The City of Oakland's Department of Transportation is submitting a major grant proposal to the state that would transform Bancroft Avenue's wide median. Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland’s Department of Transportation is gearing up to redesign Bancroft Avenue, one of East Oakland’s major arteries, making it friendlier and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. 

OakDOT wants to transform the Bancroft’s existing median into a multi-use trail wide enough for both bikes and pedestrians to use at the same time. The trail would run from 73rd Avenue at Eastmont Mall all the way to 103rd Avenue near the San Leandro border. The median would be planted with new trees, and the city would add lighting, benches, and large boulders on both sides to keep cars out. 

Oakland’s dangerous roadways

This article is part of our special series looking into traffic and pedestrian safety in the city. Read more.

Currently, most of the median, which is around 45 feet wide, is littered with trash, mulch, and various car parts left over from collisions.

“The proposal is to transform this median into a multi-purpose trail with landscaping that can also beautify the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as provide space to recreate and have more access to public open space in the surrounding area,” said OakDOT Planner Julieth Ortiz during a meeting of the city’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission last month. 

The total cost of remaking Bancroft’s median will be approximately $27 million. Ortiz said Oakland plans to apply for a grant from the California Transportation Commission’s Active Transportation Program to cover a portion of the total cost, and fill in the rest through matching funds from other local or federal funding sources.

OakDOT told The Oaklandside they are also partnering with the nonprofit Trees for Oakland to obtain grant funding for tree planting along the median.

OakDOT submitted a similar proposal for Bancroft Avenue two years ago, also seeking Active Transportation Program funds, but the California Transportation Commission, which runs the ATP program, rejected it. California Transportation Commission Assistant Director Justin Behrens told The Oaklandside that that proposal was very close to getting funded at the time. With projects scored on a 100-point scale and with the cut-off for funding at 92, OakDOT’s proposal came in with a score of 88.

The California Transportation Commission judges projects in terms of how much a community needs them to improve mobility and safety, and how well it will connect neighborhoods to locations residents need to get to. Other important criteria they look at are clear benefits to disadvantaged communities and public participation in the planning and design process.

Bancroft Avenue is one of the city’s most dangerous streets for walkers, bicyclists, and drivers, even after recent repaving and bike lane additions. Credit: Amir Aziz/The Oaklandside

If built, the Bancroft greenway would work in conjunction with other planned infrastructure. This could include new protected bike lanes, paving, and new bus islands on 73rd Avenue. If they’re eventually linked, cyclists could ride from deep East Oakland at the edge of San Leandro all the way to Fruitvale BART in protected and buffered bike lanes. New bike routes along Foothill Boulevard to International Boulevard will also be a part of the city’s grant application to the state this year. 

The two most recent awards the city has received from this state program, in 2020, were $17 million to build East Oakland neighborhood bike routes and traffic slow down improvements on East Oakland streets, and $14 million for the 7th Street connection project. Since the ATP program, which is meant to encourage biking and walking, was established in 2013, Oakland has received almost $70 million in grants for infrastructure projects out of a total $1.5 billion dollars statewide. 

Bike and walking paths in East Oakland could greatly reduce collisions

Besides creating new green space that can be used to walk or bike, the Bancroft proposal is also an attempt to reduce collisions on one of the city’s most dangerous streets. 

According to UC Berkeley’s TIMS database, there were an estimated 152 crashes between 2016 and 2020 in the section of Bancroft that will be redesigned. One of those collisions led to a death, five people were seriously injured, and 18 of the crashes were between cars and pedestrians. The vast majority of these crashes were caused by traffic sign violations, unsafe speeds, and automobile right of way problems. 

Over the same five-year period, 23 out of the 29 intersections on the same stretch of Bancroft experienced at least one collision. The city is also hoping to obtain grant funding to improve safety at these intersections by adding Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons that can be triggered whenever people want to walk across the road. 

The city will have until June to provide its final design submission for the Bancroft greenway, and the state will make a decision by 2023. If it’s accepted, the city will likely start construction on Bancroft by the end of 2023 with a completion date sometime in 2024. 

In considering Oakland’s application for funds, state officials will be looking to see that the city got input from schools that may be affected by the project. For Bancroft Avenue, this includes 19 different schools.

Michelle Grant, the principal for East Oakland Pride elementary school, which is located at 81st Avenue and Olive Street, two blocks away from Bancroft, told The Oaklandside that the pathways will be a good option for everyone living in the area. 

“Anything that makes it safer for our students to walk, which we do have a lot of people that do walk, is always helpful,”

The Principal at Aspire College Academy, Omar Currie, said the vast majority of his students walk to school and many would benefit from the greenway. 

City planners want to add a wide bike and pedestrian path, seating areas, and protective boulders to separate the median from vehicle traffic. Credit: City of Oakland

Danielle Dynes, a community planner from the East Oakland Collective, an organization that works with the city to connect community residents with city projects, including on transit, said Bancroft Avenue definitely needs design changes to improve safety. As currently constructed, crossings on the street are not well-marked and there aren’t that many crossings, encouraging people to traverse the street mid-block through the median, Dynes said. 

Jasmine Magi, the owner of Rowaid market, located at the corner of 90th and Bancroft, said she hadn’t heard about the project during OakDOT’s outreach process, but that it sounds like a good idea. She sees speeding every day and on weekends witnesses drunk and speeding drivers collide and crash wildly onto the median. If the boulders are strong and tall enough, she said, it might make the proposed greenway much safer. 

“I think it will make the neighborhood more accepting to people,” she said. 

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and 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.