Bike Lane Fights Today on Both Sides of the Bay

Temescal protected bike lanes move forward to full city council in Oakland, while Valencia protected bike lanes get approved by SFMTA Board

A rendering of parking protected bike lanes on Telegraph for Temescal. Image from OakDOT.
A rendering of parking protected bike lanes on Telegraph for Temescal. Image from OakDOT.

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Protected bike lanes, the gold (and really only) standard for safe bike infrastructure on busy streets, moved forward on both sides of the Bay today.

First, Oakland:

The Public Works Committee narrowly approved a plan today to build protected bike lanes and other pedestrians safety improvements on Telegraph in Temescal from 42nd to 52nd.

“This is one of our high injury corridors–we have to fix the infrastructure and make it more efficient and safer,” said Oakland DOT Director Ryan Russo to the committee. Mohamed Alaoui, Transportation Engineer with the Oakland DOT, explained how attempts to modify–and repave–this stretch of Telegraph have been going on since 2002. “A lack of consensus has kept the majority of improvements from getting implemented,” he said, noting that the street is on the ‘vision zero high injury network’ and is one of the 6 percent of streets responsible for 60 percent of the serious crashes in Oakland.

Alaoui also pointed out that Oakland staff’s research shows a “clear preference for a separated, protected bike lanes” among stakeholders. “Support was highest among households with children. 83 percent would feel comfortable if it had a separated bike lane.”

A rendering of how protected bike lanes will look, moving north from
This is the end of the current bike lanes on Telegraph. The plan is to eventually continue them north all the way to 57th. Image: OakDOT

Despite this fact, the 13 speakers who showed up were mostly opposed or had issues with the plan (so did Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who wanted the vote delayed).

Joseph Brignole, one of the owners of Brignole & Ghiri Insurance on Telegraph, said he supports bike lanes, but “I am opposed to reduction of [motor vehicle] lanes on Telegraph Avenue.” Of course, the lane reduction is what makes parking-protected bike lanes possible. He was also opposed to closing off 46th Street, between Telegraph and Shattuck, which would create a small pedestrian plaza and reduce turning conflicts, and is part of the overall safety plan for the street.

Brignole and other merchants who came to speak in opposition said the loss of parking and traffic lanes would crush their bottom line. They also claimed it had ruined businesses in Uptown Oakland, where parking protected bike lanes were installed

Russo explained the purpose of the project isn’t just to make protected bike lanes, but also to make the area more vibrant–a place where “Oaklanders from around the city… come to meet one another, to dine and to shop, to have commerce, but also to have connections.”

The greatest push back on the committee came from Kaplan whose motion to delay the vote, staff explained, could have ended up pushing the entire project back a year (the motion was never seconded). One of her main issues: the addition of bus boarding islands would mean that buses, when they stop to take on and drop off passengers, would not be able to pull over to get out of the way of cars. “Traffic calming for safety is not blocking the road completely with the bus,” said Kaplan.

Russo and Alaoui explained that bus boarding islands keep cyclists safer by not forcing them to shuffle for position with buses. A representative from AC Transit was also there to support the plan, explaining that the buses stay on-time better with bus boarding islands, because they don’t have to struggle to get to the curb and then fight to rejoin the flow of cars.

Kaplan, however, was still primarily concerned with the delays it might cause for drivers: “When the bus stops there is no travel at all [for motorists] on the road!”

[Note: if only there were an eight-lane freeway, a few blocks away and parallel to Telegraph, on which private motorists in a hurry to travel north/south could bypass the occasional stopped bus.]

Oakland DOT director Ryan Russo defending the Temescal plan before the committee. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Oakland DOT director Ryan Russo defending the Temescal plan before the committee. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Kaplan also said she didn’t like riding her bike up and down the ramps of the bus boarding islands used in the Kono section of Telegraph, in uptown Oakland–so she didn’t want to see bus boarding islands in Temescal.

“This is the first I’ve heard that the ramps that we’ve installed are problematic,” said an ever polite Russo to the committee.

“I don’t know what Kaplan is talking about,” exclaimed a more frank Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay, in a side conversation with Streetsblog. “The ramps are fine.”

Kaplan and many of the merchants said the parking protected bike lanes on Telegraph in the Kono district were a failure and had hurt local businesses, even though a study last year showed a 40 percent reductions in collisions and increased commerce. Russo and Alaoui acknowledged that the protected bike lanes on Telegraph in Kono were less than ideal and that their department had learned from that experience. They explained that the new stretch of protected bike lane would feature better sight lines, tighter turns, and speed bumps to force cars to slow when turning right, to reduce or eliminate conflicts between turning cars and cyclists.

Councilmember Dan Kalb, who chairs the committee and whose district includes the Temescal neighborhood, finally called the vote. He voted to support the DOT staff plan, along with Councilmember Abel Guillen. Kaplan ended up abstaining, vowing to re-argue her case before the full city council on Dec. 11.

Kalb, who spoke with Streetsblog after the meeting, urged advocates to contact Kaplan and show their support for protected bike lanes on Telegraph in Temescal, especially if they live, work and/or bike in the area. He also urged Bike East Bay, and other advocates for safe streets, to turn out in force to the Dec. 11, 5:30 p.m. meeting of the Oakland City Council, 3rd Floor, City Council Chamber, Oakland City Hall.

Meanwhile, more Protected Bike Lanes are Coming to San Francisco:

Things went a bit more smoothly today in San Francisco, where the SFMTA board unanimously approved a plan to begin constructing parking-protected bike lanes on Valencia from Market Street to 15th.

The Board heard from hundreds of cyclists who frequent Valencia. They spoke about broken bones and other serious injuries from cyclists getting doored and otherwise hit on Valencia. In the last few years, “there were 278 reported crashes, likely been thousands of others that went unreported” said Taylor Ahlgren, who recently witnessed a crash first hand on Valencia (in addition to a fatal crash he saw in SoMa in September).

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reports that some 460 member wrote letters to support protected bike lanes on that notorious stretch of street.

“With Mayor Breed’s leadership, support from Supervisors Mandelman and Ronen, and the passionate statements of hundreds of our members, protected bike lanes will be coming to Valencia Street,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We look forward to continuing to work with neighborhood stakeholders, the SFMTA and our members to ensure construction of this pilot happens expeditiously, and we will make sure that education, outreach and evaluation help us maximize the benefits of these life-saving safety improvements.”

This initial project is part of a larger plan to link up with the existing parking protected bike lane pilot on Valencia, completed a few years back, between Mission and Cesar Chavez. The hope is the pressure will continue to add parking-protected bike lanes segments, one by one, to the entire length of Valencia, from Mission to Market.  Several members of the SFMTA Board and speakers from the audience said this piecemeal process has to be sped up, because no matter how fast it goes, it won’t be “fast enough for people who cycle on Valencia,” said Director Gwyneth Borden.

“We do not have time to waste,” wrote Mayor London Breed, in her letter of support for the project.

  • crazyvag

    Brignole should have been kicked off the stage by making claims that contradict data. It’s a waste of time to debate something that’s already been established.

  • Christopher Childs

    You would have been a great support at the vote. A nonsensical argument like “I plan on walking in the bike lane, so why can’t these kids cross a couple feet in front of some bikes safely?” would have been well-received.

  • David

    Glad the Temescal bike lanes survived the vote. The implementation of the lanes through Koreatown/Northgate were not very good, and there was a real risk that the negative experience there could have set back the creation of more protected bike lanes in the East Bay. Here’s to hoping they fix the Kono stretch at the same time they build the Temescal stretch! While I do agree with Kaplan’s point about the bus boarding islands, who drives down Telegraph in a hurry when Broadway, MLK, and Highway 24 are all right next door? Perfect is the enemy of better.

  • Bernard Finucane

    The streets on both sides of the bay are absurdly oversized. These discussion seem otherworldly.

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