More parking! Coming soon to a Lake near you!

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on the weekends like nine months ago, when someone brought it up during a conversation that I think was about silly outdated laws or something.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.

16 thoughts on “More parking! Coming soon to a Lake near you!

  1. Daniel Schulman

    Maybe Lakeshore would be a good opportunity for Oakland’s first Parking Improvement District. We could allow parking, put in 7-day meters, dedicate the bulk of the revenue to maintain the lake area.

  2. Ralph

    Okay as one of the 80%, I initially thought that the restriction was in place to allow people ride around the lake freely, which I thought was a good idea. Turns out it had nothing to do with that. I do feel bad for RK’s people who got tickets as SH is correct the signage is poor.

    I think my one concern was freddy freeloader and I agree with RK’s suggestion that meters would be nice. Neither the current parking restriction nor untimed free parking do much to allow people to enjoy the lake. For some reason and it could just be me, I don’t feel the car encroachment.

  3. matt

    If we’re going to use public space to park privately owned vehicles then there should be a user feel and that fee should mostly benefit the immediate area.

    V, the Lake Chalet valet zone feels wrong to me and I hate it, too.

  4. Navigator

    The Lake Chalet valet zone was a huge mistake. Also, now that they’ve gotten rid of those hideous orange and red barricades we get stuck with that black utilitarian rail fence in the picture above My goodness. Wouldn’t some decorative heavy duty chain fence mounted on some steel decorative posts look better than that railing? What are you going to do? This is Oakland, and an ugly black rail fence, is much better than a bunch of hideous orange and red barricades. We have to be grateful for ANY kind of improvement in Oakland.

    As far as parking cars on Lakeshore, forget about it. Why clutter the perimeter of the Lake with more oil dripping cars along with the trash which will no doubt be discarded on the curb by careless slobs.

  5. Ralph

    Does anyone have any idea what this will do to the traffic pattern around the lake?

    As noted above, I was in favor of removing the restrictions but I was curious if this would create a situation where people now circled the lake for parking. If the relaxed restrictions brought more people to the lake what will happen in the surrounding communities? Would it be like living next to the Santa Monica beach? And if you enforced parking around the lake what happens to the shopping district on Grand and Lakeshore on Sunday when parking is free?

  6. Freddy

    You know what really sucks? What the Lake Chalet calls beer. $25 million taxpayer bucks and you can’t even get a decent beer.

    All they server is some swill they brew in-house or in someone’s basement; they call it “Lake Merritt Lager.” Sounds awful, tastes worse – that’s the motto. They don’t even sell real beer by the bottle.

    Countdown until they’ve spent all the subsidies they have received from the city, then they’ll smack a big “For Lease” sticker on the place to make it look like the rest of the village. What a bunch of over-engineered nonsense.

  7. Navigator

    I don’t know about that. Lake Chalet seems to be doing good business. I’m betting it will become an iconic Oakland institution like Fenton’s or Zachary’s. The setting alone is spectacular.

  8. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph, you said:
    Does anyone have any idea what this will do to the traffic pattern around the lake?

    Removing the weekend parking restrictions is going back to how it was for many years. The parking restrictions currently in place cause people to park in the adjoining neighborhoods. Seems like lifting them should relieve the neighbors, not burden them.

    The parking restrictions now in place were a specific response to a period where cruising activities had gotten out of control. There was a huge influx of young and not-too-well-behaved folks from out of town spending weekends in the parking areas around Fairyland on Bellevue, waxing their cars, drinking an awful lot, turning up the sound, and not leaving much space for others, in addition to the cruising. That’s when the city started tightening up on parking within Lakeside Park as well as around the edge.

  9. Max Allstadt

    @ Dan Schulman,

    I dunno, the Lakeshore district seems like it’s not exactly the place where I’d see political viability for changes in parking.

    Chinatown, Jack London Square, Temescal, or Old Oakland would be far more likely places to find rational business leaders who could look at the numbers and be convinced that a parking benefit district is a good idea.

  10. dto510

    Naomi, adding a lot of parking to the lake area will likely increase car traffic in adjoining neighborhoods, and detract from the new bike lanes and pedestrian amenities installed recently. The bike lane outside of the Lake Chalet, for example, is entirely in the door zone of the new parking stalls. While CALM members say the reason for restricting parking more than a decade ago is gone, I don’t see any thought about whether that’s the best decision for Lake users today.

  11. Naomi Schiff

    Hmm, well, there was quite a bit of discussion around these issues in the many meetings during the Lake Merritt Master Plan discussion, and it might be worthwhile to take a look at that narrative. Personally, I don’t think highly of the arrangement over by the Lake Chalet, in part because it is visually incomprehensible, confuses everyone from drivers to bikers to walkers, and is thus dangerous.

    You are right that it makes sense to try to coordinate the bike lanes with any parking, but I thought that at least part of the way, bikes can use the new path in the park, between the road’s edge and the lake, not have to ride in the road? Maybe I have that wrong?

    I don’t see that allowing parking will be that bad but am willing to hear the rationale. So far I haven’t heard anything convincing. While I walk many miles weekly, and approve of getting people out of their cars, there are certainly plenty of people who want to drive closer to the lake, including people who don’t live that nearby, are disabled, have small kids, etc. It can be quite a challenge to get a family to the park when some have very short legs, or when you use a walker, or are carrying the toddler-age-through young schoolchild-age load of food, diapers, bicycles, toys, etc. We ought to think about a wide spectrum of recreational needs and avoid assuming that everyone is as footloose and fancy-free as you and I might be. I definitely use the bus and BART a whole lot more now than I did when I was moving around with two small children and their accoutrements.

  12. FrankieD

    A brief history lesson for you youngins about, cruising and Lakeshore Avenue parking restrictions. In the 1970′s it became very popular for young people, to park in the lot near Children’s Fairyland and wax their cars, play their music too loud, and show off, I know first hand my older brothers used to be some of them. Back then it was free to enter the Lakeside park parking lot on weekends, with no time limit. By 1980 the city started charging to enter the lot, so the scene moved to Lakeshore Avenue. People parked there thru the mid 80′s, still playing loud music, waxing cars and showing off. A warm spring day like this past Sunday and it would have been out of control, taking almost 30 minutes to drive the length of Lakeshore Avenue. So Laksehore parking restrictions were imposed in the mid to late 80′s which stopped that problem, but created another. I’ve been told by a younger generation that the cruisers then moved out to Martin Luther King park by the airport and that scene slowly morphed into the sideshow element of the late 90′s and this past decade.

  13. Ralph

    The arrangement by Lake Chalet is a nightmare. I try to time my runs when to expect the fewest number of slow moving pedestrian, faster moving bicyclist, and 1.5 ton death traps.

    Naomi, are you referring to the general path along the lake or some specific area? I don’t think it changes my response much, but in general, I think the number of walkers, runners, dogs, kids on and off leash make and the narrowness of the path make is not really conducive for recreational riding.

    If the restrictions are lifted, then waxing and profiling should be prohibited. I see older people doing this from time to time. When parking becomes available around the lake, I would like to see Sunday paid parking, can you charge for annual parking passes. We really should be creative with LM parking and keep in mind that not all are young, mobile, and agile.

  14. Navigator

    Speaking of Lake Merritt, I really need to vent. My wife and I tried our usual weekend walk around the Lake but unfortunately do to the horrible stench from the algae near the banks we cut our walk short and headed for Redwood Regional.

    Also, I’ve been noticing that the grass on the Lakeshore side of the Lake and along the pergola is turning brown in areas. It seems like the City of Oakland got swindled on a lousy irrigation system which fails to cover large areas.

    You combine the foul odor with dry grass and goose poop and Lake Merritt all of a sudden looks crappy again. What a shame.

    Also, on our drive to Redwood Regional we noticed the dismal condition of the street mediums heading from the 35th Ave exit of 580 all the way up Redwood Road to Skyline. It’s downright embarrassing to see street mediums completely filled with six foot weeds and trash. Keep in mind that these are the neighborhoods with expensive bay view homes. Unfortunately, Oakland is going to pot and is being overrun by weeds and trash. There were actually fewer weeds in Redwood Regional than on Redwood Road and Skyline Blvd in Oakland. Not only do these blighted mediums make the city look horrible and run down, but these dry weeds along the mediums and sides of streets are a huge fire hazard for the hills.

    If the city of Oakland has to lay off a bunch of expensive cops for the sake of giving Oakland residents a semblance of some sort of quality of life and minimal maintenance of parks and streets, then so be it.

    I understand where the crumbling of American cities originates. It originates from a militaristic society which spends an ungodly amount of tax money on the military budget and on ridiculous wars, while our cities go broke and without the basics. Oakland has a 40 million dollar budget deficit? Isn’t that the price of one jet fighter?

    So many cities in this country are going broke and we have enough money for a huge military budget and ridiculous wars? As long as politicians cater to the right wing militaristic nut cases American cities will continue to be decimated. The only hope for Oakland and many other cities is community voluntarism. Without people in the neighborhoods getting involved, Oakland will soon vanish under unabated weeds and litter. V, thanks for letting me vent!

  15. Naevero

    Oh for God’s sake. When the Festival At The Lake was actually at the Lake (before it became Art & Soul, and moved uptown), I remember there being a problem with guys “cruising” Lakeshore. I grew up in the South Bay, and cruising First Street in San Jose on Saturday nights was the thing to do. However, since the Fetival is no more, I haven’t noticed any cruising to speak of on Lakeshore. Heck, I doubt it’s happening on First Street anymore, either, now that downtown San Jose actually IS a downtown…

    Anyway, I don’t care one way or the other about the parking restriction, except for the goddamn confusing signage on Lakeshore. At the last Lakefest, I witnessed meter folks writing tickets for numerous cars parked on Lakeshore. It was like picking off ducks in a row, or whatever that expression is, and I imagine the City made out that day. I live in East Oakland, and had planned to attend Lakefest on my way north. Thus, I drove. I almost parked on Lakeshore, and in fact I did, but then I started reading the signs, some of which seemed to allow parking, and others which seemed to contradict that option. Disgusted, I drove into the neighborhood, and parked in front of someone’s house. Fortunately, I can blast through a festival pretty quickly, so I hope that the residents didn’t get too irked with my car being in front of their house.

    So—I vote for clarity in signage on Lakeshore, whatever the final outcome is/was concerning parking.