Trucks line up outside the Port of Oakland. August 19, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

Heavy trucks rumbling down city streets have been a contentious issue in Oakland for decades. 

Residential neighborhoods generally don’t want trucks passing through because of the air pollution and noise they emit. Communities of color in West Oakland have been disproportionately harmed by diesel emissions and other impacts. 

Industrial zones, for their part, mostly welcome trucks. And commercial areas tend to want truck deliveries, but otherwise don’t want trucks taking up parking or passing through.

How should the city balance all these needs?

Next Tuesday, the city’s truck-traffic rules are set to be updated when the Oakland City Council considers two ordinances. 

One would ban truck parking in most of West Oakland, and ban the parking of unattached trailers citywide. In West Oakland, truck parking would be allowed only on a few specific streets outside of areas that are “primarily residential,” or at designated sites near the port.

The second ordinance would ban truck traffic on most of West Oakland’s residential streets and update the routes semis and other heavy vehicles (those with five or more axles) are allowed to travel as they make their way to freeways from the port, warehouses, and local businesses.

The changes are part of Oakland’s Truck Management Plan, which started to take shape in 2017 with the input of Oakland residents and businesses.

Two years of outreach and public comment

City staff began seeking public input about the proposed changes to the Truck Management Plan two years ago, around the start of the pandemic. They held virtual meetings with West Oakland neighborhood groups, environmental justice advocates, truckers, and industry reps to gather feedback, some of which is gathered here.

Truckers and industry asked for better signage to show which streets would be off-limits for trucks, and where to find parking. They also felt the updates should take into account the needs of warehouses and factories that require truck deliveries. “Remember, if you got it….a truck brought it!!!,” one person wrote.

According to city staff, these latest updates “would not affect commercial truck loading and unloading as currently permitted.” Trucks will still be allowed to drive on residential and other prohibited streets if they’re making a local delivery.

Neighborhood groups also want limits on parking and truck travel near their homes to improve air quality and road safety.

“Many toxic air contaminants are significantly higher in this community, and the health impacts are very well documented,” wrote one person about the Prescott neighborhood, a historically Black part of West Oakland. “If [the] City is committed to racial and environmental equity, but allows TMP that worsens air quality in predominantly black neighborhoods, that is environmental injustice.

Currently, trucks and trailers are allowed to be parked on city streets for up to 72 hours. According to city staff, the new citywide ban addresses “resident concerns that trucks are parking near residences and parks,” causing air pollution and taking up street space.

Some residents of Frontage Road told the city they don’t want trucks allowed on their street, which would be a designated truck route under the proposal. Hundreds of new apartments have been built along Frontage Road in recent years. According to the city, Frontage Road will see an added 120 truck trips per day if the new plan is approved. But city staff wrote in a report that designating Frontage Road a truck route is more equitable than the status quo because many of these vehicles currently travel along Mandela Parkway, Market Street, and Adeline Street, where more low-income and Black and Latino residents live.

Over 70 years of regulating trucks

As a port city, Oakland has been dealing with heavy truck traffic for about a century. The city first started seriously regulating truck traffic in 1951, following protests by downtown merchants who wanted heavy truck traffic routed away from the city center. But residential areas and other shopping districts in North and East Oakland objected to plans that would divert trucks onto their streets. 

In 1947, a pastor of a church on 90th Avenue protested plans to turn his street into a truck route, saying the noise would “make it impossible to hear what is being said” during religious services. According to an Oakland Tribune article, a petition against the 90th Avenue truck route claimed trucks had “broken water mains, disturbed sleep, and endangered children and elderly people.”

“Truck traffic is a tremendous nuisance to both business and residential sections of the city, causing damage to homes and destroying streets,” Oakland City Manager John Hassler told the Oakland Tribune in 1951.

Later that year, the council approved truck routes on upper Broadway, parts of MacArthur Boulevard, spans of E. 14th Street, San Leandro Street, E. 12th Street, and 90th Avenue.

Construction of I-880 absorbed much of East Oakland’s truck traffic, but West Oakland remained heavily impacted due to its proximity to the port.

Ms. Margaret Gordon, a community organizer with the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, said West Oakland’s community became increasingly concerned about air pollution following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, which destroyed the Cypress Viaduct Freeway. Trucks that previously used the freeway were displaced to city streets, however, the city didn’t have a plan to create a new dedicated truck route.

The city began rethinking truck routes through West Oakland in 2004 after meeting WOEIP participants who had conducted a community-led study of air pollution around their homes. WOEIP’s research revealed that West Oakland residents were exposed to diesel pollution at levels six times greater than people in other parts of the city.

Based on their activism, in 2005, Councilmember Nancy Nadel advocated for the West Oakland Truck Route plan, which reduced truck traffic on residential streets.

Next Tuesday’s City Council meeting begins at 11 a.m. It’s the final step in approving the new truck traffic and parking rules, but the public can still weigh in on the plan during the meeting’s public comment period.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.