Oakland Council Approves Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Ave

Oakland has approved a redesign of Telegraph Avenue that includes protected bike lanes separated by curbs and parking spots. Image: Oakland Public Works

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a road diet and parking-protected bike lanes to Telegraph Avenue, eliciting cheers from East Bay bike advocates.

The vote allows the city to begin work on the first phase of the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets plan, which covers the segment between 41st and 19th Streets in downtown. Planners hope to include the road diet and protected lanes in the city’s scheduled repaving of Telegraph Avenue in the spring, using inexpensive materials to get it on the ground quickly.

Of the 20 people who addressed the council about the Telegraph plan, 17 were supporters sporting green stickers that read “Protected Bike Lanes,” and three opposed it. Supporters included reps from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, neighbors, business owners, a developer, and others who bike.

Parking-protected bike lanes are coming to this section of Telegraph, looking towards downtown from 24th Street. Photo: Melanie Curry

Among the supporters was Stephanie Sokol, who is in the process of buying the popular bistro Marc 49 on Telegraph in Temescal. “Three of my employees have been hit by cars in the last year,” she told the council. “My employees and my patrons walk and ride bikes in the area. We need these lanes for their safety.”

Berkeley resident David Jones reminded the council of that inviting people to bike on Telegraph will bring more customers to spend money there. “When I heard about this plan,” he said, “I decided to ride down Telegraph to see what it was like. I found it to be dangerous. But on my ride I passed the Fox Theater, and noticed there was a concert I really wanted to see. When I got home, my friends and I all bought tickets. And we will probably go to dinner nearby before the show.”

Among the arguments from the three who spoke against the Telegraph plan were fears of gentrification and increased congestion because “with less parking, people will have to drive around looking for parking.” 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.

Robert Del Rosario of AC Transit said the agency supported the plan, but was concerned about the road diet’s effects on bus service on the corridor. He asked the city council to ensure that the transit improvements suggested in the plan — including moving bus stops, new bus islands, and transit signal priority — are funded and implemented.  AC Transit outlined its concerns in a letter to the council [PDF].

“We want to make sure that the transit mitigations are all captured,” Del Rosario told Streetsblog. “We’re worried that reducing lanes and putting in bike lanes will be easy and cheap, while our stuff has a big capital component. Bus stop re-locations and transit islands are hard politically as well as expensive. But we know that if we don’t couple them with a project then we definitely won’t get them.”

When asked by councilmembers how the road diet would affect emergency vehicles, Oakland city planner Jamie Parks pointed out that the plan includes a continuous center turn lane, which would be available for emergency vehicles, along with right turn lanes to keep queuing cars out of the way.

With the adoption of this plan, Oakland will join 52 other cities in the US that have already have protected bike lanes compiled in a list by the Green Lane Project. Although many of CA’s existing protected bike lanes are short, Long Beach has several mile-long, parking protected lanes leading in and out of downtown.

Oakland’s plan includes nine blocks of parking-protected bike lanes and 12 blocks of buffered bike lanes, with painted markings delineating a space between bikes and cars in the first phase. But the plan didn’t touch the busy, complex section in Temescal, which has car traffic using nearby freeway ramps, heavily used transit stops, dangerous pedestrian crossings, and a decent amount of bike traffic.

City planners put off making decisions about that section, and until the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets plan is actually complete, bike commuters who live or work north of the protected lane section will have to brave that segment, or choose a different route.

Christopher Kidd, vice chair of the Oakland Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Commission, was nonetheless pleased with the plan. “Staff took a very measured, canny approach to this project,” he told Streetsblog. “There’s a long history of opposition to changing the configuration of Telegraph in the Temescal. By putting off that challenge for another day, the city can move forward with a robust protected bike lane on the lower stretch of Telegraph.”

Meanwhile, an nearly-completed study by UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning provides some perspective for Temescal area merchants and residents who are worried about street changes. Students surveyed shoppers, merchants, and travelers through the area and found these takeaways:

  • Merchants think shoppers drive to stores, but shoppers mostly use alternative transportation modes: transit, walking, and bikes
  • Bus riders are the best customers, spending more money per month in the area than drivers
  • Most commuters get to MacArthur BART, in the middle of the Telegraph corridor, by means other than driving
  • Many area employees drive to work, which may influence merchants’ perceptions of how many of their customers drive

The specific stats from the study won’t be publicly available until the Cal students turn in the assignment. They’ve also proposed some innovative solutions to the area’s transportation problems — but more on that later.

“Once other neighborhoods and business districts see the overwhelmingly positive outcome of protected bike lanes,” said Kidd, “they’ll start asking ‘Why don’t we have those?’ Putting a real-world example on the ground in Oakland is just the beginning.”

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