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Posts from the "Oakland City Council" 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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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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Oakland Officials and Advocates Celebrate 18 New Miles of Bikeways in 2011

There's nothing like the smell of fresh thermoplast in the morning. Photos: Ruth Miller

As city contractors stenciled new bike lanes last Friday at Oakland’s 25th and Webster Streets, a group of advocates, city staff, and elected officials celebrated the final project in Oakland’s busiest bicycling year to date.

“This year we put in 18.1 miles of new bike lanes and 292 new bike parking spots,” Council Member Libby Schaaf told the group.

Oakland Council Member Libby Schaaf, an early member of WOBO.

Oakland was recently recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a Bronze Bicycle-Friendly City and “named one of the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the country,” noted Mayor Jean Quan, and “we’re working to get into the top ten.”

On top of a major expansion of bikeways this year, Uptown Oakland will get its own bike station as soon as 2013 near the 19th Street BART station, announced Jason Overman of Council Member Rebecca Kaplan’s office, which recently won a $500,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Safe Routes to Transit program to create a space similar to the Downtown Berkeley bike station and host valet bike parking and repairs.

Over the next two weeks, crews will complete the bike lane along the one-way Webster Street south to 14th Street, and a complementary bike lane will be installed on the parallel Franklin Street in January. Combined, the pair will create a north-south corridor to Downtown Oakland.

Many of Oakland’s 2011 bike projects focused on completing the network of bike lanes and sharrows, including segments of major crosstown routes like Fruitvale, Lakeshore, Telegraph, and West Grand Avenues, as well as Foothill Boulevard and East 12th Street.

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Oakland Airport Connector Clears One More Hurdle

OAC.jpgOAC image: BART
Transit advocates, community groups, and faith-based environmental justice organizations made another plea to Oakland and regional policy makers to kill the half a billion dollar Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) with a resolution sponsored by Oakland City Council members Nancy Nadel and Rebecca Kaplan at their monthly meeting last night. Citing a significantly more expensive project from the $130 million dollar proposal supported by voters in 2000 without intermediate stops along Hegenberger Boulevard and with fares three times those originally promised, the groups argued in vain that the council should not support the existing proposal but should seek a surface Bus Rapid Transit option at one-fifth the cost.

Most of the political class lined up in opposition to the council resolution and in favor of completing the OAC as an elevated people mover under the current design. A late letter of support from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums urged several provisions, including intermediate stops and hiring requirements, but did not set up parameters for their inclusion in the project. Most speakers honed in on the need for job creation in Oakland, which is suffering from more than 17 percent unemployment, though disagreement raged over whether or not the construction jobs (estimated from 689 to 15,000, depending on the job creation metric used by the speakers) merited the public outlay of funds.

After testimony from more than 100 public speakers late into the night, at 1:15am this morning Nadel and Kaplan conceded they didn't have the votes to carry the resolution opposed to the OAC and the council approved an alternative resolution introduced by Councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente to support the OAC with three provisos mirroring Dellums':

  • Bind local job requirements (50 percent of hires from the region, 25 percent from Oakland) with penalties for non-performance, versus BART's current non-binding hiring objectives
  • An intermediate stop funded by BART out of project funding that is allocated, but may not be needed for the project if construction costs reduce the contractor bids below the expected $522-552 million price tag
  • An analysis of the OAC Fare with regards to social equity impacts, particularly if bids come in lower than expected

Councilmember Larry Reid, who has been a proponent of OAC for more than 20 years, argued that rejecting the fixed rail connector would prevent Oakland from maintaining its regional competitiveness with other airports. "This is a regional airport," he said. "If we are going to be competitive with San Francisco or San Jose, we need this to be seamless.  San Francisco has always been one of our competitive modes."

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Oakland Council Rolls Back Parking Changes Amid Cries From Merchants

grand_lake_theater_parking.jpgGrand Lake Theater owner Alan Michaan exhorts the public to "Stop the Parking Madness!" Photo: DigiAnt
During another raucous staging of political parking theater at last night's Oakland City Council meeting, where more than 90 speakers often shouted their opinions on the city's parking policy, the council reversed its position from July, scaling back the 8 pm evening time limit until 6 pm and assenting to a dynamic, citywide parking study. To make up the approximately $1 million in lost parking revenue, the council will look to new advertising deals, including nearly $500,000 in billboard revenue from Clear Channel. Only Councilmember Nancy Nadel of Downtown and West Oakland voted against the roll-back.

Oakland City Administrator Dan Lindheim, despite his own admission it would contradict an existing city ordinance, instructed staff to make the changes immediately after the vote, while the council meeting was still in progress, prompting a hearty applause from an audience overwhelmingly opposed to the extended meter hours and increased meter rates. 

Angry residents and business owners as well as several chambers of commerce and business associations lined up one after another to decry the initial changes, suggesting that the increased rate and hours were the death knell to commerce in Oakland.

"We have heard enough from our merchants about the impacts of this parking to their businesses," said Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce Board President Sugiarto Loni. "I'm here to urge all the citiy council members, please don't defer any more your motion to roll-back parking meters from 8 to 6.  It's going to help the small business a lot."

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