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Phil Yip and Nicole Churchill-Yip have lived on Telegraph Avenue in the Temescal for nearly a decade. It’s a great place to be: “there is a ton of awesome retail and places to live nearby” says Phil. But biking on Telegraph Avenue itself has been a bumpy ride, and we’re not just talking about the potholed pavement.

A connected, protected Telegraph Avenue has been in the works for over two decades. From the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District: the City itself has ranked this street as one of the worst streets in Oakland. Thanks to four freeway on and off ramps more than 25,000 cars, thousands of bicyclists, pedestrians, and AC Transit have had to jockey for space on the cramped and rocky street. 

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Telegraph Avenue is such a prominent connection between Oakland and Berkeley, linking business districts, neighborhoods, schools and more. Some folks would ride Telegraph Ave., even with the rocky pavement and intermittent or non-existent bike lanes. But not everyone felt comfortable. “By myself, I would feel okay riding on Telegraph,” says Phil. “But I would notice when family or friends would visit, it’s easy to forget how terrifying [riding in traffic] can actually be if someone doesn’t normally do it.” 

And when riding with his young daughter Addie? Before the improvements, Phil, Nicole, and Addie would bypass Telegraph Ave. to get to Addie’s preschool. “The preschool is on 38th St. and Telegraph Ave.—it should be a straight shot. But like many people we’d go in a couple blocks and then hopefully be on [Telegraph Ave.] for only one block. We’d actively avoid it,” says Phil. 

Bike East Bay has been advocating for a better Telegraph Avenue nearly since our founding. In the late 1990s, a bike lane was added on Telegraph Avenue above 57th Street. But additional bike lanes set to run downtown were held up in court, and the project was delayed for nearly twenty years. Bike East Bay’s Advocacy Director Dave Campbell remembers being a volunteer at the time, listening in the courtroom as the project stalled for decades. 

Since then, improvements on Telegraph Avenue have moved forward piece by piece. In 2014, Oakland City Council approved bike lanes all the way from downtown to 57th Street, and community feedback on the designs showed an overwhelming response: make the bike lanes physically protected. Protected bike lanes went into the KONO District in 2016, and repaving season this year (AKA #TheSmoothening) has brought protected bike lanes to the Temescal District—right where Phil, Nicole, and their daughter Addie live.

“We’ve been watching the construction, it’s been fun to see the process,” says Phil. “Before all of the street improvements, it was a scary street to live on…It was really common to see cars run the red light [near us] especially heading northbound. I don’t really blame the driver too much, the signals were partly obscured and it wasn’t an obvious intersection. But I didn’t want to die crossing the street on the way home, and when we had a kid, it really increased our awareness of road safety so much.”

Now that the protected bike lanes, protected pedestrian crossings, and other improvements are coming in, for Phil and his family the experience is totally changed for the better. “It’s a crazy improvement from what it was before,” says Phil “I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids riding their own bikes on Telegraph in my life.” But recently? “We saw two other families riding with kids—maybe 7 to 10 years old—on their own bikes. Just looked like normal people out for a bike ride.” As we wrap up our visit, Phil points to Addie who is riding along in the new protected bike lane by herself. “See that?” Phil says. “Before, we would have never been comfortable with Addie riding this street on her own.” But now that it’s protected, they’re ready to ride together. 

Bike East Bay champions a more connected, accessible Bay Area. Want to support other projects like a connected, protected Telegraph Avenue? Become a member or donate today.

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