Eyes on the Street: A Quick Look at Oakland’s ‘Slow Streets’

One of Oakland's 'Slow Streets,' at Shafter and 42nd. Photo: OakDOT
One of Oakland's 'Slow Streets,' at Shafter and 42nd. Photo: OakDOT

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This past weekend marked the start of Oakland’s ‘slow streets’ program, designed to give people more space to get some exercise while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan is to eventually open 74 miles of Oakland streets for local residents to go for a walk, bike, jog and generally avoid going stir crazy, all while maintaining six feet of distance from one another. It’s unclear what the timeline is for the full rollout; Streetsblog has an inquiry in and will update this post.

UPDATE 8:42 p.m.: The City will open 4-5 more miles of ‘slow streets’ for the second phase, starting this Friday, April 17th. Details available here.

But for now, the following streets are open to bikes and pedestrians for exercise:

  • West St: West Grand – 14th Street
  • Plymouth St: 78th – 104th Avenue
  • E 16th St: Foothill Blvd – Fruitvale Ave
  • 42nd St: Adeline – Broadway

In other words, while some other cities, notably San Francisco, have balked at closing streets to facilitate exercise and made excuses, Oakland is doing it. As advocate Jean Walsh points out in her tweet below (with video to prove it) excuse #1, that it will promote “gathering,” just isn’t so:

Meanwhile, Oakland’s ‘Slow Streets’ remain open to motorists who are accessing their homes, but drivers are required to take them slowly. The city has stressed that these streets are available for local residents only.

As Bike East Bay’s Dave Campbell pointed out in Streetsblog’s story on Friday, it’s also an opportunity for advocates to volunteer in their neighborhoods to help keep things going smoothly. Below is a picture of some of those advocate-volunteers from over the weekend. Extra points if you recognize who’s who behind those stylish masks:

Masked volunteers in Oakland over the weekend. Photo: Bike East Bay
Masked volunteers in Oakland over the weekend. Photo: Bike East Bay

Oakland followed the principle of “keep it simple stupid” and closed streets using a few signs, as seen below:

Here's how simple it is to do. Here's West Street as seen early Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Here’s how simple it is to do, on West Street as seen early Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

In some cases these were backed up by paper signs taped to poles:

A simple paper sign taped to a pole in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A simple paper sign taped to a pole in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

West Street, where the above two photos were taken, was quiet today (on a workday) but apparently had some local activity over the weekend, as this photo from Oakland DOT shows:

West-St-19th-St_Family
A family enjoying some open space this weekend. Photo: City of Oakland

Oakland is leading the pack nationally with these plans, but a few other cities across the country are also opening streets in this way, such as Boston and Minneapolis. New York attempted an abortive “pilot” open-streets program, but as Streetsblog NYC’s editors opined, so over-policed them as to defeat the purpose of promoting exercise while social distancing. And San Francisco, as mentioned, has so far spurned even something as simple as closing Golden Gate Park to cars.

Photo: from OakDOT head's Ryan Russo's twitter
Photo: from OakDOT head’s Ryan Russo’s twitter

For more information on Oakland’s program, check out the city’s ‘slow streets’ page.

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