Caltrans Gets Award for Creating Another Bike and Pedestrian Hellscape

Self-congratulations over two recently opened projects show the agency has no idea what constitutes safe infrastructure

Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Caltrans boasted late last week about an award it received from the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials for its work in Oakland on the “Interstate 880 Safety and Operational Improvements at 23rd and 29th Avenues.”

From the agency’s press release: “Caltrans is proud of the recognition that these very worthy projects have received, and it underscores our commitment to improving local communities [emphasis added],” said Caltrans Director Laurie Berman. “Whether it was innovatively rebuilding a slide-torn Highway 1 [a different project that got an award], or creating safe, healthy biking and walking options [emphasis added] in Oakland and Alameda, these projects demonstrate when we improve transportation, we improve people’s lives.”

See the lead image from the start of the Fruitvale side of the 23rd Avenue bridge. The nearest crosswalk indicated by the sign is on the other side of the freeway overpass. And even if someone walked there, there’s no sidewalk on the opposite side of the bridge to return on. A Caltrans crew on the scene said the sign just means you’re not supposed to cross.

Actually, the message Streetsblog got from touring the area this morning is that you’re not supposed to be outside of a car anywhere near here.

The projects take local streets over I-880 where the freeway cuts Jingletown apart from Fruitvale. The flyovers were supposed to improve connectivity between the two neighborhoods. Instead, Caltrans essentially rebuilt the street overpasses as if they were freeway ramps. They are completely uninviting and uncomfortable to walk on–and positively dangerous to bike on.

It's difficult to show from pictures alone, but Caltrans has made it impossible to walk across 23rd Avenue at 11th street
Caltrans has made it impossible to walk across 23rd Avenue at 11th street

The landings of the overpasses are full of “no ped crossing” barriers (as seen in the lead image) and what cross walks there are require multiple stages to get across streets, with beg buttons and long waits at every stage. Put simply, every barrier to walking that can be imagined (short of just having no sidewalks at all and banning walking) is employed.

This is how Caltrans improves local communities--with walls
Another look at how Caltrans “improves local communities” by completely cutting off the neighborhood at 23rd Avenue from points west. This neighborhood is already cut off on one side by I-880.

As to biking, the gutter-pan bike lane sop stripes they’ve painted leave would-be cyclists wedged between speeding traffic and concrete crash barriers.

The overcrossing features gutter pan bike lanes–this one is along the sidewalk on 23rd. On the other side of the bridge the “bike lane” is wedged against a concrete crash barrier. This configuration was also used on 29th Avenue.

Below is the ramp from I-880 onto the 29th Avenue overpass. It’s hard to see, but there’s actually a bike lane crossing in front of all those speeding cars launching up the ramp from the freeway. But no sidewalk and, obviously, no crosswalk on this side. That side of the bridge, by the way, connects Jingletown to Lazear Elementary school in Fruitvale.

On 23rd Street. Believe it or not, there's a striped bike lane that cuts across this ramp.
On 29th. Believe it or not, cyclists are expected to ride across the top of this ramp. Imagine expecting children to bike to school on this.
Are children supposed to bike to Lazeer Elementry between that crash barrier and the bus? Caltrans seems to think so
Are children supposed to bike to Lazear Elementary between that crash barrier and the bus? Caltrans seems to think so.

In a previous post, Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz correctly called parts of the design of the $62 million project “engineering malfeasance.” He explained that this award, and Caltran’s self congratulations on 23rd and 29th Avenues, show the danger of allowing the agency to define for itself what constitutes bike lanes and pedestrian safety.

He added that:

The much needed S.B. 127 “complete streets” bill is making its way through the legislature right now, and would require Caltrans to include bike/walk facilities with all new state road and bridge projects starting in 2022.

…even if S.B. 127 is adopted, there is still an unmet need to revisit existing Caltrans roads and bridges like this [new] 23rd/29th Ave overpasses project, to implement bike/walk priority retrofits proactively, as opposed to waiting decades for another major infrastructure project.

Let’s hope some progress will be made as this legislation winds through Sacramento. In the meantime, here’s a little more insult to add to the injury from Caltran’s release on the award: “These accolades emphasize the significance of these projects to their communities. People in Oakland and Alameda, by foot or pedal, have new ways to connect, commute and commune that don’t require the use of a personal automobile.”

  • thielges

    Cities have Bike and Pedestrian advisory committees which can review street project plans from the perspective of people outside of cars. What is the equivalent for Caltrans projects? Since this project is contained within Oakland’s city limits one would hope that the city’s BPAC would have also had a chance to review the project.

  • City Resident

    Thank you for covering this, Roger, and for pointing out the major disconnect between an agency’s pretty words and statements and their execution of an “improvement” project.

  • Prinzrob

    I’m one of the people quoted in this article, was a member of the Oakland BPAC for over a decade, and was in contact with Caltrans about these overpass projects for years, throughout the development and construction process. There was plenty of public review & recommendations, but these simply weren’t heeded.

    The problem isn’t a lack of communication, it’s an unwillingness or inability on the part of Caltrans to prioritize local bike/walk traffic access and safety above funneling more and more cars to and from their freeways. The problems are not surprising, they’re by design.

    Until Caltrans cedes control of and funding for these projects to local jurisdictions then the problems will continue, because the culture at Caltrans is incapable of changing.

  • SFnative74

    In 2015, Caltrans created a goal of tripling bicycling (along with doubling walking and doubling transit use) in the state by 2020:

  • thielges

    Yes, that was a common experience in the south bay BPACs. Either suggestions are not taken or by the time the project is presented for review it is too late to change the design. However we were allowed decisions on issues like “What color should the wall that obstructs pedestrians be painted?” 🙂

  • Nicholas L

    Highway engineers are often old Republicans and don’t care or think about cyclists since they personally drive everywhere.

  • neroden

    It would probably be worth suing over the ADA violations. Betcha you could actually force them to redo the sidewalks.