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New Planning-Savvy Advocacy Group Pushes for a People-Friendly Oakland

Oakland, criss-crossed with freeways and overly-wide streets, could become people-friendly with the right leadership, says a new group called Transport Oakland. Photo via Transport Oakland

A group of planning-savvy Oakland residents and workers has formed Transport Oakland to advocate for sustainable transportation and livable streets.

With declining car traffic and exciting developments on the way like bike-share and bus rapid transit, the group says the growing East Bay port city could become a people-friendly mecca — given the right leadership.

Transport Oakland “started informally,” said Liz Brisson, a spokesperson for the group, who works as a San Francisco transportation planner, along with some of the other members. “A group of planners and advocates got together to talk about what we would like to see in the city, and why there are problems preventing things from happening.”

While Transport Oakland is working with groups like Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, and TransForm, the group takes a different approach to organizing for better transportation choices, such as making candidate endorsements and offering nuanced recommendations on local transportation reforms. “It’s an interesting group, and different than a typical advocacy group, in that a lot of people involved are planners or engineers that just happen to live in Oakland,” said Brisson.

Unlike other similarly-sized cities, Oakland has no transportation department or director to oversee funds and projects — its transportation planners work within the Public Works Agency. Its city council also has no transportation commission appointed to help inform decisions about transportation issues, and the city has no overall strategic plan or vision for transportation.

The city even has $15 million in earmarked transportation funds that haven’t been used for unclear reasons, the group found in its research. The numbers come from audit reports from the the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Measure B transportation sales tax revenue [PDF] and the Vehicle Registration Fee program [PDF], both approved by Alameda County voters.

Transport Oakland decided that its most effective first action would be to encourage city leadership on improving transportation in the upcoming election. “There are three different levels of involvement that affect transportation outcomes,” said Brisson. “There are policymakers, there’s staff, and there are advocates. We agree that Oakland could use more involvement from all three. We have specific ideas modeled after other cities about how transportation should be planned, funded, and delivered, and we need policy maker involvement to create those changes.”

Transport Oakland’s first step was to interview and endorse candidates for mayor and the three city council seats that are up for election next month. “We’re not a PAC (Political Action Committee), we’re just volunteers,” said Brisson. But the group aims to influence city policymakers by publicly endorsing candidates with progressive views on transportation. In the interview process, they also aimed to educate candidates about smarter transportation policy.

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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 on preserving all four traffic lanes, with only sharrows added. But when asked to choose between removing parking or removing traffic lanes, it was clear that the majority of residents who attended both meetings would be willing to give up parking.

The majority of residents who attended two workshops would be willing to give up parking for protected bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue. Photo: Melanie Curry

Still, a few kept the discussion circling back to the potential tradeoffs between bike safety and transit reliability. Oakland city planners trying unsuccessfully tried to get traction on the idea of moving the bike route a block away to Shattuck Avenue, despite Telegraph being a clear magnet for bike traffic even without any bike infrastructure.

Several people at the workshops argued adamantly that sharrows are not a reasonable alternative to bike lanes. “Please remove sharrows as an option,” said one attendee. “I don’t want to share facilities with a car. We’ve tried it, and I hate it. It’s not safe.”

Oakland planner Jamie Parks opened up group discussions at both meetings by admitting that sharrows are “not the ideal bike facility, but this is the most constrained and congested section of the street.”

“The tradeoffs include removing parking or removing a lane of traffic,” he told attendees. “If we were to incorporate continuous bike lanes, what would people be willing to give up?”

“Parking!” one person shouted from the back of the room at one meeting. Discussions at both meetings stayed mostly polite, and there seemed to be general agreement that providing parking was not as important as safety.

But not everybody agreed. One dissenter said, “I just don’t think politics will allow for the abolition of parking.”

Only some parking spaces on Telegraph would need to be removed to provide bike lanes. But the city doesn’t seem to be seriously considering it, despite strong evidence in other cities that as motor traffic is calmed, and bike traffic goes up, commercial corridors tend to see more people shopping by foot and bike. Oakland’s own findings show that parking spaces in Temescal rarely approach 85 percent of capacity, even at peak times, and that better parking management could make even more spaces available.

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Costly New Parking Garages Still Gobbling Up Land at BART Stations

Oakland and BART officials cut the ribbon Monday on a new parking garage for a “transit village” being built at MacArthur Station. Photo: BRIDGE Housing/Twitter

BART continues to encourage the construction of multi-story parking garages at its stations, despite the exorbitant costs and lost potential for valuable land that could be put to better use.

On Monday, Oakland and BART officials held a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony to tout the opening of a 481-space parking structure at MacArthur BART station. The structure was built at a cost of $15,371,000, or about $32,000 per space (based on a 2012 figure), and is part of a “transit village” housing and retail development. But like most park-and-ride fortresses, it will mostly sit empty when commuters aren’t using it to store cars, which is most of the time.

The only media coverage of the MacArthur press conference was a San Jose Mercury News photo slideshow showing Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, two BART board members, an Oakland council member, and a developer rep cutting the ribbon, before heading up to the empty rooftop to take in the views.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board, said he’s “appalled that we wasted tens of millions of dollars building a commuter garage at an urban station like MacArthur.”

“Ridership kept growing at that station despite the reduction in parking during construction, which demonstrates that we could have done perfectly well without it,” he said. “Many of our highest-ridership stations — Balboa Park, Berkeley, 19th, 16th, 24th, Glen Park — have little or no commuter parking. At stations like MacArthur, Ashby, West Oakland, and Lake Merritt, we should be phasing out parking as we build transit villages, and enhance walking, cycling, and local transit access instead of building structured parking.”

Only 10 percent of people using MacArthur station drive there, the Mercury News reported in 2011, and five shuttles operate in the station area.

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Tomorrow: Oakland Drops Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Avenue

Oakland’s recommended plan for Telegraph Avenue includes no bike lanes near the freeway ramps at 51st Street. Image: City of Oakland

Oakland has dropped protected bike lanes from its draft proposals to redesign Telegraph Avenue, and the buffered bike lanes that are included would disappear at the most dangerous section, throwing people on bikes into mixed traffic with motor vehicles. The city will hold two open houses this week where the public can weigh in on the draft plan [PDF], on Thursday evening and Saturday morning.

“New bikeways need to be ‘continuous’ and not force you to continually mix with cars and trucks that travel up to 35-40 mph,” wrote Dave Campbell of Bike East Bay in a blog post. “Buffered bike lanes improve the experience and make it safer for people who currently bicycle and want to ride on Telegraph Avenue, but buffered bike lanes between parked cars and moving cars do not attract new people to bicycling or encourage others to replace one or two car trips a week with a bicycle trip.”

Bike East Bay is urging people to attend the workshops and tell planners they want continuous protected bike lanes along Telegraph. They are also calling on the city to create a pilot project for protected bike lanes using temporary paint and planters materials, similar to the block-long demonstration the organization created on Bike to Work Day.

When Oakland city planners held initial workshops on Telegraph “Complete Streets” project in the spring, a few local business owners complained about losing on-street parking spots, but much of the public strongly supported a much calmer, safer street for walking and biking.

city survey of people who use Telegraph found that 60 percent wanted protected bike lanes on the street, including 53 percent of “frequent drivers.” The city initially included parking-protected bike lanes as an option for most of Telegraph, but that option is apparently being abandoned.

The latest plans [PDF] include improvements to pedestrian crossings, raised medians, bike boxes, and bus stops configured so the bike lane runs between a boarding island and the sidewalk. But the bike lanes disappear completely where they’re needed most, near the intersection at 51st Street where drivers heading to and from Highway 24 ramps cuts through the area.

At most intersections, like Telegraph and MacArthur seen here, bike lanes become protected briefly at bus stops but then throw riders between parked cars and moving cars. Image: City of Oakland

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Oakland’s Telegraph Gets “Pop-up” Protected Bike Lane on Bike to Work Day

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan rode on the “pop-up” bikeway, looking very happy. Photo: Dave Campbell, Bike East Bay

Yesterday, on the Bay Area’s 20th Bike to Work Day, Bike East Bay and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland demonstrated what a block of Telegraph Avenue would look and feel like with a parking-protected bike lane. Without help from the city’s Public Works Department (but with city approval), the two advocacy groups created temporary bike infrastructure by painting green lanes and bike stencils, putting down planters, and turning the adjacent traffic lane into a parking lane.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was joined by City Council Members Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Lynette McElhaney, as well as several city planners and engineers on a test run of the lanes, all of whom generally gave it a big thumbs up. One city engineer, after riding the lane, said, “I want this, right now!”

Mayor Quan said “this demo is very helpful to see what Telegraph Avenue could look like with a protected bikeway,” according to a press release from Bike East Bay. “I’m very interested in seeing how the project develops.”

Quan rode from MacArthur BART station on a borrowed bike from Bay Area Bike Share to celebrate the system’s expansion into the East Bay expected next spring. “Oakland is regularly ranked in the top 10 U.S. cities for the percentage of our commuters who cycle, and we’re committed to maintaining that leadership role and building on our successes,” she said in a statement, noting that she lobbied for the BABS expansion.

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Bike to Work Day: Oakland to Demo Telegraph Protected Bike Lane, Parklet

A protected bike lane and parklet like this will temporarily transform the experience of traveling on Telegraph. Image courtesy City of Oakland, for illustrative purposes only.

A block of Telegraph Avenue in Oakland will get a protected bike lane and parklet for one day — Bike to Work Day, this Thursday. Bike East Bay and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland will set up the demo on the southbound side of Telegraph between 27th and Sycamore Streets, providing a taste of the transformation possible with the city’s plans to redesign the street.

The parklet will be one of many Bike to Work Day stations around the Bay Area where bike commuters can pick up goodie bags and fuel up on snacks and coffee. Visitors can also fill out a short survey about their experience riding the protected bike lane.

Whether protected bike lanes are made permanent in the Telegraph redesign will depend in large part on community feedback. You can weigh in on the project by checking out the proposed design options on the city’s website and downloading a comment card [PDF] to email to Jamie Parks of the Oakland Public Works Department by May 19.

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Protected Bike Lanes Key to a Calmer, Thriving Telegraph Avenue in Oakland

Drivers encroach on the crosswalk on Telegraph Avenue, where people often have to wait extensively for traffic to stop before crossing. Photos: Melanie Curry

At an open house meeting on proposals to redesign Telegraph Avenue in Oakland Saturday morning, attendees arrived to find the street blocked off by police investigating a hit-and-run crash in which a driver killed a pedestrian. The scene underscored the need to make the commercial corridor safer for people walking and biking, though the proposals to remove traffic lanes and add improvements like protected bike lanes, landscaped medians, and sidewalk extensions still saw opposition from a few at the meeting.

About fifty people attended the second of three open houses hosted by the city to hear from residents and merchants about the proposed options for Telegraph. The third open house will be held this Thursday evening.

Posters presented copious amounts of information about conditions on Telegraph, including a map of crashes in the area, and research showing the economic revitalization that results when streets are redesigned to become destinations, not just throughways. A recent survey of people who use Telegraph found that 60 percent wanted protected bike lanes on the street, including 53 percent of “frequent drivers.”

In a presentation, Phil Erickson of Community Design and Architecture said that the number of people walking and biking on Telegraph have been growing steadily. The city is looking to accommodate all users on the commercial corridor, he said, but it’s rife with problems like driver speeding, inadequately-sized bus stops, and pedestrian crossings that are often dangerous and difficult to navigate. The city has proposed options for three segments along Telegraph, between 20th and 57th Streets. Options for the inner and outer segments include parking-protected bike lanes, though the middle Temescal segment doesn’t, because city planners say it might slow down the higher volumes of car traffic.

Some in the crowd objected to removing traffic lanes or parking because they think it would increase car congestion and air pollution. One man said there would be “strong neighborhood opposition” to any plan that included bike lanes on Telegraph, and another interrupted Erickson’s presentation to say that people on bikes should stick to other routes.

A young woman, brave enough to speak into the charged atmosphere, responded, “But what if my destination is on Telegraph?”

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Tonight and Next Week: Open Houses on Oakland’s Telegraph Bike Lanes

The City of Oakland’s proposal for parking-protected bike lanes on Telegraph between 20th and 48th Streets, one of three segments of the corridor.

Oaklanders won’t want to forget about the city’s open house meetings, starting tonight, on proposals for parking-protected bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue. Show up, learn about the proposed design options, and let city staff know what you think will make this vital commercial corridor safer and more efficient, and livable. There will even be food trucks outside each meeting, in case you get hungry.

Here are the open houses:

  • Tonight, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., at Beebe Memorial Cathedral, 3900 Telegraph.
  • Saturday, April 26, 10am – 12pm, at Faith Presbyterian Church, 430 49th Street.
  • Next Thursday, May 1, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., at Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street (accessible entrance at 411 28th Street).
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Oakland Proposes Parking-Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Avenue

Bikes and buses jockey for position along Telegraph Avenue in Temescal. Planners say protected bike lanes are “likely” options on most of Telegraph in Oakland — except for this stretch. Photo: David Jaeger / Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

The City of Oakland has released preliminary design options [PDF] for a redesign of Telegraph Avenue, which include parking-protected bike lanes, improvements to speed up AC Transit lines, and pedestrian safety upgrades. Planners will hold open house meetings to collect input on the design options starting next week.

“We’re very excited they’ve released a lot of different options,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay. “It’s a very robust set of choices and allows people to make an informed decision on the best ones.”

This is the first time Telegraph is being revisited for a redesign since it was taken out of the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit route that begins construction this fall. The proposal to extend BRT on Telegraph to Berkeley was dropped after merchants fought to preserve car parking.

The Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets Implementation Plan looks at the stretch from 57th Street to 20th Street, a few blocks short of Telegraph’s end at Broadway in downtown Oakland, where the Latham Square pilot plaza was prematurely removed. Under some of the proposals, much of Telegraph could get parking-protected bike lanes (a.k.a. “cycle tracks”) by re-purposing traffic lanes and preserving parking lanes.

Oakland’s project website notes that “despite the lack of bike facilities, Telegraph Avenue is one of the most heavily traveled routes for cyclists, with over 1,200 daily cyclists.”

Bike East Bay is “super delighted to see proposed cycle tracks for a good segment of the street, and think there are some good options as well through the section with the freeway underpass,” said Campbell.

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NACTO’s “Cities for Cycling” Road Show Comes to Oakland

Image of a bike box from the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

Today and tomorrow, Oakland will host the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Cities for Cycling Road Show, which brings experts on NACTO‘s “Urban Street Design Guide” to Oakland to meet with city planners, engineers, and elected officials.

The event is an opportunity for Oakland city staff and decision-makers to gather together to discuss the challenges and solutions in completing creating a network of safer streets for biking. They’ll receive guidance from representatives of New York City, Chicago, and Boston, all cities that have extensive experience using the NACTO guide and putting its bike infrastructure designs on the ground.

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide is being adopted by more California cities, though Caltrans hasn’t endorsed it yet.

“Chicago and New York have the highest number of miles of protected bikeways in the United States,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay. “And Boston has expertise in bike share, which will be coming soon to the East Bay.”

The Urban Street Design Guide shows how streets can be redesigned to be safe for all users — bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and drivers. Oakland is one of 28 cities and three state departments of transportation that have endorsed the guide as a resource for designing its streets. San Diego, Davis, and San Francisco are the only other California cities that have endorsed the guide.

Caltrans was also urged to endorse the NACTO guide in the recent report calling on Caltrans to reform its car-centric culture, conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative.

Since 2009, NACTO Cities for Cycling Road Shows have taken place in eight NACTO cities. Road Shows take on the specific issues and projects of their host cities. For example, in Atlanta NACTO provided comprehensive training on protected bikeway design, and in Boston the focus was on how to build out the city’s bike network over time.

In Oakland the focus will be on two projects: Telegraph Avenue and 14th Street. The city is currently working on the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets Project, developing alternative designs for bicycle facilities along the popular biking street. Bike East Bay has pushed for protected bikeways like the ones featured in the NACTO guide. Read more…