Oaklavia Will Open the Streets of Oakland This Weekend

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Oakland will become the latest city to temporarily liberate city streets from car traffic this weekend with its first ciclovia event. Oaklavia will open the streets from Uptown through Downtown and West Oakland to cyclists, walkers, skaters and strollers, artists and performers. Kids on their first tricycle will wander across the lanes in safety, games of 4-square will be chalked out between lane markings, and diners will enjoy exhaust-free café seating.

San Francisco held its first two Sunday Streets in 2008 and other Bay Area cities have joined this year, including San Mateo County in April and San Jose's ViaVelo in May.

Oaklavia is a project of WalkOaklandBikeOakland (WOBO). Founded in 2006, and claiming fewer than 300 paid members (but more than 2000 followers on Facebook and Twitter), WOBO is like Oakland: scrappy and creative with a kids-lets-put-on-a-show spunkiness. 

"Those of us organizing Oaklavia have some very deep roots in Oakland and that Oakland outlook will make our event similar and different to San Francisco Sunday Streets," said Karen Hester, Oaklavia's coordinator. "We have emphasized our urban architecture and activities along the route, especially those that are associated with the creativity of artists and cultural workers in the East Bay."

Oaklavia organizers are also managing the event without breaking the bank.

"We're only spending $28,000 hard cash plus $15,000 on in-kind services to organize a very large and ambitious project," Hester said. "Because of bloated police costs and our modest budget, we could only do a street closure of less than 2 miles while San Francisco aims to make theirs at least 3 miles long." But, she adds, "in Oakland, we have done a lot with so little for so long, it's almost second nature."

Kassie Rohrbach, WOBO's Executive Director, believes that keeping it local is one of the most important aspects of Oaklavia. "We're bringing some Oakland flair to the event with local partners who will be doing activities on the day."

"For better or worse," Hester said, "the best and most progressive ideas in Oakland rarely seem to come from its political leaders but from the ground up. It wasn't the City or the Mayor's Office or the Cultural Arts program from any City in the East Bay who dreamed up the Art Murmur or now, Oaklavia. Instead it's the DIY culture of the East Bay, particularly Oakland, that makes these events edgy, relevant and so rewarding to pull off."

Oaklavia has the potential to move Oakland's city planning toward WOBO's vision of more livable streets. "We have teamed up with the East Bay Bicycle Coalition to actually demonstrate what "parklets" look like. Ours will afford cafe seating with a tattoo parlor, a fooz ball table, massage, and, of course, good and affordable food and drink to add to the enjoyment."

"It's really a shift in consciousness. [The business's] fear is that people come to their business by car," said Rohrbach. "There is going to be much more traffic in downtown Oakland than there ever is on a Sunday."

Ciclovia-style events are favorites among local officials, a sign of the maturity of the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy movement. Most of the members of the Oakland City Council have come out in support of Oaklavia. The Parks and Rec department did a door hanger to promote it. And members of BART and AC Transit's Boards of Directors will be on hand for the chalking of a temporary (and hopefully future) bike lane on Broadway.

The biggest controversy surrounding Oaklavia is the date: the same day as the San Francisco Pride Parade. Boxed in by holidays and a desire not to conflict with Sunday Streets, organizers were left with June 27. Rohrbach and Hester, both queer women, are quick to encourage people to attend Pride. Rohrbach hopes people will stop by Oaklavia on the way to experience "what it's like to have a closed street to ride on."

No Oakland event would be complete without a healthy dose of the city's famous artistic sensibilities. What Hester calls "iconic events" include "a Bicycle Bunny Hop (a kind of bike limbo in reverse), the innovative Scraper Bikes, unicycle basketball and live Latin bands," she said. "We'll also have the Crucible opening their Cathedral Gallery space and a sound and percussive installation. Kinetic Arts will perform and teach circus arts."

For many, the biggest attraction is not the entertainment, the classes or the local cuisine, but the chance to reclaim a bit of public space for human beings,

"I think it's going to bring pedestrians and bicyclists together in a way we don't often see in Oakland," said Hester. "We're all pedestrians and some of us are cyclists. Let's start there and have an event that shows the work we need to do on both sides."

Oaklavia is Sunday, June 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.