Grand Avenue is broken. Like countless other streets in Oakland, the design of Grand Avenue no longer serves the people and communities that use the street. However, while Oakland has developed a clear vision for many of its other arterials, the City’s approach to fixing Grand remains unclear.
The 2.7 mile Grand Avenue corridor between I-580 and I-880 has a lot of great assets: it includes some of Oakland’s densest residential and commercial areas like Uptown and Adams Point, key destinations like Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland, and major growth opportunities outlined in the West Oakland Specific Plan and Broadway Valdez Specific Plan. Consequently, Grand acts as a critical corridor for people walking, biking, and riding transit, and also a community gathering place for patrons of local businesses.
Yet, despite these diverse traits, Grand Avenue’s current design functions as a highway-like traffic sewer to carry speeding vehicles toward the Bay Bridge and Downtown Oakland, essentially ignoring its other users. Grand Avenue does carry a lot of traffic – roughly 20,000-25,000 vehicles per day along most segments between 580 and 880 – but a significant portion of this traffic is regional as an alternative to I-580. Drivers routinely divert from I-580 (and I-980 to a certain extent) onto Grand in lieu of traveling through the congested MacArthur Maze, speeding through West Oakland and Adams Point. Because Grand Avenue’s four to six lane design easily accommodates speeding traffic sometimes in excess of 40 mph, it has become a de-facto third highway across Oakland.
The highway-like design of Grand Avenue creates perilous conditions for everyone: in 2013 alone, 32 collisions occurred on Grand between I-580 and I-880, including eight vehicle collisions, 13 vehicle-bicycle collisions, and 11 vehicle-pedestrian collisions. Five people were killed in crashes along Grand between 2004 and 2013. Moreover, for every reported collision, there are countless more unreported or near-misses, fostering an environment that feels dangerous and unwelcoming for people walking and biking. Most of these collisions are a product of high vehicle speeds, poor sight lines, unsignalized crosswalks, and inadequate separation between bicyclists and vehicles.
How can Oakland fix Grand Avenue? Other less traveled segments of Grand Avenue east of I-580 are already changing: there are already plans for a road diet between Elwood Avenue and Jean Street, and similar road diets may occur in Piedmont and through the Grand Lake District soon (although Oakland missed an opportunity to install a road diet during a recent repaving, the City hopes to revisit this stretch soon). Between I-580 and I-880, though, discussions have been more limited. The City is considering a six to four lane road diet in West Oakland and a handful of long-delayed crosswalk improvements in Adams Point, but surprisingly little planning has occurred for the corridor as a whole.
Here’s what a people-first approach to Grand Avenue could look like for the typical 100-110 foot cross-section:
1. Road Diet & Traffic Calming
Grand Avenue should be downsized to discourage its use as a high-speed alternative to I-580. In order to realize safer conditions via lowering speeds and traffic volumes, traffic congestion along Grand should be an acceptable, if not desirable condition. Throughout the corridor, two vehicle lanes are sufficient to serve local businesses and destinations. Reducing the number of vehicle lanes and installing a median will also enhance pedestrian visibility and make Grand a safer street to cross.
2. Bus Rapid Transit
Grand Avenue presents a major opportunity for bus rapid transit (BRT) service. AC Transit is already implementing BRT along International Blvd, and has designated Grand Avenue for long-term BRT upgrades. Improvements such as dedicated bus lanes, bulbouts, and off-board payment present an opportunity to increase transit speeds and reliability along Grand Avenue for both Transbay service (NL and possibly a rerouted NX/B) and local service (12 and 58L).
3. Protected Bike Lanes
Grand Avenue should serve as a critical east-west bikeway to connect West Oakland, Downtown, and the Lake Merritt area. While Grand Avenue already has bike lanes on some segments, these lanes are narrow and sandwiched in between fast-moving traffic and parked cars. To create a more attractive street for all ages and abilities, protected bike lanes are needed.
Combined, these improvements could make Grand Avenue a great street for everyone, as opposed to a dangerous commuter highway. Considering the amount of growth anticipated along the corridor and the need for better Transbay transit alternatives, a reimagining of Grand Avenue could pay tremendous dividends.