‘Shops at the Ridge’ Create Suburban Dystopia at 51st and Broadway

51st and Broadway area in north Oakland, including the Shops at the Ridge on the northeast corner. Source: Google Streetview
51st and Broadway area in north Oakland, including the Shops at the Ridge on the northeast corner. Source: Google Streetview

The intersection of 51st/Pleasant Valley and Broadway in north Oakland lies at the confluence of three of Oakland’s most walkable and bikeable districts – Temescal, Rockridge, and Piedmont Avenue – adjacent to Oakland Technical High School, California College of the Arts, and several senior housing complexes. Yet, it has always been a barrier to connecting these districts and destinations. Recent construction at three of the four corners of the intersection presented a unique opportunity to create a safer and more inviting area while filling the void left by a previous generation of auto-oriented strip malls. The Shops at the Ridge, a 300,000 square foot, 1,000 parking space development which redeveloped the Safeway/Longs Drugs complex on the northeastern corner, could have been the centerpiece of this revitalization. However, due to a lack of vision coupled with mismanaged implementation, the 51st and Broadway area has become even more of a mess today than it was before.

Shops at the Ridge site plan. Source: City of Oakland
Shops at the Ridge site plan. Source: City of Oakland

The Shops at the Ridge has brought a series of design missteps to the 51st and Broadway area that have exacerbated already challenging walking and biking conditions. The developer (TRC) and the City’s design review staff has ignored best practices and its own required mitigations to produce some truly unfortunate outcomes:
1. Inaccessible Pedestrian Crossing: At the project’s main entrance at Pleasant Valley and Gilbert, a traffic signal pole obstructs crosswalk access adjacent to a senior housing complex. Pedestrians must push a poorly located beg button and walk into oncoming traffic to cross the street – an especially dangerous situation for walker and wheelchair users or visually-impaired pedestrians.

Source: Chris Kinter via Twitter and Google Streetview; annotations by GJEL staff
Source: Chris Kinter via Twitter and Google Streetview; annotations by GJEL staff

2. Omission of Planned Bicycle Path: During the environmental review process, commenters raised concerns that the project would adversely affect bicycle conditions by failing to accommodate bicyclists traveling through the site (many bicyclists ride through the area to avoid the traffic volumes and grade change at the intersection of Broadway and 51st/Pleasant Valley). Master Response 7 of the FEIR provides an updated site plan that responds to these concerns, including an addition of bike lanes on Coronado and a two-way bike path along Gilbert. But as Robert Prinz of Bike East Bay has chronicled on Twitter, instead of constructing the agreed-upon bike path, the developer planted some palm trees – and the City let it slide. Bicyclists must now fend for themselves along the five lane driveway or sidewalk.

Source: Robert Prinz via Twitter and Safeway Redevelopment Project FEIR; annotations by GJEL staff
Source: Robert Prinz via Twitter and Safeway Redevelopment Project FEIR; annotations by GJEL staff

3. Bikeway Design Inconsistent with Design Standards: If there’s one thing that engineers, planners, and advocates can agree upon, it’s the danger encountered by a bicyclist passing a right turning vehicle on the right. AASHTO, NACTO, and Caltrans design manuals state that bike lanes should be placed on the left of right turn lanes to avoid potential right hook crashes. Unfortunately, the project’s Coronado Avenue driveway onto Broadway ignored this standard, instead directing bicyclists into drivers’ blind spot.

Source: Robert Prinz via Twitter; annotations by GJEL staff
Source: Robert Prinz via Twitter; annotations by GJEL staff

4. Auto-Oriented Design: Rather than building a walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented development that helps address Oakland’s critical housing needs, the project essentially repeats the previous shopping center design while supersizing the site’s parking and supporting street infrastructure. The project added about 50 percent more retail and parking, which is therefore expected to induce additional traffic congestion. Because the City approved the project under its previous automobile Level of Service (LOS) standards, the project was required to widen streets like Pleasant Valley, adversely affecting walking and biking. If the project was reviewed under the City’s current vehicle miles traveled (VMT) standards, such widenings would be unlikely to occur.

Source: Google Streetview
Source: Google Streetview

5. Lack of Construction Coordination: With three of the four corners of 51st and Broadway simultaneously under construction, the intersection has been a mess. Beyond the frequent traffic signal outages and sidewalk closures, there have even been instances where as many as three of the four crosswalks have been simultaneously closed. The City’s lack of leadership in coordinating construction efforts to ensure safe circulation is disappointing; a better effort is needed for subsequent projects.
frequent-closures
The Shops at the Ridge is a case study in planning and engineering mishaps. It’s a shame to see a site with so much potential not reach its highest and best use (mixed-use with housing) while simultaneously wreaking havoc on the surrounding transportation network. Whether the project will succeed from a financial standpoint remains to be seen: Oakland needs retail, but strip malls across the country are failing due to competition from online retailers and resurgent independent restaurants. Regardless, hopefully the pedestrian and bicycle issues at the Shops at the Ridge can be swiftly addressed to minimize risk of collisions.

This guest post was written by the staff at GJEL Accident Attorneys. GJEL is a sponsor of Streetsblog San Francisco.

  • Easy

    In #3, I notice cars can only go left or right not straight. If the bike lane is right-turn only maybe it’s correctly positioned?

  • baklazhan

    10+ years ago, I lived nearby and would ride around this strip mall regularly. And it sucked. Looks like it’s not going to get any better, either. Dumb.

  • Rachel H

    Thanks for all the insights — now hindsights — in this post. This site seems to have squandered a lot of potential urban vibrancy and active transportation infra. I’d be interested in hearing from the developers if they really did want foot and bike accessibility, and plan to make specific amends.

    I’ve read of proposed residential development in the southwest corner that currently features the stalled bank demolition, but also read that TRC is not residentially inclined. Given the housing shortage in the East Bay, I still have hope. Having residential buildings on site could make this corner a bit more of a neighborhood, and less of a strip mall.

  • Prinzrob

    I’m the guy referenced in this post who has been trying to get answers from city staff and the developer on this project for two years.

    The far side of the intersection you referenced used to be one-way, but is now two-way so straight through traffic is permitted. A right turn-only bike lane might be okay if it was marked as such, but currently none of the lanes currently serve the allowed straight-through movement, except the bike lane marked as straight through but to the right of the right turn lane (???).

    My guess is that whoever designed the lane markings here did not coordinate with whoever was responsible for the changes on the far side of the street. But even if that’s the case the decisions they made on lane markings aren’t in line with Oakland standards or MUTCD guidelines.

    The lane markings shown and approved in the project’s EIR were different and made much more sense, which is why the community advocates and the city’s bike commission didn’t question it at that time.

  • Welcome to suburbia! What a disgusting and unimaginative use of space. Enjoy, folks.

  • And, for the record, this isn’t an isolated case. Take a look at the ridiculous El Cerrito Plaza development that was rebuilt around 2000. This is not the poster child for transit oriented development. Just a huge, auto-oriented strip mall void of housing. Wasted opportunity. The suburban Safeway on Church/Market, directly adjacent to 5 Muni rail lines remains as is…huge parking lot fronting low-rise suburban retail strip. Wasted potential.

  • disqdude

    Have you been to El Cerrito Plaza in the past two years? The southeastern portion is being redeveloped with housing. In fact, construction is wrapping up right now.

  • disqdude

    It isn’t just a squandering. There are several elements of this design that fail to meet basic design criteria. You know, the stuff that gets taught in a first-year design course! The developer and city staffs should be incredibly embarrassed by these amateurish mistakes.

  • My point was that when the entire plaza was redone it was turned into a bigger strip mall than what had existed. Housing should have been built when it was redeveloped, not as an afterthought.

  • disqdude

    Perhaps, but was El Cerrito suffering from a housing crisis in 2000? No. Foresight would have been nice, sure, but at least they built something now. Most suburban shopping malls stay housing-free indefinitely.

  • OaktownPRE

    This is the sort of jacked up silliness that makes this a complainablog that’s not really worth visiting. I’d be really surprised if the placement of signal poles is the builder’s fault. Probably something to take up with the city. The same folks bemoaning this development kept it in limbo for years. It could and should have been done five years ago but everyone wants to stick their nose into it. If GJEL Accident Attorneys are that interested in it, why don’t they buy their own piece of land and build just exactly what they want rather than crapping all over what someone else is trying to do. Shesh! I’m sure it’s the same folks crying that the Safeway on College was too “urban” and now this place is too suburban. If you don’t like it don’t shop there but let the rest if us finally have some place to shop right here in Oakland. Oh, and to give you a clue, virtually all of Oakland is suburban. Virtually all of California is suburban. Deal with it.

  • keenplanner

    Oakland has dropped the smart planning ball, if they ever had it. Beyond the missed ops at this strip-mall corner, look at the amount of parking required, or allowed, at the new mixed-use projects in the Valdez redevelopment area. Or the 20-some year old design being built on Harrison along the lake. What a tragic missed opportunity to have a calm lake front park. Gotta accommodate the SOVs! Does Oakland even have a plan? Or a clue?
    In Oakland the car is still king, unfortunately.

  • keenplanner

    Local Claremont NIMBYs killed the Safeway mixed-use project, and the Berkeley leg of the Telegraph express buses too.

  • keenplanner

    …and it’s ugly as sin.

  • Mitchell

    Ain’ no accountin’ for taste.

    You don’t like suburbia, move to Amsterdam, or The Bronx. Let California be California.

  • Reggie Jackson

    Instead of proceeding with the stalled phase 2 of this project (where the shell of the old Chase building still stands), they should instead develop it as a 5 or so story apartment building (as is being built on the diagonal corner). We are going through a decent time economically and there is a surplus of retail space (heck a number of storefronts on College Ave ideally situated with a couple blocks of BART are vacant); when the economy goes bad, there will be way too much space. But housing will still be needed, and this is a site still close enough to BART to do well.

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