A better Snow Park

Last night, I attended a community meeting about improvements to Snow Park, 20th Street, Lakeside Drive, and Harrison Street.

Where is Snow Park?

If you spend a lot of time around downtown, you’re probably familiar with Snow Park. If not, here’s the area we’re talking about.

Snow Park area map

It starts on 20th street, between Harrison and Lakeside Drive. Across 20th Street is the Kaiser Center, and across Lakeside is Lake Merritt. If you walk in this area much, you are well aware of what a tremendous pain this intersection is for pedestrians.

The Lake Merritt Master Plan envisioned a redesign of this intersection that would allow for a more natural pedestrian connection to the Lake from downtown and an expansion of Snow Park.

Snow Park Lake Merritt Master Plan

The Snow Park/20th/Harrison project was included in 2002′s Measure DD project list. The image below shows more clearly the planned change to the street alignment.

20th Street Plan Measure DD

Basically, that chunk of 20th Street between Harrison (on one side of Snow Park) and Lakeside (on the other side of Snow Park) would be removed, and the extra space from where the street used to be as well as the pointless triangle of land on the other side would become part of Snow Park. Lakeside Drive would be narrowed and moved a little farther away from the Lake in order to create more park area along Lake Merritt.

Design Concepts

I wasn’t sure what to expect from last night’s meeting. The flyer I had seen advertising the meeting did a poor job of previewing the planned changes. I went in with a vague sense that I disliked the plan already, although not for any good reason.

It turned out to be pretty cool.

Right now, the project is in the community input stage. So if you want to provide feedback, now is the time to do it. Some elements of the plan are not negotiable (bike lanes, the closure of 20th Street). But others aspects may still change, such as the amenities included in the refurbished Snow Park.

Snow Park Design Concepts

As it stands now, the plan is to retain the Snow Park putting green along Harrison Street, add some walking paths, and put in a tot lot. I am super in favor of walking paths! It is impossible to cut through Snow Park right now if you’re wearing heels. They just sink right into the mud. The concept also includes playground equipment for the tot lot themed like animals, a nod to the park’s history. It was the original home of the Oakland Zoo, founded in 1922 by naturalist Henry A. Snow. I thought that was a cute idea.

Where 20th Street sits now, the design concept places a wide tree-lined promenade to guide pedestrians from downtown to the Lake.

20th Street Promenade

On the other side of Lakeside Drive, the plan is to take the new park space and terrace it with seating and planting areas. I think that was probably my favorite aspect of the plan. Lake Merritt is just so pretty, and such a nice place to take a lunch or grab a cup of coffee and sit and read, but there is a terrible shortage of benches on that part of the Lake, and they are always full!

The numbers

Altogether, the removal of that strip of 20th Street and expansion of Snow Park would create a 70,000 square foot increase in contiguous open space in the area. 60 new trees would be planted, and 10 existing trees would be removed. There would also be a minor loss of parking. The project is expected to start construction sometime around the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013, and take somewhere between eight months to one year to complete.

The response

The meeting last night wasn’t particularly well attended, but did generate some interesting suggestions. Attendees were given little dots to place on boards parking the aspects of the proposal they were most excited about. The tree-lined promenade seemed particularly popular on the dot boards. I was a little disappointed with the lack of enthusiasm for the putting green.

Snow Park meeting dot boards

During the Q&A period, a couple of other suggestions for use of the space came up. One person suggested a volleyball or basketball court, someone else asked about a community garden, and a couple expressed a desire to be able to take their dogs to the park, even if it was on-leash. A friend I was talking to after the meeting said that he thought the tot lot had no place in the park, and that programmed space should be reserved for adults, since that’s most of the people in the area. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

There was a fairly lengthy discussion about the placement of the jogging path along the Lake (should it be on the inside or the outside of the walking path), and what the ideal material for the jogging path would be. I kind of tuned out of that part, because I really have no idea about the difference in all these types of materials.

New, pretty things are all well and good, but of course then you’re left with the task of keeping them pretty, which Measure DD does not pay for. I live three blocks from Snow Park, and walk past it most days on my way to work, and the state of it right now is deplorable. It is just nasty and overgrown and like this giant mud pit. It would be a shame to put all this money into making it nice only to have it fall apart again right away due to continuing cuts to park maintenance staff.

So I asked if the City had a plan for park maintenance. It turns out that they don’t have much of one, but assured the audience that they would figure it out. I did not find that particularly comforting. Volunteers were referenced, as well as the CBD. If the CBD were able to take care of park maintenance there, I think that would be awesome. But my understanding was that the City has been unwilling to let them do so because of union issues. Last I heard, that issue had not been resolved, but of course hope springs eternal.

Learn more and give your feedback

If you want to learn more about this project, want to ask questions, or have strong opinions about what should be included, but weren’t able to make it last night, you’re in luck! The plan will be presented to Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee at their meeting next Thursday, April 21st. BPAC meetings are held in City Hall Hearing Room 4 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm.

Those who can’t make it to BPAC are encouraged to send their comments to Ali Schwarz of the Public Works Agency at aschwarz@oaklandnet.com.

To help guide your input, here are the questions that were provided on the feedback form:

  • Which improvements do you want to see along Lake Merritt in this project area? Answer choices: seating, lighting, public art, separate jogging trail, landscaping, other
  • Where do you prefer to locate the separate jogging trail around Lake Merritt? Answer choices: lakeside, roadside
  • What material do you prefer to jog on? Answer choices: decomposed granite, mulch, concrete, asphalt, dirt
  • What types of improvements do you want to see along Lakeside Drive? Answer choices: bike lanes, stormwater treatment, pedestrian safety/crossings, other
  • What improvements to Snow Park would you like to see? Answer choices: children’s playground, walking path, putting green, restroom facilities
  • Rank the design elements presented in order of priority: Snow Park Playground; Snow Park Putting Green; Snow Park Walkways; Snow Park Restroom upgrades; Lake Merritt Separate Jogging Trail; Lake Merritt Landscape Improvements; Benches, Lighting, Furniture

21 thoughts on “A better Snow Park

  1. Max Allstadt

    I realize that finding the funds for this would be difficult, but every time I’m in Snow Park, I think that the park would be far more used and dramatically improved if it was directly connected to the lakeside path.

    The best way I can visualize to do this is to build a pedestrian bridge leading from the top of the hill in the park to a grand staircase across the street at lakeside. Particularly if careful attention was paid to including as much greenery as possible on the bridge and on it’s sides, it could be truly awesome. Somebody give me a few million bucks, and I’ll get it done.

  2. Anthony

    Not sure I see the point in this. How is it a pain for pedestrians… use the crosswalks at Jackson or at Harrison/20th. This creates an un-natural intersection at Harrison and lakeside. This will backup traffic around Lakeside- like it is now at Grand and what used to be el Embarcadero on the other side of the lake. Where there used to be natural turns around the lake, the trend seems to be to expand the park across intersections and force people to make 90 degree turns. Now there is traffic from Perkins all the way to el Embarcadero and a jam there where their did exist one before. Same thing here with Snow Park. Get rid of the natural curve around the lake, it will be congested with cars as they have to now make a weird left turn to get to 20th or to go into the Kaiser building. I think the park(let) is fine the way it is. Folks go out and quietly put, or sometimes business folks come out at lunch and play volleyball or Ultimate Frisbee or folks come down and have lunch on the greens. I’d improve the lighting at night as it’s very dark there… but it’s fine as it is. My opinion.

  3. ralph

    V, thanks for the update. I hope to make the next meeting. Like you, I was unsure what to expect but from what you described this is a huge improvement over the current configuration. The improvement to the pedestrian crossing is tremendous.

    I think a recreation for kids is a good idea. There are a number of downtown families with youngsters; I am sure they would welcome the space. Also, I think there is a school that might welcome the play area. A good model is the play area at Lafayette Resevoir.

    The dog area would also be nice. The downtown residential units are being populated with people and dogs. I think they would love a place to mix and mingle.

  4. Tony

    Yeah, I tuned out the jogging path options too. I’m happy that’ll be included in this project. On the Lakeshore side the grass is already getting worn thru from runners.

    My favorite part was moving the curb on Harrison so the striped asphalt will be reclaimed for more parkland. Why stop there? Just take out that right turn only lane and keep the bike lane. There’d still be 3 lanes on Harrison approaching Grand. Plus bike riders continuing on Harrison towards the Whole Foods wouldn’t be put in an awkward position like it is now: to either ride in the middle of the street or follow the righthand stripe.

  5. Eric Fischer

    It’s still way too many traffic lanes, but I appreciate the attempt to make it less awful to walk between 19th Street BART and Adams Point.

    I was expecting the three-way intersection in the plan to work the other way, though — to have Lakeshore routed through to Harrison, with 20th intersecting, instead of a continuous route from 20th to Harrison with Lakeshore intersecting. I suppose it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference though.

    By the way, part of the reason the intersection is so messed up is that the 1947 Oakland transportation plan proposed to cut Alice Street through the park to connect to Harrison at 20th. It never happened but the excessive roadway capacity was left there anyway.

  6. Navigator

    Wow, this is great news. I was under the impression that the Measure DD improvements were going to end at 19th street. I’m glad to hear of plans to add parkland and improve the paths on the Lakeside side of Lake Merritt. I like the idea of the terraces with sitting areas looking back at the Lake. Also, with the added space and amenities Snow Park now becomes a major addition to the recreational opportunities downtown.

    I like the idea of a promenade from downtown to the Lake where 20th street is now. Let’s hope it’s done in a little more natural manner than the promenade on the other side of the Lake next to the Pergola. I like the benches in the area but there’s too much concrete. The concrete gets dirty with spilled drinks and even paint and starts looking bad. It already needs a good steam cleaning.

    Also, anyone know if there are any plans to continue the improvements from Harrisson Street and into Lakeside Park? That walking path next to the knoll with the Children’s Fairyland sign is in deplorable condition. It’s down to dirt. It would be nice to have that area improved. Other paths in front of the Fairyland entrance and around the bandstand area near the former snack shack, are also in terrible shape. The bird sanctuary area could really be spectacular with some baddly needed remodeling. There are great views to those five small islands that are know being refurbished. This area could be something special and a magnet for families from throughout the region.

    Another idea would be refurbish the former train that used to go all around Lakeside Park. We can still see part of the old train tracks and a train stop near the Lake Merritt Boat House parking lot. One more idea for incorporating the Lake into Childrens Fairyland would be to use decorative small boats with Fairyland related themes and park them into the “lagoon” part of the Lake right in front of the Fairyland sign. They do this in Boston. They have “Swan Boats” which take young kids and families for rides on a lagoon in Boston Common Park. Childrens Fairyland is a great asset for Lake Merritt but right know it isn’t really incorporated into the Lake.

    In short, Lakeside Park needs a whole lot of help. It’s nice that all of the paths and adjacent area around the Lake are seeing these tremendous improvemnets, but Lakeside Park proper shouldn’t be forgotten.

  7. David

    I like the idea of expanding the park. But, I do not have any faith in the City to keep the park clean and safe.

    Go take a look at Bushrod. Its always dirty. There’s no bathroom, so homeless people and prostitutes leave condoms and human waste. There is one garbage can on site… and the field named after former Oakland Athletics Manager, Billy martin is a disgrace.

  8. Jim T

    I had heard a few details before this, but seeing this level of detail is excellent. Thanks.

    It’s good to see Oakland taking a (belated) progressive stand on public space repurposing. I am constantly amazed by the automobile “capacity’ this city has. Any time we remove lanes, we really are doing a service for everyone, drivers included.

    Now if we could just get them to tackle Grand Street, which near Lake Merritt has 7 (!) lanes. The idea that our main commercial boulevards should also function as wide automobile thoroughfares is a suburban idea that has consistently failed our cities.

  9. Naomi Schiff

    A vigorous band of volunteers helps maintain the Lake Merritt park improvements. Email Jennie Gerard at jgerard@oaklandnet.com to get on the email list (help this busy lady by putting Lake Volunteer as your subject). The wonderful Tora Rocha, a dynamic supervisor in the parks dept who headed up the incredible volunteer effort at the Rose Garden, organizes the project to ensure the efforts are extremely effective. As to Snow Park improvements: I agree, minimize concrete, maximize green. I think it will be just fine to reconfigure the roadways and add some to the parks. It is a habitat, too. Right now, lots of birds are nesting in Snow Park.

  10. Andy K

    Put the new A’s stadium there – not a 100% serious suggestion, but I have often looked at that park and thought it would be an interesting site for the stadium – downtown, view of the lake and the hills, owned by the City, etc. The lake is our equivalent of SF bay front.

    The existing intersection is a drag – not fun to ride a bike through.

    Echoing comments above, hope the City can maintain this park. It is a crime the way the City does not maintain parks. Lake Merritt is better than most.

  11. Melanie A.

    So excited that yet more of the Lake area is returned to people not in cars. Now if we can only get those one-way streets downtown returned to two-way…

  12. Ken O

    Glad that this is happening, along with the pavement reduction plan in the Whole Foods-Firestone Tire intersection… too much real estate for cars.

    I jog thru Snow Park several times a week on my way to/from Lake Merritt for morning jogs. I see people trying to put golf there, or practicing by hitting balls at the big redwood or whatever tree is in the middle. Kinda funny.

    Yes, upgrade the bathroom area please.
    Yes to the tree promenade from 20th to the lake, it will be our SF Embarcadero palm tree style promenade.

    why not cut additional lanes of traffic on lakeside drive…

  13. Joel Peter

    The Measure DD website is in transition to the new City of Oakland format. The link you provided goes to the old page. In general, the best way to get to the most current page is http://www.oaklandnet.com/measuredd.

    On that page you will find the most recent Project Status Summary, and on the 20th/Harrison/Lakeside/Snow Park page I’ve posted the Project Concept Plan. I will post more of the plans from the community meeting when I get a chance.

  14. Navigator


    This is exciting stuff. I was glad to see that the overlook area near Harrison and Grand is included in the project. Looking at the planned improvements for Lakeside Park I noticed that the Sailboat House is slatted for improvements. I’m hoping that the huge concrete parking lot becomes additional parkland.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything regarding improving the neglected paths in Lakeside Park. Is there anything planned in the future to deal with the crumbling paths in Lakeside Park? The jogging path next to the Fairyland sign is in terrible shape and needs attention. Also, any plans to deal with the decrepid docks? Thanks Joel.

  15. Joel Peter

    At the Sailboat House, you may have noticed that we are just now completing the total replacement of the rotted balcony and have made some ADA improvements. And we just started design work for replacement of the crumbling seawall. The shoreline at the parking lot will be redone in a more natural manner, which includes a small reduction in the size of the parking lot. But the lot is needed for events at the Sailboat House, so won’t disappear altogether.

    Path and dock repair at Lakeside Park is currently not in the DD program, simply due to lack of sufficient funds to do everything that is desired. But once the 12th Street project is completed, we can shift any leftover funds to other projects within the Lake Merritt category of the DD bond. We’ll see how it goes as the current projects progress. I agree that some of the paths in Lakeside Park can use improvement.

  16. Navigator

    Having funds left over to make needed improvements to Lakeside Park would be awesome. Thanks again Joel.

  17. Kent L.

    I work in the “Kaiser engineering” building at 19th and Harrison (it’s actually not just “engineering” here but part of KP regional offices.) One thing that nobody seems to have mentioned is that this park is used during the daytime by kids from the Oakland Charter Academy on 12th. http://www.oaklandcharter.net/ It’s kind of neat seeing those kids run around in a City park. Reminds me of how it was when I was in public school in the 1970s in WI. Dog use – especially off leash – may conflict with the schoolkids using the park. I prefer school kids to dogs. That being said, perhaps a smaller astroturf dog “park” with a fence around it (Manhatten has these) might be a good thing?

    Regarding the proposed road reconfiguration, I agree that chopping off the spur between Lakeside Drive and 20th to connect the “triangle” with the park is a good thing (I want to preserve the ZZZ sculpture btw). However, the proposed moving of the road that connects Harrison to Lakeside might not be so good. I notice during my morning bicycle commute there is significant traffic that goes southbound on Harrison towards Lakeside. I imagine these are folks travelling to the courthouse, the library or Chinatown / East Oakland. This reconfiguration may cause a lot of congestion if it is not done right. But usually the City is pretty thorough when it comes to studying “Loss of Service” for road lane reductions (in fact I think they tend to be much too thorough about this!)

  18. Dan Levy

    I really hope they get rid of even more roads near snow park. There is still too much pavement!

    I also like the Fairyland Swan Boat idea!

    Also, if there are extra DD funds, could those go to the Cleveland cascade?

    It would also be cool to redo the McElroy fountain and remove the addition to the Lawn Bowling club — it really detracts from the nice character of the building.