Monthly Archives: February 2010

Oaklanders asked to weigh in on OPD strategic plan

You have probably read by now at least something about the Oakland Police Department’s new stategic plan framework (PDF). The Chief’s ambitious goal of making Oakland one of California’s safest cities within five years is obviously exciting, as are the specific emphases on improved police/community relations and departmental support for officers.

Whether it’s doable or not of course remains to be seen. However, the Chief’s record in Long Beach, both in terms of reducing crime and also restoring community trust of the Police Department, makes me optimistic.

New plan, Old concept

Of course, it isn’t like the concept of strategic planning is new to OPD. There have been frequent stabs at creating such plans even just in recent years. There’s this one from 2007 (PDF), for example. And of course there was the ongoing Crime Fighting Strategic Plan (PDF) efforts discussed repeatedly at Council (PDF) meetings during 2008. These discussions were probably most memorably summed up in a presentation to the Public Safety Committee, where Committee members were told that the bottom line is “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.”

Consistent with that statement, the Crime Fighting Strategic Plan (PDF) documents and presentations generally characterized the Department as practically helpless with respect to crime reduction, taking the general position that the Police Department, no matter what they do, can have at most a limited impact on Oakland’s crime rate.

There are a number of factors that contribute to changes in crime: socioeconomic conditions, community involvement, and the school system are three significant factors. While the Police Department’s impact is important, it is limited.

and

While there are strategies that provide a toolbox approach to specific types of crimes, there are no “national best practices” for crime reduction. Oakland in comparison to cities of like size has both common and unique crime problems.

Another common thread in the discussions was essentially that crime in Oakland isn’t actually that bad, and that perception is worse than reality. Perhaps in some neighborhoods that’s the case, but of course many people would like to think that all of Oakland’s residents deserve safety.

A noticeably new approach

The new Strategic Plan framework (PDF) and presentation (PDF) unveiled by Chief Batts last week represent a sharp (and welcome!) departure from that attitude. Both the Chief’s letter introducing the framework (PDF) and the introductory charts in the presentation (PDF) (see pages 6-17) make no bones about the fact that the level of crime in Oakland is beyond unacceptable and the Department’s current response to reported crimes is deplorable. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

As with any plan, it is important to define the current reality or starting point as well as the destination. Unfortunately, the current reality is not very positive. Oakland is not a safe community – in fact it is among the least safe and most violent in the US. Services provided to the Community by the Police Department are nowhere near the standards that should be expected. Many good people in the Community do not trust the Police Department and live in fear of the police as well as of criminals.

How refreshing! What’s that thing they say about problems? You can’t solve one until you acknowledge that it exists or something like that? Yeah. So just the recognition that the status quo is not acceptable represents a huge step forward.

Basics of the new strategic plan framework

The framework lists five strategic goals, along with a set of actions related to achieving each of them. I won’t copy it all out here, since the document (PDF) is basically just a set of short, bulleted lists and if people are interested in reading the whole thing they should just go ahead and download it. It is a very fast read, since, like I said, it’s basically just an outline. The goals that frame the plan are:

  • Focus on the underlying causes of violent crime in Oakland – Gangs, Drugs, and Guns
  • Improve police services provided based on the Community’s priorities
  • Improve the relationship between the Oakland Police Department and the Community
  • Develop and implement a “Total Community Policing” model in Oakland
  • Expand the capability of the Oakland Police Department to meet its Mission

OPD seeks community input

Perhaps most refreshing of all is the Chief’s serious effort to work with Oakland residents in crafting the plan, which is supposed to be ready in a final version this summer. Over the next two weeks, there will be a series of community meetings to solicit feedback on the framework. People should go!

Here’s the schedule:

  • Wednesday, March 3: Montera Middle School, 555 Ascot Drive. 6:30 to 8:00 PM
  • Thursday, March 4: East Oakland Senior Center, 9255 Edes Avenue. 6:30 to 8:00 PM
  • Wednesday, March 10: Willie Key Recreation Center, 3131 Union Street. 6:30 to 8:00 PM
  • Thursday, March 11: Manzanita Recreation Center, 2701 22nd Avenue. 6:30 to 8:00 PM

If you can’t, or for some reason don’t want to, make it to any of the meetings, you can still share your thoughts. The Police Department has put up an online survey to collect feedback from residents. Questions are basically all open-ended, asking residents to share their own ideas for reducing violent crime, improving OPD services, and improving the level of trust between the Department and the community. Additionally, residents interested in participating in implementation working groups are invited to leave their contact information and areas of interest. It’s so refreshing to see the Police Department reaching out to citizens like this.

BTW, the Library wants your input too!

Oh, and one more thing. As long as we’re on the topic of City surveys, the Oakland Public Library is also currently soliciting patron input. As you guys may remember, all OPL branch libraries were reduced from six day per week to five day per week service in August as part of the City Council’s budget decision. The library is now evaluating the new branch schedule and is looking for patron thoughts on Monday vs. Saturday service, morning vs. evening hours, and for patrons with children, the most convenient periods for storytime. Also, there are open ended questions where you can offer general feedback. The survey ends after this weekend, so please, if you are a library user, take a few moments to fill it out. You can find the survey here: http://surveymonkey.com/oplpatronsurvey.

Council gets it backwards on new parking meters, should go learn from Shoup tonight

Do you guys remember all that noise about parking meters this summer and fall? Of course you do. How could you possibly forget. Aside from the fact we have a lot of crime here in Oakland, I can’t think of any issue since I’ve lived here that has received such relentless media coverage.

Anyway, as you likely recall, after two contentious meetings, the Council voted to reverse their June decision that extend the parking meter hours until 8 and to make up for the lost revenue through a combination of steps, including the addition of 250 parking meters Citywide (PDF).

So two weeks ago at the Council’s Finance & Management Committee meeting, staff offered a list of 400 possible locations for the new parking meters (PDF). The list included the following locations:

  • Lakeshore to 22nd on International Boulevard: 160 metered spaces
  • 38th to 54th on International Boulevard: 130 metered spaces
  • 4th to 14th on East 12th Street: 70 metered spaces
  • 15th to 20th on Telegraph Avenue: 40 metered spaces

Now, almost all of those meter locations are in Council districts 5 and 2. Normal people tend not to think about things in those terms, but elected officials certainly do. So, as you can imagine, District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente and District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan were, um, none too pleased with the list.

The Committee said that Council’s original direction had been for the new meters to be evenly distributed throughout all seven Council districts, and that staff should go back and do it that way. Staff then decided that the best way to handle that was to ask each Councilmember to make a list of where they think 60 parking meters should go in their district. I don’t think I need to bother explaining why this is an staggeringly misguided way to approach parking policy.

If it isn’t obvious to you why this is a bad idea and you happen to be free this evening, allow me to suggest an event that you will likely find enlightening. High Cost of Free Parking author Donald Shoup will be speaking tonight in Lafayette. I’m out of town so I can’t go, but reports from people who trekked down to San Jose last night for the show have been uniformly laudatory.

The event will be held at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Community Hall from 6 to 9 PM at 7 PM (see Dan’s comments below) at 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd in Lafayette (map here). And no, you don’t have to drive there! It’s less than a half mile walk from the Lafayette BART station.

Here’s the event description:

Mark your calendars!! On Thursday evening, February 25th, the cities of Lafayette and Walnut Creek will co-host a presentation on “Parking Policies in the Downtown” at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center. The speaker, Donald Shoup, is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and has served as the Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA. He has extensively studied parking as a key link between transportation and land use, with important consequences for cities, the economy, and the environment. His influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking, is leading a growing number of cities to charge fair market prices for curb parking, dedicate the resulting revenue to finance public services in the metered districts, and reduce or remove off-street parking requirements.

I really wish I could go to this, and I hope some of you will and report back to us. Shoup’s work gets referenced pretty frequently in policy discussions when parking comes up in Oakland, but the nuances of his research and suggestions are, frankly, very rarely stated accurately. I get that it’s a long book, and an expensive one, but I still wish more people would take the time to sit down and read it. Attending the presentation is certainly going to be a substantially faster way to learn.

A Better 1R

So. One of the questions that keeps coming up over and over again during this whole BRT discussion that’s been going on is why AC Transit doesn’t just try to figure out what’s wrong with the 1R and see what they can do about it?

Well, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what they have been doing. And conveniently, AC Transit has recently issued a report (PDF) on exactly that subject and will be hosting a community forum to discuss it on Thursday.

Let’s start from the beginning.

What is the 1R?

AC Transit’s has been running a bus line called the 1R since June of 2007. The line runs from downtown Berkeley to downtown Oakland along Telegraph, then from downtown Oakland to the Bayfair BART Station in San Leandro along International Boulevard. Along the same route, AC Transit also operates a line called the 1, which is in general, slower than the 1R, because it has way more stops. Previous to the summer of 2007, this corridor was served by two different buses, the 40 and the 82.

It is a tremendously popular line, carrying over 12,000 passengers daily as of November 2008 (an 11.4% increase from 2007). This is on top of all the passengers that ride the 1. Although riding the 1R is substantially faster than riding the 1, many people choose to take the 1 anyway because the 1R stops are quite far apart, and often not particularly close to one’s destination.

Theoretically, the 1R arrives every 12 minutes between 6 AM and 7 PM at each of the 36 stops along its 17 mile line. The total trip from downtown Berkeley to Bayfair BART is supposed to take 73 minutes in the morning and 78 minutes during the afternoon rush hour.

The superior speed of the 1R versus the 1 is due to the two factors. First, the 1R stops a whole lot less than the 1. 1 stops are spaced between 800 and 1,300 feet apart. The minimum distance between 1R stops outside of downtown Oakland is about 1,200 feet, but they average a much longer 2,400 feet and some are spaced nearly 5,200 feet apart.

Besides the stop spacing, the 1R is also faster than the 1 because of something called Transit Signal Priority. This is a neat-o high-tech tool that you put both on the bus and the traffic light. When the bus is approaching the traffic light, the tool can tell, and it will keep the light green for a couple seconds so the bus can get across.

Sounds great. But do people ride it?

So this is an issue that comes up a lot when people are talking about transit. It is not uncommon whatsoever to hear people talk about the bus as if only buses are only ridden by the destitute and crazy transit freaks. Often, when talking about the bus – in public meetings, in comments on, say, this blog, or in general conversation, you will hear people say things like “Oh, I would never ride a bus” or “Nothing could make me ride a bus” or “Nobody who has a choice of doing something else would ever make me ride a bus.” Maybe. Maybe not.

Obviously there are always going to be some people who will just never ride the bus anywhere. You can’t do anything about that. But there are also lots of people – normal people – who ride the bus because it gets them to where they need to go, and it’s simply easier than driving a car. One of my favorite things I’ve read in the last year was this interview with Mad Men and Angel star Vincent Kartheiser, where he says he takes the bus to work. The interviewer acts all shocked. Like, where do you live that you can do that? And he’s so casual about it, all “Oh, I live here, but you can take the bus from lots of places. It’s not a big deal.” It is so rare in the media to see taking the bus portrayed as a normal thing to do, even though, in reality, it is incredibly normal. More Oaklanders take the bus to work than take BART.

Anyway, enough with the tangent. Do people ride the 1R? Um, yes. The 1R carries roughly 12,000 passengers a day. And they ride it in growing numbers. Between October 2007, a few months after the line debuted, and November 2008, ridership on the 1R increased by 11.4%.

And why do they ride it? Well, a lot of people take the 1R to work. The chart below illustrates the number of people on the bus during AM commute hours, along with how many people are boarding and exiting (alighting) at each stop.

1R AM Passenger Load

Click to enlarge

Also, contrary to what some people seem to believe, people don’t only ride the bus during commute hours. If you ride the bus during the middle of the day, you know this already. If you don’t, well, the chart below illustrates the line usage during midday hours.

1R Midday Passenger Load

Click to enlarge

Overall, the 1R averages 89 passengers per trip.

Okay. So why don’t even more people ride it?

Well, big problem with the 1R is reliability. As I said above, the entire route is supposed to take 73 minutes. In reality, it can take as much as 115 minutes. That’s a big difference.

Of course, most runs don’t go so crazy far over schedule. The average running time for the 1R going south during peak afternoon periods is 89 minutes, 11 minutes longer than it’s supposed to. The deviation from scheduled running time varies throughout the day, but it’s almost always longer. See the chart below.

1R Average Runtime

Click to enlarge


A more sobering way to look at it is to consider how many trips are completed within 5 minutes of the scheduled runtime. In AM peak periods, this figure can be as low as 21%. Yikes!

The full report includes lots of great charts that give a little more context to the problem, showing where exactly the bus gets so slowed down, but for the sake of space, we won’t get too much into it here.

When buses get behind schedule, the result is often something called “bunching.” This is when multiple buses arrive at or near the same time. The bunching is probably the most serious problem with the 1R, as it means riders end up having to wait much longer than they should for a bus to show up. It means the service is unreliable. And when people can’t count on the bus to take them where they want to go when it’s supposed to, then they are much less likely to ride it.

For purposes of the report, bunching was defined as buses arriving within 2 minutes of each other. During peak afternoon periods, 16.5% of buses were found to be bunched. The report defines “normal” headways as buses arriving 10 to 14 minutes apart. During peak afternoon periods, only 14.8% of buses were found to be normal. Terrible! The bunching percentage increases and normal percentage decreases as the bus gets further and further along the route.

What makes the bus so slow?

Well, obviously, there’s traffic. And along with it, stop lights. 19% of the 1R’s running time is spent waiting at traffic lights. But there are other factors as well.

24% of the 1R’s running time is spent at stops, waiting for passengers to get on and off. This is an issue with busy bus routes. It takes time for people to get on and off the bus, and when you have a lot of people getting on and off, it ends up taking a lot of time. At the worst stop, International and 34th Avenue, it takes an average of 78 seconds to get everybody onto the bus.

Part of the reason it takes so long is because it takes people a while to pay. People paying cash take the longest. Often people (irritatingly) have not gotten their money ready beforehand, and end up standing at the farebox fishing for change and making everyone wait behind them. 34% of 1R passengers pay cash.

The fastest way to pay is using something you can just flash and go, like a TransLink card or flash pass. Riders using TransLink take as little as 2 seconds to load. Sadly, TransLink payment accounted for only 3% of the 1R’s passengers as of the time of this study, although that figure is surely increasing now due to the more widespread adoption of TransLink and policy changes on the part of AC Transit.

Besides the general loading time, the 1R also has to deal with the additional time it takes to load strollers and wheelchairs. There are also a lot of strollers and wheelchairs on the 1R. Obviously, there are, in general, going to be more strollers and wheelchairs on high traffic lines simply because there are more people riding the bus total. But it does sometimes seem that the 1R, particularly on the East Oakland portion, gets a disproportionate number of strollers.

Strollers and wheelchairs slow down the bus because it takes a much longer time to get them on. The ramp has to come out, people have to get on it, then the ramp has to come back up, then once they’re on the bus, strollers have to find a place to go and wheelchairs have to be secured. The average loading time for a stroller was found to be 1 minute and 34 seconds, and the average loading time for a wheelchair was found to be 4 minutes and 10 seconds.

How do we fix it?

Do BRT.

No, just kidding! Seriously! I don’t want this discussion to turn into another debate about BRT, it’s about improving the 1R. Various features of a BRT system would eliminate or significantly reduce some of the dwell time problems delineated above, but even if AC Transit ended up deciding to go through with totally full fledged BRT as designed in the maximum alternative, that still wouldn’t be operating until like 2015. That’s a long time to wait for a better bus.

The report identifies a number of ways to improve speed and reliability on the current 1R. Read the full report (PDF) to see them all, I’m just going to do the highlights here.

First, the bus can be made safer for the large number of strollers if they have a place to go. Additionally, the time associated with loading the strollers and having people stuck in line behind them could be decreased it they don’t have to hunt for a place to park. The suggestion here is to replace some of the normal seats on the 1R with seats that flip up and down. That way, if there are lots of strollers on a run, more space can be available to accommodate them. If there aren’t, then people can use the space to sit down.

For wheelchairs, the report suggests marking clearly the space at the bus stop where everyone should be waiting – one space for people using the front door and another space for passengers who will need the ramp. This would be helpful, but of course, only works if the bus always stops in the exact same place. As frequent riders know, that doesn’t always happen. The report suggests that this problem could be ameliorated by separating 1R stops in certain high locations from the stops used by other buses, so the 1R wouldn’t be stopping all the way behind the other bus.

Additionally, the report suggests that 1R drivers get special training to familiarize them with the unique operating needs of the rapid line and that the line be managed more closely to lessen the impact of bunching. For example, when a bus reaches the end of the line, the driver would be instructed to not depart in the other direction until 12 minutes have passed since the last bus left. The ideal departure time would be indicated through the use of a countdown clock, and would hopefully put a stop to the snowball effect created by bunching, where each instance of bunching ends up making the problem even worse for the next bus.

Finally, the report suggests that the time spent loading passengers could be reduced by encouraging less time consuming payment methods. Specifically, it proposes exploring the use of some sort of ticket vending machine at the line’s busiest stops (Shattuck and Allston in downtown Berkeley, 20th and Telegraph, 14th and Broadway, 11th and Broadway, 12th and Broadway 11th and Harrison, and 12th and Harrison in downtown Oakland, International and 34th in the Fruitvale district, and Bayfair BART). If passengers could buy a flash pass before they get on the bus, then the time waiting for people to hunt for change could be significantly reduced. Passengers could be encouraged to use the vending machines instead of on-board cash payment if the vending machines offered some kind of fare discount. Clearly, there are a variety of issues that would have to be addressed before AC Transit could implement ticket vending machines, but it seems like a promising concept.

If you find all this as fascinating as I do and want to know more, you have two options. First, you can just sit down and read all 88 pages of the report (PDF). It’s not anywhere near as bad as it sounds – there are lots of big maps and charts, and the whole thing is written in admirably clear and non-jargony language. Second, you can go to the community forum AC Transit is hosting tomorrow. At the forum, AC Transit staff will present the findings of the study, answer questions, and take suggestions from the public about how to improve 1R service.

The meeting will be held tomorrow, Thursday, February 25th at AC Transit’s headquarters at 1600 Franklin Street in downtown Oakland from 6 to 8 PM.

Might have to wait a little longer for that 12th Street Bridge

If you lived in Oakland in 2002 and happened to make it to the polls that November, odds are that you, like 80% of Oaklanders, voted yes on Measure DD.

Measure DD was a nearly $200 million bond measure meant to finance improvements to Oakland’s creeks and waterways, public recreation facilities, waterfront parks, and of course, Lake Merritt. It’s Measure DD we have to thank for Lake Chalet at the Boathouse and the reconfiguration of El Embarcadero.

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Does Oakland need a Public Ethics Commission?

How much do you know about Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission (PEC)? If you’re like most Oaklanders, you probably didn’t even know we had one. (Yes, I realize that my readers, of course, are much more aware of these things than the average resident.) Anyway, the Public Ethics Commission deals with sunshine, transparency, lobbying, campaign laws, and stuff like that.

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Ignacio De La Fuente: Join me in demanding real solutions to Oakland’s financial crisis

Since the outset of the current financial crisis, I have encouraged the residents in District 5 and my supporters throughout the city to participate in the Budget process to advocate for the preservation of what I believe should be the focus of our City budget, CORE SERVICES. These core services are: Police; Fire; Parks; Libraries; Streets; Sewers; Sidewalks; and the most essential services for our Seniors and Youth. I have been pleading with my colleagues on the council to realize the urgency of this crisis, and I am again urging you to join me as I push them to stop delaying critical decisions that impact Oakland’s immediate and long-term fiscal health.

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BRT at Planning Commission tonight

Tonight, the Oakland Planning Commission will discuss, among other things (PDF) the selection of a locally preferred alternative (PDF) for AC Transit’s proposed East Bay BRT project. Why are they meeting tonight at all, you ask? Yeah, BEATS THE HELL OUT OF ME. They’ve canceled meetings on Ash Wednesday in the past. Not this year, though. What are you going to do?

Anyway. So what does this mean, to select a locally preferred alternative?

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The most depressing part of the budget: poor DIT

As I’m sure you guys are all aware, this afternoon the City Council will be holding a special budget meeting to address the shortfall in the City’s current year budget. But the fun doesn’t end there! After the budget meeting, we’ve got the regular Council meeting (PDF) to look forward to. Thankfully, the agenda is relatively short and looks like it won’t go too long, although you really never can tell.

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This Tuesday! City Hall! One night only! Budget magic show! Tricks galore! Smoke! Mirrors! Don’t miss!

Since I had like half a dozen people ask me yesterday, including people I don’t even know in the comments here – yes, I am okay! Nothing terrible happened, I’m just really busy. I apologize for abandoning the blog without warning. I am working on a number of different exciting projects at the moment (some related to creating a better Oakland, some not at all), and in all my excitement to do all sorts of cool things, I seem to have gotten myself way overcommitted. I’m confident that if I can ever catch up on all the things I’m behind on, I’ll be able to juggle the ongoing work okay. But if I am ever going to get caught up, something had to go temporarily, and unfortunately for you guys, that was writing new blogs and reading the news (I haven’t even opened my RSS reader in over a week, hence the lack of updates in the news feed. I’m terrified of what it’s going to look like when I finally do!)

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