Oakland’s Saddest Bike Path

It should be a low-stress, no-traffic way to bike under the freeway between Jack London and the Lake. It isn't.

The channel bike path where it goes under 7th Street.  All pics Streetsblog/Rudick
The channel bike path where it goes under 7th Street. All pics Streetsblog/Rudick

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There is a bike and pedestrian path that connects Lake Merritt, the Jewel of Oakland, to 4th Street and Jack London Square. However, the City of Oakland, and the various other agencies responsible for maintaining it, have allowed it to fall into such disrepair that it is not usable.

The channel path is in red
The channel path from Lake Merritt to 4th Street in Jack London is in red.

Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz has been reporting the problem via Oakland’s seeclickfix.com website, but to little avail.

From one of his reports:

The path along the west side of the Lake Merritt Channel, by Laney College and just south of E 10th Street, has a big chunk of asphalt missing immediately west of the pedestrian bridge over the channel. This hole is constantly full of water for some reason, so it is both dangerous for trail users as well as unsanitary.

I don’t know who is responsible for trail maintenance here, but please follow up with them to ensure this is fixed and no longer a hazard.

One of many spots on the channel that is now impassable. Photo: Robert Prinz

Prinz’s report is from August. The city has “acknowledged” the issue but nothing has changed. And, as seen in the lead image and the photo below, this isn’t the only part of the path that is obstructed and dangerous.

Streetsblog spoke with Ryan Russo, head of Oakland’s DOT, about the problem, but because it isn’t a street, it doesn’t fall under his purview (Streetsblog has emails out to the city and will update accordingly).

Another flooded part of the path. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Another flooded part of the path. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Other segments seem to fall under different jurisdictions, although it is unclear who controls what. “There are different agencies responsible for various segments of that path, with the section from 4th past the freeway via Caltrans, the part from there to the 7th Street bridge underpass via City of Oakland, and I think all the rest is via Peralta College,” wrote Prinz in an email to Streetsblog.

“…this part of the trail that you’re showing is considered a Connector Trail to the Bay Trail and not part of the Bay Trail spine,” wrote Lee Huo, Bay Trail Planner, contact for Alameda and Contra Costa counties, in an email to Streetsblog. “Regardless of that fact, the Bay Trail Project is primarily a planning and coordinating organization and the construction, operation, and maintenance is the responsibility of a wide variety of private and public organizations.”

Huo suggested contacting Diane Tannenwald with Oakland Public Works. But she also didn’t know who was responsible for maintaining the path: “…there are a multitude of agencies that hold title to the properties in that area and a number of agreements that may/may not address maintenance,” she wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

Most of the trail also has no lighting, so even if a cyclist wanted to wear rubber boots and carry a bike over the bad parts, it remains too dangerous to use at night. The portion under the Nimitz Freeway, which connects with 4th Street in Jack London, is especially frustrating. It is in decent physical shape but follows an inexplicably looping path around a big parking lot. This portion is like riding down the Death Star trench, since it is enclosed by giant fences for some mysterious reason. A cyclist is trapped in there until they are disgorged into an encampment where it meets 4th. There used to be a gap/cut through in the fence, but at some point it was closed off, preventing cyclists from taking a shortcut across the parking lot to 4th street (yes, Streetsblog has an email out to Caltrans too).

Fences force cyclists to circle around this big parking lot, instead of riding directly to 4th Street. They also make the path feel very unsafe, since riders are effectively trapped in a narrow space. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Fences force cyclists to circle around this big parking lot, instead of riding directly to 4th Street. They also make the path feel unsafe since riders are trapped in a narrow space. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The "Star Wars" trench segment, with fences to force cyclists to go around a parking lot. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The “Star Wars” trench segment, with fences to force cyclists to go around a parking lot. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

“Overall, the Bay Trail is mostly owned by governmental agencies such as cities, park districts, counties and such. In some cases, private landowners have been required to offer easements for the trail but they keep title to the land,” explained Randy Rentschler, Director of Legislation and Public Affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

This situation points to a systemic problem: planning and “coordinating” has to include designating how the infrastructure will be maintained and used long term. If planners simply design something and then walk away without also figuring out how things will be maintained in practice and how they can be accessed by the public from residential neighborhoods, what’s the point?

There are some portions of the path in better shape, but they’re not very useful given all the bad segments in between. There is also no obvious wayfinding to tell riders how to find and use this path, but–given the shape it’s in–maybe that’s a good thing. All of which is a terrible shame–a path connecting the lake to the thousands of residents in Jack London, running along a pretty waterway, and fully separated from cars should be one of the best bits of bike infrastructure in the Bay Area.

The portion that ducks under Lake Merritt Boulevard is in good shape, although it's often camped on. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The portion that ducks under Lake Merritt Boulevard. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Prinz, meanwhile, hopes the channel path will get fixed when the “Lake Merritt to Bay Trail Bridge construction moves forward, which will be a while.” On the other hand, if nobody is held accountable for maintaining it, Oakland may just get an even longer path full of cracks, holes, and garbage that nobody can use.

  • crazyvag

    What kind of society did we become when we call a puddle of water “dangerous”. I’d like to know what that person does in the rain where he’s surrounded by puddles in all directions.

    It’s fine to call it an annoying obstacle, but hardly dangerous.

  • Actually it wasn’t water.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Yes, the ground is wet when it rains, but long-term ponding is bad. In this case it looks more like a mud pit. Great for a cyclocross race, but not a best practice for a transportation facility.

  • Roger R.

    That isn’t just a puddle. The pavement underneath is pretty much gone. And the ground around it is a bunch of muddy gunk. Try riding/navigating around it with a bike full of groceries and you’ll get the idea.

  • Prinzrob

    Also wheelchairs and strollers. It’s not only design but also maintenance issues like this which prevent us from achieving facilities that are accessible to “all ages and abilities”.

  • crazyvag

    Go around ? Go slowly? Use a different adjustive, but save that adjective for something truly dangerous.

  • Boo

    it is dangerous. a bike tire can easily lose grip and you can fall. It’s also impossible to know the depth of the puddle. Save your comments for something you truly understand.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    Have you ever heard of mosquitoes?

  • Chris Mcnally

    I ride this path from time to time with my toddler in a child seat. It is far worse than these images and text describe. It is the best route to Jack London Square from the Lake, at least there are no cars, but there are no signs to indicate at any time if you should be on the left side or the right side of the creek, it is not paved in many stretches so it is very muddy and full of holes after the rain and the section with the fences have no guidance and I often wonder if I am going to find my way out. I usually have to follow another cyclist to find my way through that fence / parking lot area. A few signs would help. This estuary area could be an extension of Lake Merritt and beautiful place for people to walk and bike but instead it is like a half park / half garbage dump that is way under utilized.

  • David

    This could be an amazing, beautiful trail to use. But its unkempt and dangerous. And I mean dangerous in the personal safety sense. The last time I used this path, with a friend just after dark on the busy end near Lake Merritt Boulevard, a person followed us and was going to attempt to rob us. The only reason why it didn’t happen is because we saw him approaching, faced/confronted him, and stood just far enough apart that he would have had to attack us individually. I haven’t been on this trail since, and I actively dissuade people from using it if asked–especially for women and at night.

  • That’s too bad.

  • p_chazz

    Much of Oakland is “unkempt and dangerous”. What makes this bike path special?

  • Roger R.

    I should have included this in the story, but why don’t people email and/or call Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Rebecca Kaplan.

  • joechoj

    Before the recent removal of homeless people you also pass through 4 separate encampments. Sketchy as hell, and of course there’s all the overflowing trash nearby as a result. I love Oakland in a lot of ways, but this is just a depressing ride.
    Also, there’s a missed opportunity to route the end of the path along an unused railroad alignment, or on Victory Court, directly to Fallon St. so that it doesn’t have to loop around the parking lot, back up to 4th, and then down Fallon St.

  • p_chazz

    Maybe instead of whinging about the bike path to various disinterested bureaucrats, Robert Prinz and other members of Bike EastBay should stage a clean up. Dispose of the accumulated detritus, fill the holes with gravel and make the bike path usable again. As the saying goes, it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

  • David

    Rebecca No-Buses-On-My-Street Kaplan? Haha!

  • Baloo Uriza

    That’s literally what we pay taxes to do.

  • p_chazz

    A lot of good it does you!

  • Exactly. Just because things aren’t working properly doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and give up. No system is perfect, some “whinging” also known as feedback is a perfect response.

  • BigTPoPo

    Now you’re just being a dick. The same can be said of many areas of many US cities today, large and small. Oakland bashing has become an obsolete notion that is usually only used these days by closet racists who have recently gentrified a once more colorful neighborhood. Or, you’re just a dick by nature.

  • BigTPoPo

    What I don’t understand is why more and more people don’t convey these types of messages/complaints via Twitter or Facebook or even IG. When more and more people jump into an active role and start repeating the same message over and over, and from many different avenues, people start to listen. Nobody wants to be publicly embarrassed by a situation. Or, for it to be known that they’re not doing what we elected them to do. Start Tweeting people!

  • p_chazz

    No, I’m merely asking why this bike path merits attention over other areas of Oakland that are in worse condition.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Did you see today’s article? They are cleaning it up now.

  • John Ciccarelli

    Situations like this are routinely handled by a well-known mechanism — a Maintenance Agreement. For example, when a city street intersects a county street, the city and county get together and decide who is responsible for what portions of the maintenance. Same if a city street has a freeway interchange (freeways are state-owned). Sometimes a Maintenance Agreement will also speak to what funds are to be used for what items. And there’s nothing special about paths — what’s needed here is for one agency (I’d suggest Oakland Public Works) to step up and get the other parties’ decision-authorized representatives to jointly decide how to divvy up maintenance, and how long the agreement remains in force before being revisited. San Jose is one local city that has both an on-street bicycle/pedestrian coordinator (John Brazil) and a trails coordinator (Yves Zsutty, pronounced “ZOO-tee”). They — especially Yves — might be a good resource for getting this solved institutionally. //John Ciccarelli, Bicycle Solutions, San Francisco

  • p_chazz

    Posted this comment a day before that went up. See my comment on that article.

  • BigTPoPo

    The entire story focuses on a specific bike path currently underutilized due to homelessness and the trash piles associated with it and the city’s public works department and others fumbling the ball and trading off responsibility for it’s upkeep, or lack thereof. Why do you need this spelled out for you? The entire JLS district is connected to Lake Merritt by this path, if it were maintained properly. Your comments are sarcastic and aren’t very original either. The story explains itself if you had read it. You’re correct that Oakland has many areas affected by blight and homelessness, but so do many cities in California. But like I said, your kind is obsolete and people do appreciate Oakland and wish to keep the push to clean it up moving in a forward momentum.