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.

Cycles of Change and EBBC hosted a Kids Bike Rodeo. Bicycles of all sizes were provided, including small ones with pedals removed to help new riders practice balance. Little girls in ladybug wings and flowery dresses (they were on their way to a birthday party) navigated a course drawn in colorful chalk that looked like a kid-sized board game.

"My favorite thing was seeing the smiles on the kids faces," said Sophia, who worked with the organizers to coordinate the activities. "Just seeing them out with a safe place to play in the streets."

Jennifer West, Emeryville City Council member, came with her two daughters, ages 4 and 9. "The hula hooping and the kid’s bike rodeo were fantastic" for her children. "The kids got to see the street in a new way. We’re constantly yelling at them ‘Don’t go in the street!’ Today, the street was the place to be."

Rohrbach hopes to organize two Oaklavia events next year, including one in the Fruitvale District, and is coordinating with the EBBC and Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition to plan one that connects Berkeley and Oakland on Telegraph. In addition, Rohrbach may work with San Francisco’s Sunday Streets coordinator, Susan King, to hold an event on Treasure Island.

"There’s a lot of conversations about not only doing more in Oakland, but collaborating across cities in the Bay Area and bringing folks together from around the Bay," said Rohrbach.

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