How can we improve the area around Lake Merritt BART?

I have been mystified by the wasteland that surrounds the Lake Merritt BART Station since like two days after I moved to Oakland.

A friend and I were sitting in my new downtown apartment and about to go…I don’t remember where we were going, but it was somewhere on BART. I suggested we get lunch downtown beforehand, and asked which BART station we should go to, since my place was roughly equidistant from the Lake Merritt and 19th Street stations.

He didn’t have any specific place in mind to eat, and suggested we try the Lake Merritt station so I could see a different part of downtown than I had been frequenting. “There’s a BART station, tons of apartments, and a community college right there,” he said. “Of course there will be plenty places to get something eat.”

So we headed down that way. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what I saw.

Lake Merritt BART Station Neighborhood

There was nobody outside, nowhere obvious to buy anything, no activity around the station — nothing. It made no sense to me.

Ten years later, it still doesn’t make any sense. I moved away from the immediate area a while back, but I’ve worked in close proximity to that BART station for I think a combined total of four years now, and I still marvel at how empty it always feels. The station itself isn’t a failure — more than 5,000 people are using it every day (PDF), but whenever I find myself down there, I end up having to buy my coffee at the Metrocenter cafeteria, which is just totally depressing. (I did notice recently a new coffee shop across from the station, but haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet. But hey, that’s progress, right?)

Lake Merritt BART Station

Lake Merritt Station Area Plan

So the City also thinks that it is a problem that the neighborhood around the BART station is so dead. In hopes of making the area more successful in the future, they are currently in the process of creating an Area Plan for the neighborhood around the station:

The City of Oakland, BART and the Peralta Community College District, through a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, have come together to prepare a Station Area Plan for the area around the Lake Merritt BART Station. The Plan will consider land use, buildings, design, circulation, BART improvements, streetscape improvements, parks and public spaces. It will identify actions the City and the other public agencies should take to improve the area, and it will establish regulations for development projects on private property. The project also involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the Station Area Plan.

The planning area is a one-half mile radius around the Lake Merritt BART Station, which encompasses Chinatown, Laney College, civic buildings of Alameda Photo of Laney CollegeCounty and Oakland and the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the estuary. Many diverse residents, businesses and students make up the community of this area, and Chinatown functions as a citywide center for the Asian community. The Station Area Plan must address the needs of the community, as well as the needs of BART related to ridership, and the needs of the College District related to education and maximizing the use of their land. BART has stated that it envisions the area transitioning from its current status as an “Urban Neighborhood Station” to a “Regional Center” station type. Completing the environmental review process is also a critical component of the project, so that issues are resolved and development can proceed by tiering off the environmental analysis.

You can learn more about the planning effort on the project website.

Add your voice to the plan

If you’re interested in being involved in the planning process, you have an opportunity to do so this Saturday, February 26th, and next Saturday, March 5th, interested parties will have another opportunity to weigh in on the Station Area Plan at two public workshops. Both will be held at the Laney College Student Center at 900 Fallon Street. They’ll begin with an Open House from 9:00 to 9:30am, followed by a meeting from 9:30 to 12:30pm.

Lake Merritt Station Area Plan map

For discussion purposes, the plan area has been divided into two subareas: East and West. In the image above, the East subarea has been shaded in blue, and the West subarea in orange.

East Subarea

This week’s meeting will focus on the East subarea, and next week’s will focus on the West subarea. Helpfully, the project website already contains some materials to help you prepare.

I’m more interested in this portion, since the West subarea is for the most part, a much more successful neighborhood. There’s no reason I can see for the East subarea to be so sad — after all, aside from housing a BART station, it also includes Laney College, the School District Headquarters, the Oakland Museum, the County Courthouse, and the Oakland Main Library. People are clearly around. But walking around the area, it appears that for whatever reason, they’re unable to support normal neighborhood amenities.

Alameda County Courthouse

The map below highlights the existing uses in the area.

Lake Merritt Station Area Plan East subarea map

If you’re having trouble reading that, click here to download a bigger PDF version.

Discussion Guide

A discussion guide (PDF) on the project website gives you an idea of the types of issues that will be discussed at the meeting, and offers some specific questions to prompt discussion.

The questions are divided into three different sections. The first section asks about street improvements:

What we’ve heard so far

  • Improve the connections between the many unique places and destinations in the area, such as Chinatown, Laney College, Lake Merritt, the BART stations (including Lake Merritt, 12th Street, and 19th Street BART stations), Alameda County facilities, and the Jack London District
  • Ensure the safety of people walking, riding bikes, and driving ars throughout the planning area.
  • Incorporate distinctive street design into the area that reflects the community

Questions

  1. What streets do you think should change?
  2. How would those changes improve your ability to get around the neighborhood?
  3. How could the streets you use be safer, more attractive and pleasant for walking and biking?
  4. What are your top three street improvements?

Improved connections seems like a no brainer.

Lake Merritt BART Station neighborhood

The Jack London District is right down the street from the BART station, but you certainly wouldn’t know it just standing by the station exit.

One thing I wonder about sometimes when I’m in the neighborhood is if part of the problem is that the streets are simply too wide for the existing building stock. They appear to have a great deal of excess capacity as well.

Lake Merritt BART Station & Laney College

I’m not sure what the solution to that is. Widening the sidewalks would be one option, I guess, although for the moment, there seems to be no shortage of capacity on the sidewalks either. Maybe it just needs taller buildings?

The second part of the discussion guide asks about development and services:

What we’ve heard so far

  • Promote a vibrant and thriving neighborhood, including new businesses, new shopping, restaurants, and other commercial services.
  • Expand and strengthen Chinatown and establish more businesses around the Lake Merritt BART station.
  • Promote a night market or farmers market, and promote businesses staying open later into the night.
  • Accommodate a diverse community by providing a wide range of jobs, local services, and housing — both affordable (low cost) housing and market rate housing.

Questions

  1. Where should new shopping and dining areas be located?
  2. What kinds of entertainment and attractions would you like to see? Where should new entertainment or attractions (such as a farmers market, night market, performance spaces, or other nightlife) be located?
  3. Are there specific types of housing you would like to see in the area? (Examples of housing include family and student housing, and ownership and rental housing, etc.
  4. Are their specific types of goods and services you would like to see in the area? (Example of goods: home repair supplies, appliances, office supplies, etc,; examples of services: health services, senior services, child care services, etc.)
  5. Are there specific types of new jobs you would like to see in the area?
  6. How tall (i.e., number of stories) would you like buildings to be?

Madison Square Park

The final section focuses on parks and public facilities:

What we’ve heard so far

  • Existing parks should be improved and new parks should be added to accommodate future population growth.
  • Parks should provide space for multicultural and multigenerational programs and activities (such as space for tai chi, community gardens, and athletic fields).
  • Provide an additional multi-generational, multi-cultural community center, and a youth center, either as part of the same center or as a separate facility.
  • Preserve, celebrate, and enhance the heritage of Chinatown, as a cultural asset, regional community destination, and an anchor for businesses, housing, and community services. Highlight these resources and ensure that new development complements these existing resources.

Questions

  1. Existing community resources include the many historic or cultural assets in the neighborhood, such as the Buddhist Church, Lincoln Square Park and the Lake Merritt Channel. Which of the many existing community resources would you particularly like to see highlighted and enhanced in the planning area?
  2. What new parks, public spaces, and/or community facilities (such as youth center, cultural center or community center) would you like to see in the area, and where would you like to see them located?

That should give you plenty to think about in preparation for the meeting. I’m going to do my best to make it, although I’m not 100% sure I’ll be able to get there.

If you want to participate in the process, once again, the workshop will take place this Saturday, February 26th from 9:30am to 12:30pm at the Laney College Student Center located at 900 Fallon St..

66 thoughts on “How can we improve the area around Lake Merritt BART?

  1. Chris Kidd

    Yes, the streets are faaaaar too wide. They are insanely out of proportion to the height of most buildings in the neighborhood. While increasing building height is one option, it’s also bound to be wildly unpopular with some factions.
    Another solution would be to integrate multiple traffic-calming efforts on these streets to emphasize proper pedestrian-priority. A lot of the streets in the East subarea are one-way, with extra wide travel lanes (I’d guess at 10+ feet), and little (if any) sight breaks or roadway features that can subconsciously tell a driver “slow down”. The current configuration essentially creates a car funnel between Lake Merritt and I-880. If we want this neighborhood to be successful, the streets need to actually prioritize the neighborhood and not those who are passing through it as quickly as possible.

    One solution is to remove all one-way streets, which encourage speeding. You could supplement this by narrowing lanes to slow traffic, putting in bike lanes to offer a greater buffer spaces between moving cars and pedestrians, incorporating a road diet, build a street median, create visual breaks for drivers to keep their eyes on the neighborhood around them and not the road 300 yards ahead, etc.

    You also need to re-contextualize the way the street is perceived. Right now it’s wide-open, without a human scale. You can’t blame people for not wanting to walk around when everything about the street tells pedestrians they don’t belong there.

    You could address this by incorporating larger street trees along the sidewalk and along a median to create a canopy of sorts. You could even engage in a radical street reconfiguration (like in downtown Lancaster, CA) where the middle lanes of the roadway were turned into diagonal parking spaces with distinctive decorated pavement, interspersed with street trees and strung with overhead festive lighting. This created a “roof” for the street which gave a human context, even though the street itself wasn’t narrowed. Also, the interior parking area could be easily converted to multiple uses like farmer’s markets or a pedestrian promenade. Having parallel street parking to the right of a driver and diagonal parking to the left also significantly lowered the speed of cars moving through, making the area much safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike.

    Part of the problem of the East subarea also lies in the monumental scale and single-use of many of the buildings. Laney College and its playing fields act as a super block which breaks neighborhood street-grid continuity, interfacing poorly with the streets around it and providing little-to-no access to the park space along the Lake Merritt channel.
    The Oakland Museum, the Kaiser Auditorium, the OUSD headquarters, the Post Office, the Library, the County Offices, the Courthouse, the large expanses of parking lots: all of these are single-use institutions that have little to no context to, or integration with, the surrounding neighborhood. Viewed in that light, it’s not hard to see why this area struggles when so much of its land is swallowed up by non-neighborhood uses. It’s like the failure of the San Francisco Civic Center writ small, and for the same reasons.

    This is a problem that can’t be solved by “more tall buildings” or “historic reuse” alone. It will need a comprehensive effort that gets down to the root planning and design causes for why this area hasn’t been able to pull itself up by its own bootstraps.

  2. Ken O

    Agree with CK about the essentially single-use zoning of the area with various government buildings and campuses.

    What would make the area super attractive I think would be a walkway along one or both sides of the Lake Merritt-Estuary-Bay channel. Bay Street has a really poor example of daylighting a creek, but it’s better than Berkeley’s Center Street (though thanks to EcoCities that should change this decade with creek daylighting) and certainly better than Oakland’s estuary.

    Road diets +1. The streets are too expansive.

    Better human-scale design throughout the area needed.

    Soccer/sports and tai chi field in part of the current “park” space also good idea.

    The government buildings and parking which are not used on weekends — there must be some way to have multi-use there. Laney campus in particular. (And I don’t mean just a flea market, though that’s sorta cool.)

    East Area needs multi-use. A few cafes in and around that park and LaMBS and you’d be set.

    Maybe one of the many, many one-way streets could be converted to a roller hockey or roller skate rink.

    Another idea, add an amusement park into the park with a mini roller coaster, ferris wheel and chucky cheese type stuff. private though, not dirty old bastard government-”run.”

  3. Chris Kidd

    The biggest problem with most of the public buildings is that they suffer from “pedestal” syndrome. They’re meant to be viewed from afar, unobstructed. This means that they don’t have other uses incorporated into their structure, they are divorced from the street (either being set back in a way that destroys the street-wall or have long, blank faces on sides of the building that aren’t the front), and they have no integration with the neighborhood because they are meant to be stand-alone architectural pieces.

    Why would anyone walk an entire city block where there isn’t a single interface between building and street (courthouse) or the building is set so far back that it destroys any context of an actual “street” (BART station)? They won’t.

  4. Navigator

    I agree, Oak Street is far too wide. Widening the sidewalks and creating landscaped areas where restaurants could install outdoor seating would liven up the street scene.

    Encouraging the residential expansion and vibrancy of Chinatown would greatly enhance the area.

    The best way to invigorate and change the Oak Street corridor is with thousands of A’s fans getting off at the Lake Merritt Bart Station and walking down Oak Street to a Victory Court ballpark. This would create the demand for restaurants, clubs, and it would spur the streetscape improvements we all want to see in that location.

    Oak Street should be a grand boulevard in Oakland. This street links Jack London Square to Lake Merritt with the Oakland Museum right in between. We can also think about running a trolley form Oak to 9th, up Oak Street, passed the ballpark and the Oakland Museum all the way to Lakeside Drive passed Lake Chalet and the Kaiser Center.

    The ballpark is the answer if we really want to energize this area in a very short period of time.

  5. J

    I love your optimism Nav but in reality, as much as i would like it to happen, the ballpark is kind of a non starter. Even if MLB says the A’s cant move to San Jose the liklelyhood of the team staying in Oakland is still fairly slim with the current ownership. in addition Oak to ninth has been held up in litigation for so long by the time they get the green light the developers wont even be interested anymore. In my opinion i think that the area could liven up if it was converted into a more cultural district with larger museums, an educational or performing arts reuse of the auditorium, and an expanded Chinatown. I do like the idea of a trolley though. I do hope that both the ballpark and oak to ninth are build but i think we should also have a contingency in the event they are not. I think taller buildings with more uses would also work in the are by simply adding more people to the district.

  6. Naomi Schiff

    The one-way streets of Oakland are in many cases the side effect of the construction of freeways. As we focus on the city itself more, going back to two-way streets where feasible might be a great improvement. There will soon be an improved walk along the L. M. Channel, connected to the path around the lake, at least up to the point where bridges and railroads block it from making it all the way to the (not yet constructed) Bay Trail. The traffic from Alameda creates a fairly unpleasant barrier as it exits the tunnel right into Chinatown. Hard to know what to do about it, or about the strangely designed Oak St. westbound exit off 880, all the cars right next to the park with the senior center.

  7. Chris Kidd

    The configuration of most one-way streets induce speeding and prioritize the needs of people moving through the neighborhood rather than the needs of the neighborhood itself.
    One-ways, in and of themselves, aren’t bad; they often serve, however, as an indicator of traffic planning that gives short shrift to pedestrians (dis-proportioned streets, not enough sidewalk space, overly wide travel lanes, poor safety conditions, etc.).

    Things like narrow one-way alleys can work because they still keep speeds low. One-way arterials on the edges of neighborhoods work. They don’t work so well, however, when they plow through the middle of the plan area.

  8. ralph

    I too was curious about the two way street claim. I do somewhat like one ways but I am willing to hear the arguments.

    I found this tidbit: http://www.ti.org/vaupdate30.html

    Also, if one can google Florida, pedestrian friendly design, one way streets, chapter 10 for add’l info

  9. Naomi Schiff

    My own particular one-way street is like many in Oakland, reconfigured in the 1960s to speed traffic onto the freeway ramps. People accelerate long before they get to the freeway, envisioning wonderful speediness. Unfortunately in my quite dense residential neighborhood this entails roaring across four unsignalized and not extremely visible crosswalks, crosswalks which are often occupied by humans of various ages and agilities. On the other half of the one-way pair, Harrison Street is a speedway coming downhill from MacArthur, picking up traffic coming off the freeway. Cars zoom onto the wide three-lane one-way street (with its 2 or 3 unsignalized ped crossings); it suddenly narrows to two, causing a good many accidents–from fenderbenders to fatalities. Oh, and there’s a school just below this treacherous spot. Thus, many people in the neighborhood wish we could find a way to convert these back to two-way streets.

  10. Chris Kidd

    Waitwaitwait.

    Ralph: You used something from the *Thoreau Institute*? What, was the Hoover Institution too liberal for you?

    They just don’t provide objective analysis, ever. They begin with a premise (planning = bad) and shoehorn their analysis and facts to agree with it. The piece you linked to is so full of causal relationships and false logical conclusions that I can’t even say where I’d want to start in utterly dismantling it.

  11. Citypink

    There are one way streets and one way streets. Some of the downtown one way streets have short blocks and signals every block. They are perfectly good environments–in fact 17th St. between Franklin and Webster is one of the nicest blocks in Downtown. On the other hand, there are a number of streets that have been designed as speedways and funnel traffic through at unnecessarily high speeds, particularly in densely developed areas.

  12. ralph

    Chris: I provided a link to a document. I am no more going to let some whippersnapper :) tell me that two way streets are better than I am going to to let some institute tell me that all one ways are good. There is probably a healthy mix.

    It is for information. While I may agree that the BART buildings have no business being in the middle of the community, it is not like you can say your comments aren’t without bias.

  13. Chris Kidd

    Oh, my comments are completely biased. But they also reflect best practices and sound planning. The main point of the Thoreau piece you linked was “more of the same! don’t change things!”. And, clearly, doing the same thing in the east subarea hasn’t worked so far. So we need to start looking for root causes of neighborhood failure and how we can reverse those within the extremely limited scope in which planning has a role.

    Some one-ways are great. The ones crisscrossing the east subarea, however, not so much.

    Sorry if I came across huffy. I just take particular exception to the bald-faced hypocrisy of groups like the Thoreau and Cato Institutes or the Reason Foundation.

  14. ralph

    I believe if you do the google I suggested you find the argument for one ways.

    An additional link for people to do additional research, http://richmondva.wordpress.com/2007/07/29/one-way-vs-two-way-streets-let-the-debate-begin/

    Contains additional links to reference materials – the author attempted to avoid partisan ref material (Happy Chris)

    I do favor the elimination of right on red and pedestrian walk indicators preceding light change to green. Driver and pedestian hanging at the intersection. Driver wants to go right while ped wants to continue with flow of traffic. There is an oppty for driver to make right on red but driver not sure if the pedestrian will also use oppty to cross the street. Light turns to amber and driver starts “the creep.” Pedestrian though having patiently has to move into the street to slow driver’s roll.

  15. PRE

    I guess a station area plan can’t hurt, but it seems like the same old fuzzy-wuzzy stuff that always comes out of such a process. The last thing the area needs is more “affordable housing!” That said, I believe that the area HAS actually improved when one looks at a slightly longer timeframe such as 10 years. I remember going to the Museum at that time and feeling unsafe during the day time. That’s completely changed.

    I do think the ballpark would be a great addition, but in general (queue the Valdez “plan”) I think Oakland would be much better served by just providing a better infastructure and easing the way for private entities to come in and start businesses and build housing.

    Simply properly paving the streets, maintaining the streetscape and providing a level of public safety, and the rest ought to take care of itself. If people feel that they can make money they will. If they feel that it’s not worth the risk they won’t. If I were a business person, taking one drive down Alice street (I HIGHLY recommend it!) would turn me off of starting ANY business down there if not in Oakland entirely. Since Oakland can’t seem to provide the simple basics that any city ought to be able to provide – why should I have any confidence that this plan will go anyplace except onto a shelf someplace?

  16. PRE

    Oh – and the real story that I’d like to see written is “who killed Jack London Square?”

    It’s one empty storefrant after another. If Uptown has improved in the last few years, it surely seems that JLS is going in the opposite direction.

  17. Chris Kidd

    JLS is the ultimate example of terrible urban design. Everything turns away from the street, the open spaces are both terribly out of scale and have no hierarchy, the small storefronts are hidden away in little side alleys that no one has a reason to walk through, the anchors for activity are poorly positioned, and the whole area makes terrible use of the waterfront. It’s built like an outdoor suburban mall; why would anyone go there when they could, you know, go to the suburbs?

  18. Navigator

    Jack london Square was thriving for a while before the city sold it to the SF develpers who proceeded to kick out TGIF, the Spagetti Factory, and El Caballo. The decision to sell off the Square is what “killed” the Square.

    Also, what’s wrong with Alice Street? Frankly I don’t see anything on Oak, Alice or any of those streets that should turn off any developers. Take a look at downtown SF or the lower east side in Manhattan. These areas are not clean and tidy by any stretch of the imagination and businesses still locate there because there are dense neighborhoods near by with things to do.

    Let’s bring the prosperity and vibrancy of Chinatown closer to the Bart Station. Perhaps an ornamental chinese gate at 10th & Oak leading the way to Chinatown would help. Frankly, the Lake Merritt Bart Station could as easily be called the “Chinatown” station or the “Jack London Station.”

    We need more dense housing and we need a major attraction like a Victory Court ballpark to spur development. Before the economic downturn there were quite a few high rises slated for that area,

  19. PRE

    “Also, what’s wrong with Alice Street?”

    The street pavement – or lack thereof.

    I agree that the area has real charm, but it’s like driving through (what I can only guess) a war zone would be like. It was actually Jackson which I was thinking of specifically, which is nothing more than pot holes from 880 all the way to the Lake.

  20. Navigator

    PRE, You’re right about the pavement in that area. It’s a mess with pot holes the size of small lakes.

    As you say, the area does have charm as evident by the photos of the cool apartment buildings on Oak Steet that V put up. These apartment buildings with the brick and the fire escapes remind me alot of what I saw in the lower east village in Manhattan. Except in Manhattan the apartments were a little taller. Maybe six to seven floors. The area has great potential.

  21. Livegreen

    Also brilliant to put a Fu*#ing prison right in DT. That really puts a wall between through the middle and doesn’t do JLS any good.

    Don’t know how that came about. Maybe an edifice to poor planning and the City’s crime rap? In that case maybe it’s appropriate…

  22. ralph

    Jackson should be renamed Cash Cow. The vehicular damage caused keeps mechanics service revenue high resulting in additional tax revenue. In addition, with the mechanics income rising, he can buy a bigger and better house. Jackson the street the keeps on giving.

  23. Navigator

    When people want to go to JLS they get there as evident by the throngs that packed the Square for the Eat Real Festival. JLS needs a major attraction and people will come. I think we all know what that major attraction is.

  24. J

    also a trolley of some sort would really help bridge that no mans land gap between the OPD HQ and the state buildings just on the other side of the 880 which in my opinion really deter pedestrians especially at night.

  25. Chris Kidd

    When JLS succeeds, it does so DESPITE its enormous failings as an urban space. Just because JLS fills up once in a blue moon shouldn’t preclude us from really thinking about why it fails and how we can avoid ever doing the same thing in the future.

  26. Navigator

    From an auto point of view on Embarcadero JLS is completely walled off by the former Barnes & Noble building. From a pedestrian point of view or from a bike,I like the walkways and paths by the waterfront. Once you park your car in one of the garages and start walking it’s pretty nice. I like the view from the Broadway Pier looking back at the city. It gives Oakland a real waterfront city feel. Although, I agree the architecutre for the most part is terrible.

  27. Born in Oakland

    Our children rode their Big Wheels at Jack London Village without jeopardizing any other pedestrians because they called it (with good reason) their “secret place.” It was great riding on the wooden ramps in that very dead shopping center. We were sad when it was torn down but it was clearly too expensive a playground for two small children. Our grandson can ride his tricycle at JLS without fear of running down pedestrians except for a few weekends a year. Maybe our grandson’s children (he is 3) will not be able to ride a tricycle because of crowds. Maybe not.

  28. Rust Belt Refugee

    I remember my first visit to JLS, on a Friday night in late 2001. I had a hell of a time finding parking. The place was busy. The chain restaurants didn’t seem to “turn off” visitors… however, the demographic certainly wasn’t the same folks you’d see dining and shopping in Rockridge.

    Didn’t the developer push out the restaurants and retail in hopes of making the place an office park? No surprise it died while every other downtown ‘hood expanded and gentrified during the same period.

    As for design–it’s not world-class architecture, but when my SF friends ferry over for Eat Real, the East Bay Express event, to sail on the estuary, or just for outdoor beers and farmers’ market food on a warm Sunday, they ask why they never hear much about such a beautiful location.

  29. J

    I don’t think Jack London Square is badly set up, its badly managed. Its a decent enough location that, with the right management, and integrated into the very nice warehouse district and produce market, could be something very unique and vibrant to the city of Oakland.

  30. Matt C

    What seems to be clear is the streets around Lake Merritt BART are too wide and the sidewalks too narrow. Who’s got a jackhammer? I’m free tomorrow :-)

  31. Chris Kidd

    @Matt – that’s where you start weighing improvements against cost. The simpler, cheaper, and easier it is to implement streetscape improvements, the harder it is for Public Works to say “no”. Maybe it’s even a matter of implementing some D.I.Y. guerrilla planning solutions, like those folks a few years back who kept painting extra crosswalks in downtown.

  32. Robert

    The streets are too wide? In what sense? The streets in the area are about the same width as the streets throughout DTO. Some of which are comfortable to walk about as a pedestrian. If the streets in the plan area feel too wide it is because many of the buildings are too short for the width of the streets. Making the sidewalks wider is not going to decrease the feel of the wide street as a pedestrian. Not without other significant changes to the street-scape. As noted above, one of the major problems is the harsh feeling at ground level the the public buildings present to a pedestrian.

    Since the buildings can’t be readily moved closer to each other, or the street facades of the public buildings softened, to provide a better pedestrian feel, some other solution will be needed. Perhaps lining both sides of the street with trees would help to provide a sense of enclosure for peds.

  33. Robert

    It would seem the removing the one-way streets will just lead to increased congestion, with little if any benefit to pedestrians. With the on- and off-ramps for the freeway right there, there will be a continuing need to handle large numbers of cars, and like it or not, the one-way streets are better suited for that than two-way streets. With proper traffic engineering, vehicle speeds can be easily controlled on a one way street. In general they are safer for pedestrians.

    For any re-imaging of this area, Oakland needs to decide which streets it wants to use to move traffic to the highway. Only then can a plan be developed to accommodate the traffic on those streets, and enhance the pedestrian experience on those and the other streets.

  34. Navigator

    Robert,

    When I returned from Europe a couple of years ago I was struck by how the American streetscape is overwhelmed by asphalt. We love our wide streets and asphalt in the United States. When you look at a street in downtown Oakland or downtown SF the first thing that sticks out is how wide they are and how the asphalt is the thing that hits you square in the face.

    In Europe, the streets are much narrower and are often made of cobblestones or other material along with having decorative mosaic sidewalks. In Europe the streets also feature many tall trees which create a canopy over the narrow passages. You get a sense that the streetscape is designed with aesthetics and pedestrians in mind. In the US it’s asphalt hitting you in between the eyes.

    Take Telegraph Avenue near Sears and the Fox Theater. That street is a prime example of a wide street, with narrow sidewalks and no trees. It screems “asphalt.”

    We need to change our approach to street design. I hope the new 12th Street Blvd will include some of these European concepts in improving streetscapes in Oakland.

  35. gem

    I ride my bike from 17th st to Amtrak every morning. I actually don’t have a problem with one-way streets- properly timed one way streets with SMOOTH PAVEMENT reduce pollution. There’s no reason to have so many lanes, though. Adding trees would be a huge benefit to the neighborhood and the residents as well: here’s a good article about cost/benefits of urban trees.. So that’s where I’d start: trees, safe bike lanes, and traffic calming/proper traffic engineering.

  36. Ravi Olla

    There’s a long-established science of street design. Google or visit your library for references. A useful phrase for creating livable urban environments is “traffic calming.”

    The principles are simple. Broad expanses of asphalt street (or freeway) visually uninterrupted tend to make drivers feel comfortable going fast. Fast cars make pedestrians and bicyclists (who go slow) feel unsafe.

    Narrow streets tend to make drivers feel less comfortable going fast so on narrow streets they slow down and pay more attention to their surroundings (like people on foot who might be run over).

    Classic methods for making downtown streets more lively (for people not in cars) are to widen sidewalks, decorate sidewalks with furniture (benches, trees, sculpture, fountains, hot dog vendors, cafe tables) and narrow the streets. For best results, bike routes are placed between parked cars and the sidewalk rather than between parked cars and motorized traffic, as we usually do here.

    A trip to Europe is helpful for those who have trouble imagining something other than what we do here. Amsterdam especially recommended for the street life and the pubs. If only we had the imagination to do that here.

    One way streets are usually a bad idea for lively (again lively with people on foot rather than in cages–biker’s term for cars). One way streets were instituted mostly to handle high volume motorized traffic into and out of urban centers, not to make street life outside the cage more lively.

  37. Richard

    I think building a pair of well-designed residential high-rises flanking Oak at the BART station should be a central component of the plan (in place of the BART parking lot and empty plaza there now). The buildings would need to include a row of retail space right outside the BART, and maybe a well-designed small outdoor space for cafe seating and the like. They would serve the purposes of landmarking the station, creating a sort of “center” the neighborhood lacks, and creating a little concentration of activity (both retail and resident) to make it feel safer and more welcoming. The buildings should be designed to be respectful of smaller-scaled neighbors, for example by stepping back the high-rise portion behind a 3 or 4 story base.

    The wide one-way streets do encourage speeding (and also look pretty bleak), and should be improved with some combination of narrowing, two-waying, trees, and streetscape improvements to make them feel less like urban freeways.

  38. Brad

    40th Street between San Pablo and Broadway is a good example of how a median with trees can make a too wide street more human scale.

  39. Chris Kidd

    @Ravi Olla – While separated bike lanes are pretty great (bike lanes between street parking and sidewalk – also called Cycle Tracks), they aren’t currently approved as a standard treatment in the CA Manual of Traffic Control Devices (CA MUTCD) which tells cities what they can and can’t do with their street configurations. There is a federal pilot project program with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to install non-standard treatments in order to measure their effectiveness for possible adoption into the MUTCD (that’s what SF did when they first installed Sharrows years ago – which are now MUTCD approved).

    Even so, pilot programs are pretty cumbersome to apply for (though the feds take legal liability and offer technical assistance – score!) and can sometimes take a while to get approved.

    Considering that the Lake Merritt BART master planning process will take some time, it might be productive for staff to look into applying for a pilot project to be installed in the project area.

    And really, what does it say about America that most of the safest and progressive street treatments aren’t allowed in the federal MUTCD, yet allows street travel lanes to be over 12 feet wide (which are the widths used for freeway speeds)? Oy.

  40. Ravi Olla

    “And really, what does it say about America that most of the safest and progressive street treatments aren’t allowed in the federal MUTCD, yet allows street travel lanes to be over 12 feet wide (which are the widths used for freeway speeds)?”

    Oy vey indeed.

    Even worse, perhaps is our crazy notion that keeping cage traffic moving REDUCES air pollution. So when streets are congested, we widen them to “keep them moving.” In a few months the streets are again at capacity and congested. So we make them one-way or widen them again.

    That’s why so much of urban America is a dump.

  41. annoyed

    Without a comprehensive local transit network (and coordinated extensively with transit), extensive traffic calming can just create more congestion. Especially at freeway access points.

    I worked in this area for many, many years, still visit the area often, and drive through it often. When I am a pedestrian, I never feel any more threatened by traffic than in any other place in Oakland, and in fact find this area far more ped friendly than most places in the city with signal controls. When I drive down Madison or up Oak, most of the drivers are at or below the speed limit. I don’t understand how this area is a threat to peds.

    As for trees, I love the palm trees along E 12th that were planted on the bulb outs so that cross traffic cannot see cars coming down E 12th. Oakland does this sort of thing badly. They don’t coordinate with transit (I understand AC Transit was very unhappy with the E12th improvements). I’m sure the bike people will bray loud enough to get whatever they want with no consideration for pedestrians, cars, or transit. No one is getting out of their cars any time soon, even with $5/gallon gas.

    I’ll save my rant about the bulb outs at Frutvale and Foothill that have created a congestion nightmare.

    SF has a pretty sophisticated traffic calming program. I seriously recommend that Oakland contract with that unit to conduct their little minin traffic calming studies. THey are cheap and result in projects that make sense.

  42. Anca

    I run a business in the West part of this area. I’ve also used the Lake Merritt BART station to get places for about 7 years. I’m really looking forward to the completion of the construction between Lakeshore and the Museum. I think creating a pedestrian corridor from the Lake (rather than requiring us to walk in flooded tunnels or dodge 12 lanes of traffic) will make a big difference that could spill over towards the BART station.

    I’d like to see more amenities for commuters in the area: small businesses like cafes, dry cleaners, news stands, a small grocery store, restaurants – which would be useful to the throngs of government works as well. Wider sidewalks would be nice, along with more trees. There don’t seem to be that many storefronts available on these blocks though – only houses that could seriously use a new coat of paint or a power washing.

    I’m not imagining that these meetings will result in immediate action – especially if it involves tearing down buildings or streets. However, there are some quick improvements that could be made – maybe close off the street between the BART station and museum, and convert it to a food truck lot with seating (next to the roller rink, perhaps ;) ).

  43. Chris Kidd

    @annoyed: If you’re correct that this area is very ped friendly and the streets don’t induce speeding, what is it that has made this area such a dismal failure from a livability, walkability, and economic vitality standpoint? Even if the area were ped friendly, why shouldn’t the plan focus on measures to make it even more ped friendly?

  44. annoyed

    I don’t know the answer. There never seemed to be a critical mass to support a vibrant restaurant business probably because it is in Chinatown. Folks from BART and MTC went to restaurants by the Estuary that no longer exist, Chinatown, or downtown.

    The area is a weird mix of residential, probably on the lower end of the income range, city college students, professionals, and people going to the Museum. It’s sort of like a transitional neighborhood in the middle of Chinatown, county offices, Laney, and the freeway but never really transitioned. I’ts been this way for over 30 years that I’ve been hanging in this area.

    The people who live in this area should have a lot of input for whatever is planned because they have to live with it. If I was still working in this area, I’d want some shopping (even a Walgreen’s would be good) and more places to grab a sandwich or a decent cup of coffee. The MTC cafeteria isn’t bad and the best place to eat is the Phnom Penh on Alice and 8th. But there’s no Peet’s or Starbucks nearby.

    Whatever they do is going to have to be attractive to a VERY diverse group of people who frequent the area.

  45. Oakland Space Academy

    I get the impression that some here think that greater congestion would be a bad thing to have happen in and around the Lake Merritt BART station. I couldn’t disagree more. The area around the Lake Merritt BART station needs more congestion; more buildings, more stores, more services, more cars, more bicyclists, more pedestrians, more dogs, more cats, more nail salons, more second-hand stores, more bakeries, more bars, more coffee houses, more restaurants. Or to be more succinct, more congestion.

  46. Matt C.

    I completely agree with OSA. There is a total lack of congestion in the area.

    I’m beginning to conclude that Oakland does not get its fair share of investment/development because the departments that deal with it are SO INCREDIBLY SCREWED UP. Today I had another epicly bad experience with the city simply trying to replace my front sidewalk. A sidewalk that two people have now fallen onto (one of those people fell out of their wheelchair!)

    It was like this: Go here… fill out this… Oh no, you weren’t suppose to go there and fill out that… No, who told you all that… You need to go to that department over there… What’s this… Oh, it looks like your house has been sitting in the public right of way for 125 years… you will need an encroachment permit for anything within the public right of way… that could take a few more forms or require a public hearing with the full City Council, we’ll just have to see what the supervisor says… Woh, who told you your house is in the public right of way… it’s not… ignore all that… here’s your sidewalk replacement permit back, go have at it… Wait sir, one thing, you still owe another $81 on that $400 permit because you took too long to start replacing your sidewalk.

    I shit you not. It’s like that, so make your own assumption as to why the area around Lake Merritt BART doesn’t get better.

  47. annoyed

    More congestion. That’s pretty ignorant. That’s what the area needs, a bunch of cars idling in traffic. A traffic calming program where none is apparently needed, or where there has been no determination that one is needed. This is how things are done in Oakland. Just throw something at the loudest mouth.

  48. Matt C.

    annoyed, I think you’re taking what is being said a bit literal. Traffic calming does not equate idling cars stuck in traffic. Do a little reading and come back to the thread.

  49. livegreen

    Matt C, Call your City Councilmember, tell them what happened both at the sidewalk and at City Govt. The last thing they want is another lawsuit.

    Oh, and if they try to level fines against you that aren’t valid, report to ReadwithCypress (or whatever their name is) to report on their blog…

  50. FloodedByCEDA

    Matt C, What you experienced during your recent trip to 250 Frank Ogawa plaza is typical. The entire staff in that building needs to be fired and the building leased out to pay the bond debdt….CEDA & Public works need to be taken over by the county.

  51. Chris Kidd

    I had asked Annoyed if he were a traffic engineer, not to antagonize him or “stick it to him”, but just to clear up my frame of reference when discussing street improvements.

    Oftentimes, a lot of traffic engineering gets done by FHWA “Green Book” standards or through AASHTO guidelines. While AASHTO is reasonably progressive, the Green Book was created with 1950s methodology and ideological goals that are vastly out of step with both present ideals and the contrasting results of newer, superior analysis of traffic planning.

    There’s a lot of professional knowledge out there, like the NAACTO handbook or current best practices on Complete Streets planning (which is now mandated by the state), which often aren’t utilized by traffic engineers.

  52. Pamela Drake

    Wow, I just got around to reading this thread and learned a lot. I would hope that we wouldn’t give up on the idea of putting up some taller structures, particularly various types of housing-family and student at various levels of affordability which does not necessarily mean low income-workforce housing might be a better term. How about shared housing and limited equity co-ops? Wider sidewalks only increase the concrete eyesore unless trees or planters, etc are added. Of course, the lack of anything welcoming in almost any of the surrounding architecture makes it almost hopeless.
    My former husband was a supe at BART in the Central Control and could never get anything decent to eat around there. I’s improved very slightly since he left.
    I liked Anca’s suggestion for an immediate infusion of life.
    “there are some quick improvements that could be made – maybe close off the street between the BART station and museum, and convert it to a food truck lot with seating (next to the roller rink, perhaps ;) ).”