerned community members who commented, "Although a narrower Fremont Blvd with heavy landscaping might slow traffic, displaced traffic would increase congestion on Paseo Padre or Blacow" and "What is the rationale for widening the road to three lanes in each direction since two lanes in both directions currently permits good traffic flow?"

Envision Fremont Boulevard was designed as an exercise to explore possibilities rather than proposals of definite plans. Questions still remain: What is the right balance - more pedestrian access, fewer vehicles, improved bicycle facilities, other forms of transit, higher or lower densities, zoning of buildings? Moreover, should Fremont Blvd be regarded as a single entity or allowed to evolve naturally? Can congestion be relieved in other ways?

"This is a visioning exercise to give the City Planners and Field Paoli an idea and sense of what the citizens want to see over the next twenty to thirty years. We're not here to say that this is what we want or need at this particular part of Fremont Blvd. The idea is more 'what are the themes, attributes and amenities that we might like to see along Fremont Blvd, in various places?' Do we want to introduce everything that we have seen here tonight? Of course not. There is a lot of discussion about how Fremont should be as a "mature" city. It is the fourth biggest city in the Bay Area. Higher density? Lower density? More cars? Fewer cars? Motorbikes? More bicycles? There is a lot of discussion about what we would like Fremont to be. The City is wealthy and ethnically diverse. If we can get together and put forward a vision of what we would like Fremont to be like in twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, eventually the developers will see that this is a great place to build, that there is money to be made here and that it is a great place to which to locate. We just need to think very seriously about our aspirations in a visionary way and what we want them to be," summarized a community member.

Field Paoli Architects will take the feedback and develop a summary Report. A preview of the Report will be presented to the City of Fremont Planning Commission on September 11, 2008. The Report will be presented to the City Council on September 16, 2008.

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