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Oakland Unnecessarily Pits Safe Bicycling vs. Transit on Telegraph Avenue

At two workshops last week in Oakland, attendees overwhelmingly called for a bolder plan to make Telegraph Avenue safer and include protected bike lanes. Oakland planners ditched their original proposals for parking-protected bike lanes, instead proposing buffered, unprotected bike lanes on most of the street. In Temescal, the street's most dangerous and motor traffic-heavy section, planners insist on preserving all four traffic lanes, with only sharrows added. But when asked to choose between removing parking or removing traffic lanes, it was clear that the majority of residents who attended both meetings would be willing to give up parking.

The majority of residents who attended two workshops would be willing to give up parking for protected bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue. Photo: Melanie Curry

Still, a few kept the discussion circling back to the potential tradeoffs between bike safety and transit reliability. Oakland city planners trying unsuccessfully tried to get traction on the idea of moving the bike route a block away to Shattuck Avenue, despite Telegraph being a clear magnet for bike traffic even without any bike infrastructure.

Several people at the workshops argued adamantly that sharrows are not a reasonable alternative to bike lanes. “Please remove sharrows as an option,” said one attendee. “I don't want to share facilities with a car. We've tried it, and I hate it. It's not safe.”

Oakland planner Jamie Parks opened up group discussions at both meetings by admitting that sharrows are "not the ideal bike facility, but this is the most constrained and congested section of the street."

"The tradeoffs include removing parking or removing a lane of traffic," he told attendees. "If we were to incorporate continuous bike lanes, what would people be willing to give up?”

“Parking!” one person shouted from the back of the room at one meeting. Discussions at both meetings stayed mostly polite, and there seemed to be general agreement that providing parking was not as important as safety.

But not everybody agreed. One dissenter said, “I just don't think politics will allow for the abolition of parking.”

Only some parking spaces on Telegraph would need to be removed to provide bike lanes. But the city doesn't seem to be seriously considering it, despite strong evidence in other cities that as motor traffic is calmed, and bike traffic goes up, commercial corridors tend to see more people shopping by foot and bike. Oakland's own findings show that parking spaces in Temescal rarely approach 85 percent of capacity, even at peak times, and that better parking management could make even more spaces available.

Oakland's recommended plan for Telegraph Avenue includes no bike lanes near the freeway ramps at 51st Street. Image: City of Oakland

Removing parking would create enough room for bike lanes five to six feet wide, and would leave two traffic lanes in each direction. However, it would not leave enough room for transit islands, which are used in the rest of the corridor. Transit islands route bike lanes behind bus stops, allowing buses to load at the curb without mixing with people on bikes.

A road diet, on the other hand, would remove a traffic lane in each direction and make room for wider, parking-protected bike lanes, along with one traffic lane in each direction, plus turn lanes at intersections. And if it were accompanied by a suite of other transit improvements — like moved bus stops, transit islands, and “queue jump” lanes to allow buses to move ahead of car traffic — transit would be able to maintain its current schedules, at the least.

But Robert del Rosario of AC Transit, who was present at the Thursday meeting, said that the agency is concerned that those other transit improvements may not happen, based on past experiences. “It's very difficult to move bus stops,” he said, “and there's very little room for queue jump lanes."

“If you do a road diet but none of the other improvements, it will really slow down transit speed,” said del Rosario.

One workshop participant asked how big the delay to transit would be under a road diet configuration. “And is it really big enough to make up for the increased danger to bicyclists?”

Robert Prinz of Bike East Bay pointed out that if the city wants to increase the number of people biking on Telegraph, which may be hard to do without continuous bike lanes, more bikes will be mixing with cars and transit anyway, potentially adding to delays.

One participant said, “People going more slowly is less important than people not dying.”

While Telegraph has space constraints that city planners have to work with, dumping bike lanes in Temescal is not a design that creates “a better balance of travel mode choices for all users,” which they say is one of the plan's objectives. Sharrows do nothing to balance out the car-centric design of the most heavily car-dominated area.

“People want options," said Clarissa Cabansagan, a community planner with TransForm. "We don't have to pitch everyone against each other. What we need to remember is, who we are planning for?”

Oakland city planners are still accepting public comments on its draft plan until October 2 via an online form. A final plan will be presented to the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission on October 16 before going to the City Council for approval.

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