HAYWARD -- A year ago, workers converted three major streets into a one-way loop in the middle of the city that made it easier for commuters to cut through town but more difficult for merchants and downtown pedestrians and bicyclists.
"Commuters love it because they can get through downtown Hayward at a fast clip," said Councilman Mark Salinas.
That's one of the main problems; now that major streets are one way and five lanes across through most of the loop, motorists are driving faster than the downtown 25 mph limit.
And, the signals set to keep traffic flowing stay green for long stretches, leaving pedestrians stuck at crosswalks. Some jaywalk in front of the rapidly oncoming vehicles.
"Cars are zooming by; I'd say the average is 40 to 50 mph," said Allen Davidson, whose family has owned Eden Jewelers, at the corner of B Street and Mission Boulevard, for decades.
Fellow merchant Elie Goldstein agreed.
"I love the new sidewalks; I love the new street lamps. But do you do see anyone using those sidewalks? You spend $100 million to put a freeway through downtown and you think it's going to be pedestrian friendly?" said Goldstein, owner of Kraski's Nutrition on Foothill Boulevard.
"The loop is ... good for the people traveling through Hayward; it's terrible for the people in Hayward, the people who actually live ... and shop here." He lost easy shopper access to his store.
The loop is part of the Route 238 Corridor Improvement Project along six miles of streets from Interstate 580 at the city's north end down Foothill Boulevard, around downtown, and on Mission to Industrial Parkway.
The city's largest public works project was billed as a way to ease traffic through town for residents and the tens of thousands of commuters who cut through Hayward from I-580 to I-880, the San Mateo Bridge or Fremont.
City engineers acknowledge that speeders are a problem and are tweaking traffic signal timing to slow down speeders. During noncommute hours, drivers going more than 25 mph will hit the red lights, said Abhishek Parikh, city senior transportation engineer.
"It's not going to completely stop speeding, but it will be more frustrating to speeders," he said.
Police also have started ticketing speeders, in large part because of merchant complaints.
Another problem is merging traffic from Jackson Street and Mission onto northbound Foothill at the loop's south end. Some drivers have to dart across five lanes in one or two blocks to make turns; one merchant calls it Kamikaze Corner.
Engineers are looking at setting signals so that traffic from Jackson and Mission enters the D Street-Foothill intersection at different times, Parikh said.
"Our work is not done," said Morad Fakhrai, director of Public Works for transportation. "But we have improved traffic flow through downtown."
When the City Council approved the Route 238 project in 2007, Mayor Michael Sweeney was one of three who voted no. "We could see there would be problems for the businesses. The loop is designed to move people through the downtown area as opposed to make it easy for people to stop and shop," he said.
"It's been extremely hard on businesses downtown. ... We've also lost a lot of parking," Sweeney said.
The city has restored some parking, and slowing down the speeding will help, he said. "But all the suggestions you hear nibble at the edges; they don't address the fundamental issue. Projects like this, once they're done, are not easy to undo," he said.
During road construction, Cyclepath owner Ben Schweng complained at meetings that it's difficult for bicyclists on the loop, which has a bike path only on one block of Foothill.
"It continues to be very dangerous for bicycle commuters," he said Wednesday. He said he has seen significantly more bicycling on the sidewalks.
If the loop were designed today, it would look very different because of newer state requirements that roads accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and others, not just vehicles, he said.
The loop also has pushed traffic into nearby neighborhoods.
"The loop has made my life miserable. Since it started, I have nonstop traffic that makes it difficult for me to even get out of my drive during the commute," said Deborah Kingdon, who lives on Main Street. "But getting from Jackson to my house is way easier."
Not everyone is critical.
"I love the loop; it works great for me. I speed right along; I save so much time," Hayward resident Sheri Edwards told the council at its March 4 meeting.
Councilwoman Barbara Halliday, who voted for the loop, said she has been hearing fewer complaints as drivers learn to navigate through downtown, and a lot of people tell her the loop is working well.
"A lot of people hate it, and a lot of people like it," Sweeney said. "I think it depends on how you drive and where."
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473, or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.