Seen from above, much of Oakland resembles a bicycle wheel: major roads like Telegraph, Broadway and San Pablo don’t follow a grid, but instead run like spokes towards City Hall. These arterials are convenient for commuters – the roadways are wide and tend to take people where they want to go.
It is precisely their convenience that has made them so risky for the city’s cyclists.
“Bicyclists are in a way like cats or water,” said Dave Campbell, the advocacy director for the East Bay Bike Coalition. “They take the most direct route. They’re hard to corral.”
While side streets like Webster or Colby Street are considered to be safer for cyclists, they are often uphill and out of the way. Martin Robinson, a resident of Temescal, said he rarely takes side streets because they often take him off-route. He described riding on the main streets as “dangerous,” and that taking them “feels wrong.”
The East Bay Bike Coalition is currently in the planning stages of a potential bike lane for Telegraph Avenue. As they consider several designs to help keep cyclists safer, however, they are finding themselves running up against opposition from businesses that may have their on-street parking removed to make way for the bike lane.
The public safety concerns for cyclists are real. According to Oakland’s Complete Streets Program, from 2007 to 2011 there were approximately 65 bike crashes on Telegraph Avenue between 20th and 57th Streets, none of which were fatal. An average of 1,200 cyclists cross the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and 40th Street daily, making Telegraph the most used bike corridor in the city.
Campbell says that installing a bike lane on Telegraph Avenue is the Bike Coalition’s “highest priority.”
But it’s also turning out to be one of their biggest challenges: Because there is no unused space on Telegraph Avenue, installing a bike lane would likely require removing some of the on-street parking.
“Very few people raise then hands when you say ‘Who would like to give up your roadway space for bikes,’” Campbell said.
Amy Remsen, the co-owner of Beauty’s Bagel Shop on Telegraph and 36th Street, says that while more bicycle traffic may lead to more bike customers, “a lot of our customers already have trouble parking nearby, so we would hate for that to become even more of an issue.”
The EBBC is working with two design firms, Fehr & Peers and Community Design & Architecture, in order to create what they call an “innovative bike lane,” something more comprehensive than simply putting a white line down the road. Potential designs include a two-way bike lane and “protected bike lanes,” in which a barrier like parked cars or stanchions separate a bike lane from the rest of the roadway.
At a recent meeting at Arbor Café, members of the Bike Coalition discussed how to best win over the residents and businesses of the Temescal stretch of Telegraph Avenue. They believe that cyclists shop more frequently than drivers, even if they buy less when they shop. They hope to convince businesses that less parking does not equal fewer customers, and seek to remind owners that the city install free bike racks in front of their businesses.
The EBBC hopes to have their initial design finished by this fall, and to get the project finished by 2015.
“If they’re riding here,” Campbell said, “we need to make here safer.”