On Tuesday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee approved a proposal to allow three-hour parking on Lakeshore Avenue between MacArthur Boulevard and the 12th Street Dam (PDF).
Now, I have never owned a car since I’ve lived in Oakland. In fact, I have never once even driven a car in Oakland. So where you are and are not allowed to park isn’t something I spend a whole lot of time thinking about. I actually only learned that you weren’t allowed to park on that part of Lakeshore on the weekends like nine months ago, when someone brought it up during a conversation that I think was about silly outdated laws or something. Or maybe it was about sideshows. I can’t remember. Anyway.
Apparently, there used to be this big problem with people cruising around the Lake on weekends. People used to come to Oakland from all over the place to drive around Lake Merritt and cause trouble. Or something like that. The friend who was telling me about this had a more colorful description of the situation, but since my memory isn’t what it used to be, I’m afraid I can’t recall the whole thing, and you’ll have to settle for just sharing the drier version from the staff report (PDF):
In 1985, traffic congestion, drug dealing, panhandling and cruising along Lakeshore Avenue were concerns of the residents and the Oakland Police Department (OPD). Today, these concerns no longer exist, and several community members have contacted the City requesting modification of the parking restrictions currently in place. OPD agrees that these limits are no longer necessary.
A few months ago, Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Nancy Nadel sent out requests in their e-mail newsletters for people to share their thoughts on whether we should remove the no parking restriction on Lakeshore or not. Not having strong feelings on the subject either way, I did not respond. 390 other people did, and 79% of them said that they thought parking should be allowed. If I had bothered to respond, I probably would have said that I thought it should be allowed also, because, you know, why not? Cruising isn’t a problem anymore. But really, I didn’t give the issue a whole lot of thought.
But as it turns out, some other people did, and two of them felt strongly enough about the subject to come to the Public Works Committee on Tuesday morning and speak against the removal of the no parking restriction. When the first of them came up and started talking about how he was against it, I totally rolled my eyes. Like, get over it dude, I don’t like cars either, but learn to pick your battles because this is just not that big a deal. Who cares if a few more people can park by the Lake?
But then as I listened to him, and the other speaker that followed, I found myself thinking that they actually had some pretty solid points. And by the end, I was not so sure that allowing the new parking around the Lake on weekends was such a good idea after all, and was definitely persuaded that at the very least, we should not be so cavalier about making decisions like this. Then I started feeling totally guilty for just assuming the City should allow the parking in the first place.
You guys should watch them. I showed the video to a friend the other night, one who is also generally not inclined to side with the cars, and he had the exact same reaction as I first had when I brought up the subject. But I was like “No, no, just watch this. It will only take a few minutes.” And he begrudgingly consented, and by the end, he was like “Hey. They actually have a good point.”
Maybe it’s okay to let people park on Lakeshore on weekends, maybe it’s not such a great idea. But it really is the sort of decision that deserves more thought than “A bunch of people told us they want more parking. I guess we should do it.” Of course if you ask people if they want more free parking, they are going to say that they do. That’s not a rational basis for transportation decision making.
The staff report (PDF) about this is like, two pages. And basically all it says is that they banned parking on the weekend in the 80s and now people want it so we should do it. But how does this fit into our other goals? Will there be an increased risk to bicyclists due to doorings, as the speaker said? How does this relate to the reduced auto usage goals that will be mandated in the energy and climate action plan?
But the point they made that got me the most was about how it may impact the experience of visiting the Lake. This is being sold as a way to allow more people to enjoy the Lake. But is surrounding a park with cars really the best way to make Lake Merritt’s natural beauty more enjoyable? I mean, look at this picture.
This is what we’ve got going on over on my side of the Lake, and every single time I walk by it, I get all stressed out and angry and completely grossed out. I mean, it’s disgusting. And it completely takes you out of the experience of enjoying the grass and the trees and the water that you’ve been walking past.
I’m not saying that it’s exactly the same thing. I understand that what they want to do on Lakeshore is allow parking on the street, not two rows of cars on the freaking sidewalk, but I do think that this decision is a good example of how the City really needs to put more thought into the choices and rules we make about parking in general, and also about how we want to encourage people to use open space.
The Committee passed the proposal, and At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan suggested (in response to other comments people had been making about the three hour time limit) that maybe the best solution for parking around the Lake would be to have no time limits and just meter it, which would encourage turnover but also allow people if who so desire to come and park and stay at the Lake for a long time without having to worry about getting a ticket. So now staff is going to look into this area and the idea of metering there as part of the Citywide parking study.
The full video of the discussion is above, if you’re interested.