Tonight, Westlake Middle School, just outside of downtown Oakland, will host the fourth community workshop regarding the Harrison Street/Oakland Avenue Corridor Community Based Transportation Plan.
Harrison Street and Oakland Avenue, as I’m sure most of you are aware, are adorable and primarily residential streets near downtown Oakland that function mainly as super long freeway off and on ramps. 17,000 cars a day speed down these roads with no concern for the speed limit, while bicyclists enjoy basically no special accommodations and pedestrians are forced to use narrow, unlit sidewalks. Although there are plenty of crosswalks, getting across them is, as the draft plan mildly states, a “daunting task” and not one for the faint of heart. (The existing conditions chapter (PDF) of the draft plan outlines these problems in detail.
So the idea behind this effort is to figure out what can be done about all this.
The planning exercise began in January of last year, with a workshop about the existing conditions (PDF) along the corridor, where residents were invited to share their concerns about the safety and transportation issues (PDF). Plan participants met again in April (PDF) to discuss potential plan alternatives (PDF). A third meeting was held (PDF) in July, where attendees had an opportunity to discuss the draft preferred alternative (PDF).
The result of all this discussion is a Community Transportation Plan (PDF) outlining a series of changes that would calm traffic and make the area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
There are a lot of recommendations in the plan, mostly relating to bulb-outs and the like at individual intersections, and if you’re interested in this area, I suggest going through that whole section yourself and looking over all the cool drawings. Area-wide, the plan suggests the addition of 223 new street trees, assorted street furniture (bike racks, trash cans, and benches) and 122 new pedestrian-scale lights. Below, I’ll go over a couple of the highlights.
The main thing to calm the traffic is just taking away space for cars. The Conceptual Plan proposes reducing both Harrison and Oakland Avenues between Fairmount and the freeway from three lanes each to two. Taking a whole lane away from cars is going to leave you with a lot of leftover space. What to use it for? Why, a bike lane, of course.
But a bike lane doesn’t take up nearly as much space as a car lane, so you’re still going to have some extra street leftover. What to do with all that space? Wider sidewalks.
Wider sidewalks have a lot of benefits. Besides being just plain nicer to walk down and being ADA-compliant, which many parts of the existing sidewalks are not, they also leave room for things like additional lighting, street trees, and street furniture like benches and trash cans. Wider sidewalks, however, have the distinct downside of costing a damn lot of money to build. To keep costs down, the sidewalks would only be widened on one side of the street – the downtown side on Harrison and the Adams Point side on Oakland. It seems like a reasonable decision.
The plan proposed major changes to that nightmarish intersection by the Whole Foods – the one where Harrison, 24th, 27th, and Bay Place all meet. I’m glad! This intersection is ridiculous. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a car and we came down 24th Street to this spot, wanting to go to the freeway. But as we sat, stopped at the intersection, wanting to turn, neither me nor the driver could figure out which the hell light even belonged to us. After a while, with no idea of where or when we were supposed to go, we just gave up and turned down towards the Lake and took some kind of roundabout route to get where we were trying to go.
Any, the proposed reconfiguration of this intersection is illustrated in the image below:
Click here for a larger version (PDF)
24th Street would be closed to most traffic, making the intersection only 4 ways instead of 5. A large pedestrian plaza would be built at the bottom of 24th and Harrison, where road used to be. The removal of the channelized right turn lane at 27th and Harrison would allow for a small pedestrian plaza across the street.
Getting a little closer to the freeway, the plan also proposes a realignment of the intersection of Fairmount Avenue, Orange Street, Harrison Street, and Oakland Avenues. If you have ever been walking around in this area and tried to cross the street here, well, I’m sorry you had to go through that. It’s a terrifying experience for pedestrians. In theory, that experience should be improved by doing this:
Click here for a larger version (PDF)
Bus-bulb outs would be added at relocated bus stops, and existing island in the middle of the intersection would be widened and given addition landscaping. Additionally, pedestrians could push beacons located next to the new crosswalks, in order to alert drivers about their presence.
Like I said above, there’s a lot more in there. All the details are laid out in the Plan Recommendations chapter (PDF), and of course you can get a more thorough explanation by going to the meeting tonight.
You might be wondering about now just how it is that the City has the money to do all of this? And it’s a lot of money. Preliminary construction costs estimates for all the proposed changes (PDF) come out to over $6 million. Ouch.
Anyway, the answer is that there is no money to do all this right now. That’s why it’s just a conceptual plan. This does not mean that the whole process was a waste of time, however. There is money out there for this sort of thing, and to apply for pretty much any of it, you need to have some idea of what you want to do. Hence the plan. The implementation chapter (PDF) outlines a number of potential funding sources that could be explored for part of all of the improvements.
Anyway, I know it’s wicked short notice – I had meant to post this yesterday, but things just kept getting in the way – but if you’re interested in this corridor and want to share your thoughts on the Draft Conceptual Plan and what aspects should be prioritized, you can do so tonight at Westlake Middle School (2628 Harrison Street), 6:30 to 8:30.