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.”

  • Adam S

    I saw a cyclist get drilled a couple hours ago at Polk and sutter by a chick who ran a red light. He’ll be ok but it was ten feet in front of me and not pretty. Be careful out there and make sure you check oncoming traffic at an intersection even if you have the light.

  • Easy

    Looking forward to visiting.

  • Disappointed

    This Temescal resident is disappointed.

  • BBnet3000

    Without the “why” this comment is disappointing.

  • 94103er

    Being careful goes without saying. I’d put ‘real consequences for drivers not following basic rules of the road’ high on my list of things to wish for.

  • cralledode

    Then get your neighbors out to the community meetings when they start planning phase 2!

  • YWHYKNOT

    I kind of agree. But I am actually happy they took the Temescal neighborhood out of the plan in order to redesign that section at a later date. What they came up with was basically a few sharrows, and at many locations made the street worse than it is currently for anyone other than vehicles. Their idea to do nothing at the 51st street freeway on-ramp intersection was particularly disappointing.

    I hope they come up with something better than that in the Temescal neighborhood. I’ve said many times, Telegraph (especially in Temescal, South Berkeley area) has the potential to be a truly world class street. Let’s hope they get closer with their next iteration

  • Prinzrob

    City Council added an amendment to the staff recommendations, indicating that shared lanes are not to be used within any part of the project area, including the Temescal segment. This sets a base level of accommodation for staff to study, so the choice will be for stake holders to decide whether they prefer to remove parking or a travel lane in order to install a dedicated bikeway, and staff can determine whether a standard, buffered, or protected bikeway makes the most sense.

  • Sprague

    Looking at the plan pictured in the article above, it’s too bad that right turning vehicles must cross through the bike lane prior to the intersection. This is not protected. A safer arrangement (that also has better potential to encourage higher bike ridership/better usage) would be for the bike lane to remain removed from motor vehicles until the intersection, like a sidewalk separates pedestrians until the intersection. Masonic Avenues’ planned redesign gets this right (see http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/06/26/sfcta-board-approves-funding-for-masonic-second-street-and-more/). Sure, these proposed changes to Telegraph are welcome and much better than what’s there now (but higher bicycle mode share would be captured if the new lanes would be “protected” for the length of the block). (I believe that bicycle advocates called for such a design.)

  • Those UC Berkeley findings are great takeaways. Bullet #4 in particular is a *very* interesting insight(!) – never seen that before.

  • Scott Mace

    I was one of those who spoke in opposition. There was no binding language from council that bus service on Telegraph will not be degraded — only a pledge to work with AC Transit. It should have been made a precondition. And what about when delivery trucks block the single remaining lane? Buses will have to weave into and out of the middle left turn lane to avoid them. Finally, right and left hooks by motor vehicles may be increased, as bicyclists hidden by parked cars until the last minute suddenly become visible to turning drivers at intersections. P.S. I am a lifelong bicyclist, longtime activist, and I do not own a car.

  • murphstahoe

    And what about when delivery trucks block the single remaining lane?

    This is apparently a problem. But when delivery trucks block the bike lane – no big deal, amirite?

  • Scott Mace

    It IS a big deal when trucks block the bike lane. A matter of degrees though. In the current four-lane, no bike lane configuration, bicyclists can move over to the left travel lane to continue past the delivery truck, and underfunded education programs such as Cycling Savvy can successfully teach them to do this with assertiveness and safety. A blocked bus, on the other hand, inconveniences all the people on that bus. Either way, there is typically under-policing of those delivery trucks blocking traffic, which is also a big part of the problem.

  • Ryan Price

    And I was the person arguing with you the entire time.

    There will be a middle turn lane where delivery trucks are supposed to unload, or where motorists can — wait for it — go around them.

    The bicycle community, the neighborhood, and the business district want protected bike lanes. Stop trying to fight the future at every turn, and support what the people want.

  • Ryan Price

    Hey Sprague,

    Bicycle advocates weren’t calling for the “mixing zone” design. The city was unwilling to experiment with designs that are not supported by the state of California or national engineering organizations. We agree that we should at least be “experimenting” (Read: implementation of internationally accepted designs) with “protected intersection” designs (Netherlands style) or all the way to the intersection with separate mode lights (Danish style) but those aren’t supported, and Oakland Public Works is afraid to “deviate from standard designs”. Places like San Francisco has the money and talent for “experimentation”, but without transportation (bicycles and transit specifically) becoming a top 3 politically issue in Oakland, lawmakers will not take us seriously, and will not dedicate the funding.

    Also, in my opinion, we need to ban rights on reds in order to implement the best and safest types of intersections.

    PS, that link didn’t work, but I would love to see it.

  • Scott Mace

    Can’t wait to see buses using the middle lane. Ridiculous. Dave Campbell can’t even assure me that bus service will be faster than bicycling. Meanwhile, bikes emerging from those “protected” lanes at intersections will either have to look both ways before proceeding, or risk being hit by left- or right-turning vehicles who won’t see the cyclists entering the intersection as well as they can today.

  • Gezellig

    I think the upcoming protected intersection in Davis will go a long way towards convincing other Californian cities that this is doable:

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/05/28/four-cities-race-to-finish-the-countrys-first-protected-intersection/#disqus_thread

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