Traffic Calming on Park Boulevard Today

I wrote in January about some of the problems with lower Park Boulevard, my neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. One big problem I noted is that cars treat it like a speedway instead of a city street, which makes it pretty scary for pedestrians and bicyclists, and therefore diminishes its potential as a thriving urban street (the closure of the Parkway Theater in March—temporary, we still hope—doesn’t help either). I also pointed out that Oakland, unlike some neighboring cities such as Alameda, does not seem to enforce traffic laws very forcefully. (I’m being charitable here; I almost never see drivers pulled over for speeding or other reckless behavior in Oakland, unless the traffic stop is done as a pretext for checking out a “suspicious” person.)

So I was interested to see more than half a dozen officers near the corner of Park and 5th Avenue this morning, clocking drivers with a radar gun and pulling over the speeders.

No Speeding!

I don’t know whether they were issuing full tickets or just warnings (maybe it depended on how fast the driver was going), and I don’t know what long-term effects these operations have, but I was at least happy to see that someone was aware of the problem. I told one of the officers that in addition to speeding, another big problem on that stretch of road is that drivers almost never stop for people at crosswalks. I was going to ask whether anything specific had prompted today’s operation, but unsurprisingly, the officer didn’t seem very eager to stand around chatting. (He seemed about as interested in my thoughts on crosswalks as cops usually are when I share my opinions with them, which is to say not at all interested—but it never hurts to try, right?)

I can imagine that some people might think it’s a waste of resources to have 8 or 10 Oakland police officers conducting an anti-speeding sting in a relatively quiet part of the city, since the OPD is chronically understaffed and has more serious crimes than speeding to worry about, but personally, my only small complaint about this sting is that it was happening in mid-morning, instead of two hours earlier—I had biked down that exact same stretch of Park at 8:30 this morning, and I literally had to pull over to the side of the road because there were so many cars driving so fast, and I didn’t feel safe “sharing the road” with them. Oh, well: better late than never.

9 Responses to “Traffic Calming on Park Boulevard Today”

  1. william says:

    It’s like this all around the lake: Speeders, drivers who barely make a full turn into an intersection and the constant fear of getting hit when crossing grand or lakeshore avenues by inattentive, reckless drivers. Question: Will they put caution lights on all the crosswalks around the lake once the lakes’ paths renovations are completed? It’s particularly troublesome at night when drivers cannot see pedestrians or cyclists crossing the roads.

  2. Andy K says:

    Upper Park (between Leimert and Mountain) is worse. Speed limit 30; 50+ mph is common.

    I have had a dream plan to put Park Blvd. on a “road diet.” It seems that 1 lane in each direction would be plenty; you could widen out to 2 in each direction at intersections to provide a turning lane. The extra space could be turned over to peds and bikes, out door cafes, etc.

  3. dc says:

    Andy K.: Yes, the speeding is even worse up near Hwy 13, although it’s possibly less dangerous since that section isn’t passing through a densely populated residential area (there are the two schools up there, however, and I fear for any children who try to cross Park on the way to or from school).

    I’ve had similar dreams about putting Park Blvd on a diet (both in my area and up near Glenview as well). It could a great street for biking, since it gets you pretty far up the hill without any really steep sections, but the dangerous car traffic currently makes it a pretty unpleasant experience.

  4. Andy K says:

    That looks good dc. My inspiration for park was all of the stuff being done in NYC with returning streets to the people, as well as the Sunday Streets in SF. What would it take to get something like that done in Oakland?

  5. dc says:

    I was blown away when I saw firsthand some of the protected bike lanes in NY and the pedestrian plazas near 23rd/Broadway or up in Herald Square and Times Square. One problem with returning streets to the people in Oakland is that I don’t know if we have the density to make a pedestrian plaza successful the way NYC or SF can. Given how comparatively few pedestrians there are in Oakland (with some exceptions in certain neighborhoods at certain times of day), I fear that any effort to give space back to peds and bicyclists would just create more blighted public space, especially since the city can’t even afford to maintain its parks anymore, never mind its sidewalks.

    Maybe I’m being too pessimistic. The re-design of the area around Lake Merritt is promising, and some of the new bike lanes around town are a step in the right direction. There’s also been an effort to have some “Sunday Streets”-type events in Oakland too, but I don’t know what the status of that project is. While I think Oakland is moving in the right direction in terms of reviving some it densest neighborhoods and increasing bike and ped infrastructure, movement is painfully slow, and since Oakland is such an overwhelming car-based city, there will probably be resistance at every step from car drivers who perceive every pedestrian or bicycle improvement as a threat to their lifestyle—for example, the drivers who are currently outraged about being given tickets for “parking in their own driveways,” when in fact they are parking across the sidewalk, and had been lucky that the city never used to give tickets for that practice. I still see parked cars blocking the entire sidewalk every day, despite the supposed ticketing blitz. It’s no big deal for me to walk into the street to get around a parked car, because I’m young and fit, but I hate seeing an elderly person, or a parent with a stroller, or a kid walking to school, who is forced to walk out into the street in order to get around those illegally parked cars.

  6. ruth gutmann says:

    Re Traffic calming, and that “awful message to kids, stay in school but get there by car.” Where are the teachers and parents? They could agitate — at the very least — for a crossing guard. Some people might be glad getting such a job. Many cities and towns have them. Who is running the schools in Oakland?

    It is incredibly frustrating to read about problems that, in theory, require so little effort to resolve. I often think there is a great confusion between the concept of self-reliance and group action. The one does not exclude the other.

    I just read Bernard Avishai’s blog in which he writes about the “mentor state” — and I recommend it as a description of a form of utopia. He points to the current system of standardized equipment and repair capacities of automobiles even by small independent repair shops as a model for: HEALTH CARE and the PUBLIC OPTION. He thinks it is all achievable, but ignores such trivial problems as the political climate and lobbyists’ money.

    Meanwhile, in the state of California (I believe that is where Oakland is located) kids are unable to cross a street because there are no traffic lights or guards!

  7. Andy K says:

    dc – yeah, I think that small steps would be the right approach to traffic calming. Change is never easy.

    I love riding my bike on the urban streets, and it is more fun with more cyclists. Yesterday, my son an I took our bikes into SF by BART and rode out to GG Park. It was great fun, in large part because there is a fairly good bike route between 16th and Mission and the park that is used by many riders. The same can be said of Webster Street through the Temescal to Rockridge.

    I do think Park Blvd. has this potential too. It connects DTO and Lake Merritt to the hills on a relatively flat grade. There is a fairly good bike route to Tunnel Road from the end of Park Blvd – and Tunnel Road (not too steep, more bikes than cars) is used by tons of bikes to get up to Skyline Blvd., and all that has to offer. Just think how much nicer Glenn View or the area around the Parkway would be with more room on the sidewalks for people.

    Good to see there is interest in a Sunday Streets in Oaktown.

    Ruth – most parents don’t even think of having their kids ride bikes to school or anywhere else. I believe this is because the parents don’t have similar experiences to draw on. My boys both ride to school – I think a big reason they do, is because I as a regular biker have given them the experience of riding around town. I was similarly brought up by my parents.

  8. dc says:

    Ruth: I hope I didn’t give the impression that there are no crossing guards at all in Oakland. At the elementary school a block from my apartment, there are crossing guards (often several) at each of the intersections leading to the school, and many kids walk to that school, most accompanied by a parent, but some alone. I also see crossing guards at a school that I ride my bike past on the way to work, and they are very good about making cars and bikes stop so that kids can cross. While car culture is dominant here, there are some kids who still walk or bike to school, either by choice like Andy K’s kids, or because some families in Oakland can’t afford to own a car or to drive everywhere.

    Andy: I couldn’t agree more. When there are more bicycles on a street, car drivers drive noticeably less recklessly, and that usually improves the street for everyone, including pedestrians and the drivers themselves.

  9. Doug says:

    Park is one of many roads in Oakland where drivers cut through our neighborhoods on the way to or from the freeway and treat them like a long on/off ramp. That’s well understood.

    What to do?

    Acknowledge these car trips don’t need to happen on our community streets and put them Back on the Freeway, where they belong. And should folks need to drive on Park (or Harrison, upper Broadway, 98th, 73rd, etc. etc.) then they should be prepared to drive 25-30 mph and just take ‘er easy.

    WOBO has been working hard with the HarriOak (Oakland & Harrison) community and the city to calm traffic on these streets. There is still much to do, but recent additions of a traffic light and bike lane will certainly help. More info:
    http://www.walkoaklandbikeoakland.org/pages/page.php?pageid=24

    Hopefully this can be a successful model for other neighborhoods to protect their families and friends from speeding cars, while making our communities more walkable and bikeable.

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