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.
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.
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.
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