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Name:Michael Patrick
Location:San Jose, California, United States

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Monday, August 2


Blasting a Hole in Downtown Hayward

First came plans to build a freeway along Downtown Hayward's eastern edge toward Fremont. Then the plan was abbreviated to end somewhere around CSU Hayward. Then the idea was more or less ditched in favor of a 238-185-92 grade separation and widening of Foothill and Mission Boulevards. Then the part of that idea involving the widening of Mission was removed.

What's left is a proposal to tear down the eastern half of Foothill Boulevard's "Main Street"-type commercial strip to make room for a very wide road. For a while I thought that this would be worse than the freeway.

It could, however, be not too bad. Hayward's downtown is not centered on Foothill Boulevard, so the widening project would not quite be a direct blow on the neighborhood's economy and quality. The newly shrunken lots on the eastern edge of the street can be rebuilt, and the downtown can recover.

Now for pessimism. Can we be guaranteed the replacement buildings on the eastern sidewalk will be any good? They will abut a wide, fumey roadway full of non-Hayward traffic and sit beyond shouting distance from the western sidewalk. The local businesses formerly occupying these lots will likely have found new homes; will the new businesses represent Downtown Hayward's character as well as the old ones? Certainly not if they follow the big-parking-lot model demonstrated by the Albertson's down A Street, right next to the BART village. And certainly not if local business is so wary of moving into this redeveloped strip that only chains will take the risk. (No offense to chain stores in general, but would the historical--and therefore cultural--center of Hayward best represent the city with local businesses or chains?)

And why should the downtown have to recover from anything? Responding to the initial widening proposal (which included Mission), a community member characterized this project's intent as reducing Tracy residents' commutes by a mere few minutes. Traffic congestion is a regional problem, but (nonmonetarily speaking) Hayward alone would pay for the solution with a substantial chunk of its downtown.

With good planning, this whole situation can turn out to be in the neighborhood's best interest. But, as no one can guarantee the result will be at least as good as before, is this widening project really worth the city officials' approval?