Road to Protected Bike Lanes

A personal look back on 2014 and our campaign for a better bike lane design

by Dave Campbell, your Advocacy Director

Protected bike lanes became a featured part of your bike coalition’s advocacy toolkit in 2014 and this was one of our most fought for accomplishments of the year. From NACTO’s Road Show in April to El Cerrito and Oakland both approving parking-protected bike lanes this Fall, the streets you ride on are getting an attractive makeover. Protected facilities will go through design on San Pablo Ave and will be built on Telegraph in 2015. With Measure BB’s significant funding boost, many more will follow in the years ahead. It’s a game-changer and was not easy to achieve.

Oakland’s NACTO Road Show in April kicked off this campaign work, by bringing together Oakland decision-makers with experienced transportation experts from New York, Chicago and Boston, so that your leaders could learn more about the tough decisions other cities are making to redesign streets for better bikeways. New protected bike lane designs for Telegraph Ave and 14th St were the focus of discussions. Jamie Parks in Oakland Public Works made this event happen and deserves all the credit. Of course he had support from many key Oakland staff, and ours as well.

On Bike to Work Day, it was time to take conceptual protected bikeway designs from paper to the street. With generous support from Koreatown Northgate (KONO) business district, Bike East Bay staged a nationally-acclaimed pop-up protected bikeway, for a day. Mayor Jean Quan rode down it on an aqua blue set of bike share wheels, followed shortly by Oakland’s head transportation engineer, Wlad Wlassowsky, who promptly exclaimed “I want one!” Mission accomplished.

An encore pop-up protected bikeway was staged at July’s Temescal Street Fair. Randy Reed accepted our invitation to come look at the protected bikeway. Randy serves on the board of Temescal Business Improvement District and owns Reed Brothers Security. He has concerns about taking out travel lanes on Telegraph to make room for bike lanes. With his daughter in tow, he checked out the protected bike lanes, smiled and thanked us for showing the community the concept. He said he was looking forward to the KONO District getting protected lanes first, so people could see how they work. However, the highlight was when the owners of Ancient Ways Shop at Telegraph & 41st stepped outside the front door to their metaphysical supply store, saw our popup bikeway right there and said “this is beautiful–what can we do to make it happen?” Seeing is believing. Later that day, Yuri Jewett led volunteers around to other businesses in the Temescal District and added 10 more signatures in support, bringing the total to over 100 businesses ready for ‘continuous protected bikeways’ on Telegraph Ave. Volunteers Jeff Goodwin, Karen Hester, Martin Robinson and Liz Brisson helped gather many of these signatures of support.

Meanwhile, El Cerrito was busy on its San Pablo Avenue Complete Streets Plan. While I served on a technical advisory committee for the proposed bikeway designs, Bike East Bay volunteer Jared Bunde guided the process through public workshops and Planning Commission review. Jared also previously participated in our Winning Campaigns Training in March, creating an action plan for this campaign. Unfortunately, broad public support for a revamped San Pablo Ave turned sour, as it sometimes does, when residents learned the specifics in early Fall. Letters to City Council opposing the project were entertaining to say the least, and more like full of hate. Yet, over 20 people showed up at City Council in support and led by Mayor Janet Abelson, the Plan passed unanimously and San Pablo Ave goes into final design. A trend was soon to start.

Hope for a repeat victory on Telegraph Ave dwindled over the Summer as staff struggled to figure out how to design protected bike lanes on Telegraph. Why? Didn’t the NACTO Road Show resolve all the design issues. Unfortunately not and when Oakland was ready to backpedal and settle for buffered bike lanes out in traffic on Telegraph, one of the busiest and most intimidating bikeways in town, Bike East Bay and Calbike joined forces for a trip to Copenhagen to learn what the Danes would do. I want to note that Ryan Price of Calbike and myself paid for this trip entirely out of our own pockets–and it was worth it.

The Danes know exactly how to build protected bike lanes on a street like Telegraph Ave and in fact they have done it, on many such streets. In a nutshell, they narrow travel lanes and when necessary, pick between turn pockets or parking, not the bikeway, to make room for each user, and have a policy to better manage city parking. Read my “Lessons from Copenhagen” blog. Upon returning from Copenhagen, Bike East Bay gathered our supporters, and local residents and business owners at two September public open houses, to demand that protected curbside bike lanes be returned to the project designs. Oakland listened.

Fortified with better designs for Oakland’s first on-street, modern bikeway, Bike East Bay volunteers hit the campaign trail to pass Measure BB. Voters loved the message of complete streets exemplified by the Telegraph project and Measure BB’s commitment to make transportation projects work for more users beyond drivers. Voters gave Measure BB the same high level of support as the public gave protected bike lanes on Telegraph Ave–over 70%. Safe to say that peoples’ priorities are shifting.

An important intervening development was the national Designing Cities Conference in San Francisco in October. Oakland Public Works sent 10 staff people (shown at right), who joined Bike East Bay at numerous workshops learning from national experts. There, these public servants who design and build the streets in Oakland that you use everyday saw inspiring examples of better ways to invigorate cities, and create more vibrant, thriving neighborhoods. Lessons learned at the Conference were used to further refine designs for Telegraph Ave, and will also be used for even better designs for other streets, such as 14th St, Park Blvd, MacArthur Blvd and Broadway.

Then on December 9 it was Oakland City Council’s turn to listen. Over 30 supporters showed up at the City Council meeting where 5 votes would be needed to approve the Telegraph project. We got all 9! At the meeting, Council heard from local business owners in support, BART and AC Transit reps, two major developers building walkable neighborhoods around Telegraph, a Reverend from a local church, the KONO Business District, and many residents who want a safer, better street. Mayor Quan was delighted at the victory, and yep, we were too. Councilmembers McElhaney, Kalb and Kaplan were all engaged and super supportive. Thanks from us to their hard-working staffs.

Why so much work on Telegraph Ave?

While the East Bay has many off-street bike paths, and some on-street two-way cycle tracks under development, there are no in-town, protected bike lanes connecting you to the many neighborhood destinations you frequent every day. Two-way cycle tracks, a form of protected bikeways, are definitely an option to consider in many urban locations, and are of course popular along parks and the Bay Trail, as Bike Walk Alameda knows with its new cycle track on Shoreline Drive, currently under construction. However, heading into 2014, no protected bike lanes like that shown below were under development yet, and the East Bay has many commercial streets in need of major protected facilities like this. A short list of these streets includes Dublin Blvd in Dublin, Grant St in Concord, California Blvd in Walnut Creek, San Pablo Avenue in the cities of Richmond, San Pablo and Albany, and Hearst Ave in Berkeley.

To succeed on these other important street campaigns, Bike East Bay needs a successful example of protected bike lanes located in a commercial district. Telegraph Ave we hope will be a go-to example for modern bikeway designs, and its success will allow for many more protected bike lane projects in cities around the East Bay.

We expect Telegraph to launch in Spring 2015 and San Pablo Ave in 2016 and hope you are excited to try out these modern facilities and give us feedback as we learn how to better represent your interests as an everyday user of city streets.

Dave Campbell
your Advocacy Director

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More on Telegraph Avenue Street Campaign.

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