Telegraph Avenue is one of Oakland’s key transportation corridors, linking Downtown Oakland with Downtown Berkeley. It serves thousands of transit riders, drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians every day, and also functions as the commercial backbone of the popular Temescal, Koreatown/Northgate, and Uptown districts. However, Telegraph is one of Oakland’s most dangerous streets because of its antiquated street design: it is configured to encourage drivers to travel as fast as possible, while providing few amenities for transit riders or protections for pedestrians and bicyclists. For these reasons, the City of Oakland has undertaken the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets Implementation Plan to examine design options that improve street safety and comfort on Telegraph Avenue between 20th Street and 57th Street.
The Existing Conditions report (PDF link) explains the motivation behind the study. Because Telegraph runs diagonally through North Oakland and lacks parallel routes, large volumes of cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians all share a single constrained space. Based on an analysis of traffic volumes for automobiles, buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians, Telegraph has excess capacity for cars and inadequate facilities for other modes—crosswalks are long and not always signal-protected, bus stop amenities are minimal, and bike lanes are nonexistent. As a result, the corridor has a high rate of speeding-related collisions, including failure to yield, unsafe turning movements, and running red lights:
In all cases, collisions were generally spread throughout the corridor. While there are a few intersections that are particularly problematic, in general a corridor redesign is necessary for traffic calming and safety improvements.
The Stakeholder Outreach and Public Survey report supports the need for bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements. Over 1,100 people responded to an online survey, and meetings were conducted with eight neighborhood groups. The responses overwhelmingly favor changes to the design of Telegraph Ave: when asked, “Do you feel that the existing configuration of Telegraph Avenue adequately balances the needs of all users?” 92 percent of respondents answered “No.” The most commonly desired changes focused on safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities, improved street condition, and less of an orientation toward cars. The responses are shown in the table below:
When asked about prioritization of future improvements on Telegraph, about 75 percent of respondents answered that bicycle facilities should receive “Highest” or “High” priority, while roughly 60 percent of respondents answered that automobiles should receive “Low” priority. Pedestrian and transit facilities were also found to be high priorities. Interestingly, survey responses mirror each other regardless of mode: frequent motorists generally agree with frequent transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians regarding the need for safety improvements. This finding goes against a common media narrative that pits cars versus bikes, transit, or pedestrians in a “war on cars.” The survey findings suggest that improvements to other modes are mutually beneficial—designating separate roadway space for bicyclists and clearly marked pedestrian crossings reduces conflicts with cars and buses, and many people travel via a mix of modes.
The Roadway Design Options Report lays out some ideas for how to improve Telegraph. In essence, the redesign would accomplish the following:
• In general, four lanes of travel will be maintained north of 52nd Street to carry higher traffic volumes for the Berkeley-bound trips exiting Highway 24. Bike lanes could be added with relatively minor changes, but cycle tracks would require the removal of on-street parking.
• South of 52nd, a lane of travel in each direction would be removed to add buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks. Buffered bike lanes would be the most affordable, but would still result in a high number of conflicts with vehicles parking or turning. Cycle tracks could be more expensive but would provide superior safety (cost depends on the materials used—raised curbs as shown below would be most expensive). The three options are shown below.
• All alternatives would improve pedestrian safety by upgrading unsignalized crosswalks and adding new crosswalks where necessary. Crosswalk improvements include high-visibility treatments, curb extensions, and flashing beacons (if not already signal-protected). Streetscape and urban design improvements would also occur. All alternatives would reduce speeding through a “road diet,” making the street more like College or Piedmont Avenues. The elimination of “multiple threat” crashes for pedestrians is particularly beneficial at unsignalized intersections.
• AC Transit’s 1 and 1R would be consolidated into a single high-frequency line with enhanced stops and signal priority. This line would be split from the International Blvd segment, which will be upgraded to bus rapid transit (BRT). Consolidation would reduce waiting times and improve reliability. While bus speeds may be reduced due to the loss of a lane of travel, these reductions would be offset by minimizing bus-bike conflicts, relocating bus stops, adding bus bulbs, and providing signal priority. The aggregate effect on bus speeds for the proposed road diet would be a slight increase in average speeds.
The next step in the planning process, developing a preferred option and implementing the design, is the most challenging. The plan has effectively demonstrated that bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements can occur with minimal effects to automobile traffic or parking. However, change is never easy, particularly in an already thriving neighborhood like Temescal. How the City of Oakland balances the voices of stakeholders in the project’s implementation of this project is key. After a recent battle against AC Transit over their Telegraph-International BRT project, the Temescal community might be skeptical of another round of proposed changes to remove a lane of traffic on Telegraph. In contrast to the BRT project, the fact that this project will not impact parking for local businesses will likely reduce concerns relative to the BRT project, which would have removed 70% of parking.
There is also uncertainty around the willingness of Oakland’s leadership to implement bold changes: Oakland’s new planning director, Rachel Flynn, recently killed a pilot project to pedestrianize Latham Square after only six weeks, infamously remarking “we don’t know how to measure pedestrian and bicycle activity.” It will be interesting to see how Flynn approaches a major overhaul of the status quo on one of Oakland’s main thoroughfares in the face of some inevitable opposition. And even after the arduous consensus building process, there is always the issue of funding; however, the outlook for regional and state grants for these projects is improving.
The transformation of Telegraph is one piece of a bigger puzzle in creating safer multimodal streets. It’s encouraging to see Oakland thinking big, and this project will hopefully serve as a template for improving safety on other major corridors. Stay tuned for updates on the project as it progresses.
The City of Oakland is hosting three open houses on the Telegraph Complete Streets project beginning Thursday, April 24th. More information here.