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Posts from the "Oakland" Category

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Vote to Hand Latham Square Back to Cars Bodes Ill for Downtown Oakland

Latham Square as it exists today. Photo: Alec MacDonald

After a trial public plaza at Latham Square was undercut by Oakland’s Planning and Building Manager, the Oakland City Council voted last week to reinstate two-way car traffic on the small, southernmost block of Telegraph Avenue, caving to merchants and developers pushing for unfettered car access.

At their January 7 City Council meeting, Oakland council members considered different proposals for the layout of Telegraph at Broadway, a key gateway linking the bustling offices around City Center BART with the burgeoning Uptown dining and entertainment scene. Besides the critical role Latham Square Plaza will serve in the ongoing revitalization of the area, it also stands as a flashpoint in the broader movement to make Oakland more people-friendly. The council’s vote to maintain lanes for car traffic was undeniably a setback for that movement.

Last summer, the city closed off vehicular lanes along the 1500 block of Telegraph and filled the space with seating, planters, and other pedestrian amenities as part of a six-month pilot project intended to gauge the feasibility of a permanent street closure. Complaints from nearby business owners, however, prompted the city to prematurely reopen one southbound lane of Telegraph after just six weeks.

The council’s final decision last week undermined the effort to create a people-friendly space in the heart of downtown Oakland. Although the proposal that city leaders adopted will still expand the plaza’s square footage from 2,500 (before the pilot project) to 9,500, livable streets advocates feel the restoration of two-way auto traffic will undercut the appeal of the space and create a safety hazard for people who use it. Altogether, two of the three original traffic lanes will be reinstated.

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Packed Meeting About Future of Oakland’s Latham Square Shut Down Early

Two design proposals for Latham Square — one with cars (left) and one without (right). Image: City of Oakland

After public pressure, the City of Oakland held a second community meeting Wednesday about the design of the Latham Square pilot plaza, where a lane of car traffic was reinstated prematurely at the behest of Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn. Despite a standing room-only crowd of attendees showing up to weigh in, the meeting was shut down 45 minutes early.

For city officials, the proposal to widen sidewalks but permanently reinstate two-way car traffic at Latham Square appears to be a done deal — though no pedestrian usage data was presented to the public after a six-week car-free pilot period.

“I don’t see us going back to the closure” of Telegraph, said Brooke Levin, interim director of the Oakland Public Works Agency. In fact, she added, it is likely the city will reopen the northbound traffic before construction begins on the final design next summer.

Before Wednesday’s public meeting, city staffers held an invitation-only meeting on November 15 with City Manager Deana Santana. Invitees included several business owners who oppose the car-free plaza, along with representatives of the Downtown Oakland Association (which supports the pedestrian plaza), Popuphood, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

But attendees who packed the public meeting, which was not announced on the city’s website until the day before, appeared evenly divided between supporters of the car-free plaza and those who want to bring back two-way car traffic. “We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Levin told the crowd.

City planners’ recommended permanent design for the plaza includes restoration of two-way traffic on Telegraph with narrower auto lanes and an expansion of the existing sidewalk in the triangle between Broadway and Telegraph. Opinions and suggestions for the design were mixed among the 50-plus Oakland residents, merchants, property owners, and downtown workers at the meeting.

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Oakland Planning Director Cuts Off Latham Square Pilot, Lets Cars Back In

Photo: Laura McCamy

The crowning achievement for Oakland’s new planning and building director so far might be ensuring that cars are being driven through the Latham Square pilot plaza once again.

The Latham Square pilot was supposed to last for six months, but after just six weeks, the widely-lauded, one-block plaza at the foot of Telegraph Avenue is no longer car-free. “The pilot program of having the pedestrian-only area was cut short and one southbound lane was reopened to cars without any warning to pedestrians,” said Jonathan Bair, board president of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. The current configuration leaves some reclaimed pedestrian space in the middle of the street, but it is no longer connected to the sidewalk. Now the City Council will consider whether to keep it that way.

Rachel Flynn became Oakland's planning and building director in March. Photo: SF Business Times

Oakland Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn told Streetsblog the car-free pilot had been given enough time, and that “there’s only so many people that are going to come into Oakland at this time.”

“If all you’re doing is blocking off the vehicles but not increasing the bikes and pedestrians, are you achieving your goal?” said Flynn. When asked for data on Latham Square’s use, she said, “We don’t know how to measure pedestrian and bicycle activity.”

“It’s not like we’ve seen hundreds of new bikes there, while we’ve seen hundreds of vehicles not going to this area.”

Flynn came to Oakland in March, having previously worked at a planning firm based in Abu Dhabi, following a stint as planning director of Richmond, Virginia, in 2011.

Oakland Planning staff will present a proposal to the City Council later this month for a permanent plaza design that includes two-way car traffic on Telegraph. The plan, which has not been released to the public yet, would expand the current sidewalk space from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet, but leave Latham Square bisected by lanes of motor traffic.

When it was proposed, the pilot plaza project was touted as an effort to emulate the success of on-street plaza projects implemented in New York City and San Francisco.

“The purpose of the plaza is to establish safer traffic patterns,” said Sarah Filley of Popuphood, which curates vending spots on Latham Square. “By opening up both of the traffic lanes, you’re not prototyping anything. You’ve just added a nicer median.”

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Oaklavia Opens Streets to Celebrate the Renewal of Lake Merritt

Oakland celebrated improvements to Lake Merritt in style on June 9th, closing the streets ringing the city’s historic centerpiece to cars–and opening them to cyclists, joggers, skaters, street performers and families. The 3.3-mile Ciclovía-style event coincided with the dedication of Lake Merritt Boulevard, a multimillion dollar project that has brought bike and pedestrian improvements to the lake’s southern flank, along with a sparkling new amphitheater, a four-acre park, and a restored estuary connection to the San Francisco Bay.

The “Oaklavia” celebration was modeled after Sunday Streets events that have become a fixture in nearby San Francisco; and while Oakland’s was the first in three years, planners expect many more to come.

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With Help From Mayor Quan, Oaklavia Returns With a Bang

When Walk Oakland Bike Oakland hosted the city’s first Ciclovia-style event in downtown Oakland in 2010, onerous city fees meant plans for a second Oaklavia that year proved too ambitious for the small organization. “We thought we wouldn’t be able to do it again,” said Jonathan Bair, WOBO’s Board President.

Three years later, the city brought Oaklavia back, closing the streets around Lake Merritt to cars yesterday and opening them up for people. This time, organizers estimate 10,000 to 15,000 people turned out, compared to the 4,000 at the 2010 event.

Key to the event’s success this year, advocates said, was the newfound support from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Since she took office in 2011, Quan has championed open streets events as well recently-completed renovations at Lake Merritt. To celebrate the lake improvements, yesterday’s Oaklavia was tied with a festival called Love Our Lake Day.

“This was the transformative moment for Oakland,” said East Bay Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Renee Rivera, who invited Quan to visit Sunday Streets in the Mission in June of 2012. ”Mayor Quan came back from that event with a clear understanding of why Sunday Streets would be great for Oakland and an appreciation for the work and investment it takes to make it happen,” she said.

Quan told Streetsblog that Oaklavia “is part of my overall economic development plan,” and promised another Oaklavia in Fruitvale this fall. “I want to do these bicycle/walking events in different parts of the city and introduce people to different neighborhoods,” she said.

On the wide streets circling Lake Merritt, yesterday’s Oaklavia seemed akin to the Sunday Streets events held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Walkers mostly chose to stroll on the new pathway near the water, while the roads provided lots of room for bicyclists to move freely. The route was longer than that of the first Oaklavia — 3.3 miles vs. 2.4 miles – and acres of adjacent grassy areas and pathways gave room for people to spread out.

Skaters, bicyclists, and walkers came from Chinatown, East Oakland, and Grand Lake, and from as far as San Francisco and San Mateo. But the ethnic diversity on the streets gave the event a definitively Oakland feel.

If there was any shortcoming, it was the fact that only one side of the roadway was closed to traffic, which may have kept some people on the sidewalk, said WOBO board member Chris Hwang. “To not have [the street] fully closed is a shame,” she said.

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On the Ballot: A Key to Alameda County’s Sustainable Transportation Future

Alameda County could usher in a new era of progressive transportation projects if voters pass a proposed half-cent sales tax increase known as Measure B1 on November 6.

Measure B1 would generate a projected $7.8 billion over the next 30 years for projects selected using a “complete streets” approach aimed at improving the county’s streets, trails, and transit infrastructure to accommodate all modes of transportation. The measure would double the county’s existing half-cent transportation sales tax, with 48 percent of the revenue devoted to improving transit, 8 percent to bicycle and pedestrian projects, and 39 percent to roads and highways. If approved, it would represent an unprecedented commitment to non-motorized transportation.

“It’s sometimes incredible to believe that Alameda County is taking a national leadership role, but they are,” said Dave Campbell, program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. “And we’re proud of them, and working closely with them to get this passed on November 6.”

County officials say they were motivated to put together the plan, in part, by the state’s requirement to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving those goals would require a major shift from driving to walking, biking, and transit in Alameda County.

The projects included in Measure B1′s funding plan could provide a dense network of trails, bicycle boulevards and bike lanes, as well as pedestrian safety improvements throughout Alameda County, helping to realize the vision laid out in its soon-to-be approved Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans. Off-street bicycle and pedestrian trails — including the Bay Trail, the Iron Horse Trail, and the East Bay Greenway — would connect BART stations in the eastern and southern parts of the county. Although 39 percent of the funds would be devoted to car-oriented infrastructure like roads and highways, some of those funds would also go toward creating bicycle and pedestrian highway crossings, bringing the potential total of bike/ped funding up to about 11 percent.

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Alameda County’s Bike/Ped Plans Take Local Approach, But Short on Targets

Image: ACTC

In theory, the East Bay has nearly perfect terrain for bicycling. Streets slope gently east for miles from the Bay, and once over the hills, pedaling conditions are almost idyllic — that is, if you feel safe enough to ride.

The East Bay, like much of the country, was built for cars rather than for walking or bicycling. Navigating fast-moving streets like Shattuck Avenue, Telegraph Avenue, and International Boulevard can be dangerous. And for pedestrians, uneven sidewalks (if they exist) and poorly-marked crosswalks convey a message: no walkers here.

Fortunately, streets in Alameda County could become friendlier for walking and bicycling with its new Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans, set to be approved early next month. The Alameda County Transportation Commission released the final drafts of the plans on Monday, laying out a new vision to make urban centers and transit hubs easier to reach on foot and bike, and to provide off-road trails to help intercity commuters cover longer distances.

While some cities like Oakland and Berkeley have for years been making improvements like bicycle boulevards, bike lanes, signage, multi-use trails, and sidewalk repairs, the approach taken in the bike and pedestrian plan updates could make cities in Alameda County even friendlier for car-free travel, if local agencies follow through with it.

The plans call for a dense network of bike lanes, bike boulevards, sharrows, and signs, along with inviting sidewalks and crosswalks in much of the East Bay. The goal is to improve 762 miles of bike routes and 2,779 miles of pedestrian walkways by 2040.

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Advocates Rebuff Merchant’s Absurd Argument Against East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit

In an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune yesterday, local business owner Randy Reed laid down a whopping piece of misinformation: For businesses, he wrote, enhancing East Bay transportation options with Bus Rapid Transit will be no different than when construction removes all of the car parking on a street.

Reed, who led the charge in killing the Telegraph Avenue leg of the East Bay BRT route, got the piece published just as the project faces two critical hearings next week (see below for the schedule). Based on this new op-ed, Reed isn’t content to just squash transit improvements in his backyard — he also doesn’t want to let residents on the rest of the Downtown Oakland – San Leandro route reap the benefits.

Here’s what Reed calls the BRT “test run” that forms the backbone of his screed:

We have tested the effect of removing all street parking in our area, and it was devastating to our business. A test was run with city staff several years ago to see what happens with lane closures and parking removal on Telegraph from 43rd to 45th streets.

The problems were tracked: When the street was repaved; when ramps were installed on the corners; and when sidewalk repairs were performed.

Staff concluded that it would be disastrous.

Two local advocates offered up some fantastic rebuttals in the comments section. I’ll hand the mic over to Streetsblog’s own Oakland-based intern Robert Prinz, who is also the education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition:

Maybe you would have a point if removing all street parking was actually part of the plan. Removing a few spots, sure, but the bulk of curbside parking spots will remain. The BRT planners I have talked to bent over backwards to keep as much parking as possible, to the detriment of other parts of the plan.

What is really going to happen is the reduced scope San Leandro-Oakland BRT is going to be built, it will be a huge boon for the communities along that corridor, and then the Telegraph merchants with a collective case of selective memory loss will start lining up to ask for an expensive extension into their business districts.

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East Bay’s Record-Breaking Bike to Work Day: Ten Mayors, 17,000 People

In Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente arrive to work by bike. Photos: Ruth Miller

Bike to Work Day in the East Bay broke records once again yesterday, with ten mayors, dozens of council members, and over 17,000 participants riding — an overall 22 percent increase across the East Bay. The record-breaking number of elected officials riding in included the mayors of Albany, Berkeley, Piedmont, Dublin, Fremont, Emeryville, Hayward, Richmond, and Union City.

Piedmont Mayor John Chaing and Vice Mayor Margaret Fujioka at the festivities in Oakland.

“It’s great to see so many of our local elected officials out riding on Bike to Work Day and setting an example,” said Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC). “They understand the benefits of bike commuting, and they’ve directed city resources to help make bicycling viable as an everyday means of transportation.”

The largest ridership increase was seen in Pleasanton at 40 percent more than last year, followed by Alameda at 29 percent and Emeryville at 17 percent. In Berkeley, more bicycles than cars passed by lower Sproul Plaza for the first time yesterday morning, according to the EBBC. “This a doubling of bike mode share at Cal,” the EBBC wrote on its website, noting that Berkeley has the country’s fourth-highest bike mode share at 8 percent, according to the American Commute Survey.

Oakland has the eighth-largest Bike to Work Day in the United States, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking. The free pancake breakfast in front of Oakland City Hall yesterday drew over 600 people who were greeted with free valet bicycle parking and tote bags before mingling and enjoying breakfast in the sunshine.

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East Bay BRT EIR Approved, Final Agreements Set for June

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Image via TransForm

Bus rapid transit (BRT) between Oakland and San Leandro in the East Bay cleared a major hurdle this week after AC Transit unanimously approved the project’s environmental impact report. Agreements with the cities of Oakland and San Leandro must still be finalized in June before the project can officially break ground.

“This plan represents a big step in making bus service significantly better in the East Bay,” said Marta Lindsey, communications director for TransForm. “But it’s also a big step for the entire Bay Area, as it will showcase what’s possible: faster, more reliable, and more frequent buses – plus a better experience for riders all-around and at an incredible value.”

Marta noted that East Bay BRT has the highest cost-efficiency rating from the Federal Transit Administration of any public transportation project in the nation currently competing for federal funds.

The full Oakland-to-Berkeley corridor won’t get true BRT after merchants in Berkeley complained about losing car parking to dedicated bus lanes. But this section will bring substantial benefits on its own: 22 community organizations have signed a letter [PDF] cheering the estimated 39 percent improvement in travel times, 300+ jobs, and transit-oriented growth the project is expected to bring along the International Boulevard corridor.