Editorial: Vote on Temescal to Test Core Values

Is a human in a car equal to a human on foot, on bike, or on public transportation?

Oakland bus stop platform on Telegraph Avenue using modular plastic components. Photo:TransitCenter
Oakland bus stop platform on Telegraph Avenue using modular plastic components. Photo:TransitCenter

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A decision will be made tonight at the Oakland City Council whether or not to move forward on installing new pavement, protected bike lanes, and bus-boarding islands on the Temescal section of Telegraph Avenue.

UPDATE: From WOBO–vote was rescheduled to Friday 11 a.m.

“It is paramount that Telegraph Avenue be repaved in Spring 2019. The current state of the street is abhorrent, unsafe, and unacceptable. The Temescal community has been waiting for over a decade for this part of the street to be repaved,” wrote Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner, director of the Temescal Business Improvement District (BID), in an email to Streetsblog.

But the decision may boil down to a simple question: are people worth more if they drive a private motor vehicle than if they take a bus or ride a bike?

At last week’s meeting of Oakland’s Public Work’s Committee Meeting, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan fought hard against the Temescal repaving and safety plan because it could delay motorists. “Traffic calming is for safety, not blocking the road completely with the bus,” she exclaimed, objecting to the project’s planned bus-boarding islands, which would make cars wait when a bus stops to pick up and discharge passengers. “A bus has deployable wheelchair ramps–we’re talking about many minutes of it in the roadway!”

Michael Eshleman, Service Planning Manager for AC Transit, along with Ryan Russo, Oakland’s Director of Transportation, explained that the standard practice of having buses pull over to the curb and struggle back into traffic at each stop creates problems. For one, it’s a hazard as buses and bicyclists jockey for position along the curb.

It also prioritizes single-occupancy cars over buses full of people, and makes the buses slow and unreliable.

“It’s fundamentally inequitable” said Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting, about how we treat bus riders in general, during a panel discussion earlier this year at San Francisco’s Urban Land Institute. Tumlin also set up Oakland’s Department of Transportation. “We even manage traffic signals based on vehicle progression” rather than on how many people move through an intersection, “so a person on a bus is valued at 1/200th of a person driving in a car.”

Pushing back against that transportation inequity, and making the street safer, is part of why the City of Oakland built parking-protected bike lanes and bus-boarding island along the Kono section of Telegraph, from 21st to 27th.

And it worked.

Telegraph in Kono, where protected bike lanes were installed in 2016, now boasts a forty percent reduction in collisions and, despite the anecdotes, an uptick in overall receipts from local merchants. And the bus-boarding islands save riders five to twenty seconds per stop.

For sure, treatments in Kono aren’t perfect. Intersections were poorly designed and still allow way too many conflicts between turning cars and bikes. But the improved plans for Temescal weren’t created in a vacuum. Russo and his team are picking from an expanding tool box of safe-street treatments that are now tested from coast-to-coast.

So tonight’s vote won’t be about whether or not Oakland can make Telegraph safer in Temescal. It will be about whether some politicians will continue to be allowed to talk and tweet green, progressive values while voting the opposite way on our streets.

Bike East Bay and Walk Oakland, Bike Oakland ask you to show your support at City Council this evening, Tuesday December 11, starting at 5:30 p.m., at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland 94612. [The Telegraph item, wrote WOBO, is likely going to be late in the agenda, at Agenda item S15. Bike East Bay and WOBO ask that you join them before the item comes up at Cafe Van Kleef.] Get a jump start and sign up to speak.

  • xplosneer

    If Kaplan were serious she would propose level boarding, off board fare machines, bigger rear doors, automatic or quick-lock wheelchair restraints, etc. but I haven’t heard it so…

  • Jeffrey Baker

    There’s your answer: Kaplan is not a serious person. She spends 90% of her energy on national politics.

  • david vartanoff

    And Transit Signal Priority.

  • david vartanoff

    The photograph makes clear that the bus platform is inadequate–there is no reason not to have it be full height for level boarding/alighting.

  • xplosneer

    To be fair that doesn’t necessarily change the stoppage time. If it means the bus goes through a stoplight at the end from a hold-green priority signal and gets the light cycle behind it to stop, then it would change the car traffic impact a smudge I guess.

    But yes it should also have that.

  • Sean Hussey

    It’s great they’re speeding up the buses, but this is not a project to speed up buses. It is a bike lane project, which happens to speed up buses.
    I am all for a bus project, but that could take years to implement and build, and may include utility replacement (look at Van Ness).
    Let’s please get this done quickly so you can safely ride from Uptown to Temescal.

  • Sean Hussey

    It’s partly an optical illusion because of the shadow, and partly the bus hasn’t lowered itself yet.
    Look at where the island connects to the curb. From there, you can clearly see it is the same height as the sidewalk.

  • david vartanoff

    Which has never been sufficiently high and kneeling does zip for the midpoint door. Other variations of ‘bulbouts’ have raised boarding so that buses are rollon/rolloff. Given the increasing percentage of riders using walkers and strollers whom I see on a daily basis, this is a serious defect.

  • david vartanoff

    The purported logic for “farside” bus stops is to save time by crossing the intersection and then being able to leave after boarding. Conversely, if transit signals had “bus first” circuits (queue jump in transit jargon) the ‘jockeying’ vanishes. As anyone surveying existing bus stop locations can see, there are numerous locations with specific conditions which favor near or far side stops such that one size does not fit all. The stop pictured has been relocated twice in the last 25 years–from farside as pictured when Sears was still there, to nearside when the condo developer apparently didn’t want a bus stop., more recently to the present spot.

  • Sean Hussey

    I don’t disagree that buses should be the same height as bus islands and curbs, but I already noted that this bus hasn’t yet tilted down to the curb, which will make it the same height as the curb.
    New curbs can always be built higher, but why replace curbs and islands to line up with buses when the buses already can tilt (and the buses also have ramps).

  • david vartanoff

    It will NOT kneel to the height of the plastic platform. As to deploying ramps, yes that works at the front, but also increases time wasted at the stop.

  • Sean Hussey

    You need the ramps for people in wheelchairs.
    The bus is clearly not tilting in the picture, but I have seen these buses with my own eyes tilt to the height of the curbs and islands in this neighborhood.
    There is still a gap, but for someone in a walker it certainly helps.

  • xplosneer

    As a daily bike rider who works in bus manufacturing, I’m not at all in conflict with what you are saying, other than demanding that it shouldn’t take years for such improvements.

    Simply pointing out Kaplan’s hypocrisy.

  • Jason

    Nobody likes waiting for the wheelchair ramps. But instead of throwing a tantrum over taking buses seriously, why not just, I dunno, push for bus islands that are high enough to let wheelchair users board without having to deploy the ramp?

  • Jason

    “It’s great they’re speeding up the buses, but this is not a project to
    speed up buses. It is a bike lane project, which happens to speed up
    buses.”

    What’s your point? Sounds like a win-win to me.

  • david vartanoff

    I ride the #6 (shown above) nearly daily and have for decades. After kneeling the bus is still a step up or down. If we are spending the money either to pour concrete of deploy these plastic pads, there is NO excuse for not making them adequate height. As to wheelchairs, a close member of my family has used one for 31 years now, so I have some experience of seeing her negotiate buses,subways, curbs etc. If the bus and platform were nearly level, a ramp would not be needed

  • xplosneer already

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