Marathon headaches for bus riders during the Oakland Running Festival

At tonight’s meeting, the AC Transit Board of Directors will continue their ongoing discussions about hiring a permanent General Manager (PDF), adopt a timeline and plan for their redistricting process (PDF), and consider adopting a fueling hedging program (PDF) to help mitigate uncertainty in their budget process.

As important as all of these subjects are, the agenda item I’m most interested in sounds, at first glance, considerably less exciting — a report on the bus transit service impacts associated with the Oakland Running Festival (PDF).

Bus service disruptions during the Marathon

This report came to the Board as an informational item at their meeting two weeks ago (PDF), and I was really glad it did.

Habitual bus riders surely remember all the notices at the stops and on buses in the weeks leading up to this year’s Oakland Running Festival about the MAJOR SERVICE DISRUPTIONS they should expect on March 27th. For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of trying to plan out trips on transit that day from the closures list, hopefully this map will give you a little sense of what it was like:

AC Transit Service Disruptions Oakland Marathon

I ended up taking a cab.

If that image isn’t enough to make the point, here’s the numbers breakdown:

  • For 11 hours, there were service shutdowns on 28 routes
  • Those routes represent 74% of Sunday ridership
  • That’s about 52,000 people impacted by the service disruption

You get the idea. It’s bad.

AC Directors unhappy

Director Elsa Ortiz was concerned about the District getting compensated by the City for the expenses incurred during the service shutdowns (overtime for extra staff on the day of the event, cost of running shuttles in areas totally cut off). Director Greg Harper said he was happy they were addressing the issue, and then made a joke about Rosie Ruiz.

Director Joe Wallace found the whole thing pretty outrageous, offering:

To me, I’m a bus rider. I’ve been a bus rider all my life. And this list lets me know if I lived in Oakland when they ran this marathon not only could they not get to church, not only could they not buy food, but they couldn’t even get to work. This is just totally unacceptable. I don’t know, they have to run around the buses or something because our buses have got to run.

Director Chris Peeples, who had originally requested the report, bemoaned the “extreme” nature of the shutdowns and suggested the Board direct AC Transit staff to start negotiating “aggressively” with Oakland about getting some cooperation, and further suggested that the Board Members themselves get a little more aggressive with Oakland decision-makers:

It’s up to policy makers to go up there and stand in front of the City Council and say “You can’t treat our customers this way.” [Our staff can't] go and yell at City Councilmembers, but we certainly can.

Why was it so bad?

So. Obviously, any time you have an event that requires many miles of street closures, that’s going to create some issues for transit service. Understood.

But service shutdowns to the point where most people basically cannot get anywhere on a bus, that can’t be normal for marathons, right?

I did spend some time (a kind of ridiculous amount of time, actually) trying to figure out how major the bus service disruptions in other cities are during their marathons. I probably shouldn’t even have bothered, because even once you manage to find the list of route reroutings, and then take it and try to compare them to a standard route map, you’re still left with the problem that when you don’t know a city’s geography, you really have no way to evaluate what the changes mean for the person who has to accomplish kind of everyday tasks or reach major destinations.

In general, I couldn’t find any marathon-related service disruptions that looked at all comparable to what happened with AC Transit in Oakland this year, but like I said, it really just is so hard to tell when you don’t know what you’re looking at. The only other city where I’m familiar enough with the bus system and the routes to make any kind of reliable judgement is Portland. And comparing their rerouting and delays to what happened in Oakland last spring, it is like night and day. They had delays on tons of routes, but the City let buses run on some roads that were otherwise closed to traffic, and in general, it looked like, yeah, maybe you would have farther to walk and it would take longer than usual, but you could get to where you needed to go.

So what made this year in Oakland so terrible for bus riders? Well, it was the route. As AC Transit Service Development and Planning Director Corey LaVigne gently put it:

The routing was set up from kind of a particular perspective but not necessarily from a transit perspective.

The staff report elaborates (PDF):

The marathon route encircled the entire city from downtown Oakland, to West Oakland, the Montclair District, Fruitvale District, and Jack London Square around Lake Merritt to the finish line at Oakland’s City Hall. The half marathon course circulated within Downtown Oakland. Both routes resulted in the closure of several major arterials including International Blvd. Broadway, College Ave., Lincoln Blvd., Martin Luther King Way and 19th Ave.

Both running events occurred simultaneously with an unyielding route that did not permit bus crossings over the 26 mile span for the planned 11 hour period. The overall effect was a nearly complete disruption of District lines operating within and between the City of Oakland and the rest of AC Transit service area that led to rider inconveniences.

Transit-last Oakland

I couldn’t even venture a guess about how many times I have pointed out over the years that Oakland is a “transit-first city” in name only.

I mean, when I learned that the City did not even involve AC Transit in the route-planning process, my first thought was basically “OMG that is so terrible! What could they have been thinking?” But pretty quickly that switched to “Oh, of course they didn’t. Why would they have? Oakland never thinks about transit. Why would the marathon be any different?”

I think part of it is also that the City of Oakland gets so excited anytime anything good happens here that there’s a tendency to kind of just focus on that one thing and just ignore everything else. So when it comes to something like the Running Festival, it’s all “Oh boy! Something cool is happening in Oakland! All sorts of people are going to be here. How can we best showcase the city?” And when that’s all you’re focused on, questions like “How are people who don’t care about the marathon supposed to go about their lives on this day” just don’t seem so important.

In the hopes of making things go a little more smoothly next year, staff is recommending (PDF):

  • AC Transit Board of Directors to advocate for continuity of the existing transit service during public events that result in service disruptions. This includes requiring event organizers to plan and coordinate with District staff, and provide compensation for additional staffing, marketing and impacts on service changes requiring additional buses.
  • Require the City of Oakland and the event organizers to include AC Transit as a key stakeholder in the process related to the planning of the marathon course.
  • A recommendation for the marathon course to allow bus routes to safely permeate the marathon route to continue to operate unimpeded to and from Downtown Oakland.
  • Require the event organizers to include AC Transit service changes in its marketing materials, website and social media.

Seems like a solid plan. Let’s hope the City is receptive!

11 thoughts on “Marathon headaches for bus riders during the Oakland Running Festival

  1. Nora Levine

    Appropos the marathon / AC Transit issue. Our office is at 1999 Harrison. We received notice yesterday about the upcoming Grand Prix, which will effectively close Harrison, Webster and Frankin around 19th and 20th Sts. No access to our office bldg., and we work sundays. I can PDF the notice to you if you’d like. Otherwise, here’s a general website (note “Snow Museum” Park – wherever that is!)

  2. ralph

    I have never been to Snow Museum Park, but I have been to Snow Park plenty of times.

    San Francisco has a similar problem with their marathon. They end up starting it early enough so that most people are off the major roads by the time the ticked off natives are awake. The Nike Women’s Marathon spends a lot of time in the park which limits disruptions.

    The Oakland Marathon organizers have a laudable goal to showcase Oakland. The problem though this requires a lot of street closures. As a runner, I want marathon love. and if you aren’t runner, I am of the opn you need to be on the street watching. But I am sure the people at the Oakland Marathon will work it out.

    Just a note for the people – route closure needs to be in traditional places more than it needs to be in Marathon advertising. People who are not running are not going to be searching running sites or reading a bunch of running lit/blogs etc.

  3. Oakie

    If you want Oakland to have a public transport priority, the very first thing you should do is END all free parking for city employees.

    Secondly, if any city employee is caught misusing a handicapped parking placard, it should be grounds for immediate termination and loss of all pension benefits.

    Now that’s Public Transport as a priority. To the city govermnent: don’t talk the talk, walk the walk.

  4. dto510 aka Jonathan Bair

    Snow Museum Park is correct, though since the Snow Museum was demolished forty years ago and its natural history (really safari trophies) collection was given to the Oakland Museum, most people drop the second word.

  5. Matt C

    The first place people usually check for street event related street closures is the event’s web site.

    Last March I checked the marathon’s website, the city web site(s), and then just searched the net for street closure info. Nothing was remotely clear. During the marathon it took me ~45 minutes to find an opening in the route to get to my house on MLK and that was only possible thanks to a compassionate OPD officer who let me sneak through. The volunteers at the street closure locations were top shelf jerks. I would ask, “Hi, do you know where the closest cut through is?” Answers were, “NO STOPPING SIR!!! I SAID NO STOPPING, SIR!!!” or “Hell if I know, I don’t live around here” or “Try the freeway man?”. That crap may very well have happened to visitors wanting to chear on the runners as well. No beuno!

    I really hope the city and marathon organizers can learn from all this and do better next year.

    (Oakie, agreed about the placards.. but I raise you a dunk tank)

  6. Gene

    On the left side of the marathon page as well as in the middle of the page there was a link to this map: which outlined all the detours depending on where you lived and needed to go. This was 1000% times better than what was provided the previous year.

    Aside from going to every house in Oakland, how else should the organizers alert the residents about street closures?

  7. Naomi Schiff

    We have Snow Park today courtesy of John Sutter, then a city councilperson, now of the EB Regional Parks board, who spearheaded the effort to retain it as a park rather than have it sold off for some speculative plan for a hotel. (Which likely would not have come to fruition, if past experience is our guide.)

  8. Matt C

    Gene, I located those maps before this year’s marathons -they stink. All anyone needs to know is where vehicular traffic will be permitted to cross the marathon routes. Could the maps for next year’s races simply mark those crossovers? Could the marathon organizers perhaps educate their volunteers as to the locations of the crossovers? Let’s make next year’s event work for everybody.

  9. ralph

    I’ve worked the injured runners brigade for a number of races, and to be honest, our number one goal is to keep runner’s on course and safe. Drivers aren’t necessarily looking for a crossover, they want to know how to get to where they are going.

    The other issue that needs to be accounted for is the time a driver is crossing course. There is going to be a time when a driver will not be able to get across because of the flood of runners. I think it is around 4hr pace that you see the most runners.