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Laurel bike trail to improve roadways

The Mills-MacArthur Gateway Project received a grant from CalTrans to create a pedestrian and bike path that would run from Mills to the Laurel district, and would include beautification of the intersection just outside the main entrance to campus. In the coming weeks a city council member will be assigned to lead the project and an official timeline will be produced thereafter.

The path is just one portion of a larger project, intended to revive links between neighborhoods and communities split by I-580. The idea took shape when the chair of Oakland’s Blight and Beautification Neighborhood Action Team, Claire Antonetti, started the project about three and a half years ago. Antonetti, working with the Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council in conjunction with city officials, said she envisioned a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly link between communities and the Laurel District.

On Nov. 5 2005, Mills hosted Envisioning MacArthur, a forum by City Council member Jean Quan, to discuss the plans for such a project.

The project developed even more when Mills was included in the plans. Antonetti acknowledged the great support for the project at Mills.

“I’m delighted that we are all on the same page,” said Antonetti.

Mills students voiced their support for the project, especially Alysha Nachtigall, then senior. Vice Provost Andrew Workman said Nachtigall’s public policy senior thesis on the issue “played an important role in writing the grant.”

Nachtigall’s thesis was part of her internship with Jean Quan, and examined the best options for the ways to improve Mills’ access to the Laurel district and Millsmont.

“I looked at different aspects of the area,” said Nachtigall. “I looked at land use, geography, and different political boundaries that exist, because the area includes different city council districts.”

Nachtigall looked closely at details, including the various types of bicycle use, the classes of bike lanes, and “who in the area would be using these bike and pedestrian paths,” said Nachtigall.

“What got us the grant essentially was the policy analysis that Alysha did to sort of survey the project,” said Antonetti. “The city was very impressed with her work.”

Nachtigall also helped conduct the survey by The Blight and Beautification Neighborhood Action Team to get feedback from the community. They received around 600 responses, making it clear that people were in favor of the improvements, as well as the needs and concerns of the residents and community members about the project. With the support of these, and many others, CalTrans granted a total of $257,000 to the project, which was matched by Jean Quan in the amount of $64,000 for feasibility studies to come up with the initial design.

Mills students agree that they would travel off campus more often if there was a path to the Laurel District.

“I think it is a good idea,” said sophomore Seham Afaghani “It gives you a reason to go [to the Laurel District] because it’s easy.”

Antonetti confessed that she only took the walk underneath I-580 a couple of times, and she didn’t want to do it again. The point of the project would be to make the I-580 corridor more pedestrian and bike friendly.

“It’s important for people to be able to get out of their cars and walk safely,” she said.

The plans for the project include redesigning the exit-ramp off I-580 from San Francisco, an infamously dangerous section, beautification of on and off ramps owned by CalTrans by re-landscaping and re-irrigation, and a “planted meridian” down MacArthur.

Also included in the plans are bike paths and walking paths on Mills’ side, which do not currently exist, and a “pocket park” for visual relief in the I-580 corridor.

In response to the importance of this new project, Antonetti asked “Why wouldn’t we want [the community] more beautified?”