Eyes on the Street: Oakland’s New 13th Street Commons

It's not officially open yet, but Streetsblog took a sneak peek at the city's newest pedestrian-friendly realm

Rows of heavy planters on the nearly complete 13th Street Commons in downtown Oakland. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
Rows of heavy planters on the nearly complete 13th Street Commons in downtown Oakland. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

Workers are putting the finishing touches on a newly revamped street in downtown Oakland, a section of 13th between Broadway and Franklin. From now on, people, not traffic, will dominate this patch of pavement.

From the project’s web page:

The 13th St. Commons is a public space initiative created by members of our Downtown community that aims to support local merchants, visitors and residents by radically reimagining 13th street as a community gathering space that plays host to small business incubators, great events and social gatherings, family-friendly activations, live music concerts, and Oakland inspired programming.

The area is already being patrolled by ‘ambassadors,’ who are warning motorists about the new parking restrictions. It’s now commercial loading on the south side of the street and passenger loading on the north side. An ambassador named Timothy told Streetsblog that next week parking control officers will start writing tickets. An opening celebration is planned for Saturday, but Timothy warned it may be delayed if it rains (probably best to check the website depending on the weather forecast)

Workers finishing up picnic benches for the 13th St. Commons
Workers finishing up picnic benches for the 13th St. Commons

The road is narrowed down to one lane from its previous four, so deliveries and driveway access are still possible (motorists can still reach the block’s parking garage, seen below). According to the advocacy group Walk Oakland, Bike Oakland, “Uses for this block will include live music, yoga, arts and crafts fairs, and various other community supported events, as well as making the block more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.”

Planters and paint narrows the street down to one lane, for loading and to allow access to a garage
Planters and paint narrows the street down to one lane, for loading and to allow access to a garage

Designers also clearly learned from Oakland’s experience with lightweight planters on lower Telegraph, which were infamous for being easily moved by motorists trying to make more parking spaces. These planters are huge and heavy and should be difficult if not impossible to move. In addition, they should help keep people safe, since they seem heavy enough to deflect a car if a motorist tried to drive into the pedestrianized areas.

Rows of these heavy planters slow cars turning onto the street and keep motorists from parking on the new pedestrianized areas
Rows of these heavy planters slow cars turning onto the street and keep motorists from parking on the new pedestrianized areas

This is not, by the way, a city of Oakland project. It’s actually built and under the control of the Downtown Oakland Association, a consortium of area landlords, although it is built with the city’s blessing (and some subsidies). According to a great report from KQED, that’s a bit contentious, because it’s unclear how much of the space will always, truly be “public” space.

That caveat aside however, it’s certainly nice to see more car-free space in downtown Oakland, that, one hopes, will be equally enjoyed by downtown workers and residents alike. It also makes for a much more inviting space than the four-lane road and traffic sewer it replaces, right near the entrance to 12th Street BART.

UPDATE 3/6: As warned, the opening celebration has been pushed back to April 4. Check here for details.

A couple more pictures below:

It's not even open, but at least one man was already hanging out at one of the tables
Rows of heavy planters keep these tables and chairs safe from scofflaw parkers and motorists
These strips force cars over if they attempt to enter the space from Broadway too quickly
These strips on the Broadway end should help reduce illegal parking… one hopes

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