Obstacles stand in the way of more protected bike lanes in Oakland
on November 13, 2023
After a 4-year-old’s death in August, the push to develop protected bike lanes under Oakland’s Safe Oakland Streets citywide initiative has grown. But funding constraints and low personnel are preventing their construction.
Maia Correia was in a seat behind her father’s bicycle on Lakeshore Avenue on Aug. 6 when a vehicle door opened in front of them. Maia hit her head on the street and died six days later. Since then, residents and traffic safety advocates have called for more protected bike lanes in Oakland, specifically near Lake Merritt, where the accident occurred. But the city has been slow to respond.
“The city government has to be willing to make roads safe, with the support of the council, the residents and the mayor. We can’t leave the street in an unsafe condition,” said George Spies, a volunteer with Traffic Violence Rapid Response, a grassroots organization promoting road safety in Oakland.
According to Jason Patton, the city’s senior transportation planner, the city has contacted residents and businesses to share preliminary plans with them for improving Grand Avenue for all users. The Oakland Transportation Department plans to repave Grand Avenue from Broadway to MacArthur. This segmentis an essential transportation connection for thousands of bus riders every day, a key link in the city’s bikeway network, and a thriving commercial corridor that stands as Oakland’s entryway to Lake Merritt.
However, plans to develop more protected bike lanes in Oakland are being delayed by limited financing and a shortage of staff, Patton said.
To help minimize traffic violence and save lives, the 2023-2025 budget allocates an additional $6.1 million for initiatives to slow traffic, enhance intersection safety and provide safe routes near schools. From that, $1.6 million will be allotted over the next two years to put the city’s bike and pedestrian goals into action. And $100,000 is included for road safety initiatives in the Lake Merritt area, where the recent accident occurred.
Lake Merritt and neighborhood parks around the city are a top priority for the city’s traffic safety enhancements. These include the installation of temporary, low-cost remedies such as traffic signs, pavement markings, and other small-scale traffic calming devices.
Over 60% of Oakland’s serious and deadly collisions involve just 6% of the city’s streets, concentrated in East Oakland, Fruitvale and West Oakland. According to UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, bicycle riders in Oakland had 143 fatalities and serious injuries between 2013 and 2022.
How to build barriers
Oakland has 235 miles of bikeways, but most bicycle lanes in Oakland and California just have a painted strip next to automobile traffic with parked cars to the right. Protected bike lanes, which use physical barriers like plastic bollards or plants, cost more but define bike space and prevent automobiles from invading it, Patton said.
“Oakland should install white plastic bollards that force vehicles to turn around and safeguard bike lanes,” Spies said. “That’s a quick-build material since it’s cheap, easy to install, and doesn’t require a great deal of money.”
But city officials said the use of simpler materials poses problems.
“Protected bike lanes can be done more quickly and at lower cost with simpler materials but simpler materials generally aren’t as durable,” Patton said. “They generally don’t look as good. But elaborately designed protected bike lanes will be permanent and also look nice.”
One of the few successful examples of protected bike lanes runs along Telegraph Avenue in Uptown, where brick and concrete barriers safeguard the bike lanes.
Next year, the City Council will consider the 2019 city bike plan and the 2014 District Broadway Valdez plan. These projects will extend the protected bike lanes on the north side of the Lake Merritt area for two miles to MacArthur Boulevard.
The proposed changes also include the installation of 6-foot-wide protected bike lanes on 27th and Harrison streets, installing buffered bike lanes on Bay Place and reducing the length of the pedestrian crosswalks at a number of crossings. The design includes extending the two-way dedicated track on the east side of the lake by creating a cycling track on Grand Avenue directly across from the Oakland Cathedral.
City officials have said adding protected bike lanes takes a long time partly because of the complexity, low budget and lack of staffing.
A report to the City Council in June listed over 138 vacancies in the Transportation Department, accounting for one-third of all vacant positions. Patton said the department has lost a significant number of employees owing to retirement.
According to Andrew Campbell, commissioner of the Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, despite funding restrictions, Oakland has done a lot for road safety over the years. But he said the government has to do more to prioritize vulnerable road users.
“We need roads that are safe for families with children to bike and children on their own bikes,” Campbell said. “Whether it’s walking or biking, making sure we’re keeping a very high standard for safety and trying to achieve it together as a community.”
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