Archive for the ‘Pedestrians’ Category

Support street improvements on Park Boulevard!

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition is campaigning for street improvements on Park Boulevard, including the addition of bike lanes and possibly a reduction in car lanes. I wholeheartedly support this effort. In the first month of this blog’s existence, I wrote a post about why Park Blvd is such an awful street for a densely populated neighborhood (oddly, I did not advocate for bike lanes in that post, even though I get almost everywhere by bike). There have been minor improvements to the street since I wrote that in January of 2009, including new traffic signals and sidewalk bulbouts at the intersection with Newton and East 20th, allowing people to cross over to FM Smith Park with less risk of bodily harm. The main problem, however—a road which feels more like a freeway than a city street—remains.

The dangers of Park Boulevard are not theoretical. I live near the intersection of Brooklyn, Spruce and Park, and the sounds of squealing tires followed by a crash are common. In August 2010, there were two accidents on consecutive days at that one intersection; first a driver lost control on Park and swerved straight into a wall on Brooklyn Ave, then the following day a driver rear-ended an AC Transit bus:

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I wish those were freak occurrences, but in fact collisions on Park are routine. Another accident at the same intersection in 2012 involved three cars:

Those are just a few of the many incidents I have heard or seen on that one little piece of Park Boulevard, and presumably many more have happened when I wasn’t around to witness them, or occurred on other stretches of Park. Indeed, just today the bike coalition tweeted this photo of a car overturned in a Park Blvd crosswalk:

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With the Parkway Theater still sitting dormant after closing four years ago, Park Boulevard needs all the help it can get, and some local merchants seem to appreciate the benefit to the community that a more livable street could bring. For those who live farther afield, relatively flat Park Boulevard would be an ideal bicycle route for many commuters, but in its current form it does not feel like a safe space for cyclists or pedestrians.

Changes to street designs are almost invariably fought by some neighbors, who fear slower traffic or fewer parking spots (or who are just wary of change in general), so advocates for safer, more ped- and bike-friendly streets need to make their case clearly, loudly, and repeatedly. Nearby Lakeshore Blvd has been dramatically improved by cutting the number of full-size lanes from 4 to 2 and adding bike lanes on either side. A road diet and bike lanes on Park Boulevard would be an improvement as well, making the road safer not only for cyclists and pedestrians, but for drivers as well (see above photos). You can find out more about the Bike Coalition’s Park Blvd campaign here at their website, and take a short survey to give your input about how Park might be improved.

 

Safer Streets By Any Means Necessary?

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

I’d never noticed this sign at Market and 55th Street in Oakland until last week:

Additional safety improvements to Market Street have occurred since 1967, including bike lanes in each direction, but a reminder that even stop lights and bike lanes don’t eliminate the danger from reckless and absent-minded drivers is three blocks away at the corner of Market and 52nd, where a cyclist was killed a year ago by a driver crossing Market Street (reportedly the cyclist was in the bike lane and the driver was crossing Market Street):

Ghost Bike

Navigating the Strait of Caña

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I’m all for new businesses opening up in vacant storefronts in nearby neighborhoods, and I’m all for sidewalk seating in front of restaurants and cafes too—almost anything that encourages people to be out and about on the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhoods seems like a good thing to me, whether they are walking to the post office or sipping mojitos with friends at a sidewalk table.

That said, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the outdoor seating area for the (not yet open) Caña, a new cuban restaurant and cabaret:

My first reaction was, “WTF? Could you have made your sidewalk seating area any more obtrusive and obstructive?” More than half of the sidewalk is blocked, right next to the bus stop and garbage can, so there is only a 30-inch gap through which people have to pass—in the 2 minutes I was standing there gaping at this new fence, I saw several pedestrians stop to let oncoming walkers pass through this Strait of Caña before they themselves could proceed. A woman pushing a regular stroller through the gap used careful navigation, since there were only a few inches on either side.

My second reaction was, “Well, I know that they are going to be widening this section of sidewalk soon as part of the Lakeshore complete streets project, so this fencing off of a public walkway for private use will presumably be a lot less obtrusive once the sidewalk is larger.” Of course it might have been nice, I told myself, if they had waited for the sidewalk expansion before they blocked a busy pedestrian strip with a fence for a seating area which isn’t even being used yet, but whatever, it will only be temporary, and it might be nice once the sidewalk widening occurs.

My third reaction came after I got home and saw that they plan to expand the sidewalk seating area from 6 feet to 10 feet after the sidewalk is widened. So the current fencing was apparently designed for the currently configured sidewalk, not the more commodious sidewalk of the future. I returned to my first feeling of “WTF?”

I note that Lanesplitter Pizza, which is right next door, also plans to expand their outdoor seating. But Lanesplitter seems to be waiting for the sidewalk expansion before fencing off a large part of a moderately sized sidewalk in a fairly busy pedestrian area. For now, Lanesplitter has simply been placing a few tables out on the sidewalk during business hours, and the pedestrian right of way remains clear (until, of course, you hit the Caña property line, where you suddenly run into a metal fence).

As I said, this problem is probably temporary, because (I hope) the expanded sidewalk will be wide enough and presumably designed to accomodate the outdoor seating at Caña and Lanesplitter and other restaurants on that strip, and once the sidewalk is wider and Caña actually opens, the benefits of outdoor seating will probably outweigh the impediment to pedestrians. Even if I might prefer a less obtrusive seating area without a big fence around it, the streetscape redesign will surely be a big improvement over the status quo.

I don’t mean to pick on Caña, which I hope will be a lively and valuable addition to the neighborhood, but it’s still somewhat galling that a business which hasn’t even opened yet can erect a fence which indefinitely blocks pedestrian traffic, while a business such as Farley’s East can’t appropriate a small piece of the automobile’s turf for customer seating for a single day without being forced by the police to remove their temporary seating area from the street.

I see that “Caña Outdoor Seating” is listed on the agenda of the Grand Lake Neighbors’ monthly meeting tomorrow (as is the contentious proposed dog park next to MacArthur Boulevard), so I wonder if I’m not the only person who was a bit surprised by how obtrusive the sidewalk fence is.

When the Dog Bites. When the Bee Stings.

Friday, September 17th, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things: coffee, bikes, music, and the reclaiming of public space from the tyranny of the automobile. Imagine how delighted I was, then, to be able to take a picture of a coffee shop, a bike shop, a record shop, and a (temporary, alas) parklet installed on 40th Street in Oakland today as park of the annual Park(ing) Day takeover of curbside parking spots:

Coffee, Bikes, Music, Parklet.

I rode up to Berkeley today, so I swung by a few of these spots. I love the idea of Park(ing) Day, but I have to admit that seeing it in practice made me a bit sad. These parklets are sort of cute, but they were all surrounded today by the ugly, charmless streetscapes which pervade Oakland. Instead of being little oases of green, the seating areas in front of Subrosa (above) or Actual Cafe were unused at lunchtime until I plopped myself down and had my cappuccino or bagel or egg cream. Rather than giving me a small glimpse of how nice streets such as 40th or San Pablo could be someday, they just reminded me of how inhospitable to human beings those arterial streets are, and how dramatically they would need to change in order to feel like they were made for people instead of for cars.

Two other places I rode past which were supposedly participating in Park(ing) Day (Tip Top bikes in Temescal and Good Chemistry bakery on Grand) did not seem to have taken part after all, and Farley’s East on Grand, which looks like it had a great and well-used setup this morning, had moved everything up onto the sidewalk and given up the parking space to a car by the time I rode past in mid-afternoon. Given how low-density most parts of Oakland are, I have some real doubts about whether any amount of improved streetscaping or road diets or redevelopment or reclamation of public space will ever make it feel like a truly pedestrian-friendly city, except in small pockets here and there.

On a less pessimistic note, I was riding to Berkeley because I have wanted to check out Waterside Workshops in West Berkeley since I first heard about it a couple of months ago. It’s a non-profit which runs a boatbuilding workshop, a bike shop, and a cafe. They have local disadvantaged teens serve as interns, teaching them how to craft wooden boats, fix up old bikes for resale, and serve customers at the waterfront cafe. Obviously the main point is to instill good work habits, pride of workmanship, and collaborative and customer service skills, but who knows, boatbuilding and bike repair may end up being in demand if we start to run out of oil in the next few decades.

Waterside Workshops

It is very Berkeley, and very awesome. Sadly, it was also very closed today, due to a water outage caused by a nearby construction project. My visit will have to wait for another time, but I’ll probably take some photos and write about it more after I finally get to take a look around.

Under the Freeway and Through the Parking Lot, to Amtrak’s House We Go

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

If you want to walk from historic (and tourist-oriented) Old Town Sacramento to the train station, you are directed across a parking area, under two or three freeway ramps, and then through another parking lot. (The yellow sign says “TO AMTRAK STATION” and the sign on the parking lot booth behind it says “PAY HERE.” Indeed, we are paying dearly for the privileging of the automobile in the last century).

To Amtrak Station

(Ironically, this photo was taken about 50 feet from the entrance to the California State Railroad Museum.)

Pedestrian access from the direction of downtown and the capitol isn’t much better—you have to cross this wide boulevard designed to be a freeway feeder, and there’s only one crosswalk at one corner of one intersection. And of course there is a parking lot to traverse on this side of the building as well (the Amtrak station is the brick building visible behind the trees):

I don’t know why I’m continually surprised by all the little ways that American cities have been designed to accommodate cars at the expense of other modes of transportation, but I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky to spend most of my life in cities which retain a lot of their pre-automobile design. (In fairness to Sacramento, much of it seems like a fairly livable, walkable city, at least in the neighborhoods surrounding the city center, and its flat terrain makes riding a bike easy too.)

Good News: Endangering Pedestrians Really Is Illegal in Oakland

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I complain occasionally (okay, all the time) about how dangerous our streets are for pedestrians, and how I wish that the Oakland Police Department would crack down on reckless drivers so that people can feel safe crossing the street. So you can imagine how pleased I was to read about a string operation in West Oakland this morning, in which 25 drivers were cited for failing to stop for an OPD staffer as she tried to cross a crosswalk:

Twenty-five motorists were cited this morning in a West Oakland police sting for not yielding to pedestrians crossing the street.

The operation, which went from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Brockhurst Street, was done in response to residents’ complaints about pedestrian safety, Officer Holly Joshi said.

While motorcycle officers observed from a distance, a civilian employee of the Police Department would walk in the marked crosswalk at the intersection. Motorists who failed to stop for her were stopped by officers and given a citation.

Joshi said that there were a few close calls for the decoy from some of the cars that did not stop but that she was not hurt.

Kudos to OPD. Now if we could get them to start citing reckless drivers as a matter of habit, then we’d be making real progress. I’m happy to report that even on that front I witnessed a promising event the other day. I arrived at a 4-way stop on my bike just before an Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy reached the intersection from another direction. After doing a quick computation of our respective masses and acceleration capabilities, I decided to wait for him to proceed, but he waved me ahead of him. That was refreshing enough, but what happened next was nothing short of miraculous: He turned onto my street, and we were waiting side by side at the next red light when an SUV sped through the intersection on the cross street, probably going about 40 mph in a 30 mph zone—definitely speeding somewhat dangerously, but nothing out of the ordinary on the streets of Oakland, and he hadn’t run a red light or a stop sign or anything like that. To my amazement, however, the sheriff’s deputy immediately turned the corner and pursued the SUV, clearly intending to pull it over.

I’m sure cars do get pulled over for speeding in Oakland sometimes, but I have literally never seen it happen before, and I spend a fair amount of time walking and biking around the city as cars speed by. Maybe that deputy was particularly enlightened, or maybe he never got the memo about how reckless driving is tolerated on the streets of Oakland, but either way, it was nice to see—I look forward to a day when it will no longer seem remarkable to see a speeding SUV get pulled over in our city.

Walk at Your Own Risk

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

It’s been a terrible week for pedestrians around here. On Tuesday alone, a woman was killed in an Oakland crosswalk by a hit and run driver, a woman crossing the street in San Francisco was killed by a city utility truck (she appears to have been in a crosswalk too), and yet another woman was critically injured by an SF Muni bus as she walked across a crosswalk. Then yesterday, two teenagers were hit by an SUV in Santa Rosa as they walked across a crosswalk, and one of them is critically injured.

Seriously, enough is enough! If it were swine flu or a defective Toyota part or al Qaeda which was causing this level of ongoing slaughter in the United States, then it would be considered a national crisis. When it’s stupid or reckless or inattentive drivers who are causing this mayhem, however, the problem is mostly dismissed with a shrug and the explanation that these are just “tragic accidents.”

I understand why these individual incidents don’t make big headlines. (The Oakland hit and run death was relegated to the “News Briefs” on page 6 of yesterday’s Oakland Tribune; homicides sometimes get the same treatment—when these tragedies become routine, then they no longer qualify as big news.) And I also understand, legally speaking, why drivers who hit pedestrians (or bicyclists) are rarely held responsible for their negligence—these are, after all, “just accidents,” as the police often say when they explain why no one is being charged in these cases. Despite what it may feel like when one is walking or biking around American cities these days, the overwhelming majority of automobile drivers do not actually want to hit anyone. And the fact that responsibility for all these pedestrian deaths and injuries is borne by a diffuse array of individual drivers, rather than a single entity like a car company or a terrorist group, makes it seem less like a systematic problem and more like a random set of unavoidable tragedies.

It is a systematic problem, however. I don’t know precisely what perverse set of historical developments got us where we are today, but the fact is that we as a society have taken most of our public space and turned it over to millions of absent-minded or distracted or careless people who are each controlling about a ton of fast-moving metal. In my opinion, this is completely insane. It’s no wonder that so few people walk anywhere in most parts of the country!

And not only have we turned over most of our urban public space to people in cars, but we then do a lousy job of ensuring that they drive responsibly. Any 16-year-old who can do a three point turn can get a license to kill—excuse me, I mean a license to drive. Drunk drivers, who are essentially broadcasting to the world the message that they do not really care if they take the life of another human being, are usually allowed to get behind the wheel a few months after getting a DUI—and we usually don’t even take their cars away, so these people who have already displayed a lack of concern for obeying the law and for other people’s safety can easily get behind the wheel and drive to their favorite bar again, suspended license be damned.

It’s not just pedestrians and bicyclists who are in danger from this absurd set of circumstances—we just happen to be the most vulnerable, since we aren’t ensconced in protective metal cages ourselves. Roughly 40,000 Americans die in car crashes every year, and many, perhaps most, of those crashes would not occur if drivers simply slowed down a little bit and watched where they were going. I don’t believe that most automobile drivers are more indifferent to human life than other people, but they just happen to be piloting very dangerous, fast-moving objects with minimal training. (Auden wrote that “indifference is the least/We have to dread from man or beast,” but if he had spent a few hours riding a bike around a modern American city, he might have changed his mind about that.)

It’s about time that politicians (aided by the police, prosecutors, etc.) undertook a serious effort to make people realize that recklessly endangering the lives of other people will not be tolerated anymore. Even baby steps would be a nice start, such as aggressively ticketing all the oblivious drivers who blithely cruise through intersections while people are in crosswalks, forcing the walkers to jump back to the curb—if the risk of killing pedestrians isn’t enough to make drivers pay attention, then maybe a few moving violations will start to do the trick.

These Feet Were Made for Walking

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I certainly didn’t set out to circumnavigate the city of Piedmont last Saturday, or to walk a half marathon through Oakland’s hilly northeast quadrant. One thing leads to another, however; that’s just the way life works—or my life, at least. You put one foot in front of the other, and then you do it again—a step, and another step, and then another, and the next thing you know, you’re aimlessly wandering the streets of Oakland, California.

My walk began routinely enough: I thought I’d take advantage of a break in the rains to walk the dog up to beloved Sausal Creek, hoping to see it in full flow after all the storms last week. It was somewhat anticlimactic—even my dog, who doesn’t take naturally to water, was unfazed by the current and waded right in.

Sausal Dog

The clear weather was holding, and I wasn’t in the mood to turn heel and walk back down the hill yet, so I decided to check out the walking and biking trail that leads from Montclair Village up into Shepherd Canyon. It’s a bit surprising that I’ve never been there before, since I walk up to Montclair occasionally, and have even trekked from my apartment up to Redwood Regional Park at the top of the hill a couple of times. I’m glad I finally took a look. The trail was laid where Sacramento Northern tracks used to run, so it curves nicely—and not too steeply—about a mile into the Canyon before ending at a cul de sac off Shepherd Canyon road, near where the train used to enter a tunnel through the hills.

Shepherd Canyon trail

A few panels posted alongside the trail have some interesting history about the railroad and the canyon, including the astonishing fact that CalTrans proposed building a highway up Shepherd Canyon to the east side of the hills. Thankfully, there was enough opposition that the idea never became reality. Oakland is already so criss-crossed with freeways that it’s frightening to imagine that if CalTrans had really gotten what it wanted, then we would have even more. The state legislature permanently protected the canyon from freeway development in 1972, and a few years later the city council set aside land for parks and trails, bequeathing us the Shepherd Canyon that we know today. (You can read the informational panels in pdf form thanks to the Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association.)

Shepherd Canyon trail

The trail is a pleasant enough place to take a walk, but with truly glorious parks like Joaquin Miller and Redwood and Sibley just up the street, I’d be surprised if it’s used very much for recreation except by people who happen to live in the neighborhood. So it was heartening to see how well-used the trail is for quotidian, utilitarian purposes. In my half hour walking up the trail and back, I passed at least a dozen people who were clearly walking home from the grocery store, or biking home from errands, or walking down to Montclair Village to go to a coffee shop or the bank or wherever. That’s more people than I sometimes see walking around in my own denser, more walkable neighborhood! Since there are no sidewalks on most residential streets in Montclair, and the curvy and steep roads can make for tiring, long, and dangerous walking, I doubt that most of those people I saw would have been walking to and from Montclair Village if they didn’t have the trail. (There are some public stairways around Montclair which serve much the same function.)

After I got back to Montclair Village, I basically had two options: either retrace my steps back down Park Boulevard to home, or make some kind of loop. Park Boulevard is plenty interesting, at least to me, but I always prefer loops, so I headed north on Mountain Boulevard toward Lake Temescal, where two optimistic little girls were using the fleeting sunshine as an excuse for pretending that summer was already here.

I was about nine miles into the walk by then, and beginning to wonder why I had walked to a point in Oakland which happens to have no direct route back to my apartment. Spontaneous rambling is fun and all, but the benefits of planning ahead were starting to sink in. No matter—I still had plenty of fuel in the proverbial tank, and I had planned ahead enough to bring some snacks for the dog and some water for both of us, so onward we went, first down to Rockridge, then down Broadway to MacArthur, and then finally to home.

It seems like I end up taking a long walk like this once or twice a year, when I have a free afternoon and a hankering to see some streets that I haven’t seen before.  Not only is walking the best way, hands down, to get to know a neighborhood, but it also clarifies the relationships between neighborhoods, both geographically and sociologically. The architecture changes, the years and models of the cars parked in driveways change, sidewalks disappear or reappear, or a freeway blocks ones path and forces a quarter-mile detour. Strangers on the street greet you cheerfully, or eye you warily, or flaunt their indifference. Front yards have barking dogs behind chain link fences, or obsessively manicured landscaping, or kids’ bikes left on the grass next to driveways. All these things determine the character of a place.

I wrote a post in June about how great it is to get around town by bicycle, but for me, riding a bike is really a sort of compromise, between the speed and distance possible in a car and the benefits to one’s health and one’s soul that walking brings. As far as I’m concerned, the ultimate in human transportation is not anything designed by Bianchi or BMW or Boeing, but rather a technology devised by evolution, nature’s master engineer. You put one foot in front of the other, and then you do it again—a step, and another step, and then another, and the next thing you know, you’re not so worried about where exactly you’re going.

Going Back to College for Some Lessons on Livable Space

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I went up to Berkeley on Tuesday to remind myself of how the other half lives, and as I rode through the UC campus, I was reminded of something that came up in the comments on one of my earlier posts: college campuses are among the few places where pedestrians, bicyclists and low-speed motorized vehicles mix freely in “shared space” in the United States, and they offer prime examples of how mixed-use, unsegregated roads and paths can be safely used by slow-moving cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchairs, skateboards—whatever—as long as everyone is paying attention.

Indeed, the fact that all those modes of transportation are forced to coexist on the paths and roads of a campus such as Cal’s is what causes everyone to pay more attention, creating places where people can get where they are going at whatever pace they choose, with almost no conflict or inconvenience. It’s part of what makes a nice college campus feel so utopian compared to your average city street. In most cities, the majority of public space is devoted to moving or parked cars, with pedestrians segregated onto narrow strips of concrete on either side and cyclists uneasily mixed in with the cars (uneasily because many drivers perceive the roadway as “their” turf, and see slower-moving bicycles as obtrusive obstacles). On a college campus, the pedestrian tends to be the privileged one, while cyclists are expected to proceed with caution and automobiles are heavily restricted. Shuttle buses, utility trucks or other motorized vehicles that share the pathways have no choice but to travel at safe speeds and yield to pedestrians.

Another principle of the shared space philosophy that I was reminded of is the importance of making the space truly shared. Even a subtle division of the space by painting a strip on a path and telling walkers and bikers to stay on opposite sides of the line can have unintended consequences, especially if there is a limited amount of space, causing people to stray from “their” territory. The lovely path over the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, is divided into a bike lane and a walking lane, and back when I used to commute over the bridge by bike, the division of the space seemed to cause as many problems as it solved—inevitably, pedestrians would cross the dividing line and enter the bicycle side, either because they wanted to pass a group of slower pedestrians, or because they wanted to pose for a photo next to the opposite railing, or because they just hadn’t noticed that the path was divided into a ped lane and a bike lane. Cyclists would be irritated by the incursion into “their” space, so they would angrily swerve around the pedestrians at high speed, often having to cross into the pedestrian lane, which would cause other pedestrians to feel threatened by having a high-speed cyclists suddenly invading “their” space. The number of conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians may be reduced, but the unpleasantness of those conflicts when they do occur is greatly increased.

Given the fairly narrow path on the Brooklyn Bridge, the large number of pedestrians who walk across the bridge at certain times, and the desire of commuting cyclists to be able to ride at high speeds across the long bridge, that path may not actually be a great candidate for truly shared space, but it does demonstrate that dividing space so that each mode of transportation has its own territory doesn’t eliminate all conflicts—it might reduce their number, but when conflicts do arise, they may not be as smoothly negotiated as they are on, say, the paths of the UC Berkeley campus.

There is some effort to keep bicyclists off of some Berkeley campus areas, but in my opinion, it’s a good thing that those rules are so widely ignored—if bikes stayed on the paths that are marked as bicycle routes, then I think there would be worse conflicts between walkers and bikers at those places where they need to interact. As it is now, bicyclists tend to ride among pedestrians nearly everywhere on campus whether they are supposed to or not, and everyone seems to negotiate their way around each other just fine, because walkers and bikers alike are very alert to the possibility of encountering a faster or slower traveler at any time.

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

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

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?).

Traffic Calming on Park Boulevard Today

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

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.

An Awful Message to Kids: Stay in School (but get there in a car)

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I was flabbergasted when a commenter on one of my Flickr photos back in April told me about an elementary school in San Jose which had (at the behest of the SJPD) instructed parents that bicycles “are not allowed as a means of transportation to or from school,” apparently because traffic patterns around the school were considered too dangerous. And I was flabbergasted again today when I read a post at Streetsblog about a family in Saratoga Springs who were confronted by school officials (and a state trooper who happened to be on the scene) when they defied a ban on students walking or biking to a local middle school.

I don’t have too much to add to the Streetsblog post, so I won’t go on a lengthy rant, but these stories are symptomatic of how schizophrenic our culture is right now when it comes to transportation. On the one hand, we hear a lot from politicians up the entire food chain from city councilmembers to President Obama about encouraging people to walk and bike in order to be more healthy, burn less petroleum, and pollute less. And sometimes they even put our money where their mouths are, installing bike lanes, improving streetscapes to be more pedestrian-friendly, funding new mass transit lines, and so on.

On the other hand, we have a culture that has been built around the assumption that everyone will always drive cars everywhere. That culture is reflected both in the physical design of our towns and cities, and in the mindset of the vast majority of policymakers, including many of those who pay lip service to “green” issues. People making these decisions in school districts from California to New York are presumably worried—with good reason—about the prospect of a kid getting hit by a car on the way to school, but instead of taking steps to make routes to school safer for people on bikes, their solution is simply to ban bikes. This is like dealing with violent crime by banning citizens from leaving their homes, while doing nothing to stop the people who are committing the violence.

Not only is the solution backwards, but it also contributes to a terrible public health problem. The CDC reports that childhood obesity rates more than doubled among kids aged 6-11 in just 20 years, and more than tripled among kids aged 12 to 19. Lack of adequate physical activity is one of the major causes of this increase, and childhood obesity can lead to any number of medical problems. In the face of this public health crisis, it is literally a sign of deep sickness in our culture that schools are discouraging kids from walking and biking to school, instead of doing whatever they can to encourage kids to bike to school (traffic mitigation, separated bike paths, school-sponsored “bikepools” and “walkpools” that would get kids to travel to school with other nearby kids in order to keep them safer, and so on).

I’m not totally naive, and I know that most parents will still want to drive their kids to school, either out of convenience or out of a fear of traffic or abduction. But a change in culture and mindset on these issues doesn’t require that everyone, or even most people, start sending their kids to school on foot or on a bike. All it requires, at least as a first step that could be taken immediately, is that we start making it easier for parents who want to do this, instead of treating them as pariahs or criminals who should be reported to Child Protective Services.