Oakland looks to make Chinatown’s streets safer by redesigning them
on November 16, 2021
From horses to highways, the streets of Oakland’s Chinatown have been shaped by every form of traffic since its founding in 1850. Soon it will be reshaped again.
With a $500,000 Caltrans Sustainable Communities grant, Oakland’s Department of Transportation will fund a multilingual community outreach program to collect input from the neighborhood and redesign the streets of Chinatown. The public’s opinion will be solicited beginning early 2022. The project’s goal is to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety and reduce carbon emissions from car traffic.
Central Chinatown is a 15-block grid of one-way streets. There are two through roads that move cars quickly in and out of the Webster and Posey tunnels. Slower traffic cruises along the numbered perpendicular streets, usually looking for a place to park, unload shipments, and access local businesses. Add foot traffic and it becomes a mix of elements moving through the same space at very different speeds.
The grant information states, “There have been 137 pedestrian collisions and 71 bicycle collisions between 2015 and 2019 in Chinatown, and the numbers are trending upwards.” In addition, the High Injury Network, which focuses on areas with the highest concentration of severe and fatal pedestrian injuries, found that census tracts where most residents are Asian (including Chinatown) had the highest percentage of streets in the network.
Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce President Carl Chan heard about the project only after the grant was awarded, “We didn’t even know. It’s nice that the DOT is starting to reach out. I think it would be nice to know,” he said. “It would be nice to plan with the people and then inform the people what is going to happen.”
Chan said that past collaborative efforts with city departments tended to be disjointed and centered on traffic studies, “Sometimes there was not a coordinating effort, so everyone was doing their own,” he said. “And then in the end, what we had was traffic studies.”
Many decisions about the neighborhood’s southern boundary have already been included in the Oakland Alameda Access Project. That project is meant to remedy the spaghetti junction that sends cars winding through Chinatown as they go between the interstate and the tunnels. The new Alameda exit will draw traffic away from the neighborhood. And new pedestrian pathways from West Oakland will connect with Alameda and Chinatown via the Oakland 7th Street Connection project.
Chinatown is already one of the most transit dependent neighborhoods in Oakland. The city estimates that 38% of Chinatown’s 3,612 households do not have access to a vehicle, compared to a citywide average of 16%.
And over 40% of Chinatown residents are over 60, which brings another set of challenges.
“They cannot walk for more than like three or four blocks,” said Charlie Quach, who sees a lot of seniors in his practice at the Hoan Cau herbal company on Ninth Street. “You know they are fragile,” he said,” their bodies, their knees, their bones.”
Quach would like to see longer time intervals at pedestrian crosswalks and traffic slowed in certain areas such as school zones. “It’s not about what’s convenient for some people, politics should work for all,” he said.
Wayne Chang, of the M A&A Cash & Carry, likes the one-way streets. “Simple is better for us, it’s more relaxed,” he said. If it’s too complicated, it makes people nervous and more hesitant to come out.” Chang also prefers wide roads, where people can double park to run in and out of a store.
Heiman Shao, owner of Thoc Bac Hong Kong Market, just wants a street design that ensures parking for her staff and customers.
Traffic isn’t the only issue the neighborhood is facing, Chan noted. Chinatown businesses have suffered during the pandemic. And random attacks against Asians have frightened people away.
“We don’t want to lose Chinatown entirely or a major portion of Chinatown because people cannot survive,” Chan said, “People are starting to avoid coming to Chinatown and that will be something that we need to really worry about.”
Zhe Wu contributed to this story.
The story was published in collaboration with The Oaklandside.
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