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SPUR Talk: Connecting the Foot of Lake Merritt

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"The Living Room" of Oakland, Lake Merritt, is somewhat disconnected from Oakland's institutions. Photo: SPUR

“The Living Room” of Oakland, Lake Merritt, is somewhat disconnected from Oakland’s institutions. Photo: SPUR

Wednesday afternoon, at SPUR’s Oakland office, a crowd of some fifty people came to hear a panel discussion about knitting together the various attractions at the foot of Lake Merritt in Oakland.

At the southern end of Lake Merritt, Oakland’s street grid funnels around several big institutions there, including the Oakland Museum of California, Laney College, and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. All are poorly connected to the lake. SPUR is promoting an initiative to connect the whole schmear through art and better pedestrian linkages.

The panel was composed of Lori Fogarty from the Oakland Museum of California, Kelley Kahn from the City of Oakland ‎Department of Economic and Workforce Development, and Walter Hood from the Hood Design Studio. Benjamin Grant, Urban Design Policy Director for SPUR, kicked off the discussion with the definition of “Place Making” from the National Endowment for the Arts:

In creative placemaking, public, private, not-for-profit, and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.

From that definition, he gave several examples from other cities of how planners and policy makers can re-activate quiet and often forgotten areas of a city with art. He cited the Pearl Street Project in Philadelphia, the Waterfire Project in Providence, Rhode Island, the Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, and the Wynwood Walls of Miami, Florida.

All of these are fascinating examples of urban revitalization and Streetsblog readers should check out their websites. But the Wynwood Walls project seemed a particularly good approach for the institutions of Lake Merritt. Miami did a global search and brought urban artists from all over the world to paint the walls of a warehouse district. The effect was to draw people in and create an enlivened and connected urban space. Of course, Lake Merritt is already the home of the Oakland Museum of California, with its walls and multiple levels acting as an urban tableau.
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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. Read more…

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Proposed East Bay Bike-Share Sites Announced

Proposed bike-share stations near downtown Oakland.

Proposed bike-share stations near downtown Oakland.

Note: This story has been corrected since it was originally posted. Thank you to sharp-eyed readers.

Bay Area Bike Share released a map of proposed sites for bike-share stations in the East Bay today. Proposed sites for expansion into San Francisco and San Jose have already been released, but these are the first ones for Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville. The total number of bikes planned in the three cities is 1,300, with 800 of them in Oakland and 100 in Emeryville, to be rolled out by the end of 2017.

Phase 1, about 25 percent of the final East Bay expansion, will include 350 bikes at 34 stations.

Proposed bike-share stations near the UC Berkeley campus.

Proposed bike-share stations near the UC Berkeley campus.

A map of the initial proposed East Bay hubs, available here, shows them mostly sited along a spine between downtown Berkeley and downtown Oakland. Five stations surround the UC Berkeley campus’ south and west sides, with another located across from Berkeley High School and the downtown Y, and a seventh a little further south on Telegraph at Blake street.

From there, the corridor of proposed sites generally follows Telegraph Avenue, incorporating BART stations and outlying hubs along 40th Street into Emeryville and on the western side of Lake Merritt.

Amtrak stations are left out of the first phase, though, and so are the West Oakland and Rockridge BART stations.

It looks like a good start, if your destinations are all near Telegraph or in downtown Oakland. With luck, further expansions to connect these hubs to other destinations will come sooner than later.

Having bike-share available close to the new Telegraph Avenue parking-protected bike lanes will be a game-changer for that area and we hope it will create some urgency to finish the new facilities further towards Temescal.

What do you think? Are these in the right places? Bike-share needs a somewhat dense network of hubs to be useful, but it’s also necessary to put the hubs in places near where people want to go. Is this a good start?

Bay Area Bike Share is still accepting suggestions for station locations here. Comments can be made here, or at local public libraries, which will be presenting information about the expansion at the following times:

From April 26 through May 9, during regular open hours:

  • Berkeley Library

    • Central Branch, 2090 Kittredge St
    • Claremont Branch, 2940 Benvenue Ave
  • Emeryville
    • Town Hall, 1333 Park Ave (through May 11)
  • Oakland Library

    • Main Branch, 125 14th St
    • Asian Branch, 388 9th St

Also on May 3 from 4 to 6 pm, at the Temescal Branch Library, 5205 Telegraph in Oakland.

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Bay Bridge Bike Path Closed For a Month

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The bike path on the Oakland Bay Bridge doesn’t quite reach Yerba Buena Island yet. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

“Caltrans is prioritizing safety,” says Friday’s press release announcing that the bike path on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will be closed, beginning today, for the entire month of March.

Right when the days are getting longer and that after-work bike ride to the end of the bridge is truly tempting, the entire path will be closed “to minimize potential risks to the public.”

The remains of the old bay bridge, which run parallel to the new bridge and the bike path, are slowly being removed. The cantilever portion was peeled back from its center over the course of months last year, and in February the first truss section was lowered to a barge and floated away.

Crews will now begin working on a second truss section, using torches to cut it away from its supports and sometimes creating smoke and noise.

For the last few months, the bike path was partially closed from time to time as crews did similar work on the first truss section. The bridge itself was never closed and car traffic flowed past–only the bike path along its southern rim was blocked partway to the end. But even then, you could ride or walk at least partway across, to catch the stunning views and maybe check out the demolition work on the old bridge. And usually on the weekends you could count on riding all the way to where the path currently ends, just before Yerba Buena Island.
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Repairing the Gash in the Heart of Oakland

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The 980 Freeway created a 560-foot-wide gash through Oakland.

I-980 created a 560-foot-wide gash through Oakland. Photo: Roger Rudick

On a rainy morning in Preservation Park in Oakland, I met with Andrew Faulkner and Jonathan Fearn, advocates with “Connect Oakland,” to discuss their organization’s vision to remove the 980 freeway, which sits between downtown and West Oakland.

“The 980 freeway was supposed to save downtown,” said Fearn. Instead, he explained, it became a 560-foot-wide asphalt moat, combining with the 880 and 580 to encircle West Oakland with wide freeways. Fearn and Faulkner see connections between the highway and many of West Oakland’s problems.

“It’s part of a larger pattern of dislocation and disinvestment in the community,” said Christopher Sensenig, an urban designer and founder of Connect Oakland.

The freeway resulted from an aborted attempt to build a second bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Even though the bridge never happened, the road that would feed cars to and from it was already in motion. All the planning to build the 980 caused investors to abandon the area. Advocates for the freeway then sold it as a way to invigorate downtown Oakland, by building a giant “glorified offramp,” as Faulkner called it, that would lead directly into parking structures.

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A Downtown Oakland for Everyone

Egon Terplan is SPUR’s regional planning director. This piece is reprinted with permission from the October 2015 of The Urbanist.

Photo: Sergio Ruiz

Franklin Square. Photo: Sergio Ruiz

After years of struggling to attract investment, downtown Oakland is enjoying a renaissance. Organic, bottom-up growth and targeted public investment are resulting in new cultural events, art galleries, restaurants, bars and retail stores. The population and job base are growing, companies are relocating or expanding downtown (including Uber, which in September, announced its purchase of the former Sear’s building), and commercial vacancies are declining.

Oakland’s urban center is poised to take on a more important role in the region. We believe that the best path forward is to plan for growth — and to shape that growth to make downtown Oakland a great place that provides benefits to all. Downtown Oakland is an opportunity to demonstrate that equity and economic growth can go hand in hand.

Downtown faces key challenges today. While the number of jobs is growing, the economy remains fragile. Institutional lenders have been hesitant to invest in downtown projects, large anchor tenants are scarce and commercial rents are rarely high enough to cover the cost of new office construction. Many in downtown, and Oakland generally, struggle to secure affordable housing and high quality employment. Downtown’s parks, plazas and streets need upgrading and maintenance. Its centers of activity — such as City Center and Jack London — are spread out and density is uneven, contributing to a final challenge: Public safety concerns deter some from spending time and investing in downtown.

SPUR’s new report, “A Downtown for Everyone: Shaping the Future of Downtown Oakland,” from which this article is excerpted, looks at solutions to these challenges, as well as ways to take advantage of unique opportunities. Unlike many urban centers, downtown Oakland has the infrastructure in place to support growth. It is at the center of the Northern California rail network and has more BART trains passing through it than any city in the region. Downtown’s streets are largely without congestion and could be reimagined to provide more space for buses, bicycles and pedestrians. There are also many acres of vacant land and surface parking lots right in the middle of downtown. This means downtown could add thousands of new jobs and residents without displacing any current homes or businesses. Add to these opportunities the creativity and energy of Oakland’s residents, and there is an opening for downtown Oakland to demonstrate a new path forward for cities.

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Via Streetsblog California
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Talking With Matt Nichols, Oakland’s New Transportation Policy Director

Matt Nichols is Oakland’s newly hired policy director for infrastructure and transportation. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf created the position to shepherd her proposed reorganization of transportation planning, design, engineering, and construction into one department, and to oversee the creation of a cohesive transportation policy. Nichols has been in his new job for about two months, and he’s excited about this chance to formulate policies to guide infrastructure.

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Matt Nichols, Oakland’s new policy director for transportation and infrastructure. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

“It’s a new way to ask the question for Oakland,” he said. “Up until now, transportation has been a maintenance issue. Arguments for changes on the city’s streets have come from the grassroots/advocacy level, and gone upwards. To have the mayor directing transportation policy is a great thing.”

“You can transform cities just through policy,” said Nichols. “It takes a bigger vision of the city–this isn’t just about carrying out projects.”

Last week Mayor Schaaf submitted a budget proposal that, among other things, would create a new Department of Transportation. The proposal lists principles for the new department: safe streets for all, great neighborhoods, transportation options, economic development, and sustainable infrastructure. Supporting these principles will mean creating bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, transit-friendly streets — where now many Oakland streets are wide roads that parallel freeways and present unsafe conditions for people who are not in cars. Supporting these principles will require a major shift away from business as usual.

“One thing we have learned,” said Nichols, “is that you just can’t build enough car infrastructure. That’s because, one, there’s not enough money, and two, it doesn’t work anyway.”

His first two goals are to create a more effective system for delivering transportation projects, and to find new resources. The two goals are interconnected, as the creation of a “project delivery pipeline” will help the city obtain more funding.

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Via Streetsblog California
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What Oakland Mayor’s Proposal for a Department of Transportation Means

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For the city of Oakland, the creation of a Department of Transportation is a first step towards formulating a cohesive transportation policy. Photo: Telegraph Avenue, looking towards downtown Oakland. Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

This week, Streetsblog California takes a look at changes occurring in Oakland, California, related to the way the city plans and implements transportation projects.

Today, Ruth Miller, a local planner, former Streetsblog contributor, and a member of Transport Oakland, writes about what the formation of a Department of Transportation will mean for Oakland. Later this week look for Streetsblog’s interview with Matt Nichols, the city’s newly hired Director of Transportation Policy.

Like a surprising number of other cities, despite its size, Oakland, California, currently does not have a Department of Transportation. Decisions about transportation projects from signal timing, to paving, to designing and applying for grants to fund a bike and pedestrian bridge over the estuary leading to Lake Merritt, have been made within either the Planning Department or the Department of Public Works — or both.

But if Oakland’s new mayor, Libby Schaaf, has her way, this will change soon. Her proposed 2015-17 budget, currently under discussion, includes within it a reorganization of city departments to create one specifically for overseeing transportation policy and decisions — a Department of Transportation. Advocates for better transportation choices in Oakland, including the advocacy group Transport Oakland, believe that creating a DOT could help the city better plan for and manage its transportation.

DOTs often publish mission statements.

For example, the Los Angeles DOT “leads transportation planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operations in the City of Los Angeles.” The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is equivalent to a DOT, works “to plan, build, operate, regulate, and maintain the transportation network” [PDF]. Essentially, these and most other city DOTs lead transportation projects from policy through planning, implementation, and maintenance. Because they govern the full life cycle of transportation projects, DOTs have the ability, and thus a certain obligation, to work strategically.

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

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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.”
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Oakland Council Approves Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Ave

Oakland has approved a redesign of Telegraph Avenue that includes protected bike lanes separated by curbs and parking spots. Image: Oakland Public Works

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a road diet and parking-protected bike lanes to Telegraph Avenue, eliciting cheers from East Bay bike advocates.

The vote allows the city to begin work on the first phase of the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets plan, which covers the segment between 41st and 19th Streets in downtown. Planners hope to include the road diet and protected lanes in the city’s scheduled repaving of Telegraph Avenue in the spring, using inexpensive materials to get it on the ground quickly.

Of the 20 people who addressed the council about the Telegraph plan, 17 were supporters sporting green stickers that read “Protected Bike Lanes,” and three opposed it. Supporters included reps from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, neighbors, business owners, a developer, and others who bike.

Parking-protected bike lanes are coming to this section of Telegraph, looking towards downtown from 24th Street. Photo: Melanie Curry

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