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Lanesplitting 2: Rockridge to Downtown

on August 1, 2009

After a recent move to the area and a less-than-relaxing experience biking from Berkeley to downtown Oakland along Telegraph, I did what it seemed like any wannabe commuter (and novice biker) would: try to find a better route.  I contacted the city last week to learn about some good North Oakland/ Downtown alternatives.

Jennifer Stanley, the bicycle and pedestrian facilities coordinator for Oakland, suggested the Webster-Shafter route, which runs from Rockridge to Downtown Oakland.  It’s “one of the most popular routes,” Stanley said.  It’s also one of the city’s oldest.

To mix things up a little, I decided to return along Broadway to see if a local non-profit’s ‘Bike Broadway’ campaign last year had brought improvements to that corridor.

All in all, my planned ride was a short distance, only about six miles roundtrip, and the weather was sunny and mild. I was expecting an easy ride downtown but wasn’t sure what to expect on the return trip.

Heading South on College Ave, I took a right on Woolsey and then a left on Colby at a large ‘Bike Route, Downtown Oakland’ sign.  The first stretch, as expected, was outrageously pleasant: tree-lined streets and large houses with spectacular gardens for as far as the eye could see.

The streets were also graced with those large, ponderous speed bumps, which slowed the occasional car that drove by. Quite a few other bikers cruised past.  I passed a lady painting her white picket fence blue.

The route (technically a ‘bike boulevard,’) crosses Alcatraz and juts around a corner past St. Augustine Church to continue south on Colby.  Right before 60th street, I encountered a nasty pothole but the weather was so nice and the traffic so minimal, I barely noticed.

The green bike route signs (which will eventually be replaced with a slightly different design with a small oak tree, per the city’s recently adopted new signage system) popped up every other block or so.

The new signage system was one of the recommendations in the Oakland Bicycle Master Plan, which the City Council adopted in December of 2007.  It includes 218 miles of ‘designated bikeways,’ according to the city’s website.

The plan will be implemented over the next 20 years, Stanley, the facilities coordinator said. The Proposed Bikeway Network map, which is included in the plan, details both existing and future paths, lanes, boulevards and routes. My route downtown and back was included.

However, the intersection at Forest and Claremont streets gave me pause.  Colby merges from the right and bikers have to take a left across Claremont to get to Forest. I spotted a sign with an arrow pointing towards downtown Oakland across the street.

Continuing on Forest, which took me under the BART overpass as a train whistled overhead, I hung a right on Shafter after spotting another sign.  I had seen about 10 bikers at this point, following the same route.  A man with a guitar on his back biked past; two white-haired ladies with walkers meandered across the road in front of me.

At 51st I came to a busy intersection and again, the bike route sign guided me across.  Near Emerson Elementary the route signs led me right and then left on Webster.  The stoplight was out at 40th street but despite the long lines of cars waiting, I peddled across.  I passed Mosswood Park on my left, dodged some broken CDs in the road and cruised under the 580 freeway.

After passing the corner of the Alta Bates Summit campus on my right and a sign for a Korean church on my left, I cruised down a small hill and was directed left on 29th.

At the Broadway and 29th intersection, which featured a Broadway Liquors, Grocery Outlet, Mercedes-Benz Dealer, and a martial arts-dance school, a route sign informed me I could go either way.

Crossing the street, I easily found a bike lane and began pedaling back toward Rockridge. There were a few potholes and I passed several auto dealers – not the most impressive scenery – but everything was going swimmingly until I crossed back under the 580 Freeway.

The first thing I saw was a black and white sign behind a chain-link fence; it proclaimed ‘bike lane ends,’ and boy, did it ever.  Emerging from the overpass, the lane I was riding in disappeared behind a blue and white traffic wall.  I suddenly found myself in one of two narrow traffic lanes, riding close to the wall, with annoyed drivers on my left.

Bike sharrows (arrows indicating shared-use lanes for cars and bikes) appeared on the next block, but then disappeared, obscured by a badly laid strip of thick black asphalt.

Two intrepid bikers in front of me got stuck behind the 51 bus.  Not having anywhere else to go and visibly annoyed, they decided to head left at 40th street.  I stuck with Broadway, wondering if they knew something I didn’t.  Apparently, they did; the potholes grew steadily worse.

At Garnet street, I noticed some closed storefronts and some banners declaring that I was on ‘Auto Row.’ Irony aside, the arrows disappeared and I began to wonder when this ride would end.

Part of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland’s campaign for Broadway was to get bike lanes installed from MacArthur Blvd to Highway 24.  According to their website, the anticipated date for this goal was June 2009.  But no bike lanes yet.

By the time I scaled the small incline up to 51st, where I was greeted by Safeway, Payless, and Jamba Juice, I was ready to be done.   The Johnsonville sausage on a grill — ‘tastyville’ according to the billboard – combined with the car fumes and the bouncy ride – made me want to throw up.

More sensory oddness: a look back across the intersection revealed an odd “Broadway pet hospital” mural that resembled a Lake Merritt-like heaven for dogs.

By the time I spotted College Avenue, I’d had enough. I pedaled across the street to hang a left and coasted downhill. My bike was still uncomfortably close to the cars, but there was less traffic and it was slower.

While my trip south was a pleasure – I completely understand why the Webster-Shafter Bike Boulevard is popular – Broadway doesn’t come close to living up to its name.  Fortunately, new bike lanes are included in the Master plan, a good thing because Broadway could definitely use some bike-friendly upgrades.

I eventually found Forest again, a two-minute ride from the Rockridge Bart station. Soon I was back to the calm, tree-lined streets; the same lady was still painting her white picket fence.


  1. Diane Carlson on August 2, 2009 at 6:41 am

    Thank you for an excellent article (and series!). I have recently begun biking as my primary transportation, and getting to downtown Oakland has been, let’s say, a challenge. Your descriptions are helpful, if not very encouraging. I have found that California/Market Street (except for a bit in the low 60’s), is a very good conduit with dedicated bike lanes and not too much traffic. However, it sounds as if this is not very convenient to your neighborhood. Nonetheless, I might encourage you to try it, as it is fairly stress-free.

    Please do keep blogging about your rides – I really enjoy these posts.

  2. Oakland North » North Oakland Now 8.3.09 on August 3, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    […] by bike in Oakland can be a challenge.  Our intrepid reporter, Alexia Underwood, chronicled her experiences as she wended her way from Rockridge to Downtown and […]

  3. OAKsteader on August 3, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Unfortunately, Broadway is not a great bicycle corridor to get anywhere in the city. If you’re taking the Webster-Shafter route downtown, I would suggest taking a right on Broadway at 29th, and taking a left off Broadway at 24th, then you can reconnect with Webster and continue on your way downtown.

    When riding from the western side of MLK, I wouldn’t take California to Market, but instead cut over to King, use that to cross Alcatraz and then use the crosswalks to get across Stanford/Adeline and then jog over to Genoa. Genoa is a nice route to connect with West (via 52nd), which provides a smooth ride most of the way downtown — numerous cyclists use it. I also use MLK to get to and from downtown. There are no bike lanes, but the roads are in decent condition, and traffic on MLK is pretty minimal past MacArthur. From MLK you can hang a left on Grand and enjoy the bike lane all the way to the lake, or veer off to the right for your downtown destination.

  4. Shannon T on August 13, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Thanks for covering this topic! Here’s an update from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland’s Bike Broadway Campaign…

    The goal for the campaign is to push the city to actually paint the bike lanes that are already in the Bike Master Plan, from Jack London (via Franklin and Webster) to the hills (on Broadway north of 27th Street). We recently met with the city and it seems that funding and planning are lining up for the Franklin-Webster section, and may be completed within six months. Subscribe to WOBO’s e-newsletter, “Word on the Street,” for updates as this section of the campaign moves forward:

    But, Alexia is absolutely right, the north Broadway section is not striped, and barely paved in some places! The internal challenges to striping this section are much greater than we anticipated. That’s why we are continuing to collect petition signatures for bike lanes on Broadway, and gathering statements of support from businesses along the route. Come sign the petition this weekend at the Art & Soul Festival – or email to learn more about how you can help the campaign.

    We need a strong show of public support to convince the city to prioritize the north Broadway bike lanes. Please join or volunteer with WOBO to help make Broadway – and all our neighborhoods – a safer, easier, and more fun place to walk and bike.

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