40th St bike lane plan sets off hot neighbors’ debate
on October 21, 2009
The proposal to create a bike route along 40th St allowing bikers to access the MacArthur BART station and connect north-south bike lanes went over swimmingly last week in Mosswood. But when Jason Patton, City of Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, explained the plan to Longfellow residents last night, he was facing a much tougher crowd.
Well over 50 North Oakland residents packed the house at the North Oakland Community Charter School in Longfellow to express varying shades of disgruntlement at the concept that Patton laid out before them.
The proposal, which took a decade to refine and thirty minutes to lay out, would create two east-west bike corridors–one on West MacArthur Blvd and the other on 40th/41st streets. These corridors pass the MacArthur BART station on either side and the 40th street bike lane connect Piedmont to Emeryville, eventually ending up at the yet-to-be-constructed Bay Bridge bicycle onramp.
The idea is part of a comprehensive transit plan designed to create links between cycling and public transportation. The east-west routes plug many gaps: they connect the north-south routes, connect cyclists to BART and facilitate bike-bus-BART transportation.
The city first considered making room for the 40th street bike lane by eliminating a traffic lane, but AC transit objected. 40th is a major bus corridor and AC transit fears that traffic created by bringing 40th down to one lane would discourage bus use. Slowing busses also adds expense since more busses will be added to keep the lines running on time. Patton said the idea of shutting down a traffic lane was taken off the table because the city didn’t want to discourage bus use in their efforts to promote cycling.
Instead, the current proposal calls for removing some medians and reducing the width of the traffic lanes to make room for the bike lane. In order to work, the plan would also move streetlights from medians to sidewalks and rework some concrete gutters. These, plus other costs, bring the cost to a gasp-eliciting $1 million.
Once the plan was laid out—complete with blown up aerial photographs—the floor was opened to questions.
Hands shot up.
The opening volley was led by Ahmed, a sinewy cyclist and real estate agent. He began his comments carefully, making sure that Patton understood how much he appreciated city government considering cycling and public transportation in such comprehensive terms. Then he described what, for many in the room, was the crux of the issue.
Over the past few years, neighbors and community members have come together to green medians and embankments up and down 40th and along MacArthur as part of a civic engagement process that has gained substantial momentum. An area of Oakland that was once fractured and disconnected, and therefore more vulnerable to crime, was suddenly banding together to reclaim their neighborhoods by taking control of barren landscapes and injecting them with life. This isn’t just beautification, Ahmed said—this is how neighbors become involved with each other and begin to take pride in the place they live. He said ripping out the medians to create bike lanes at this moment would rob the community of momentum and deflate its spirit.
He likened the neighborhood to a bride on her wedding day. The plan to remove medians, he said, is going “to take her dress, smear her make up, shave her head and pare her down to a tank top.”
The audience, which had held itself back during the formal presentation, burst into applause. It was as though the room was a shaken soda and the top had just been cracked.
Several speakers spoke next about the importance of keeping the community planted spaces and raised concerns about the wisdom of putting a bike lane on such a busy street. Then a tall red-haired fellow floated an alternative “road diet” proposal that would remove a lane of traffic, put in the bike lane and widen the sidewalk. The idea, he said, is that restricting car lanes can encourage alternative transportation habits and actually reduce the number of people in cars and might keep busses moving at a normal speed.
A kerfuffle ensued as people expressed agreement and reservations.
Another proposal was floated to look to Auckland’s system of implementing shared bike/bus lanes. While it might sound counterintuitive, she said, the system works well, since buses are fast-tracked and pay more attention to cyclists.
By the final minutes of the meeting, the room was a mixture of frustration and energy. Waves had moved through the assembly as it moved from the broad troughs of thoughtful arguments to the crests of people yelling over each other to be heard.
Towards the end, a young woman from outside the neighborhood ventured a reminder that she could sense would not go over well. She’s not from Longfellow, she said, and she doesn’t live on 40th. But she rides up and down 40th to commute and just wanted the crowd to remember that a bike route that connects other bike routes and links to BART will affect Bay Area residents outside the room.
She reminded the group that, while the needs and concerns of the neighborhood were valid, there were commuters from outside Longfellow to consider.
“There are also our trees to consider,” someone countered with a whisper-shout.
She paused for a second before continuing. “The road diet,” she said, “seems to be the middle ground.”
“Show of hands for who likes the road diet idea,” the facilitator asked and the room became a lawn of hands.
Jason looked weary. The median gardeners looked hopeful.
“Sign up on the sheet in the back,” Jason said, “and I’ll be going back to look at alternatives to do a pros and cons for the next meeting.”
With that, neighbors rose from chairs into standing bunches and from bunches out into the night.
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