New Oakland DOT Tackles Pedestrian Safety Fix

Workers upgrading the crosswalk at Harrison and 23rd as part of Oakland’s Vision Zero efforts. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise indicated
Workers upgrading the crosswalk at Harrison and 23rd as part of Oakland’s Vision Zero efforts. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise indicated

Robert Bennett of Resource Development Associates, a consultant for public and nonprofit social justice advocates, was walking his dog in the crossing at Harrison Street and 23rd on Friday, June 2, when he was fatally struck by a motorist.

And now, too late, construction is underway to improve this crossing.

The crosswalk was a known danger spot. Not only was there no curb-cut on the eastern side of the crosswalk, but it deadends into a tree. Visibility is poor, motoring speeds are typically high, and it’s not accessible to people with disabilities. For some time, advocates had been pushing the City of Oakland to fix the situation.

A pre-construction view of the tree blocking the crosswalk. Photo: Nicole Ferrara
A pre-construction view of the tree blocking the crosswalk. Photo: Nicole Ferrara

From a statement from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland:

We were founded in 2007 advocating for safety improvements one block away. Now, ten years later, no improvements have been made to Harrison Street north of Grand Avenue, a far too dangerous street as currently designed as a freeway connection between downtown Oakland and 580. It needs to be fixed right away.

The situation is made more acute by the proximity of the Downtown Oakland Senior Center. “The pedestrian crosswalk over Harrison Street at 23rd Street is missing any curb ramp on the east side along with a complete connection to the sidewalk, and needs an upgraded/modern curb ramp on the west side,” wrote Robert Prinz, Education Director, Bike East Bay, in his own letter to Oakland DOT staff. He added that it “… needs to at the very least be made accessible via the curb improvements, and ideally safer via crosswalk pavement lights and preferably a road diet on Harrison Street.”

Improving this crossing is now Nicole Ferrara’s job–and her first project since leaving her position as executive director at Walk San Francisco to join Oakland’s newly formed Department of Transportation as its Vision Zero coordinator. Streetsblog met up with her at 23rd and Harrison late last week. “This will start with a painted median, bulbouts and posts, and hopefully planters,” she said of efforts to calm this stretch of Harrison and improve the crossing. It will also be Oakland’s first trapezoidal crossing (see diagram below) which will allow pedestrians to get across safely without forcing the city to remove the tree. In addition, all “u-turns or left turns will be eliminated.” She also hopes planters may be used instead of plastic posts.

“This is what can happen when you actually have a Department of Transportation,” she said of Oakland’s newly formed department. She also praised the DOT’s new head, Ryan Russo. “You have someone who wants to get things done and done in a responsible and responsive way for the community.”

A schematic of the design for Harrison. Note the trapezoidal crosswalk at 23rd. Image: Oakland DOT
A schematic of the design for Harrison. Note the trapezoidal crosswalk at 23rd. Image: Oakland DOT

More will be coming. And Oakland was already in the middle of a series of safety improvements for the streets surrounding Lake Merritt. Anyone whose passed by Lakeside, Harrison, and Grand has seen the construction. “We just adopted the city’s pedestrian plan, with priority projects and lots of work planned for East Oakland, repaving 98th, Fruitvale Avenue,” and others, she explained. The push will be on to get things done quickly. In fact, Ferrara came to the site with a can of paint and a small roller to try out some samples on asphalt.

Nicole Ferrara on Thursday morning, checking out progress on improvements to the 23rd Street crosswalk on Harrison
Nicole Ferrara, last Thursday morning, checking out progress on improvements to the 23rd Street crosswalk on Harrison

All of this, of course, is too little, too late for Bennett, who is survived by a wife and five children. But let’s hope due to the tireless work of advocates, and more improvements to come under Oakland’s new DOT regime, future tragedies will be prevented and known danger spots will be fixed before, instead of after, someone is hurt or killed.

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