Wearing a bright green hat and sunglasses, on Friday morning Rachel Davidman hopped on her mountain bike and took a short lap on the newest bike lane in Oakland, on Webster Street right off of Broadway Auto Row.
And what did she think?
“I’m excited with the progress,” said Davidman, an Oakland resident and the education coordinator of the Safe Routes to Schools program for TransForm, which advocates for public transportation and bicycle safety. “There are some obstacles to deal with, the cars are kind of wondering what’s going on. But fresh paint on the street is a great thing.”
As Davidman spoke, contractors hired by the City of Oakland’s public works department were painting new bike lanes on the side of Webster Street that goes toward downtown, and sharrows [a shared-lane marking for cars and bikes] on the other side of the street. New bike lanes were also installed on Franklin Street on Friday, connecting a northern route into downtown.
The new bike lanes are part of 18 miles of bikeways installed in the city this year, giving Oakland a total of 115.8 miles of bike lanes. Their installation is a part of an effort by the city to have more bike-friendly streets, as part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.
Right before Davidman took her test lap on Friday morning, a group of about 60 people gathered in front of the bar and restaurant MUA to celebrate the new lanes. Many were dressed in bike gear, including bright green jackets and hats, or spandex racing gear. About a dozen brought their bikes to try out the new lane, and Bicycle Coffee had set up a stand on the corner.
Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4) were among the speakers at the event, which was hosted by Renee Rivera, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s executive director, as well as Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. Quan said the new bike lanes will be important for helping people get to work in a safer way, but will also aid the city in reducing greenhouse emissions. “To get to those goals, every one of us has to eliminate at least one of our car trips a week,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “And the easiest and best way to do that is by riding your bike, right?”
Schaaf said the city has also added 92 bike parking spaces this year, and a bike station, where there will be valet bike parking and bike repairs, is scheduled to be built at the 19th Street BART station next year. Jason Overman, the spokesperson for councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (At-large), said a $500,000 grant from the Safe Routes to Transit program was secured for the project. The new bike station “will encourage visitors and commuters alike to travel to Oakland on a bicycle,” Overman said.
But there is still a lot of work to be done to improve bicycle safety on the streets of Oakland. City public works director Vitaly Troyan mentioned there are 800 miles of roads in Oakland, so that means “700 miles to go” for bike lanes that need to be installed.
City staffers also handed out copies of a map of the Oakland Bikeway Network which featured miles of proposed bikeway improvements, including many proposed lanes in North Oakland, including lanes down Telegraph Avenue, Shattuck Avenue, Alcatraz Avenue and 51st Street. Some bikeways scheduled for construction in 2012 include extending the path on Webster further north to connect to a lane on Shafter Avenue that was installed this year, connecting the route from North Oakland to downtown.
Davidman said she’s waiting for a bike lane to be installed on her route to work, which starts on 14th Street on the east side of Lake Merritt. She said there are some challenges, like narrow streets, but adding it is important because, “that’s the main artery for people commuting east of the lake downtown,” she said.
Still, she said she’s happy with the city’s progress in installing the new lanes. “I live and bike to work in Oakland,” she said, “so I’m very grateful for the ones that exist.”