Sneak Peak at Oakland’s Rebuilt Embarcadero Bridge

A successful intervention by OakDOT and Bike East Bay helped salvage the larger project, but it's still got a fundamental problem

Trains, bikes, peds, cars and bridges together again connecting Brooklyn Basin to Jack London Square. Photos Streetsblog/Rudick
Trains, bikes, peds, cars and bridges together again connecting Brooklyn Basin to Jack London Square. Photos Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

The official ribbon cutting isn’t until Friday, but Streetsblog took a ride this morning across Oakland’s newly completed Embarcadero channel bridge connecting Brooklyn Basin with Jack London Square along the waterfront. The project was part of a seismic replacement for an older, narrower bridge that used to cross the channel at the same location.

From Oakland’s web page on the $23 million project:

The new bridge will be wider (59 feet versus the current 37 feet). In addition to 12-foot vehicle travel lanes in each direction, it will accommodate a 6-foot bike lane in each direction, a 5-foot wide sidewalk on the north side, and a 12-foot wide multi-use path on the south (Estuary) side. The extra width will allow pedestrian and bicyclist access along the waterfront trail.

And there’s the rub. As Streetsblog reported almost a year ago, it’s nice to have bike lanes, but it’s incredibly lame to have a city spend all this money on new infrastructure and once again put the crash barrier on the wrong side of the lane, as seen below:

IMG_20190626_110259
This massive crash barrier was installed on the right-hand side of the bike lane, leaving cyclists unprotected (and subject to being crushed against it by an errant motorist)

So now cyclists don’t just have to worry about getting hit by a motorist–they can get crushed against a crash barrier too.

This follows a pattern on other bridges, such as the one over the estuary channel on Lake Merritt Boulevard. Engineers install a hefty crash barrier to keep drunk or otherwise unsafe motorists from careening off the bridge and into the water (and, thankfully, from murdering pedestrians on the sidewalk). But it does nothing to protect bicyclists. It is hardly infrastructure that’s safe for cyclists of all ages and mobility.

Arguably the most maddening part is it would have cost exactly the same amount of money to place the barrier in a way that protects cyclists too. So why was it built this way? Streetsblog has the question out to OakDOT and will update.

UPDATE: June 28. The reason is the “bike lane” doubles as a breakdown lane, so a stuck car can pull over into it and not hold up motor traffic. Try to wrap your head around that warping of priorities.

“These projects are in the pipeline for so long–that’s part of the problem: by the time they get built designs are out of date,” said Bike East Bay spokesperson Susie Hufstader. She added that she’s glad the bridge is there again, as the detour to 8th Street was costing her an extra fifteen minutes on her morning bike commute (for the record, that’s her in the lead image).

Meanwhile, as Streetsblog and Hufstader spoke on the sidewalk, safely behind the barrier, two cars passed at near-freeway speeds and swept right across the bike lane.

To be clear, there is good news about this project for vulnerable road users. For one, it does have nice sidewalks–and the waterside sidewalk is extra wide, as indicated on the project web page, so cyclists can share it with pedestrians (although that will be pretty awkward for westbound cyclists to use). And at the bridge’s southern landing, Embarcadero now has a wide (and in parts buffered) bike lane thanks to the hard work of Bike East Bay’s advocates (and, we’d like to think, an assist by grumpy ol’ Streetsblog in pointing out some deficiencies last year). They aren’t there yet, but word has it some combination of bollards and rubber curbs will be added to protect it.

“Thankfully, staff were able to take another look at the plans for Embarcadero (the street, not the bridge) between 5th and 10th Aves next to Brooklyn Basin, originally planned to have a buffered bike lane next to curbside parking, and upgraded it to include a protected bikeway with no curbside parking. Additional revisions can be implemented to include protected intersections,” wrote Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz in an email to Streetsblog.

The bike lane is much wider, thanks to a campaign by Bike East Bay
The bike lane is much wider than originally planned, thanks to a campaign by Bike East Bay

That’s all great, but painted buffers and posts and rubber curbs are what is supposed to be installed to retrofit bad designs, of which there’s no shortage. In this case, it’s an all-new road built in an area with plenty of room for a completely separate bike facility that could be safe for children and adults alike to cycle on. Just look at the above image and imagine it with the trees and the bike lane flipped. Or they could have built a completely separate, two-way cycle track on the water side of the street, much as has now been done along parts of Lake Merritt.

And more mixing zones wedging cyclists between lanes of cars and trucks
And more mixing zones wedging cyclists between lanes of cars and trucks

We have to wonder what this scene is going to look like once the thousands of units of the Brooklyn Basin housing project are filled, and all those motorists stuck on I-880 figure out they can detour/Waze onto the new bridge and Embarcadero. Will motorists cheat and drive on the bike lane as traffic backs up (you can count on it)? Will Ubers and Lyfts pull around the posts and into the buffer to discharge passengers? Will a cyclist get creamed in the intersection mixing zones shown above, which wedge cyclists’s vulnerable bodies between fast moving trucks and cars? We can only hope the additional improvements Prinz mentioned will go in quickly.

Either way, it’s a frustrating shame about the misplaced barriers on the bridge. “This is also why it is so important for big capitol projects to be as visionary as possible, not just based on existing conditions, since they take so long to deliver and need to still be relevant for many years beyond that,” wrote Prinz.

IMG_20190626_105412
A close up of the brackets that hold up the bridge crash barrier. Anybody got a big wrench and a hammer drill? Maybe the solution is for some vigilantes to move the crash rail to where it should be–to the left of the bike lane, so it can protect motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.

On the other hand, compared to Caltrans’s new death bridges a couple of miles up the street, at 23rd and 29th, the Embarcadero bridge looks practically Dutch.

  • SDGreg

    This is an incredibly stupid design. Is anybody that designed or authorized it ever going to use it? The sidewalk should have been widened to extend to the traffic lane with part of it marked for use by those on bicycles. They started with a clean slate and did a design that’s indefensible.

  • djin7817

    That “crash barrier” is to protect motorists from dying if they veer into the concrete wall behind the “crash barrier”. It is sometimes referred to as a crumple zone. It has nothing to do with protecting pedestrians or cyclists.

  • “but painted buffers and posts and rubber curbs are what is supposed to be installed to”

    It blows my mind to see bran new streets – designed from scratch – using these temp measures.

  • thielges

    He’s talking about not just that crumple zone gore point pictured above but also the concrete wall separating the ped path from the roadway. The whole assembly could have been designed to separate both the bike lane + sidewalk from the car lanes.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    That QuadGuard barrier end treatment is designed for roads having speeds up to 70km/h. Its installation is a tacit admission by the architects that nobody is going to respect the 30MPH limit of this street. It also costs $12k and has to be replaced every ten years.

  • Surprised no one mentioned the four grates extending across the bay-side bike lane. I saw the call to put some barrier up on the cyclists left, riding last night I watch 2 other cyclists riding out of the bike lane to avoid those grates, not possible with a left side barrier.

  • djin7817

    “up to 70 km/h” is the equivalent of up to 43.4 mph.

  • djin7817

    The plan that was approved long before construction was for bike lanes next to the vehicle lanes. Current City of Oakland street details don’t require a barrier between vehicle travel lanes and on street bike lanes.

  • djin7817

    So, how many of the people complaining about this implementation actually attend Oakland BPAC meetings at which such projects regularly are reviewed and commented on? I’ve ridden my commuter bike across the old bridge at least a hundred times. This new bridge is much better.
    Yes, it would be nice if our bicycle infrastructure were more like Copenhagen where cycle tracks are elevated above the vehicle travel lanes and protected by a curb, but that treatment doesn’t exist in ANY city’s design standards in California. Complaining about the results is a waste of time. Get involved when you have a chance of making a difference.

  • Johnrm

    No matter how bad it is it’s better then using 10th ave. or riding the gravel along the RR tracks like you had to for the last two-thee years to bridge the gap. Do i think the bridge and street improvements are going to be a challenge during the week. yes i do b/c it in no way challenges drivers to change their behavior in the presence of cyclists. Their still going to operate their vehicles with no regard to cyclists just like before but there will be more of them doing it. On weekends its alot easier to use to use the bridge due to he lack of traffic.But that could and probaly will all change once the residential development comes on line.

  • Prinzrob

    I’m complaining about it, and I’ve attended every Oakland BPAC meeting since July 2014 (and only missed 5 more going back to September 2010). Problem is this project was initiated many, many years ago when the bikeway design standards were less robust (indeed, the old bridge had no bike lane at all), and despite calls from advocates to update the design since then the plans chugged forward with only minor updates.

    I fully acknowledge that changing a bridge design in the middle of project development is extremely challenging, but pointing out these issues can at least help to better inform future projects, even if this one can’t easily be fixed.

  • Prinzrob

    Is it the slippery metal of the grates that concerns you, or are you concerned about a wheel being trapped or something else? Is it mostly a concern for narrow wheel sizes? I agree that having a grate within the bike lane isn’t ideal, but so far I haven’t encountered any problems riding over them. I agree many grates are not bike-friendly but these feel fairly innocuous to me.

  • It’s the gap between the grate ‘tines’ parallel to the direction of travel as well as what looks like gaps between the individual grate sections for those 4 ‘across the bikelane’ drains along the direction of travel (not the ‘along the bike lane’ ones on the west side).
    I have 29×2 MTB tires on currently, so I’m not terribly worried for myself. But the gaps between tines look like a bit of ‘thud’ for skinny tires and what looked like gaps between the sections looks like a problem once the shine wears off.
    I’ve seen people veering out of the bike lane to avoid them.
    They don’t look like the sort of grate one would choose to put in a bike lane if one were planning to choose a grate for a bike lane.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Which is 50% over 30.

  • djin7817

    Are you suggesting that the crumple device should be designed for a maximum vehicle speed of 30 mph because that’s the posted speed limit? No engineer would ever sign such a design.

  • Roger R.

    No, but basic human decency does.

  • Roger R.

    So “engineers” go out of their way to protect motorists, including those who are driving recklessly, but cyclists are just left exposed to whatever may come?

    We have an epidemic of traffic deaths in this country. No *ethical* engineer would sign off on this bridge, as it was designed, leaving unprotected human bodies caught between a steel and concrete crash barrier and moving trucks and automobiles

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The whole point of the article is that they’ve gone out of their way at great expense to protect motorists even when they are driving recklessly and unlawfully, but they didn’t lift a finger or spare a dime to protect cyclists from anything.

  • djin7817

    There is a fair amount of truth to your comment except “they’ve gone out of their way”. The building codes that guide infrastructure development are well established and regularly updated to account for better practices that are deemed important for development that protects the public. The changes in the building code over the past decades have been driven by society’s desire to eliminate unnecessary deaths resulting from careless and even reckless behavior of vehicle operators. Now a growing portion of society is realizing that this very mode of transportation is a danger to society for a large and diverse number of reasons from climate change to physical fitness. If a project like this doesn’t meet your idea of public infrastructure that serves the needs of all transportation modes, then I suggest that you should spend your words wisely by, for example, recommending in your post that a Complete Streets bill in the state assembly needs support from your elected representative. Etc. otherwise you sound like the smug Prius drivers from South Park.

  • djin7817

    The updated article makes it clear that current City of Oakland design standards place bike lanes next to vehicle lanes at the same grade. This design standard won’t change quickly for the better without external pressure, such as a state Complete Streets law. Have you asked your state assembly representative to support the Complete Streets bill?

  • Roger R.

    Angie did a great interview a couple of years ago about the ethics of traffic engineering. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/10/11/transportation-engineers-are-ethically-bound-to-protect-public-safety-too-many-do-not/

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