Oakland Needs to Stop Building Sub-Par Infrastructure

Even on new streets, city continues using dangerous, out-dated bike lane designs

Even on this brand new street in Oakland, the city is constructing a dangerous, unprotected gutter-pan bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Even on this brand new street in Oakland, the city is constructing a dangerous, unprotected gutter-pan bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

See that drainage gutter pan to the left of the curb in the lead photo and the photo below? That’s part of what qualifies as bike infrastructure on a brand new street in Oakland that will serve the Brooklyn Basin Housing development, currently under construction. That waterfront development will eventually house 3,000 people. The expectation is that many, if not most, of the new residents will get around by foot and by bike.

But if that’s going to happen, first we need to stop pretending drainage channels make suitable bike lanes (even if a painted buffer is added later, which is reportedly the plan).

IMG_20180514_092637
Sorry, this is a drain pan, not a bike lane.
The new bridge, connecting Embarcadero to Brooklyn Basin, still has bikes riding on the exposed side of the crash barrier. Image: Bike East Bay's website
The new bridge, connecting Embarcadero to Brooklyn Basin, still has bikes riding on the exposed side of the crash barrier. Image: Bike East Bay’s website

And in the rendering above, showing how Embacadero will cross the estuary channel, Oakland is repeating a bad design it put in place a few years ago on Lake Merritt Boulevard. The current design places the crash barrier on the right side of the bike lane instead of the left, where it could actually protect cyclists instead of just giving them something to get crushed against in a collision.

The irony is that for all intents and purposes they’re already building a wonderful, truly protected, Dutch-style bike lane, that would be safe for all ages and abilities, as pictured below:

Bike East Bay's Susie Hufstader on the Embarcadero's accidental cycletrack.
Bike East Bay’s Susie Hufstader on Embarcadero’s accidental cycletrack.

Officially, that’s the sidewalk, but it’s doubling as a mixed-use path during the construction. The plan is to move cyclists off it once construction is finished. However, imagine if this sidewalk were painted green and made wider, or a second, completely separate pedestrian path were added to the right of it. Whether you prefer to call it a “cycletrack,” “Dutch-style bike lane,” or the official state “Class IV” designation, the bottom line is that such a design would create a truly safe bike space for all ages and abilities.

That’s also the preferred design in the Netherlands, as seen below. The only difference would be the Dutch use red asphalt instead of green paint.

A proper cycle path in the Netherlands. Photo: Bicycle Dutch Blog
A proper cycle path in the Netherlands. Photo: Bicycle Dutch Blog

And if your response to this photo is “what about the driveways?” please just watch this four-minute film. (Not that there are many driveways on Oakland’s Embarcadero, since the road essentially goes along the coast).

It’s a cruel irony that even as cities such as Oakland struggle to retrofit streets with parking-protected bike lanes with one hand, they continue to pour concrete and adhere to these outdated designs with the other. The excuse is that some of these projects were in the pipeline years ago, so the designs are outdated, but we’re just stuck with them. From Streetsblog’s view, that’s incredibly lame: if the designs suck, then stop the project and fix them.

The good news is change orders can happen. Bike East Bay’s community organizer Susie Hufstader, who commutes on Oakland’s Embardero, pointed out that the City of Oakland changed the plans on its Lakeside Drive project to include protected bike lanes. This was in large part due to pressure from Bike East Bay–and to the change in management of Oakland’s new Department of Transportation.

Can another change order happen so soon? “No reason that couldn’t happen, in theory, on the Embacadero,” said Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay.

Will it happen? Campbell explained that change orders can be expensive and contentious. Streetsblog has a call in to the new officials at Oakland DOT to find out what they think and will update this post if any reply. Maybe Streetsblog readers could put in a few calls and emails too.

Either way, at some point all the cities in the Bay Area just need to stop building stuff like this in the first place. We have enough bad designs to fix and retrofit already. There is no excuse for Caltrans and area DOTs to keep installing dangerous infrastructure that future generations will have to fix.

  • David Marcus

    While we’re at it, can we talk about how the Presidio just rebuilt Halleck Street and decided it was sufficient to put an unprotected bike lane on one side and sharrows on the other? To connect the Main Post with Crissy Field?! And a sidewalk on only one side of the street? wtf?! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9e8eb789c172a6d935e855ab338ff9f1fa52aed49e0c34382c8622e7515b7076.jpg Image credit: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=985332791615764&set=a.110526859096366.19426.100004171571688&type=3&theater

  • Roger R.

    Oh good grief. Sorry to see that. Thanks for posting David.

  • gneiss

    It’s not the Presidio. That’s all Caltrans. Don’t forget also that there’s a sidewalk on only one side of the bridge along with one (uphill) bike lane that also has drainage in the gutter pans like the Oakland design.

  • joechoj

    Excellent focus on Oakland planning issues – thank you. It’s so painful to see new concrete poured in old, dangerous configurations, knowing they’ll last for decades.

    It still mystifies me to see new bike lane striping taking place on the traffic side of parked cars. But at least paint is easier to undo than concrete.

  • It’s outrageous that agencies keep using these sort of lackluster designs, but it’s worth pointing out why they do it. A “bike lane” is where they can hide the paved shoulder (see image below) AND earn easy points for being “bike friendly” without having to actually make decisions about restricting cars. What we really need to do is get standards changed to align bike infrastructure decisions with the speed/volume of motor traffic like the Dutch have done. The LTS rankings from Mineta Transportation Institute with a target of no more than LTS2 for all routes would be a good start for those agencies leery of adopting something that isn’t American.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/93b3d39ddcc91b0459212bc64481cef9cb2b0173f3a00db408730d02abe2cb2d.png

    However, imagine if this sidewalk were painted green…

    Please don’t encourage the unnecessary spread of green paint. The Dutch can get away with the red asphalt because it’s an integral part of the construction material. But green paint isn’t the same and there’s no reason to go splashing it across sidewalks outside of conflict zones.

    And if your response to this photo is “what about the driveways?” please just watch this four-minute film.

    Driveways can co-exist with separated bikeways, but there is a lot of nuance that goes into it and the video can be misleading by potentially oversimplifying the issue. The biggest point to make about that video is that all of those are residential driveways at SFHs. But the real culprit is that American agencies do a horrible job of corridor access management, leading to driveways on roads where they really don’t belong. Ideally, any road that’s a good candidate for a separated bikeway is a poor location for driveways in the first place and conversely, a road providing access via driveways shouldn’t be built in a way that brings conditions that require a separated bikeway.

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