Oakland Breaks Ground on 14th Street Safety Project
Long anticipated, long delayed, in a few years at least one east/west street in downtown Oakland will have a touch of Dutch to it
4:55 PM PST on January 29, 2024
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A ceremony to kick off the 14th Street Safety Project was held Monday afternoon on the steps of Oakland's City Hall. When completed in the fall of 2025, it will run between West Oakland and Lake Merritt and should resemble the two-lane, bicycle-and-pedestrian heaven rendered in the lead image.
Currently, 14th Street is an overly wide, four-lane speedway (six-lanes if you count the parking) on Oakland's high-injury network.
"Oaklanders are not feeling safe when walking or biking or driving in our city," said Oakland mayor Sheng Thao during the press event and groundbreaking, attended by some 40 members of the media, politicos, Oakland staffers, and advocates. "Too many people have been injured."
The project will provide wider sidewalks and curb-protected bike lanes on both sides of the street. It will, for the first time, provide a safe bike corridor between West Oakland and downtown, passing right next to city hall and the nearby BART station, before continuing to Lake Merritt.
"'Traffic Violence' is now part of our lexicon," said Council President and District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas. "An average of two Oaklanders are killed or seriously injured every single week." The speakers blamed that on speeding, other forms of reckless driving, and the infrastructure that enables it. District 4 Councilmember Janani Ramachandran recalled the days when downtown Oakland was filled with pedestrians and activity. She said by making 14th more inviting to pedestrians and cyclists it will start to revitalize Oakland's urban core. That will happen when drivers stop treating "our main road as a highway. Can this infrastructure alone curb behavior? Absolutely."
Oakland DOT director Fred Kelley said the project is part of an overarching effort to curb traffic violence. "It's an epidemic."
Mainstream media reporters wanted to know how a bike lane and pedestrian project would revitalize downtown, when crime -- or perception of it -- is scaring people off. "When there are more eyes on the street, we are safer," said Thao, arguing that the presence of pedestrians and cyclists, in sufficient numbers, just makes people feel safer.
Many advocates and Oakland staffers who attended the event have been working on this project for a decade or more. Chris Hwang of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Robert Prinz of Bike East Bay, and George Spies of Traffic Violence Rapid Response were just a few of the advocates who came to join in the celebration.
Advocates, Oakland transportation officials, and the like thanked the voters for supporting Measure KK, a 2016, $600 million street improvements bond measure that made the 14th Street project possible.
When completed, it will join a growing network of Dutch-style, curbside protected bike lanes or two-way protected cycletracks cropping up all over Oakland, including on Telegraph, Fruitvale, and along Lake Merritt on Lakeside. The 14th Street project will run from Brush Street in West Oakland to Oak/Lakeside. Unfortunately, the Lakeside Drive cycle track drops out at Jackson, so it won't quite connect with 14th. Advocates hope that separate projects to ring Lake Merritt with a full cycle track can help remedy that as construction continues.
For now though, advocates were just pleased to see the fruition of so many years of work. "I'm really excited about the lane reduction and the first protected bike lane connecting West Oakland to Downtown and Lake Merritt," said city of Oakland staffer Brandon Harmi.
City Councilmember Carroll Fife, whose District 3 encompasses the project, shared the excitement but was also reflective. She mentioned how the fixes are coming too late for Dmitry Putilov, who was killed on 14th while cycling with his two sons in 2022. That's hardly an outlier -- 14th street, as currently designed, is a meat grinder, as explained on the city of Oakland project page:
In the 5 years since the City applied for this safety grant in 2016, 2 people walking in crosswalks were killed by drivers on 14th Street - both seniors. Tragically, on June 16, 2022 - 5 days before this project was set to be approved at City Council, a driver killed someone biking on 14th Street at Jefferson Street in a hit-and-run collision. In the 5 years from 2016-2021, vehicle collisions injured 189 people, 38 of them severely. This stretch of 14th Street represents one of the densest concentrations of traffic injuries and deaths in the City of Oakland.
Many of the politicos at the event echoed the theme that traffic violence is linked to other kinds of street crime, adding that the 14th Street project is part of a larger project to make Oakland safer for everyone. "Bike and pedestrian safety is public safety," said Fife.
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