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Posts from the "Oakland" Category

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Thousands Play in the Streets as Oaklavia Transforms Downtown Oakland

Oaklavia transformed a swath of downtown Oakland to a vibrant streetscape Sunday, in its first ever ciclovia-style event, with café seating in the streets, yoga classes, dancers, musicians, food carts and games. More than two thirds of the estimated 3,000 - 4,000 people who turned out to experience the joy of car-free streets were people who rode their bicycles. 

WalkOaklandBikeOakland (WOBO), the organizer, called the event a success, and said businesses and elected leaders were thrilled, and the community response was overwhelmingly positive.

"My favorite quote was a woman who said 'This is a better Oakland,'" said Kassie Rohrbach, WOBO's Executive Director. "WOBO is making Oakland a better place to walk and bike and that quote really captured exactly what we hoped folks would feel from the day."

One of the most popular spots on the route was Washington Street between 8th and 9th in Old Oakland. A parklet, hosted by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC), featured astroturf, outdoor seating for nearby restaurants and shady benches. A fooz ball table got continuous play despite the fact that it wasn't level. Musicians, gardeners, and bicycle tailors gravitated to the block, creating a lively street scene.

Restaurants that chose to open did a brisk business. Café 817 on Washington Street in Old Oakland is normally closed on Sunday. "We didn't expect anything," Lillian, one of the owners, said as she prepared salads behind the counter. "It's been great." She would be happy to see the event repeated and "we will be more ready for it next time."

And then there were the kids, so many kids. Little ones came in trailers, bike seats, bakfiets and on trail-a-bikes. Others scooted down the street on skuuts, tricycles, and scooters. Small people spun big hula hoops. The parking lot of Kinetic Arts was packed with bicycles as parents and kids poured in for circus arts performances and classes.

WOBO took the opportunity to stencil a temporary bike lane on Broadway. The organization's Bike Broadway Campaign seeks "a continuous and safe north-south bicycle boulevard on Broadway." The success of Oaklavia in demonstrating the vitality of safe streets for cyclists should help move that goal forward.

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The Nowtopian 9 Comments

Bridge the Gap!

bikes_small.jpgPhoto: Matthew Roth
As I climbed the steps out of the Lake Merritt BART station this morning I heard loud chanting. "Wow," I thought, "those bicyclists have really pulled out the troops!" But the demonstrators that greeted me across 8th Street in Oakland were pile drivers, iron workers, carpenters and other trades workers, chanting "Jobs for Oakland Now!" Not far from their boisterous demonstration in front of the main doors of the Joseph Brot Metro Center were a few cyclists showing their signs to passersby, "Bridge the Gap Now" "All the Way Across the Bay" and "Safety Path!" Across the street, Transform and Urban Habitat were also making their presence felt, opposing the Oakland Airport Connector that the building trades unionists were clamoring for.

Democracy in action, I suppose. Long-time bicycle advocates from the East Bay and San Francisco converged on this meeting, hoping to convince the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) to support using some of the new tolls ($5 on all bridges as of July 1, with $6 congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge during rush hour, and for the first time, a half-price toll for carpoolers) to fund a new west-span bicycle/pedestrian/maintenance/safety lane to make the bridge safer, and to finish the transbay route for bicyclists and pedestrians too, not just motorized vehicles. But that effort was bureaucratically sidetracked before this meeting even started.

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Some Bay Area Developers Ditch the Extra Parking Spaces for More Units

When it comes to building new developments in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco, the battle over limiting the construction of new parking spaces is pitched. Parking reform advocacy organizations like Livable City, which maintains a listserv populated by car-free and livable-city advocates keeping a keen watch on planning commission parking exemptions, have long encouraged city leaders to tighten the parking-to-unit ratios in dense neighborhoods flush with transit and bicycling options.

no_parking_small.jpgPhoto: Matthew Roth
Why, these advocates ask, would any city seeking to be a model of sustainability require developments to have one parking space per unit, as is the case across San Francisco outside of the downtown core and certain neighborhood plan zones (the mandatory parking ratio can be higher in other Bay Area cities)? San Francisco is the city it is because it was built densely, with minimal parking, and areas like the Mission or North Beach would be impossible with 1:1 ratios.

And who should they hang for granting variances permitting higher than 2:1 ratios, as happened last week when a two-unit home at 2626 Larkin Street in Russian Hill received permission from the San Francisco Planning Commission to build five parking spaces, one with a parking stacker for additional cars?

When these questions are asked of city planners and developers, like they were during the struggle to limit parking at 299 Valencia Street, advocates and political leaders are led to believe that it is impossible to finance new developments, particularly condos and non-rental properties, without the maximum parking ratio possible. Less parking, goes the developer refrain, banks will refuse to loan and the units will be impossible to re-sell.

Not all developers buy that argument, however, and some have buildings that disprove it.

"If you are doing a project next to BART or many buses, you really don't need to have a lot of cars," said Oz Erickson, Chairman of the Emerald Fund, Inc, a developer who has built more than 2,000 units in San Francisco. Emerald's newest development, a rental building at 333 Harrison Street in Rincon Hill, will be built with a .5:1 parking-to-unit ratio, even though the developer could appeal for a variance to build more parking.

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CA Poised to Reform Auto-Centric Level of Service Environmental Rules

California administrative rulemakers recently moved a step closer to reforming the section of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that has compelled cities to focus undue attention on the age-old Automobile Level of Service (LOS) threshold for impacts of new projects and has led to the construction of excess off-street parking.

SF-traffic_1.jpgPhoto: pbo31
The state's Natural Resources Agency released the newest revisions of Appendix G of the CEQA guidelines (the Environmental Checklist Form) late on Friday afternoon, setting off a flurry of emails from proponents of LOS reform, including officials in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, as well as transit and bicycle advocates.

As we documented on Streetsblog, over-reliance on LOS considerations by planners has traditionally led to widening intersections and roadways to improve the flow of automobile traffic at the expense of other modes. If the amendments made by Natural Resources stand and are formalized by January 1, 2010, the deadline for the changes, cities and counties around the state will have the flexibility to consider capacity metrics like LOS alongside other metrics that prioritize transit, pedestrians, and cyclists. The new rules would even allow city planners to walk away from LOS completely.

From the introduction to the proposed changes:

The intent of those amendments was to recognize a lead agency’s discretion to choose its own methodology for determining transportation-related impacts of a project while ensuring that all components of a circulation system are addressed in the analysis. The proposed revisions would refocus the question from the capacity of the circulation system to the performance of the circulation system as indicated in an applicable plan or ordinance. The proposed revisions also clarify and update language regarding safety considerations and other mass transit and non-motorized transportation issues.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom's Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the City Attorney have been collaborating with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) to replace LOS with a new metric for measuring the projected environmental impacts of a development or a project by the total number of new automobile trips it will generate (ATG). The city and county believe this new metric would move the focus away from how many cars move through a particular intersection to how many additional cars would be added to the total traffic picture. By default, this metric would prioritize transit improvements, bicycle infrastructure, and pedestrian safety measures, none of which would add automobile trips.

"This is a fantastic development with tremendous impact for transportation analysis in California," said TA Executive Director Jose Luis Moscovich in an email. "We are optimistic that, after two rounds of hearings and comments, the CEQA guidelines will drop references to congestion and automobile LOS. The Authority is proud to have worked hard with our partners at the Mayor's office and City Attorney's office to bring about this exciting reform."

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Donald Shoup Calls San Francisco Parking Meter Study “Pathbreaking”

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With the debate about parking meter rates and hours raging on both sides of the Bay, Streetsblog called UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and arguably the world's foremost parking expert, and asked him his opinion on the new San Francisco MTA parking meter study, which was released on Tuesday and calls for increasing meter hours in commercial districts where parking occupancy rises above 85 percent and where businesses are open late on weekdays and on Sundays.

Professor Shoup had read the study and called it "pathbreaking," lauding the MTA for being thorough and data-driven and for embracing occupancy targets for managing parking supply.

Professor Shoup also re-iterated the importance of Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) as a tool for selling parking reform to the public. In CBDs, a portion of the new meter revenue collected in commercial districts is returned to that district for sidewalk repair, street trees, enhanced street cleaning, etc., so that businesses can see firsthand how parking revenue improves their streets.

MTA Chief Nat Ford told Streetsblog his agency is not yet ready to have that discussion, and further complications arise because the Department of Public Works is responsible for maintaining sidewalks. How and when an arrangement between the two agencies would be brokered is anyone's guess.

Professor Shoup also pointed to Redwood City, Ventura, and Old Pasadena for best practice examples of occupancy-based parking policy changes that have revitalized neighborhoods and facilitated business. Read his full comments after the jump.

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Oakland City Council Delays Parking Vote for Two Weeks

2807783678_8d076df887_b.jpgOakland's electronic parking meters. Flickr photo: mlinksva
The Oakland City Council voted early this morning to delay action on proposed parking changes until its next meeting. After three hours of discussion that spilled well beyond midnight, a proposal to roll back parking meter enforcement from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. was narrowly defeated, despite calls for immediate action from dozens of merchants who attended the meeting.

In late June, the council voted to raise the parking meter rates by 50 cents to two dollars an hour, extend weekday meter enforcement to 8 p.m., and authorize more aggressive enforcement. Those changes have angered some residents and sparked cries from merchants that the new policies are hurting business.

Several councilmembers were skeptical of the options presented for making up the $900,000 budget gap the rolled-back enforcement hours would create, and requested a more detailed proposal from staff members. "Without an actual proposal for people to speak to, it's hard to say that staff will just come up with something," said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

The rejected proposal, presented by Councilmembers Jean Quan, Patricia Kernighan and Council President Jane Brunner, would have made up for the gap with a mixture of a crackdown on handicap placard abuse, installation of parking meters in new areas, money saved from automating payment at city parking garages, opening up some city garages for paid residential use at night, and selling ad space on the back of parking receipts. Staff would have been directed to come up with ideas to cover the rest of the gap, which was still estimated at over $300,000.

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Oakland City Council to Consider Scaling Back Parking Meter Hours Tonight

3736646388_c6f95c5892.jpgThe Grand Lake Theater. Flickr photo: Fragmentary Evidence
Facing mounting pressure from merchants and residents, the Oakland City Council will vote tonight (agenda PDF) on whether to partially roll back parking changes that have spurred an effort to recall the entire council.

In late June, the council voted to raise the parking meter rates by 50 cents to two dollars an hour, extend weekday meter enforcement to 8 p.m., and authorize more aggressive enforcement. The council will vote tonight on whether to reduce enforcement hours, either to 7 p.m. or all the way back to 6 p.m. They'd also need to identify up to $1.3 million in new revenue or cuts to make up for the loss of additional parking revenue.

The chief voice calling for a policy reversal has been Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater, who has organized protest meetings at his theater to rally opposition from other businesses and residents. Michaan insists that the new parking rules are deeply harming business in Oakland and causing customers to flee to surrounding East Bay communities that have free parking. He's cited a drop in revenue of 25 to 30 percent at his theater as evidence that the new parking rules are killing business.

In spite of Oakland's dire budget shortfall, Michaan has insisted the city find another way to cover its budget gap. At a protest at his theater in late July, Michaan said he'd be willing to make cuts to the police budget instead, which is likely to be a non-starter in a city where crime is among citizens' biggest concerns.

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Shoup Weighs in on Oakland Parking Controversy

3831238502_8b32f79956.jpgA newly installed SFpark parking meter in San Francisco. The SFpark program was inspired by Donald Shoup's theories on parking management. Photo: Bryan Goebel
If the recent parking battle in Oakland had you thinking of UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, you're not alone.

After the Oakland City Council raised parking fines and extended parking meter hours to help balance the city's books, some merchants raised an outcry. Merchants, lead by Grand Lake Theater owner Allen Michaan, said the new policies were hurting business, and threatened to recall the entire City Council if the changes weren't rolled back.

Shoup, whose market-driven parking management theories are the inspiration for San Francisco's SFpark pilot program, told the East Bay Express the merchants may have some legitimate complaints about how the city made the changes:

First, the council shouldn't be using parking meters as a cash register for its general fund, [Shoup] said. "You shouldn't set the price to raise money, but to manage supply," he explained.

Second, the council is micromanaging when it sets parking meter prices for every district in the city, he said. Instead, the council should delegate those responsibilities to city staffers who then set prices based on how difficult it is to park. As a result, it makes no sense for parking prices to be the same in busy districts, such as Rockridge and Lakeshore, as they are in less crowded ones. In addition, parking meter prices should fluctuate during the day, based on how tough it is to find a place to park. It makes no sense, Shoup said, to charge the same price at 8 a.m. when stores are closed, as at 1 p.m., during the height of the lunchtime rush.

The East Bay Express also notes that San Francisco is making some not-so-Shoupian moves of its own with the SFpark program, including sending all revenue to the MTA instead of funneling a portion back to the districts that it originates from for streetscape and other improvements.

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Eyes on the Street: Lake Merritt Bike Lane Ends Abruptly

Lakeside_Drive_Bike_Lane.jpgLakeside Drive along Lake Merritt, Oakland. Photo: Walk Oakland Bike Oakland
A recently-striped bike lane is causing confusion along Lakeside Drive in Oakland. Brian Smith posted the above photo to Livable City's car-free living mail list, and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland blogged about the issue earlier this month. It still hasn't been corrected, but Jason Patton, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for the City of Oakland, said in an email that the city is aware of the issue and is working to correct it:

This is a known issue and I'm working on it diligently. We also discussed the matter at the City of Oakland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting last Thursday. The bike lane should end at the point where there is insufficient width for the bike lane. To mark the transition, the last 100' of bike lane stripe will be a skip stripe (Detail 39A) and then two sharrows will follow the end of the bike lane to establish bicyclists' positioning in the travel lane.

I don't have a date for when these modifications will be completed, but my goal is as soon as possible.

The more important point, as Roger Miller of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland points out, may be be that the bike lanes have gone in with virtually no impact to traffic. "The city reduced auto lanes from 4 to 2. And there's no traffic. None," Miller wrote in an email to Streetsblog. "The City could easily stripe that bike lane on Oak St all the way to I-880. Tomorrow. And for that matter most of the bike plan's downtown routes with ease."

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National Transit Funding Report Highlights Local Transit Woes

ATU_rep_small.jpg ATU Local 192 representative Anthony Rogers, who has been an AC Transit bus driver for nearly 20 years. Photo: Matthew Roth
Genesis, a local affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, joined with representatives from the national Transportation Equity Network (TEN), AC Transit, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 today to call on Congress to act to stem the tide of transit service cuts, fare hikes, and operating budget shortfalls. The press event coincided with the release of Stranded at the Station, a report prepared by Transportation for America (T4A), Gamaliel, Nelson Nygaard and TEN, which details the woeful fiscal conditions of most of the major transit operators around the country and offers solutions for how to get them out of the quagmire.

As the report notes, in 2008, Americans took 10.7 billion transit trips, the highest since 1956 and the signing of the Interstate Highway System. "Transit ridership has been growing at nearly triple the rate of the population and almost twice as fast as the number of miles driven," the report states.

Locally, according to advocates and community leaders, especially in the East Bay, funding cuts have hurt the most vulnerable demographics, making it difficult to get to work, to school, and to medical appointments.

"The federal government is slicing the pie for their guests without asking them how hungry they are," said Reverend Scott Denman, President of Genesis and Rector, St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakland. "As a result, some guests are overeating, others are going hungry, and might I add, some are not even invited to the party."

He continued: "Our government says it is committed to reducing our dependency on foreign oil, says it is concerned about greenhouse gases, claims that government is by the people, for the people. Nonetheless, federal policy currently encourages more cars on the road and less help for those who have no cars."

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