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March 14, 1996

April 2 hearing set on Bigelow closing

A public hearing on the proposed 60-day test closing of Bigelow Boulevard has been set for April 2at 6:30 p.m. in the Frick International Studies Academy, across from The Book Center.

The purpose of the hearing will be to review legislation seeking the test closing of a one-block section of Bigelow between Fifth and Forbes that was submitted to City Council on March 5 by Mayor Tom Murphy.

Whether the legislation will be approved and, if so, when the test closing would take place, however, is impossible to say. City Council President Jim Ferlo has called the plan "ridiculous" and has vowed to fight it in every way possible, including a court challenge.

"This is nothing more than a land grab," Ferlo told the University Times. "The Syria Mosque site was worth $10 million to the University and the Bigelow Boulevard land mass is equal to, if not bigger than, the Syria Mosque site." According to Ferlo, even the temporary closing of Bigelow would be devastating to Oakland for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that 15,000 vehicles a day, including 93 buses, use the one-block stretch between Fifth and Forbes.

Ferlo said that all of those vehicles would have to be rerouted to "unsafe secondary streets" such as Bouquet Street, Bellefield Avenue, Craig Street and Dithridge Street. "That alone should make this an absolutely ridiculous proposal," he said.

Ferlo also believes that closing Bigelow will delay ambulances en route to emergency rooms at Children's Hospital and Presbyterian University Hospital.

In addition, he said the city will lose over 90 on-street parking spaces and about $100,000 annually in parking revenues from the parking meters that would be removed on Bigelow, Bellefield, Fifth and Bouquet.

In seeking the closure of Bigelow, Pitt for years has cited the safety of the thousands of students and other members of the University community who daily cross the street between the William Pitt Union and the Cathedral of Learning. Ferlo, however, disputes that fact. He said: "It is absolutely disingenuous for the University to say in any way that they are concerned about pedestrian safety." According to the Council member, if the University was sincere about pedestrian safety it would work with the city to make Bigelow safer by installing pedestrian crosswalks with traffic signals or constructing a pedestrian underpass.

"There are any number of things one could do, including the construction of a traffic island," Ferlo said. "I am not an engineer, but I know there are a number of ways to make Bigelow safer in terms of pedestrian flow.

"This is a land grab, that's all it is," he continued. "They [the University] have a naive and confused enough mayor that he is actually treating this with some level of seriousness." Mayor Murphy announced the test closing as part of a package of Oakland initiatives unveiled at a special meeting of the Oakland Task Force last month, but then decided to delay it when Ferlo and other Council members criticized the plan. (See Feb. 15 and Feb. 29 University Times.) City Planning Director Eloise Hirsh said the mayor originally thought he did not need Council's approval for the closing because it was only a test, similar to a street closing for a parade. The purpose of the test closing is to study the possible effects of a permanent closing. The closing had been scheduled to begin on March 3.

Representatives of several Oakland community groups, including the Oakland Planning and Development Corp., were on hand at the task force meeting in February when the plan was announced and voiced no opposition to the test closing.

Individuals who would like to speak at the April 2 public hearing on the closing of Bigelow can register by calling 255-2138.

–Mike Sajna

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