Oakland’s New Parking Protected Bike Lanes Are Challenging to Some

There is a lot going on in the street. Bicyclists now have a safe place to ride without having to mix with car traffic. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
There is a lot going on along Telegraph Avenue, and now bicyclists have a safe place to ride without having to mix with car traffic. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

With a road diet, new parking configuration, and protected bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue, Oakland is saying to its car drivers: slow down, take it easy. And to its bike riders: you’re welcome here and safe.

Not everyone is listening. The new parking-protected bike lanes have been in place for a week. In that time, it’s been easy to find cars parked in them, driving in them, and blocking bus and loading zones. It will take some time for people to get used to how the new street works, but it’s important to note that bad behavior is old hat on Telegraph Avenue.

Until a week ago, Telegraph had two travel lanes in each direction, plus parking at the curb, with some yellow-painted loading zones and red no-parking zones near crosswalks and at bus stops. During several afternoons of observing travel behavior prior to the changes, I saw a lot of illegal and dangerous maneuvers. At times the right-side travel lane was no more than a defacto double parking lane. Drivers would pull over, get out of their cars, and go into nearby businesses, spending five minutes or more inside. Other drivers, seeing those cars stopped, would pull up behind or in front of them and stop.

Buses still pull up to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
Buses still pull up to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Yellow zones were frequently blocked by parked cars, and delivery vehicles double-parked. Meanwhile traffic, including bikes, buses, trucks, and cars, did not slow down, but flowed around obstacles by using the middle lanes. There were no turn lanes, so anyone turning left blocked the through-traffic if it couldn’t go around on the right.

Meanwhile pedestrians had to cross four lanes of moving traffic at intersections with simple crosswalks but no traffic lights. It was a long way, and drivers frequently did not stop. Crossers had to wait until traffic in both directions was clear, and there was no place to pause in the middle of the road.

In other words, it was a busy, chaotic scene that flowed because it had a rhythm to it, but involved a fair amount of bad behavior and danger. It sort of worked for through-traffic because people found a way around obstacles, but it put everyone, especially pedestrians and bicyclists, at risk.

As of last week, with the changes almost complete, there is only one lane of through-traffic in each direction. There’s also a painted median with turn lanes at many—though not all—of the cross streets, so left-turning cars can get out of the way of moving traffic. Cars no longer park at the curb—that is, they are no longer supposed to park at the curb. Instead a bike lane lines the curb, with a three-foot painted buffer to its left. Cars park left of that buffer, leaving a wide space for bikes to travel without having to mix with fast car traffic.

Unfortunately it is very easy to get pictures of cars parked in the new bike lanes. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
Unfortunately it is very easy to get pictures of cars parked in the new bike lanes. Photo: Melanie Curry/ Streetsblog

The single travel lane now accommodates buses, cars, trucks, and people lining up to parallel park. It’s much harder to double park if you’re blocking the only travel lane, so drivers are trying all kinds of maneuvers, including blocking the bike lane and even driving in it, between the parked cars and the curb.

Traffic is slower, because cars have to wait for drivers to parallel park. They are also stopping for crossing pedestrians and slowing down for people getting out of cars.

But people are still driving too fast, and that means honking and unsafe maneuvers–like passing over the double line to zoom past cars stopped for pedestrians or other cars.

People have plenty to say about the new lanes, although one local business owner cautioned me, “It’s too early to give any opinions. I have some immediate concerns; there are loading zone issues, and some pedestrian hazards. But it will take time for people to adjust. We’ll have to see.”

Others weren’t shy at all about giving their opinions. A woman leaned out the passenger window of a passing van and offered, “This is some BOW-shit,” indicating the parked cars next to her.

But another woman walking past as I was unlocking my bike paused to say, “I love, love, LOVE these new lanes! This traffic starvation is WONderful.”

Clearly opinions are all over the map. “It’s a lot less safe,” one local pharmacy employee told me. “Traffic is so slow now; it used to just flow fast through here all day,” she said, as if that were a good thing. She also said that she only sees “maybe five bikes a day” using the new bike lanes, although that may be because she’s not outside looking for them (I saw many bikes traveling in both directions every time I was there recently).

People need time to adapt and learn. Parking-protected bike lanes are rare and clearly many people are having trouble understanding them. One van driver pulled into the bike lane and drove along it. When I asked her if she needed help, she and all her passengers talked to me at once, showing me a slip of paper with the address of a shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, a good five miles away. 

Maybe she was too caught up in finding the nonexistent shop to notice that she was in a bike lane. Maybe the line of parked cars to her left was such an anomaly that it didn’t register.

Certainly the line of parked cars has others confused. One passerby poked his head into the Telegraph Quality Market and asked, “What going on? Is this a funeral?”

Park to the left, bike to the right. These signs are only temporary, but maybe the city should consider making them permanent. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
Park to the left, bike to the right. The signs are only temporary, but maybe the city should consider making them permanent. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

The city has put out some temporary signs to help people, with arrows pointing left to indicate “park” and right for “bike.” For the most part, though, people seem to understand what’s happening. Bike East Bay has been handing out fliers thanking people for parking correctly, and reminding others how to do it right. Many people I talked to seemed to understand how it was supposed to work.

“This is really a sign that Oakland is growing up,” one man sitting in his (correctly) parked car told me. “This makes Oakland important.”

But others are having a harder time adjusting. Double parking is now pretty much impossible, so it is no longer an option for quick pickups or deliveries. People are worried about getting out of their cars right next to a lane of moving traffic. “I saw one lady almost get hit by a bus” as she got out the driver’s side door, one neighbor told me.

Local merchants are concerned. They see drivers’ confusion and worry it could translate into less business. For the most part, they expressed cautious support for the new bike lanes, but they’re worried about the transition.

“I love the idea,” said Izzy Ahmed, who owns Burrito Express in the heart of the new section. “But I don’t think they thought it all the way through.” He thinks it’s harder now to cross the street, because with cars parked away from the curb, pedestrians have to step out farther before they can see oncoming traffic. As we spoke, we were standing at a newly striped zebra crossing where two cars were parked illegally close to the crosswalk, blocking sightlines.

It can still be harrowing to cross the street, but at least there's only one lane of traffic to deal with at a time. The camera lens makes it look like this guy is crossing against the light, but he's not; he's crossing at an intersection that doesn't have a light. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
It can still be harrowing to cross the street, but at least there’s only one lane of traffic to deal with at a time. The camera lens makes it look like this guy is crossing against the light, but he’s not; he’s crossing at an intersection that doesn’t have a light. Photo: Melanie Curry/ Streetsblog

From my observations, people crossing the street now can divide up the crossing into pieces, whereas before they had to cross four lanes of moving traffic at once. Now, they first cross the bike lane; then they can pause in a space the width of a car to look for traffic coming from the left; then they cross one lane of traffic to a painted median or left-turn lane; then a second lane of traffic coming from the right, with a pause in another parked-car zone; and finally across the bike lane, this time with bikes coming from the right.

Izzy and his brother, Ahmin, also think it is harder for cars to pull out from side streets. “They can’t see cars coming,” said Ahmin. Izzy pointed to a car that was pulling out to turn right onto Telegraph. The original stop line was well back from the curb, in line with the buildings, so even with the old configuration a driver could not have seen very far down the street. Here, though, the driver had to pull out past the crosswalk and into the bike lane to crane around to see whether there were cars coming towards him.

“See that? They can’t see around the cars. I’ve seen so many near-accidents because people can’t see what’s coming,” he said.

But a while later, a bike rider named Molly pointed out almost the exact same situation, and she interpreted it very differently. “See that car?” she said, pointing to another one that was slowly creeping out from a side street. “The driver is forced to look in both directions before he can pull out. They never did that before! It’s so much safer this way.”

Tom O’Shaugnessy, who owns Econo Jam Records, says he is excited about the new bike lanes and thinks that they are much safer for bike riders. He also says it is easier for people to cross the street, though he acknowledges that change is hard. “It will take a little time,” he said.

Kristine Shaff, with Oakland’s Public Works Department, says it’s everyone’s responsibility to make the new lanes work. “We all need to share the road, we all need to pay attention,” she said. “We have walkers who don’t even look where they’re going, we have bikers who zip around people, we have car drivers who are in a mad rush to nowhere. But the traffic markings are there for a reason, and we are to obey them.”

The road diet and bike lanes are the result of an attempt to balance travel needs among all the road users, not just people in cars but also on bikes, on foot, and in buses.

“This will shift the balance in our travel behavior, and include more types of travel,” Shaff said. “We have to remember that freeways and arterials in Oakland were built to get people across and through town, not for them to spend any time in downtown. Now there’s a different purpose for our roads: to get them TO destinations, which is so great for our businesses.”

“If everyone can get in the groove, we’ll be all better off,” she said. “Many of us choose to live here, in an urban environment that’s growing and changing, and that means changing with it.”

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The only dangerous conflict I’ve noted since these got painted is that a lot of people want to turn into the popular Korean grocer, these people have to turn across the bike lane, the parking lot is always full, and the drivers don’t want to spring for the meter price I guess, because there’s usually plenty of empty spaces on the street. I’ve already had a couple of people cut me off and then stop cold with their cars across the bike lane.

  • Prinzrob

    “As of last week, with the changes now complete, there is only one lane of through-traffic in each direction.”

    Thanks for the continued coverage of the Telegraph Ave project, but please note that the installation work was not completed last week, and is in fact still ongoing throughout this and possibly next week, with more paint going down at this very moment, parking delineators being installed, meters and bus stops being moved, etc.

    I personally have experienced very few issues with the facility, biking through this corridor multiple times every day. In fact, it’s the most relaxed biking I’ve ever experienced on Telegraph. I also see drivers speeding less and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks significantly more than before.

    I think it is important to wait for the whole thing to actually be completed, and give people some time to adjust, before trying to determine what is and isn’t working. However, there is already a lot that seems to be working as planned already, despite the complaints and confusion.

  • Josh Handel

    I second this. The curb cuts on Telegraph there should simply be removed – there’s a curb cut on 24th that can be used as an “Enter Only,” and one on Valley that can be used as “Exit Only.”

  • RichLL

    I am not sure the city has any jurisdiction to mandate one-way routes on private property. And DPT cannot ticket vehicles on private land. Removing any vehicular access to a property would probably require financial compensation to the property or business owner.

    This is probably the best design for a bike lane, because it keeps cars and bikes out of each other’s way. However in this case the bike lane might be a little too wide if cars can travel along it.

    There are two cases where this design is less successful. The first is where every property on a street has a driveway or garage. In that case there will be very little street parking to “protect” the bike lane, but much cross-traffic.

    The second is where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. In that case people will spill over from the sidewalk, not to mention the usual problems with shopping carts, skateboards strolelrs and wheelchaits using the bike lane

  • Melanie Curry

    Argh! Didn’t mean to say it was all completed, thanks. Looking forward to watching people adjust to these changes.

  • the_greasybear

    I very much look forward to riding the new lanes. And, as is always the case when I feel safe riding my bike, I’m almost certain to discover a new business I want to check out.

  • Prinzrob

    The previous commenters weren’t suggesting cutting off car access to the parking lot. They were simply suggesting that the driveways off of Telegeaph be closed, and for the existing, alternate driveways off the side streets be used exclusively to access the lot instead. This would simplify the situation greatly, and increase the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers by removing redundant conflict points and turning movements.

  • RichLL

    Yes, I understood his proposal. However any attempt to reduce access to private property from a street is a form of “taking”, even if alternatives exist. So I suspect it’s not just a simple matter of deciding it and doing it.

    Take the gas station on Divisadero at Fell, for example. Cyclists have been asking for years to remove the vehicle access from Fell and have all vehicle access from Divis, for the safety reasons that you gave.

    And yet it never happened, presumably because the city cannot unilaterally restrict access or renege on curb cuts and driveways without compensation to the property owner and/or business. So instead the city made lane changes to Fell in that immediate area, which it does control.

  • Or an optometrist voiced a differing opinion.

  • Nicholas Littlejohn

    I’m confused. Should we drive in the bike lanes?

  • Nicholas Littlejohn

    We can add a sign in Korean 🙂

  • Bill Sellin

    So why are you still calling these protected bikeways “bike lanes”? Class II bike lanes have certain rules and uses; vehicles share them to turn & park in them, cyclists can merge in & out of them with adjacent travel lanes… and they are mandatory use under some circumstances. These are Class IV bikeways – not bike lanes and are not mandatory use and are not shared with vehicles (if designed well enough)

  • John

    LOL at insisting on technical terms in everyday speech.

    Do you also complain that all food is ‘organic’?

    Or that you can’t properly measure ‘work’ in hours?

    Or when people use the word ‘ego’ in a non-Freudian manner?

    These are lanes. They are for bikes. Ergo they are ‘bike lanes’

  • I’ve been using the lane 6 times/week, for the last three months. After being cut in front three times by vehicles making a right turn, with neither me or the driver having much of a chance to see each other because of the wall of SUVs parked between us, I decided I am going to die in a different way and commute on Broadway. I think the Telegraph bike lane is a very expensive Russian roulette, or a way to eliminate cyclists.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Eyes on the Street: Telegraph Avenue Gets Green Paint

|
Telegraph Avenue in Oakland is finally getting its long-awaited separated bike lanes. Crews were out adding the first touches of green paint. In the next week or so, they will continue painting the section of Telegraph between 21st and 27th, Oakland’s first experiment with parking-separated bike lanes. Bike East Bay will have ambassadors on the […]

Oakland Unnecessarily Pits Safe Bicycling vs. Transit on Telegraph Avenue

|
At two workshops last week in Oakland, attendees overwhelmingly called for a bolder plan to make Telegraph Avenue safer and include protected bike lanes. Oakland planners ditched their original proposals for parking-protected bike lanes, instead proposing buffered, unprotected bike lanes on most of the street. In Temescal, the street’s most dangerous and motor traffic-heavy section, planners insist […]