Part of what makes a city appealing to visitors, businesses and residents are well maintained and well-functioning streets and boulevards.
The city of Oakland, struggling to find its place in an affluent and dynamic Bay Area, is sadly lacking in this regard. Here are four examples of unsatisfactory street conditions of long standing that warrant attention and priority:
Inadequate pavement maintenance: All over Oakland one finds streets that have been neglected for decades and left to deteriorate. Examples can be seen and experienced almost anywhere in the city, but the problem especially acute in Oakland’s less affluent neighborhoods. Nowhere else in Alameda County or in the Bay Area are the streets as deteriorated and torn up as they are in Oakland.
Fanciful street planning: Instead of making Oakland’s streets drivable, Oakland’s traffic planners increasingly opt for politically-correct street “enhancements” that often don’t work.
Almost $2 million was spent near the intersection of Lakeshore and Lake Park with little to show for the money spent and a 10-year implementation period. Recent traffic-lane closures along Grand Avenue are causing 2-mile long afternoon traffic backups. El Embarcadero at the no
rth end of Lake Merritt used to consist of two well-functioning streets between Grand Avenue and Lakeshore. That ended when the city replaced the two streets with a single two-lane street, which now adds greatly to the traffic congestion at the north end of Lake Merritt. A recent city street improvement project at MacArthur and Telegraph backed up traffic for a period of eight months. When the traffic barriers were finally removed, it was apparent that nothing much of consequence had resulted.
AC Transit reports that planned reductions in traffic lanes elsewhere along Telegraph Avenue will slow down and otherwise impede AC Transit’s important No. 1 and 1R lines.
Heavy Alameda-bound traffic heading south on Webster Street adds significantly to the traffic congestion now interfering with Oakland’s once vibrant but now struggling Chinatown. Ill-conceived street enhancement can be worse than doing nothing, especially if it takes resources away from street maintenance.
Nonexistent traffic signal synchronization: Synchronized traffic signals encourages motorists to travel at even speeds regulated by signal timing, thereby reducing fuel-consuming stops and starts and saving wear and tear on both vehicle and pavement. It also encourages predetermined safe speeds and reduces the stress and frustration of motorists.
Virtually every other town and city in the Bay Area has synchronized signals. Yet there are few, if any, in Oakland. Why? What do Oakland’s traffic signal engineers have against synchronization?
One-way streets: One-way streets are sometimes needed and sometimes not. In Oakland, many of the streets that are now one-way could be converted to two-way. Two-way streets calm the traffic thus making it more compatible with and safer for pedestrians, render bus routes more visible and easier to find, reduce the need for buses to make tight turns at congested intersections and provide adjacent businesses with greater visibility.
Oakland should be looking seriously for one-way streets that could beneficially be returned to two-way traffic.
Oakland’s street problems are severe and of long standing. The subject deserves attention and priority. A lack of resources is often cited as the reason for the poor state of Oakland’s streets. Such excuses suggest a needed independent look at how Oakland’s infrastructure departments spend the millions in tax dollars they receive.
Oaklanders have become accustomed to and even acquiescent to bad streets. This has gone far enough. It’s time to demand corrective action from Oakland’s government.
Gerald Cauthen is co-founder of Bay Area Transportation Working Group. He is a resident of Oakland.