OakDOT planners want to create safer pedestrian crossings and protected bike lanes on 14th Street. An artist's rendering of what the redesigned street would look like. Credit: Courtesy city of Oakland

Fourteenth Street in downtown Oakland, one of the city’s most traveled routes, is in line for a big makeover.

The city’s Department of Transportation, or OakDOT, is proposing to add protected bike lanes on both sides of the street, reducing the number of vehicle lanes from four to two. Crosswalks would be shortened and other safety improvements would make it one of the most pedestrian and bicycle-friendly thoroughfares in Oakland. The redesign would transform all of 14th from Oak Street near Lake Merritt to Brush Street, just past I-980. 

OakDOT staff presented the plan at a meeting of the city’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission meeting on Feb. 17 and the City Council will consider it at a March 22 Public Works Committee meeting—the last time the public will be able to give planners direct input. 

14th Street’s makeover will be similar, but different from the Telegraph Avenue bike lane project

Unlike the plastic bollard design treatment that stoked controversy on Telegraph Avenue, the bike lanes on 14th Street will be protected by cement barriers. These barriers will also serve as a raised flat area for businesses to place their trash for pickup. One of the big complaints about the Telegraph Avenue “road diet,” which the city built in phases starting in 2017, was that trash collection trucks were either too big to pick up trash left on the sidewalk, or that they blocked the bike lane. Some of the bike lanes on 14th Street will also be raised to the sidewalk level.

Other design changes will include wide curb ramps for wheelchairs, as most curbs on the street today don’t align with pedestrian crossing lanes. There will also be concrete islands with plants at the end of corner blocks to prevent cars from turning too quickly or too close to the curb. Small, baseball diamond-shaped, six-inch high islands at intersections, placed in front of each corner, will help people on bikes make turns or pass through easily and keep cars away from the sidewalk. 

The block between Webster and Harrison Streets is, so far, the only block expected to receive fully raised bike lanes and a sidewalk extension. Credit: Courtesy city of Oakland.

These “bulbouts” and concrete islands will remove 25 parking spaces on 14th Street, but OakDOT plans to add 53 diagonal parking spots on 13th Street from Franklin Street to Oak Street. OakDOT staff also said they have negotiated with two nearby parking garages, including Harrison Street Garage, to give 14th Street business owners and workers discounts of 50% for 35 spaces. So far, there is no information on whether discounts will apply to all days of the year and whether the garages will be OK with this agreement indefinitely. 

Other traffic-calming changes are planned for 13th Street, where some cars might be displaced by the design changes on 14th, including removal of one of the three existing vehicle lanes. Transportation Planner Charles Ream said the changes will slow traffic on the south side of 13th. 

Former Bicyclist and pedestrian commission member Robert Prinz said on the call he would like the city to consider adding a single bike lane on the north side of 13th street in the coming years, mainly because it was already part of the city’s 2019 bike plan

Reducing vehicle capacity on another downtown street parallel to 14th Street to improve bike and pedestrian paths, however, will likely further inflame the parking concerns of business owners in the area.

Business owners have mixed reactions

Ideal Cleaners owner John Lee, whose store is located between Harrison and Webster streets, and who has been in Oakland for 37 years, said he is very worried about the loss of parking in an area that is already so full that double parking is a constant. 

“It’s just a mess here. It happens all day,” he said. 

Golden Bull Bar manager Jason Beebout, located half a block from Broadway, said he wasn’t notified about the recent design changes and that he’s also concerned about loading issues, especially when bands play. 

“I see both sides. I would love to have more foot traffic on 14th Street, which we don’t have right now. But you have to get deliveries. And what if a band in a tour bus that’s playing at [Golden Bull or Complex next door] can’t move into a parking garage?” he asked. The Golden Bull is co-owned by Greenday singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who often plays there. 

Kon-Tiki bar owners Matt Reagan and Christ Aivaliotis, whose business is across the street from Ideal Cleaners, told the Oaklandside that despite losing two parking spaces on his block, they’re OK with the design changes. They’d rather not have their patrons drive after sipping Kon-Tiki zombie drinks. 

“We believe promoting foot traffic and bicycle traffic is far better than getting cars between 980 and the lake quickly, which seems to be 14th street’s current primary function,” Reagan said. “In the last five years, over 2,000 apartments have been built within three blocks. I think it’s important the city prioritizes local neighborhood experience over crosstown traffic.” 

Kon-Tiki’s general manager Mike Martinez does worry, though, about what the construction will do to business in 2023. Every time the city does any work, like adding new PG&E electrical lines, revenue goes down significantly. Additionally, he said a 50% parking discount sounds great but he wonders whether parking businesses will raise rates. 

“50% of $70 a day is still a lot of money to pay every day for parking,” Martinez said. 

There are other concessions OakDOT made based on business recommendations submitted during the last two years of staff and survey outreach.

In the section of 14th Street between Webster and Harrison there are 18 businesses, the most in any block in the project. Here OakDOT plans to build five features not seen anywhere else: an extension of the sidewalk, a continuous strip of cement separating the bike lane from both the road and the sidewalk, a raised bike lane, and space for Flex Streets dining spaces, from which Kon-Tiki and Dinner House will directly benefit. Other nearby restaurants and bars on other blocks are bound to ask the city to receive a similar design treatment if it leads to more business.

Another concern of businesses is whether or not double parking will be possible. The road’s current four-lane design allowed delivery trucks to park in the lane closest to the curb to deliver goods. If that lane is eliminated, it would make deliveries very difficult.

“In the four-lane roadway like 14th Street today, double-parking is just the easy solution for businesses to load because cars will go around you,” Ream said. “The bus will go around you. Everyone will pretty much ignore it. In the future, the street will become a much more uncomfortable situation.” 

OakDOT’s Ream said that when it comes to any parking situation, the city is willing to review the plans to “represent the needs of business.” 

Bike and pedestrian commission members have pushed city planners to find even more ways to slow down cars, including adding tall plants or bollards on top of the intersection islands or at the corners of streets. These may be like the K71 reflective posts found on Telegraph Avenue that people have heavily disliked. 

“I know aesthetics are always an issue but I’m just not concerned with that. Safety and speed are the priority,” Commissioner Grey Gardner said during last week’s commission meeting. “Flex posts are not expensive and are still standing in parts of the city.” 

Ream said OakDOT is concerned that the posts required a high-level of maintenance by its shortened staff, including having to constantly replace them. Another concern the city has about posts is emergency vehicle access. 

“Islands still need to be driven over by emergency vehicles. It’s a constant tension that we as planners face between providing safe and fast access for people who need to move through streets for emergency reasons and limiting fast access for people speeding or causing collisions,” Ream said.

City staffing problems delayed the long-planned 14th Street redesign

According to OakDOT staff, the redesign will be funded by an $11.5 million state grant that the city received five years ago. Work on the project stalled due to staffing issues. 

OakDOT planner Julieth Ortiz told the bicycle and pedestrian commission that the city needs to do a better job recruiting and retaining workers to ensure the 14th Street project and similar efforts are completed in shorter amounts of time.

“We want to make sure that we have the staff capacity to deliver the projects. So we’re hoping that there’s active and rolling recruitment for assistant engineers. We need more engineers,” Ortiz said. 

The Oaklandside has previously reported on the city’s inability to quickly develop these types of projects due to the constant churn of staff retirements and engineers and planners quitting to take other jobs at cities offering higher wages.

The delay in fixing 14th Street has led to collisions that could have been prevented. According to data from UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, 189 people were hit on 14th Street in the five-year period since the city received the state grant. Out of those, two pedestrians, both Asian seniors, were killed by car collisions, and 38 other people suffered serious injuries. 

Some of the biggest issues present on 14th Street that have led to those collisions are its wide roads, known to elicit faster speeds from cars, and its chaotic transit environment, with thousands of cars, delivery trucks, and bicyclists all converging. 

“There’s just a lot of dangerous driving activity on 14th Street,” Ream said at last week’s commission meeting. “Almost three-quarters of all of the traffic collisions on 14th Street are related to red light running or improper crossing of traffic signals, which is almost three times higher than our citywide average.”

If the 14th Street design is approved by the City Council in April, construction is expected to start in early 2023.

Jose Fermoso is a 2021 Knight-Wallace Fellow reporting on traffic and road safety for The Oaklandside. His work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Born and raised in Oakland, Jose has also worked on the bestselling unauthorized biography of Apple's Jony Ive and led all content initiatives at App Academy, the top U.S. coding boot camp. He is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.