A Site for Sore Eyes (and Sore Bicycle Rims) on Lakeshore Ave.

Some people’s thoughts bend toward the numinous when they see a crude outline of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a cloud, or in a piece of gum stuck to the sidewalk. Others of us worship differently, and feel the presence of grace when we come across a crude outline of a bicyclist indicating the imminent birth of a bike lane, like this one I photographed yesterday on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland:

Lakeshore Bike Lane

I haven’t been so excited about seeing a bike lane since I saw the protected 9th Avenue bike lane in Manhattan (complete with its own bicycle traffic signals) in August, or the lovely bike lane at the eastern end of Alameda in April. What makes this latest bike lane special isn’t its design—it looks to be a standard 5-foot paint job between the car traffic lane and the car parking lane—but rather its location, and the contrast with what was there before. Lakeshore Avenue alongside Lake Merritt has long been a truly awful road on which to ride a bicycle, which is unfortunate for me because my bicycle is my primary mode of transportation and Lakeshore is the most direct way from my apartment to most points north or west of here.

Lakeshore was terrible to bike on for many reasons: the pavement was pitted and rough; there was almost no room to squeeze between the car traffic and the parked cars; drivers went too fast around Lakeshore’s many curves; the heavy recreational use of Lakeside Park means that a lot of people are getting in and out of their parked cars, increasing the likelihood of being doored; and after dark the road was not particularly well lit. If you took all the most dangerous aspects of riding a bike in a city and put them together in one street, you might end up with something resembling Lakeshore Avenue in its former incarnation. I would sometimes take a less direct route home, especially after dark, in order to avoid having to bike on Lakeshore.

Lakeshore Bike Lane

So the brand new pavement, the reduced number of car lanes from 4 to 2 (which will hopefully reduce speeding) and the new bike lane really do come as a revelation. I knew that bike lanes were included in the master plan for the park and roadways around the lake, but I had also heard some recent speculation from people in the neighborhood that bike lanes were not going to be painted on Lakeshore after all, because there wouldn’t be enough room between the parking lane and the car traffic lane. I’m glad to see that those rumors were unfounded, and we are definitely getting our bike lanes after all.

I’ve been pretty down on Oakland lately, for reasons that I can’t entirely pinpoint, but the privileged status of the automobile here is certainly one factor. The danger posed to vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists from automobiles (which are all too often controlled by reckless, oblivious, or downright angry people) was tragically brought home two weeks ago when an 11-year-old girl in East Oakland was killed by a hit and run driver as she walked across a crosswalk from a bus stop to her school at 8 o’clock in the morning (as far as I know the killer still has not been identified). I’ve written plenty before about the importance of making the world safe for pedestrians and cyclists (including schoolchildren). The resurrection of Lakeshore Ave.,with its new pedestrian islands in the median, its bike lanes, and a reduction in its number of car lanes, should be a model for other parts of the city (like, say, lower Park Boulevard, perhaps?).

18 Responses to “A Site for Sore Eyes (and Sore Bicycle Rims) on Lakeshore Ave.”

  1. dc says:

    Oops. My headline is the punny name of an eyeglass store, isn’t it? I meant “sight,” of course, but I’ll let it stand as a monument to human fallibility…

  2. ruth gutmann says:

    Well, you’re a poet (or punster) and you don’t know it.

  3. John says:

    I commuted on Lakeshore and Grand Avenue to downtown Oakland for over 15 years starting back about 1974. Grand Avenue was the worst then — rough surface, hurrying freeway traffic, unfriendly drivers, buses, etc. It’s good to see some progress. I’ll have to check it out.

  4. East Lake Biker says:

    What a relief the cycle lanes are finally going in after a year of construction. I’ve been avoiding Lakeshore while all this was going on by detouring through downtown and the 12th St dam. I’ll be hitting the Grand Lake farmer’s market more often now. Heck, I’ll be hitting all the Grand/Lake shops more often (not the GL theater though, Alan Michaan doesn’t deserve my $).

  5. eric says:

    Nice! I had the same experience a month or so ago in harvard square: the amazing disappearing bike lane that used to just peter out in a swamp of bus parking across from au bon pain was repainted–first only with spray paint as in your photo. I was sure it was some biker-prankster’s idealistic vision and would never be official–but now most days I ride all the way around that corner in a wide-painted lane. I’m so pleased about it that I now make the cute little left onto church street and loop around via brattle, rather than continuing another hundred feet to where the amazing disappearing bike lane still disappears. Wordnerd knows what I’m talking about. Anyway, I know how you feel. Cheers.

  6. eric says:

    I didn’t see “gritty stretch of piedmont” in the nyt article about commis. Maybe they read FragEv? Or maybe others were offended too? Like maybe the chef?

  7. dc says:

    “Gritty stretch of Piedmont Avenue” is still in the article (5th paragraph). I don’t think anyone was offended—just amused, since Piedmont is a pretty genteel street. Eric Asimov, who wrote the article (and who is Isaac’s nephew), wrote the “$25 and under” column in the Wednesday dining section for years, and in that capacity he wrote about a fair number of off-the-beaten-path ethnic restaurants in the outer boroughs, so it’s not as if he hasn’t seen much grittier streets than Piedmont Avenue.

    On the other side of the lake from me, they painted another brand new bike lane a few months ago, which is great except for the fact that it suddenly veers toward the curb and sends you into a row of parked cars in the middle of a block. They plan to modify it soon, but the fundamental problem is that (unlike on my side of the lake) they did NOT reduce the number of traffic lanes when they repaved/repainted that street, so there’s just not enough room for a bike lane.

    There are some guerrilla bike stencils around Telegraph near the Berkeley border, but they’re not full bike lanes—just little icons of bicyclists meant to mark certain streets as bike routes, I guess. I didn’t know you could turn left onto Church street in Harvard Square. Sounds a bit scary, having to cross all the heavy traffic rushing into the square from the north (although biking north on Mass Ave. out of Harvard Square sounds even worse, especially if there’s no bike lane—that tiny stretch of road feels almost like a parkway, and it seems like drivers behave accordingly…).

  8. wordnerd says:

    Yes, that little curb cut that takes bikes from Mass Ave to Church Street is neat. And a couple of blocks further down on Mass Ave, a left turn LEGAL ONLY FOR US takes you onto a bike lane which goes the WRONG WAY on the one-way Waterhouse Street.

  9. wordnerd says:

    Is Asimov now the Oakland food writer for the Times?

  10. dc says:

    No, he’s the chief wine critic (how many papers have those these days?!), and my guess is that he just flew out to the area for a few days or weeks and collected material for articles that will dribble out over the next couple of months (he wrote the article on wine lists at SF restaurants which appeared in their debut “Bay Area Report” a couple of weeks ago).

    “Oakland food writer” wouldn’t be as silly an NYT job as you probably think—in the last 2 years, the restaurant scene here has exploded, and even San Francisco food critics have conceded that Oakland is where the exciting culinary action in the Bay Area is taking place these days, making even Manhattan’s restaurant scene seem sluggish by comparison. (I also saw Oakland described last week as the Bay Area’s “culinary ground zero,” which seemed like a questionable choice of words, since the writer meant it as a compliment.)

    How is it riding in a bike lane against car traffic? Is there another bike lane going WITH traffic also? Sounds a bit iffy to me. I was going pretty fast around a corner in a bike lane over the weekend, and suddenly encountered another cyclist coming TOWARD me in the same bike lane. Eek! We both zigged and zagged a bit in a frantic effort to avoid each other, and we somehow managed to pass without hitting each other. (He had just come off the Park Street bridge from Alameda, and there’s no bike lane on the opposite side of the street leading directly from the Park Street bridge to points north, so he had some justification for riding the wrong way in “my” bike lane, although he really shouldn’t have been there.)

  11. wordnerd says:

    There’s another one-way bike line in Cambridge. They are both pretty short. And in neither case is there a bike lane in the direction of traffic. I’ve been on them numerous times without collision so far…

    Is Oakland’s exciting food scene where Ron Dellums spent all that money?

  12. dc says:

    Dellums is reported to eat out at fine restaurants frequently—as well as liking tailored suits, owning a large home in Georgetown, etc. Times are tough for those who are forced to live on a few hundred thousand bucks a year these days…

  13. unique distance from isolation says:

    I ride down, or maybe up, one of the wrong-way bike lanes nearly every day. I’m not sure there are only 2 in cambridge. There is waterhouse st., there is the little stretch of Concord ave that runs between waterhouse and the sidewalk on garden st., and there is another one I saw the other day, I now can’t remember where… Ah–I remember. It wasn’t in cambridge, it was in brookline or boston, right next to the emerald necklace, on (I think) Netherland St.–the one with the dutch style house–or maybe just off Netherland. Anyway, it was cool–it let you get from one stretch of the emerald necklace to the next without going over the footbridge, which had stairs.

    The “wrong way” bike lanes tend to be on the right side of the street as the bikes are riding, but the left side as the cars see it, so there usually aren’t collisions, though I guess you almost had one.


  14. dc says:

    My near-collision had nothing to do with a wrong-way bike lane. It was just a wrong-way cyclist in a totally normal right-side-of-the-road bike lane.

    Dellums: Former longterm Congressman representing Oakland/Berkeley, and current Mayor of Oakland. Apparently he and his wife failed to pay $239,000 in Federal taxes while he was working as a Washington lobbyist from 2005-2007, before he became mayor. The news just broke this week, when someone discovered that the IRS has put a lien on all his personal property. No one around here seems particularly surprised—failing to pay his taxes is just one of many things he has failed to do; some other things he’s failed to do are show up for work full-time and govern the city with any kind of competence or resolve. (He did hire the new police chief, who seems very good, so that’s one thing Dellums has managed to do well—or at least managed not to screw up.)

  15. wordnerd says:

    I think there’s a WW bike lane on a street that runs from Brattle to Mt. Auburn.

  16. dc says:

    How could you two have forgotten the wrong-way bike lane on Norfolk Street between Broadway and Harvard Sts. (next to the soccer field at Sennott Park), or the one on Scott Street by the Somerville border? (Yeah, I cheated. Cambridge has a “bicycle facilities” map posted online which shows the “contra-flow” bike lanes.)

  17. Eric Fischer says:

    Closer to Oakland, there is a half-block wrong-way bike lane on Dwight Way in Berkeley so that there is a way to get from southbound Bowditch to southbound Hillegass in spite of the one-way Dwight. I’ve used it many times and it seems to work fine.

  18. dc says:

    Eric Fischer: Thanks—now that you mention it, I think I’ve seen that brief wrong-way bike lane next to people’s park, although I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to use it. Once upon a time I used to ride through Willard Park, then up Regent to Dwight, then the wrong way down Dwight for half a block, then up Telegraph to campus, but I don’t remember Berkeley having any bike lanes or “bike boulevards” to speak of at the time (early-to-mid 90’s).

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