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Cyclists’ pack rides Oakland to press for better routes

on October 1, 2008

Story and slideshow by MARTIN RICARD

SEPT. 29 — As anyone who has traveled on two wheels along some of the city’s busiest streets knows, bicycling through Oakland can be a challenge.

There are already more than 85 miles of designated bike routes for cyclists. But some of the bike lanes are confusing, not all the roads are paved and there are some areas that are just plain not safe to ride on.

That’s where Walk Oakland Bike Oakland thinks they could lend a hand.

On Saturday, the pedestrian and bicycling advocacy organization organized a group bike ride to educate people on how the city is working to improve bicycle access. The group also was trying to rally support behind its efforts to make cycling easier throughout town, particular along Broadway in North Oakland.

“So we need your help today,” Mike Jones, 46, a leader with the organization, said before the ride, sounding off Walk Oakland Bike Oakland’s rally cry for the day.

Cyclists travel along Broadway on Saturday as part of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland's advocacy ride promoting better bicycle access in North Oakland. (Photo by Martin Ricard)

Cyclists pedal along Broadway on Saturday as part of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland's advocacy ride promoting better bicycle access in North Oakland. (Photo by Martin Ricard)

Oakland has the third highest cycling rate among cities in the state with populations of more than 150,000 people, according the most recent Census data. However, busy streets and cars traveling at fast speeds often create obstacles for cyclists, the city says. On average, a bicyclist-involved collision occurs every other day in Oakland.

The advocacy organization’s bike ride was meant to change that trend—or, at least, encourage folks to think about it more responsibly.

The sun was almost at its peak when people gradually started gathering in the morning in front of Barnes & Noble bookstore at Jack London Square to begin the excursion.

The pack was split up into two groups, the “Leisure Group”—those who wanted to take more of the scenic route along the way—and the “Speed Devils”—those who considered themselves more ambitious, wanting to keep up a faster pace.

And then they were off.

The trek took the group from Broadway to Franklin in Chinatown, back over to the main corridor along the Broadway Auto Row, through Webster Street and back to Broadway. The ride ended with a picnic lunch at Lake Temescal.

Along the way, the cyclists made stops so that the leaders in the group could talk about the campaign on which the ride was centered, called Bike Broadway—which urges the city to install bike lanes that continue through Broadway from West MacArthur Boulevard to Highway 24, and along 27th Street from Webster to Franklin streets.

Right now, some of the lanes are not connected or painted all the way through because of several developments already underway, including the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center seismic rebuild project on Broadway and West MacArthur. That, in turn, creates roadblocks for cyclists who want to make that trek from downtown into North Oakland.

But the solution isn’t as simple as just having new bike lanes painted, said Jennifer Stanley, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian facilities coordinator. The problem also lies, she explained, with funding available to repave streets. Because funding for street repairs is limited, she said, bicycle access sometimes gets put on the backburner.

“We don’t want to just put down striping for a bike lane on any road because that will say to people, ‘Hey, come bike here,’” she said, “and that could be very dangerous.”

All the more reason why the Broadway corridor needs to be improved for cyclists, some say.

Chris Hwang, 34, a member of the advocacy organization, said the city’s bicycle master plan, which provides a framework for improving bicycle safety and access for the city, already has laid the foundation for that process to take place.

City officials sometimes just need a little reminder, she said.

“The key issue is to be aware and be able to monitor things,” she said, “and jump on opportunities when they present themselves.”

Chris Kattenburg, 31, an Oakland resident who rides his bicycle every day, said he is still skeptical of the city’s planning efforts related to bicycle access.

But he said he has faith that the city can make due on its promise, given that most residents in the East Bay tend to view cycling as a mode of transportation worth protecting.

“If there is any place that can make bicycling work,” he said, “it’s in Oakland.

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