Oakland plans to amp up bikeways in 2011
on January 18, 2011
Say you’re at the Rockridge BART station and you’re planning to ride your bike to downtown Oakland. You get on Shafter Avenue—the main through street with the least amount of traffic—and begin riding. As you pedal your way towards Temescal, going up and over the speed bumps, you see little green signs posted on the side of the street that have a graphic of a bicycle and a list of the distances to nearby destinations. “Temescal 0.4 miles. Macarthur BART 0.9 miles. Downtown 1.9 miles,” one sign reads.
The Webster/Shafter corridor, as this bike route is called, is one of the several dozen projects the City of Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Program will be working on in 2011. Currently, there are no bike lanes painted on the Shafter portion of the corridor, but within the year 2.7 miles of striping will cover this route from Berkeley on down to 29th Street. “2011 is going to be the biggest year ever for implementing new bikeways in Oakland,” says Jason Patton, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Program’s manager.
All the projects to make Oakland more bike-friendly are part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, which was first adopted in 1999 and then updated in 2007. The goal of the plan is to create a network of bikeways, improve bicycle safety and provide a policy framework for the city to better accommodate cyclists.
To date, Oakland has installed 102 miles of designated bikeways, with 32 of these miles having striping. But in 2011 and 2012, Patton and his group are hoping to double these 32 miles and add 32 more. “We are trying to deliver in two years what the city has done in the last 14 years,” says Patton. Their end target is to continue extending the existing network and increasing miles, so that in the next few years Oakland will have 218 miles of designated bikeways. These bikeways provide commuters with an alternative to cars and help make Oakland a greener city.
As you continue to ride your bike down Shafter Avenue, through Temescal, you follow the little green signs that point you to turn down 48th Street and then turn again to get on Webster Street. From here you continue downtown towards Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. Just past 34th Street, you see something new—a big white bicycle painted on the middle of the street with double arrows. This means that this portion of your journey has now entered what the city calls an “arterial bike route”—this painting on the street is called a “sharrows.” Here, on this typically busy street, bicycle lanes aren’t possible but cars still must share the space.
There are five types of bikeways in Oakland. In addition to arterial bike routes, there are also bike paths, bike lanes, bike routes and bike boulevards. Paths are paved and completely separate from the street, like what you currently see on the Bay Trail, the path that hugs the bay’s shoreline. Lanes are what you’d currently see on Grand Avenue and around Lake Merritt—striped lines painted on the street, which creates an on-street lane just for bicycles. Boulevards are on residential streets and are designed to make good throughways for bicyclists—they have speed bumps and sharrows. The routes are designated streets where bikers share travel lanes with drivers but don’t have striped lanes or sharrows. Then there are the little green signs, which can currently be found on all of these types of bikeways.
The more routes, paths and lanes that exist, the better, Patton says. He explains that it’s kind of like a telephone network—the more telephones people have, the more valuable they become since there’s a greater possibility for connecting. “The value of a network is that it connects lots of points,” he says. The bike plan’s ultimate goal is to create a network of connections between all of the main streets in Oakland, so someone could feasibly ride across the city completely on bikeways.
In addition to the Webster/Shafter corridor, there are other bikeways that Patton is excited to be implementing in 2011. There’s Macarthur Boulevard, where his group has designed bike lanes and sharrows that will connect the lanes that already exist in the Grand Lake neighborhood with those in the Dimond neighborhood, filling in the gap. “Once that’s done, there’ll be a continuous connection form Laurel to Grand Lake and then all the way to Berkeley,” he says.
Other gaps that will be filled include the one from the Embarcadero up Fruitvale to Macarthur Boulevard, San Pablo from 16th to 32nd Street and another one on Foothill Boulevard from Fremont Way to 23rd Avenue and then 14th Avenue to Lakeshore. The Foothill project will connect to Bancroft Avenue, which is Oakland’s longest stretch of bikeway, extending over 62 blocks and into San Leandro. This means that by next year someone could ride from San Leandro to Lake Merritt almost completely on bikeways.
Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities Program has worked with neighboring cities, like Berkeley, Emeryville, Alameda, San Leandro and Piedmont, to make the bikeway boundaries as transparent as possible. For someone on a bike, Patton says, it should be difficult to tell when they’ve crossed from one city into another. They’ve also worked with Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Department on different bike paths, including the trail that traverses through the park surrounding Lake Temescal and those that circle the Martin Luther King Jr. regional shoreline.
“The primary purpose is to serve commuter and utilitarian trips,” says Patton, “and recognizing the work we’re doing is broadening the accessibility of bike riding.” He says the idea is to connect neighborhoods to neighborhoods, to BART stations and to the waterfront.
The benefits of bicycling are many, he adds, saying that not only does biking cut down on carbon dioxide emissions but it also decreases street traffic, helps people get exercise and save money on gas. In Oakland, 85 percent of people live within two miles of a BART station, which according to the Bicycle Master Plan equals a 12-minute bike ride. Patton says there has been a huge increase of people riding bikes to BART stations since 1998—some stations, like West Oakland, have seen a 500 percent increase.
In 2009, Oakland had the fifth highest number of bicyclists in the U.S.’s 70 largest cities, according to the League of American Bicyclists, coming in just behind Portland, OR, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA and San Francisco. “A large portion of the public is already on board—they are already out there riding bikes,” says Patton. “I think what the city is doing, in part, is playing catch up with what people are already doing.”
But this work doesn’t come without some opposition. “It always revolves around trade-offs,” says Patton, “because we work in a built-out area without streets getting wider.” Each bikeway the group creates potentially takes away from something that already exists, such as wide lanes, car parking or medians. For example, they have been working on getting a bikeway on Telegraph Avenue for 10 years. Around the year 2000, they decided to remove the automobile center turn lanes in order to accommodate the bikeway, but some local merchants and residents objected. The project has been stalled ever since. “The question is, how do you share the commons?” says Patton. “How do you build a robust bike facility without undermining other modes?”
The Webster/Shafter corridor, however, has come along without a hitch—the residents in this neighborhood have been supportive of the project, which will be completed by the end of the year. If you continue on your bike ride that started at the Rockridge BART, went through Temescal and down Webster Street, following the little green signs and winding past Alta Bates towards 30th, you’ll see a striped bike lane on the opposite side of the street. This bike lane is just the beginning of what the Webster/Shafter corridor will soon look like, with full lanes or sharrows all the way from the Berkeley border to downtown.
The Bicycle Master Plan has a 20-year planning vision with the hope to make Oakland a city where biking is a part of people’s daily life. “Bikes aren’t going to save the world,” says Patton, “but I don’t think we’re going to save the world without bikes.”
Lead image: Illustration by Amit Price Patel for the City of Oakland’s Bicycle Master Plan (2007).
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