A month after unveiling a road diet on Telegraph Avenue featuring Oakland’s first protected bike lanes, Telegraph remains a mess. Obstructions of the bike lanes are seemingly never-ending as confused and/or negligent drivers continue to park alongside the curb. While growing pains are normal for innovative projects that disrupt the status quo, the sustained chaos on Telegraph has been troubling.
Put simply, the problem with Telegraph’s protected bike lanes is that they lack effective protection. The design does not offer clear, effective separation of the bikeway from cars. Protected bike lanes necessitate vertical separation between cars and bikes, typically in the form of curbs, planters, and parking meters, or at least bollards, soft-hit posts, or parking blocks as a cost-saving measure. Such treatments have been successfully implemented in cities ranging from Berkeley to Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to Modesto.
In contrast, Telegraph’s minimalist paint-only design unfortunately assumes that parked cars will provide sufficient separation by themselves – a cheap design that depends on perfect driver behavior without much precedent for success. Only a handful of temporary construction signs are present sporadically along the corridor which do not clearly distinguish the intent of the design. The result has been an unintuitive user interface that fails to foster a safe, predictable environment. While subpar enforcement hasn’t helped, a proper design featuring clear separation should physically deter violations.
It is imperative that Oakland improve the separation of cars and bikes along Telegraph to resolve the project’s concerning safety issues. Such separators could be tailored to Telegraph’s unique constraints – possibly even a removable feature to preserve a pedestrian-friendly streetscape during its monthly First Friday closures. Telegraph’s early shortcomings have put a damper on Oakland’s recent complete streets momentum; however, with minimal investment, these shortcomings are fixable.