Rebecca Kaplan Wants to Kill Oakland’s DOT

They've been improving safety all over Oakland...so council president wants that stopped?

Quick fix safety upgrades installed after a deadly crash on Foothill in April. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Quick fix safety upgrades installed after a deadly crash on Foothill in April. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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In early April, a motorist killed a mother and child at 26th and Foothill in Oakland. In record time, Oakland’s three-year-old Department of Transportation installed the ‘quick fix’ safety upgrades pictured in the lead image.

All signs are that the new department, shepherded by Ryan Russo, is doing a good job repairing potholes and completing solid safety improvements against the backdrop of decades of neglect and car-centric planning on Oakland streets. But as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland’s City Council President, Rebecca Kaplan, is proposing a budget plan that would fire Russo and fold the department back into the Department of Public Works.

“During this short three-year period we have already seen a massive improvement in the quality of communications around Oakland transportation projects (follow OakDOT on Twitter, Instagram, Medium, or on the city website for news and updates), and the amount of direct community involvement and input shaping decisions and outcomes,” wrote Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz in an email to Streetsblog about Kaplan’s budget. “‘Rapid response’ quick-fix projects have been implemented at the sites of serious injury or fatality crashes within just months of the incidents, a timeline unheard of in Oakland before the DOT.”

Streetsblog has an email out to Kaplan to find out what the reasoning is behind her proposal. The Chronicle‘s story implied that Kaplan’s budget is a swipe at Mayor Libby Schaaf, who beat Kaplan in the 2014 mayoral race. Kaplan is quoted in the Chronicle as saying the proposal to eliminate the DOT is part of her obligation to provide an alternative to the Mayor’s budget.

Either way, OakDOT staffers were caught offguard. Here’s a tweet from Sarah Fine, OakDOT planner, replying to the Chron’s story.

“OakDOT was created at the same time as the City created a Department of Race and Equity to encourage all city programs and policy-making to center racial equity. As investment and development continues to flood the city, Kaplan is proposing to kill the city department that has become a national model for upholding this commitment to equity,” wrote Clarrissa Cabansagan, New Mobility Policy Director at TransForm, in an email to Streetsblog. “The repaving plan and soon-to-be-adopted Oakland Bike Plan represent a culture shift, where long-neglected communities are now being more authentically engaged and are collaborating with government.  Eliminating OakDOT just as it is gaining momentum would itself be a huge waste of resources, and a step backwards for the city.”

Streetsblog readers may recall that late last year Kaplan attempted to delay the installation of protected bike lanes on Upper Telegraph, in Temescal, out of concern that it might delay motorists (even though the section of street in question is paralleled by an eight-lane freeway). Oakland’s new DOT, meanwhile, has instituted many street safety and bike lane improvements during its short history, including adding protected bike lanes around part of Lake Merritt, getting protected bike lanes installed on 27th, fixing Oakland’s Channel Bike Path, promoting community street murals and associated intersection improvements, adding bus-boarding islands with bicycle cut-throughs to the parking-protected lanes on Telegraph, and, most recently, constructing protected intersections around the Lake Merritt BART station.

Streetsblog doesn’t hesitate to criticize OakDOT at times but, on the whole, they’ve done a great job, especially for a new DOT facing huge challenges. That’s why Kaplan’s proposal to kill it went over like a lead balloon with advocates. “Kaplan’s ploy is nothing short of a childish rant, frustrated that her personal priorities are not more important than open, transparent, and equitable transportation planning that takes into account the needs of all of Oakland’s neighborhoods,” wrote Bike East Bay’s always frank Dave Campbell. “It’s time for Kaplan to take a timeout.”

Oakland-based readers: Now would be a good time to reach out to lawmakers and let them know where you stand.

UPDATE: June 5, 8:40 a.m., Kaplan sent the following reply to Streetsblog:
Yes my efforts to improve DOT functioning are based on extensive real world experience and receiving complaints (over multiple years) – that have come both from myself and others, regarding problems with DOT implementation and coordination. As someone who is heavily involved in transportation locally and regionally, I am committed to making sure Oakland can effectively complete transportation projects and can smoothly and timely work with other stakeholders necessary to improving our systems. I am working to have clarity and avoid duplication of effort and excessive project delays.

UPDATE: June 6, 1:30 p.m., the advocacy group, Transport Oakland, has put up a “save OakDOT” action item.

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