Traffic calming in HarriOak

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.

22 thoughts on “Traffic calming in HarriOak

  1. Naomi Schiff

    We are looking forward to seeing the prioritized list, so we can chip away at implementation as funds become available. Some of the sidewalks and crossings are lawsuits awaiting, and we might just save money by fixing them!

  2. Andy K

    Looks good. I just wish they would physically separate the bike lanes from the traffic. Though, honestly, I don’t see this as being a big bike route – I can see how this would benefit people living here that wanted to bike, but it is not a “through” bike route. I could be wrong – let me know if I am.

    Less lanes for cars is great.

  3. Matt

    The first thing I noticed upon stepping a foot in the Downtown area was, “Why are the streets here so freak’n wide?”

  4. KenO

    Broadway feels pretty wide too. But this is a good fix for the Whole Foods intersection.

    That does make more sense for ped safety. Reminds me of the Octavia park SF put in to reduce highway offramp slapdashing.

    If Oakland’s infrastructure were a lego set, we would have a lot of playing to do yet.

  5. Art

    Yay! @ Andy K—there are actually a surprising number of bikers along Harrison, especially in the mornings. I don’t know how much of this is through traffic and how much of it is neighborhood people headed to work or BART, but there’s definitely a bike presence there.

    The northbound bike issue is my one big bone to pick. The new northbound lane on Oakland is great, but for those of us who live on the residential streets on the Harrison side, there’s no good way to get across to our homes by bike if you live between Fairmount and Pearl (29th, Garland, and Frisbie). The official way, as for cars, is to turn left onto Fairmount and loop around. But the grade on Fairmount is pretty steep, which means most people (and especially kids coming from Westlake) either bike the wrong way down Harrison or bike on the sidewalk.

    I don’t have a good solution. There is such a thing as a wrong-way contraflow bike lane that goes against traffic on a one-way street (Berkeley has some, but on less traveled streets). But Harrison isn’t wide enough to accommodate that in addition to a southbound bike lane and the travel lanes. Then there are right-way contraflow lanes, which are basically streets that are two-way for bikes and one-way for cars (so there’s a double yellow line with a narrow northbound bike lane, and two car-width southbound lanes). But then you hit issues with left turns from Harrison onto 29th, and you’d probably have to make the southbound bike lane a sharrows to get the space. Not to mention that designing a street like that safely is a huge challenge.

    So, yeah. If anyone has any good ideas on how to solve this, I’d love to know. It feels like a huge missed opportunity to put this plan to bed without fixing a pretty critical safety issue.

  6. Agnes


    I live on Orange Street and ride my bike downtown to the BART. I have to turn left onto Harrison. It is nearly impossible to see the oncoming traffic from the right because of the curve in the road and the landscaping obscuring everything. And on the few occasions I’ve had to cross the street on foot, it’s been a heart-stopping event. I had to JUMP AWAY from a car once because the driver simply did not see me in the middle of the crosswalk. And forget anyone giving you right of way. I go around a different way when I can.

  7. Naomi Schiff

    We’ll need to put on some pressure to get at least the cheaper parts of this to happen soon enough that we are still walking around and riding bikes when it is implemented! The Harrioak and APAC groups, bike and ped folks, the school and church people at 27th should start now to stay organized around the plan and to work with the city to find some money for it.

  8. Ralph

    There is eastbound access from 24th to harrison, who knew? That intersection is a bit of a nuisance and I have learned how to keep my pedestrian self safe. Any improvement for drivers and pedestrian are welcomed. Curious how will these improvements either help or hurt future development plans for the area.

    On the matter of pedestrian signalling, it would be helpful if someone put pedestrian blinkers on Grand between Lee and 580. Nighttime pedestrians think that are are always visible while wearing dark clothes.

    Would also like to see the end of no walk to walk after a signal has changed.

  9. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph, is it that you are referencing a delay in the signal timing, do I have that right? So cars can proceed before the peds can?

    About Grand/Lee/580: what are the signals doing on Grand at night? Are there particular Invisible Pedestrian trouble spots? (I remember when they finally signalized that El Embarcadero intersection. I think it was the no. 1 accident spot in Oakland for a while). Accident records are available at the traffic dept. and might be worth looking at whether there are records for whatever you think is the most critical spot. .

  10. Ralph

    Naomi, I observed the following at L-shore and El Embarcadero. Traffic on L-shore had the light. The pedestrian light did not change with the traffic. Driver ahead of me turns onto EE. I am starting into my turn when a pedestrian pressed the cross button which tripped the signal. I was half way into my turn but the pedestrian blindly started into the intersection because she now had her signal. Dangerous.

    I wish I could remember the street name on Grand, but can’t. I believe it is just past the convenience store. I think it is the only pedestrian crossing below Perkins not at a light. In any event, it lacks any light so it is near impossible to pick-up pedestrians attempting to cross. Pedestrians cross and drivers come to screeching halt

  11. Robert

    Ralph, 24th is one way heading away from Harrison at that intersection, which would be why V and her freind could not figure out which signal light applied to them.

  12. Naomi Schiff

    Sounds like we should get Traffic Engineering to take a look at Lakeshore/El Embarcadero. The end at Grand Ave. working okay?

    I will go look at Grand ave. crossings the next time I am over there. I was thinking a store IS at Perkins, but maybe it’s a different one.

  13. Ralph

    it is below perkins. perkins has the signal and the station to provide light. the street forms a T with Grand b/w perkins and staten. the packy faces the sidestreet.

    the above is just one example, people also do it on College. There is a section of College Ave above RR BART that has dark intersections where pedestrians cross w/o a light. From a safety standpoint, I think we need to address how we address pedestrians crossings.

    At some point everyone is a pedestrian, but we need to be honest, bay peeps are eco friendly and take their ped rights seriously. we need to do more than just add crosswalks. add crosswalk buttons that light up to alert drivers to the presence of a pedestrian in the crosswalk. something like this also becomes helpful when SUVs block your vision.

    Robert, thanks. Now that you mention it, I do recall 24th below Valdez being a one way street headed west.

  14. Dave C.


    Not sure which direction you mean by “below” Perkins, but there are several crosswalks on that stretch of Grand which don’t have any traffic lights–at Lee and Lenox on the west side of Perkins, and at Ellita and Bellevue on the east side. Ellita is the one that makes a T with Grand and has a store with a small parking lot on the corner (there is also a little grocer at Perkins too, on the opposite side of Grand). Even when it’s daytime, I almost always use the crosswalks that have lights (Bay, Fairyland, Perkins, Staten, Euclid, etc.) because Grand is too wide to scurry across quickly, and very few drivers seem inclined to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks unless a ped walks out in front of them and forces them to stop (and that’s really no fun for either party).

  15. Ralph

    dave c, this may seem like a silly question, but if i describe a street b/w perkins and staten that forms a T with Grand and has a small packy on the corner and you describe such a street, how can you not know which street i am trying to identify?

    willing to consider an alternative explanation…now given the frequency with which street lights are dark, it could be that the lights were not on the night i drove through the intersection.

  16. Dave C.


    When you said “below Perkins,” I assumed you meant west of Perkins, so I was trying to think of whether there was a store on the corner of Lee or Lenox. It was only after I looked at a google map that I remembered that Ellita was a T (and reminded myself of the name, too). I didn’t mean to be critical—I was just pointing out that terms like “above” and “below” can sometimes mean different things to different people, which may be why Naomi Schiff and I were having trouble picturing the corner that you were talking about. Ellita is an easily forgotten street, since it’s only a block long, and it was only after I checked the map that I even remembered its existence. I usually use “below” to mean “west,” since most East-West avenues in Oakland go uphill as they go east, but maybe others use the terms differently.

    Anyway, back to the substance, I may have misunderstood what you were talking about, since I jumped into this thread late. Do you mean crosswalks which aren’t accompanied by any traffic lights, or crosswalks where the streetlights are out, making the street dark? I thought you meant the former. If you meant the latter, then I misunderstood, and my comment above was not totally applicable. I don’t know which intersections on Grand have streetlights that are out. (I seem to be misunderstanding one thing after another today…)

  17. Naomi Schiff

    Sounds like we all need a nice after-dark stroll along Grand, wearing light clothing with reflective tape, of course, on some nonrainy night! By the way, Oakland Public Works is excellent and fairly prompt about fixing street lights, esp. if you give them the code number on the pole (if not removed or obliterated) and the approximate location. You can either fill out the form on the public works website, or call them.

    Getting traffic signals is a lot harder, as they are quite expensive. Took approx 24 years to get the one recently installed in front of Westlake Middle Schoo!

  18. Ralph

    david c, i do get cranky. i could have omitted below, between perkins and staten with packy on the corner without the benefit of a signal would have adequately described the T.

    i don’t know if there are street lights along that section of grand. It seems odd that there are street lights aplenty from perkins to harrison and none the other way. it was only until i remembered that the street lights from 19th St Bart to 24th St are regularly off that I even considered that there may be lights which are dark.

    the intersection in question doesn’t really need a signal, i just need to be able to see pedestrians crossing. heck there are crossings on telegraph that could use more light to alert drivers. there is a crossing in temescal that becomes dangerous if an SUV blocks it. pedestrians take it for granted that they are going to be seen and that just isn’t true.