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.

24 Comments

  1. A on October 21, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    I’m with the tall red-haired fellow as well! I live near Oakland Tech and I ride down 40th every day. I’d absolutely love it if 40th lost a traffic lane and gained a wider sidewalk and a bike lane! The more east-west bike routes Oakland can get, the better, as they’re sorely lacking. (The bike lane bit of 55th is wonderful! Let’s have more like it!)

    I can’t wait to bike across the Bay Bridge from my house to where I work in downtown SF…here’s hoping there’ll be a route where I won’t risk my life trying to do so.



  2. Ken on October 22, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Dear writer: nice piece!

    Dear “A”: I used to live near Oakland Tech on 49th @ Manila. I formerly biked to BART on 40th and also wished back then that there would only be one car lane. Such an elegant, Copenhagen-like solution.

    Push your politician Jane Brunner of district 1 city council to implement it!

    Jason P can hook you up with her email/phone. So can google. Jane claims to be green so let’s help her prove it.



  3. dto510 on October 22, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Medians are bad. The neighbors were denied permission from the city to plant in the median, and did it anyway. They are now crossing several lanes of traffic every day to water the plants, putting themselves in danger. Medians speed up traffic – leaving a 16-foot median while removing travel lanes is not a “Copenhagen-like solution.” While I understand that the neighbors love their median, even though it contributes to their problems on the street, the Bicycle Master Plan outweighs illegal median work, no matter how pretty.



  4. Scott Mace on October 22, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Very thought-provoking post. Road diets seem like a better way to go than medians.



  5. shannon on October 22, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Quick correction for A: There will be a bike lane on the Bay Bridge—but only to Treasure Island. The current plan does not cross the entire span of the bridge due to the expense. Thanks for reading and continuing the conversation!



  6. Andy K on October 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Interesting that the median planting was done illegally.

    Not sure if a road diet would work good on 40th St. Some sections (like between B’way and Telegraph and MLK to San Pablo) seem fairly lightly traveled by cars – at least at the times I have been there. Light enough to go down to one lane each direction without much lowering of level of service.

    In general, I think road diets should be looked at more – maybe on trial basis. Park Blvd. would be another good candidate.



  7. Allan on October 23, 2009 at 9:53 am

    GREAT PIECE!! Shannon, thank you so much for doing such a great job with this one. The whole road diet thing sounds excellent and it seems to be what everyone wants with the exception of AC Transit. 40th street needs to be made safer for pedestrian and bicyclists going to and from BART. Please keep us all posted on any future developments with this story.



  8. shannon on October 23, 2009 at 10:00 am

    happy to see this is generating so much interest. ON is staying on top of this story as it unfolds–and all of your comments and postings really help get the word out too. thanks for posting!



  9. Kevin on October 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    I’m glad to hear that the Chairman’s Master Plan outweighs the illegal and counter revolutionary efforts of the reactionary petit bourgeois to impede the march of history.

    However, is it really necessary to spend 1.5 million on 40th street when you can bicycle from Piedmont to San Pablo one block north on the much quieter 41st street with only one jog needed to get around 24?



  10. Catherine on October 23, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    I agree with Kevin re: 41st. I regularly ride from BART to Park Ave in Emeryville and I always ride 41st Street. It’s mellow, no buses, zero chance of getting doored. Dto510 – I’m open to learning more about this situation. I contributed to the greening of the Longfellow median, but am curious: Can you tell me how the medians add to our problems? Personally, as a home owner, car driver, and urban cyclist, I *love* the planted medians and unless 40th street was striped like West or 55th (between Market and Shattuck – Shattuck to Telegraph is a nightmare) I wouldn’t ride it. I want my own lane where I can’t get doored.



  11. A.M on October 24, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Dear Dto510, My guess is that you are on city payroll. Please explain how “GREEN” medians are bad? How could reducing car traffic and sparing the trees be a bad thing? As a cyclist I always enjoy riding on quiet, tree lined streets, it is safer and much prettier. I also agree with all the Longfellow residents that tearing out that gorgeous median that they have all worked hard to put in would destroy that neighborhood that has long struggled to create a strong identity. In addition to all that, there is always something unethical about tearing out a tree. Oakland is in desperate need of more trees and more landscape looking medians like that exquisite installation done on that 40th median in Longfellow. We should all follow the great example that the Longfellow neighbors have set. A+ Longfellowers on a job well done.



  12. Julio M. on October 24, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    As a disabled person who works with people with disabilities, I must say that the sidewalk from Market to MLK may present issues of accessibility for people using wheelchairs. The sidewalk is narrow, uneven and broken in certain places. I’d like to know if the City of Oakland should look into this American with Disabilities Act issue and see if they could secure federal funding to implement sidewalk widening changes. Besides, it would make the stretch between Emeryville and the Macarthur station much more walkable to everyone.

    Please keep the medians and let’s keep caring for them. This community is taking charge of its future. We desperately need green spaces in this area, as City of Oakland studies showed a higher percentage of asthma due to all the highway pollution and lack of trees/greenery.



  13. desperately seeking susan... on October 24, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Good for all you longfellowers for that stunning, breathtaking and shining median. It is truly a piece of art. Jane Brunner is a big advocate of trees and I am sure the new medians in Longfellow has made her proud….. Besides, how could the city of Oakland be in a constant lay off state to many of its hard working families and have a million dollars to fix something that is not broke to begin with….?????????? BEATS ME…. Tearing out green!!!!!!!!!! WHAT A SHAMEFUL SIN.



  14. Oakland bunny... on October 24, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    You guys want bicycle lanes, fine, move to China 🙂



  15. Elijamone on October 24, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Let’s tell the truth here about the median planting on 40th Street!

    1. The city WAS NOTIFIED about the median planting day. We spoke to BOTH Jane Brunner’s office AND the Dept of Public Works numerous times about the plan. We asked for money (none available), support with watering, etc. (no staff available), talked of such things as safety and maintenance, and chatted about Oakland’s cutbacks and thus the need for good neighbors to step up. We have sought grant money. So please do not talk of something you do not know.

    2. Do not label our hard work as “illegal.” So Judge Judy please tell – What determines if something is “legal?” Is something legal only if someone who sits behind a desk says so? Every revolutionary – may it be those standing up for civil rights, women’s rights, free speech, and apparently tree planters in Longfellow will have someone pointing a finger at them and calling them a “criminal”, “commie,” “red” for trying to stand up for what is just and to make a difference.
    3. Medians are good! You should read something other than Glamour Magazine. Medians have shown to calm traffic, increase psychological well-being, decrease crime and noise, and promote neighborhood cohesion. It hard to believe that you’d find tree planting so controversial. Please stop being so silly. It hurts my head.

    I was at Tuesday’s meeting. As a median revolutionary AND a former semi-professional bike racer I am a big fan of the road diet idea. Let’s stop making plans for more traffic (in 2030!) and instead make plans for better lifestyles. I don’t mind arriving 1 minute later in my truck for a trip to Home Depot if it means making 40th Street usable for everyone. The road diet also gives us an opportunity for much needed changes in an area that has suffered too long from neglect and environmental discrimination.

    So thanks to you all for supporting the Longfellow neighborhood and its fight to make it green. We will need your help!



  16. Beth on October 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Thank you for covering this story! The situation is aggravating and I am glad people like you are paying attention. It’s exhausting to be up against something so big.

    When the city started they saw those old, sad medians and didn’t think anyone cared. Then we came together and greened the medians and they were like “Holy #*#%! they care”. Next time maybe they will ask residents what they want before spending money to draw up a plan that doesn’t seem to work for anyone, esp those it affects the most.

    I am grateful to those who came out and raised issues and tried to be part of the solution. If we are going to make changes then let’s make changes that will matter. It’s time to be bold.



  17. say no to tree choppers... on October 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Amazing words you all. Bike lanes are an asset on side streets and a dangerous liability on a busy street. Oakland needs more trees.



  18. Allan on October 25, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Could someone here please enlighten me on what the next step is going to be with this issue? Do the neighbors petition for the road diet or another alternative or ????



  19. Beth on October 26, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Response for Allan,

    The plan is: 1. get a petition going to ask the city to consider a road diet plan. We know they have done the research – liked the idea – then scrapped it due to AC Transit.

    2. work with Zak Walk of Brunner’s Office and Jason Patton to see about working collaboratively on the 40th Street vision. 3. creating an official Longfellow community group (we have started a yahoo groups).
    4. put together another community party to get everyone up to date on the issue + other things going on and socialize. 5. continue the greening and make small improvements where we can.



  20. Sean on October 26, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I acknowledge that bike lanes of 40th will be more important once the new bridge bike lanes open, and that the city MUST look out 20-30 years on roadway projects to keep ahead of the game.

    However, the road diet idea is a very good one, and by changing 40th to one lane (a change that hasn’t seemed to affect the bridge in Emeryville at all) it may actually encourage motorists to use alternate routes, thus throwing the city’s 30-year projection askew.



  21. Allan on October 27, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Beth, Thank you for doing so much work on this. Sean, you bring up an excellent point, the 40th St. bridge in E Ville does go to one lane and it seems fine. I also question wether or not the statistician people who run these traffic studies thirty years out are taking into account denser zoning with more people walking / riding bicycles. There is also the gas cost factor that could very easily eliminate much traffic.



  22. shannon on October 28, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Hi everyone,

    I’m wondering what kind of additional coverage on this topic you might appreciate? I’m not guaranteeing we’ll be able to do it–but tips, leads and ideas are really appreciated.



  23. the Other Kevin on November 4, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Interesting comments. Per the other Kevin: so neighbors advocating for their community are “petit bourgeois” trying to “impede the march of history?” I call the median project the “community getting things done” in a city known for fiscal mismanagement, corruption and nearsightedness.

    As for Impeding the March of History…. Where do I begin. If the community had been heard in 1958, the Grove-Shafter Freeway would have been routed differently. Instead, it plowed directly through a vibrant middle class district–demolishing both commercial and residential areas. The middle class left and the drug sales started. Sure, the freeway was unavoidable. But it was planned poorly. “The March of History,” in that case, assured a convenient commute for Contra Costa residents to get to work in SF. But it screwed Oakland, especially Temescal and Longfellow–and the city’s leaders were on board with the plan from start to finish. They rolled over and let the State do what it wanted.

    And then of course, there’s the sad case the developers who wanted to bring badly needed retail to Oakland but, after years of frustration with Oakland leaders, gave up and built successful Bay Street in Emeryville.

    And how ironic! The success of Emeryville is the catalyst for much of the traffic flowing past my home, as Oaklanders drive to all of the retail and services that we don’t have in our struggling metropolis.

    And the person who thinks medians are bad? Why? And you’re out of step with data that say medians (well vegetated) slow traffic.

    Lastly, the reference to the red haired man at the meeting who advocated the road diet. It should be noted that he’s not a simple minded idealist. He actually has experience in transportation planning.



  24. Aidan Wylde on December 13, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I live near Oakland Tech, and ride almost every day to Emeryville. I have tried riding 40th, 42, and 45th. 42nd is the best route. I saw someone say 41st, but you can’t go under the freeway on 41st. Otherwise it’s good. 42nd has traffic humps and moderate traffic. There’s a light at Broadway and a light at Telegraph. There’s one 4-way stop sign — on West St. You could add a 4-way stop where 42nd crosses Market (not much traffic) and maybe a 4-way stop at MLK (a bit more traffic) and everyone is happy, at minimum cost. It only takes a cyclist 1 minute to get up from 40th st. 40th st. is so busy it will never be ideal for bikes, although I do use it, and it is fast. Hope this helps. By the way, lots of people ride this route already.



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