Why Does Oakland’s Kaiser Convention Center Plan Have So Much Parking?

Advocates want bike lanes, a pedestrian mall, and more space for people added to the revitalization scheme

A rendering for revitalizing Oakland's civic center. Advocates want more focus on pedestrian and bike features rather than retaining a giant parking lot. Image:  Oakland Planning submission
A rendering for revitalizing Oakland's civic center. Advocates want more focus on pedestrian and bike features rather than retaining a giant parking lot. Image: Oakland Planning submission

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Oakland’s defunct Kaiser Convention Center is a four-minute walk from Lake Merritt BART and right by several AC Transit bus lines. It’s also an easy walk (and certainly an easy bike or scooter ride) from downtown Oakland, Jack London Square, and many other neighborhoods. For people who prefer to get around by private automobile, there’s a large, underground parking lot next door at the Oakland Museum and there’s parking at Laney College, across the street.

So why then does the proposed revitalization scheme for the old Convention Center maintain a giant surface parking lot, three wide driveways, and a layout that seems designed to do everything possible to encourage people to drive there in privately owned cars?

“There’s so much opportunity to resize this parking lot to increase public use of the land,” said Grey Gardner, who’s on the board of the advocacy group Transport Oakland, during a walking tour of the site Wednesday morning. “It’s as if by default the designers focused on the public parking lot.”

Renderings for the proposed refurbishment of the convention center even include views of lots and lots of parked cars
Renderings for the proposed refurbishment of the convention center even include a deck with views of lots of parked cars. Image from the plan submitted by Orton

The City of Oakland, which owns the property, commissioned Orton Development of Emeryville to come up with the plan for rehabilitating the site. Transport Oakland is drafting a letter to the Planning Commission asking them to reconsider the parking lot.

The letter, which the group plans to deliver at the end of this week, reads:

The renovation of the Kaiser Convention Center offers a rare opportunity for the City of Oakland to vastly improve the pedestrian connections between Lake Merritt, the Lake Merritt BART Station, and the surrounding neighborhood. As Commissioners charged with thinking holistically about City development projects and overseeing these projects’ compliance with existing City plans and policies, we urge you to support a design for the Convention Center that will improve connections to public transit, expand public green space, and enhance access to the Lake, Oakland’s crown jewel.

The advocates with Transport Oakland want to see the size of the parking lot trimmed and the driveway on the west side of the facility converted into a pedestrian mall, as roughed out in green in the image below. They also want to see better bike and pedestrian connections to Lake Merritt, seen in blue below.

Transport Oakland wants the western driveway and at least a portion of the parking lot used for pedestrians and improved bike access. Image: Transport Oakland
Transport Oakland wants the western driveway and at least a portion of the parking lot used for pedestrians and improved bike access. Note this location is a four-minute walk from Lake Merritt BART

The Transport Oakland letter argues that retaining the existing 164 parking spaces at the expense of pedestrian and bicycle connections to the Lake ignores municipal resolutions to reduce vehicle miles traveled and forge a city that’s more inviting for walking and biking. It adds that:

The current pedestrian connection between Lake Merritt and the Lake Merritt BART Station area is confusing, uninviting, and dangerous. The existing sidewalk that runs along the Convention Center’s southwest parking lot entrance is narrow, poorly lit, and circuitous, impeding pedestrian use between 10th Street and the Lake. Failure to address these connectivity problems through this project will perpetuate the neighborhood’s poor transit and pedestrian access, rendering any such project in direct violation of the aforementioned resolutions. The existing plan not only disregards established City policy, it also represents an outmoded design out of sync with a City that prides itself on its forward-thinking agenda.

A look at the confusing pedestrian "access" on the west side of the facility
A look at the confusing pedestrian “access” on the west side of the facility. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Gardner reminded Streetsblog that there are two driveways on the east side of the building, so it’s not as if they’re advocating to remove all direct car access to and from the center. “The parking plan they’ve proposed now is archaic,” he said of the parking lot, which currently takes up about as much space as the building itself. “We can do better than this.”

Grey Gardner standing next to the huge driveway his group hopes can be converted into more space for people (there's another driveway on the east side for cars).
Grey Gardner standing next to the huge western driveway his group hopes can be converted into more space for people (there are also two driveways on the opposite side of the building). Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The Kaiser Convention Center has been closed for thirteen years. If all goes according to plan, restoration of the building could start this summer, with the hope to open it again as a theater, office, restaurant, and retail space as early as 2020, at a cost of over $50 million.

The Oakland Planning Commission will meet to discuss the plans on Wednesday, April 3 at 6 p.m., 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Council Chambers, 3rd Floor, Oakland. Readers can also email the commission at their contact web page.

  • SuperQ

    There should also be conversion to bike parking, not at the back of the lot, but up front.

    Compare this Dutch convention center: https://goo.gl/maps/SU21b7Yqwhm
    * It’s directly adjacent to the central train station.
    * There are multiple separated cycle roads, and separated bike paths feeding it.

    If you compare the small surface parking just south of it, you’ll see a section of bike parking facing the road, then handicap parking, then regular parking. Priority is given to active transportation first. Walking, then biking, then cars.

  • Prinzrob

    I also have a yet unanswered inquiry in to the planning department as to why the plans for this renovation don’t appear to include any short or long-term bike parking, per Oakland’s ordinance here: https://library.municode.com/ca/oakland/codes/planning_code?nodeId=TIT17PL_CH17.117BIPARE

    The planned, future East Bay Greenway path will have it’s northern terminus on 10th Street right across from this auditorium, and continue south all the way to at least Hayward, so excellent bike facilities here should be a priority for tenants and visitors.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    Better pedestrian connections are definitely needed. I have always been amazed at how this part of Oakland is divided by roads that do not accommodate pedestrians, so it is hard to walk from one thing to another even though they are close.

  • LazyReader

    My guess they have a lot of parking because people drive to that location…………..It’s not much of a challenge. You just put the building around the
    parking. Infact the top deck can be a greenroof to have private amenity
    space for residents/occupants. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/571a200cdfaa50dcf10911d6ece02d31b362e00dc932112c17db5397d6e0b400.png

  • Jame

    Completely agree. This pocket is so well served by transit and bike infrastructure, it sees really strange that if feels like a non-car no go zone.

  • bksrmgc

    Try being disabled/mobility challenged and then tell me Oakland needs less parking. There are so many events I don’t attend, restaurants I don’t go to, etc., because I can’t find easily available parking. I guess we just don’t matter.

  • joechoj

    Please. There will always be some amount of parking everywhere in the city, and people with disabilities have a whole program to give them priority parking. We should always ensure new developments have sufficient handicap parking. The real problem I think you’re facing is the obvious & rampant abuse of the handicap placards, as I’ve seen many able-bodied people (including a handyman with a fully loaded work truck!) driving around with them. If we could keep these people from abusing the system, I suspect there would be plenty of parking for those who actually need it.

  • Chuck

    I disagree. Not everyone can ride a bike or a scooter. The parking lot was already reduced when they “improved” what is now called Lake Merritt Blvd. For this place to be viable some parking is needed.

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