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on May 31, 2009

Cuts, plans, master plans—what does it all mean?  Instead of attending another meeting on the Bicycle Master Plan, Oakland North decided to hop on a bike and see what the city’s routes had to offer.

After checking out the city bicycling website, this bicycling novice found a map of bikeway networks and routes and chose Route 35 down Telegraph Ave. Granted, this was the street with the second highest collision rate for bicyclists between 2000 and 2004, with most collisions occurring between 3 and 7 p.m., but is was also the one closest to my apartment.

Route 35 is highlighted in yellow on the city’s numbered bike route map to indicate a county-wide bike corridor.  I decided to follow it down Telegraph from the Berkeley border and turn left on West Grand Boulevard until I got to Lake Merritt – a distance of not quite six miles.

I also decided to go during the evening rush-hour on a Wednesday to get the full effect of the commuter experience.  Call it a journalist’s self-destructive curiosity.  I tightened my helmet.

The ride started auspiciously enough.  The bike lane on Telegraph consisted of a thick white line on the road – clear to me, clear to the cars.  My bike rolled along for a couple blocks, secure and trusting, when, somewhere around 65th Street, the lane disappeared.

I edged away from the traffic towards the parked cars and then, wonderfully, the line appeared again a few streets later.  With few exceptions, like when a large, brown-painted school bus with Maine plates jutted into my two feet of space, the lane stayed visible.  Then, finally, right before I entered the murky darkness under the 24 freeway overpass, it disappeared for good.

Emerging from the overpass, I had to choose between jumping the sidewalk curb, riding out into fast traffic or smacking into an illegally parked white truck and trailer.  I opted to pull over, whip out my notebook and describe the situation. It’s unclear, however, what a commuter with no time to waste would have done.

After hitting 55th Street, I was a little worried when I noted that there was barely a foot between the parked cars on one side and fast and heavy traffic on the other side.  Nevertheless, I saw about 10 other cyclists following this route.


Another biker across from Lake Merritt

Right around 44th Street a side lane appeared out of nowhere; suddenly, I was in the middle of two lanes of traffic.  I was beginning to understand the collision statistics.

After long stretches of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and apartment buildings and more than a few closed-up shops, I saw what appeared to be a bike haven: several bikes clustered together in front of the Mama Buzz Café on lower Telegraph.  I didn’t stop.  There would be time for coffee and consolation later.

Once I reached West Grand Boulevard, I noticed some white arrows in the middle of the street with small bikers painted inside.  Then cars raced over them, blocking the image from view. Hmm.  That obviously wasn’t where I was supposed to be.  I continued inching along the right hand side of the street, avoiding side-mirrors on parked cars and praying no-one would hit me.  I was still waiting for my lane.

Finally, at Webster, just before Valdez, I saw a familiar white line and a small painted image of a biker.  I slowed, cruised past the lake and noticed the sun shining over the water.  It had only taken me about 25 minutes to get here.  On my way back I saw my first Route 35 bicycle sign – heralding my arrival in downtown Oakland.sharetheroad

Overall, the experience was more harrowing than I had expected, although I didn’t experience the wrath of any irate drivers and was even invited to take part in a promotional free spa day along the way.  However, I realized I had a lot to learn about biking in Oakland.  Judging by the people biking past me, I needed a cooler bike, for one.  And maybe I should do a little more investigating before taking the city’s bike route maps at face value.


  1. Art on May 31, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Just for the record—those arrows with bikes painted on them on West Grand were *exactly* where you were supposed to be—you just had obnoxious drivers sharing the road with you. They’re called “sharrows” and are used in places where the road isn’t wide enough to accommodate a legal bike lane. They’re supposed to be a cue to both bikers and drivers that bikes will be sharing the lane with cars, but sometimes you have to be assertive about taking the lane to make the cars take notice. Definitely scary for a novice biker, but the more you do it the more you’ll get used to it—and so will the cars on those stretches. They’re still relatively new on West Grand, I think. (That said, I always try to make eye contact with drivers on those stretches to make sure they see me—and aren’t going to be aggressive about it when I take the lane.)

  2. A on June 1, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Yep, Telegraph between 51st and wherever the numbers stop is a horror show. Some of the largest potholes I’ve ever seen…

    Lately my preferred route would be to zigzag through the area between Rockridge BART and Temescal, crossing Claremont and going under the 24 on Forest St., then continuing south on Broadway, avoiding the rest of Telegraph completely. There’s a nice bike lane on Telegraph from MacArthur until Grand or so, and then you’re pretty close to the lake.

  3. A on June 1, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Sorry, should be “a nice bike lane on Broadway”, not Telegraph…

  4. Alexia Underwood on June 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Art, thanks for the info about sharrows – much appreciated. A, I totally agree about the potholes. I’ll check out the alternative route next time I make a trip downtown.

  5. Oakland North » North Oakland Now 6.04.09 on June 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

    […] for Living in the O has pledged to drive less than 20 miles this month.  An Oakland North reporter tried bicycle commuting in Oakland earlier this […]

  6. Robert Raburn on June 10, 2009 at 11:57 am

    The horror of riding on Telegraph Ave below Aileen St to Downtown Oakland–where the bike lanes end and the potholes begin–cannot be ignored any longer by the City of Oakland. The crowded bike parking during the Temescal Festival last Sunday was testimony to the popularity of bicycling in this area. For bicyclists, direct alternatives to Telegraph Ave between Oakland and Berkeley do not exist.

    Continuous bike lanes would exist today if a group of Temescal residents and merchants had not mounted a legal challenge in 1999, based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), to the project that was fully funded by the Air District.

    The East Bay Bicycle Coalition is pursuing two courses of action to improve bicyclist safety and close this gap in the planned bikeway (see: 2009 Campaigns. We continue to push Oakland to invest federal stimulus funds to repair the minefield of hazardous Telegraph Ave potholes, especially between Aileen and 51st Sts. Secondly transportation advocates are campaigning statewide to amend the Transportation Guideline policy in CEQA that legally protects “congestion management” rather than promoting greater utility of our streets for all users.

  7. Jesse on September 16, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I used to commute up and down Telegraph every day, and now I commute across West Grand every day. My greatest fear is always parked cars, there are a lot of what I call ‘lurkers’ who park on Telegraph and just … wait. Then, just as a bicycle is approaching they spring into action and throw their door open … to organize their handbag/briefcase/bag-of-bottles/whatever. The traffic is generally pretty considerate of bicyclists but I have to agree with Art: You need to be assertive.

    The bottom line is that you’re entitled to a lane if the side of the road isn’t a safe place for you to be (I’d say any time between 3am and midnight is unsafe to be on the side).

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