New Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “Time to Re-Envision Our Roads”

New Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf showed promise as an executive with a smart vision for her city’s streets at the annual kick-off party for Young Professionals in Transportation’s SF Bay chapter this week.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “Our roads were built to accommodate more cars than they need.” Photo: Cynthia Armour/Twitter

In an interview at the event with Sam Greenspan of the podcast 99% Invisible, Schaaf said “it’s time we re-envision how we use roads” and that “we need to create a physical environment that encourages active transportation.”

An Oakland native and former council member, Schaaf was endorsed by Transport Oakland, a group formed last year to advocate for safer streets and better options to get around the city.

Here are some highlights from Schaaf’s appearance this week:

  • “I think it’s time we re-envision how we use roads. It’s their public right-of-way. We’ve got a great story to tell at Lake Merritt… There used to be a freakin’ freeway on either end of the lake, and we removed multiple lanes of traffic, we put in a public plaza on one end, where there are free Salsa dance lessons — I mean, it is a party going on every weekend where there used to be roads… Nobody misses those lanes of traffic at all. Our roads were built to accommodate more cars than they need.”
  • Schaaf intends to hire Oakland’s first mayoral transportation advisor, whom she “plans to announce soon.”
  • When asked about how she sees Vision Zero, she said “twenty is plenty” (referring to the UK-based campaign for 20 mph speed limits), and noted two recent pedestrian fatalities within the past week. “I don’t think anybody supports traffic fatalities,” she said.
  • “Oakland is multi-modal… we need to create a physical environment that encourages active transportation. It’s good for our health, for our social interactions, for our humaneness.”
  • When asked about expanding Oakland’s bike network, Schaaf pointed to the city’s first protected bike lane going in on Telegraph Avenue this year. She also emphasized the need to re-pave the city’s roads since potholes “can be deadly” for people on bikes, and because the costs of road maintenance increase dramatically when neglected for too long.
  • Schaaf plans to campaign for a transportation bond measure in 2016 to add to Measure BB, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Alameda County voters in November that will raise $7.8 billion in transportation funding over 30 years.
  • On the proposals for streetcars on Broadway and San Pablo Avenue, and the contrast with bus rapid transit improvements, she said “that’s going to be a big hot debate — one (bus transit) is more of a transportation solution, and the other is more of an economic development solution.”
  • “The issue about bus vs. rail is part of the gentrification and equity conversation… it’s incredibly important to educate our elected officials not to always just look at the shiny, pretty thing, because buses are what we need to actually get people to their jobs.” (No comment specifically on the Oakland Airport Connector, though it sounds like her take could apply to that project.)
  • Schaaf noted the blight caused by freeway underpasses, and suggested turning them into a “tunnel of wow” possibly with decorative features, shops, and amenities to make them feel safer and more attractive. “What about those freeways?” she asked, stopping short of mentioning freeway removal.
  • On the proposed second Transbay BART tube through Alameda and Mission Bay: “It will not be cheap… I think it will really reduce congestion. I hella love Oakland, but we do need to think regionally, and it would make a lot of sense for the region.”
  • Jeffrey Baker

    Schaaf was the only candidate with a livable streets policy paper. That’s why I voted for her. Some of the other candidates were actually running on platforms of getting rid of parking meters and such types of things. One shudders to consider the possibilities.

    Bicyclists did not suffer too much from the very last days of Jean Quan. We got a nifty bike lane on Broadway now, and they finally managed to repave Chabot, a major route for bikes between the hills and North Oakland. Things are looking better for bikes in Oakland these days.

  • voltairesmistress

    Schaffer sounds awesome. I can’t wait to be done with Mayor Lee. Just hope we San Franciscans get a mayoral candidate with some wit and vision next go round.

  • Prinzrob

    Great article, thanks for reporting on this! Correct me if I’m wrong, but a proposed bond measure in 2016 would not actually add to Measure BB funds, just allow the city to borrow against future anticipated Measure BB tax revenue and start building things sooner and pay them off later.

    One thing I would like to hear Schaff address more is how the city plans to add more public works staff, which is the main bottleneck keeping things from getting done in Oakland. I’ve heard that the new city budget making the rounds is pretty bleak with regards to transportation.

  • Prinzrob

    Quan was also the first Oakland mayor to ride on Bike to Work Day, worked hard to secure the Oakland bike share roll out in 2016, helped upgrade the city’s bike/ped committee to a commission with more clout, supported open streets events and Pedalfest in Jack London Square, and much more. I think she will always be remembered for the response to Occupy Oakland, but hopefully there will also be a footnote about her being the city’s first bike-friendly mayor.

  • omaryak

    Instead of a 20 mph speed limit how about timing traffic lights for 25? I think the problem is that people go faster than the posted speed limit. Timed lights would be a huge incentive to follow it. Right now driving in Oakland is a huge pain because almost every light is red. Some streets could prioritize bike traffic using the “green wave” … I don’t know if Oakland’s traffic engineers have heard of traffic signal timing lol (it would make cars burn less fuel too)

  • Prinzrob

    Green waves on bike routes is a great idea, but I’ve been told that most of the traffic signals in Downtown Oakland are so old that they lack the ability to be synchronized like that. Upgrading all of these signals should be a big priority for the city, but is also a hugely expensive undertaking.

  • Apparently she did mention freeway removal a couple days ago at a different forum https://twitter.com/BayAreaCouncil/status/560851517452738560

  • DrunkEngineer

    Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris was the first Mayor to ride in Bike-to-Work Day.

  • Prinzrob

    True, Harris should get credit for riding on the first Bike to Work Day in the early 90s. Let’s call Quan the first repeat-rider, then (and the first person anywhere in Oakland to commute on BTWD on a bike share bike, per the photo op last year!).

  • Jeffrey Baker

    That was an adequate stunt, but when is the bike share actually coming to Oakland?

  • Prinzrob

    Staff and $ are in place, planning is starting now. Best guess I have heard so far is “summer 2016”.

  • thielges

    I’ve never understood the assertion that we can’t treat old signals new tricks. 95% of the cost of a traffic signal is the light itself and the structural post and cables. The electronic brain that controls the light is inexpensive. The box protecting the brain is worth a lot more.

  • J

    Exciting stuff! The future looks very bright for Oakland transportation.

    One point of contention: Mayor Schaaf says “one (bus transit) is more of a transportation solution, and the other is more of an economic development solution.”
    I think this is a false choice. Effective transportation investments (such as BRT) can be excellent economic development tools too, but the City must do the requisite legwork to support development in order for it to actually happen. If a BRT project coincides with rezonings, tax incentives, sewer/infrastructure upgrades, and public marketing of development along the corridor, and if the corridor is well-positioned for investment (i.e. the local economy is growing), then it will likely spur investment. Indeed, recent research showed that these things mattered more than the type of project:

    http://www.masstransitmag.com/document/11176085/more-development-for-your-transit-dollar-an-analysis-of-21-north-american-transit-corridors

  • David D.

    In the context of the interview as a whole, my impression was that she was differentiating between transportation projects that do and don’t have an economic component to it. That is, something like BRT makes sense now, but something like a streetcar is part of a bigger package and has to be considered carefully–not just as a transportation project but also as an economic development project.

  • Roger215

    In any case, there’s probably going to be a sea change in tiger grant funding after the recent streetcar bust, so BRT is probably going to be more likely.

  • Roger215

    Inexpensive in a “parts + labor” sense, or in a “bought through a public tendering process” sense? :p

  • spijim

    It’s amazing how much hay can be made over one recycled story . . . that says little about the mode and a lot about the economy it was built in.

  • joechoj

    “…Broadway and San Pablo…”
    That’s a mistake, right? I’ve only heard of plans for JLS/Broadway/40th, and the EBOTS plans. None of those mention San Pablo. Am I missing something?

  • Eric Fischer

    The main reason Oakland can’t have well-synchronized lights is the irregular block lengths from its patchwork of unrelated grids. You can sort of make it work on one-way streets, if you don’t care about the cross streets, but you’re still out of luck on two-way streets like Broadway and Telegraph.

    If you want 25 MPH progression on a two-way street with 30-second phases, the lights have to be spaced exactly 1100 feet apart, and Oakland’s block lengths just don’t support it. (It’s even worse with 45-second phases, as are more common now because of turn arrows and the 3.5ft/sec requirement for pedestrian crossing speeds, which require 1650-foot spacing between signals instead.)