The city has plans to transform a barren stretch of concrete in East Oakland into a greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists. Credit: Jose Fermoso/Urban Ecology and ACTC

A plan for a new path that will allow people to walk and bike on a protected greenway from Oakland’s Lake Merritt to the South Hayward BART station is expected to be finalized over the next year and a half, the county’s transportation commission told Oakland’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission at this month’s meeting. 

According to Alameda County Transportation Commission planner Matthew Bomberg, the greenway will run under BART’s elevated tracks next to San Leandro Street. This could help bike riders and pedestrians as San Leandro Street is one of Oakland’s most dangerous roads. The path, combined with nearby paving and street redesign projects, will provide a new mobility option for underserved Black and brown residents. 

“This is a project that would represent a transformative level of investment in these communities and provide significant safety and mobility elements,” Bomberg said during the bike and pedestrian commission meeting. 

The greenway will run 16 miles when complete and be the second major project in East Oakland that adds a walking and biking pathway that is separate from the roadway, placed at or above the height of the sidewalk. The other greenway that will soon be built is the Bancroft path, which is expected to run from 73rd Avenue to 103rd Avenue near the San Leandro border. 

16 miles of multimodal and urban trail paths are being planned between downtown Oakland and Hayward. Credit: Alameda County Transportation Commission

The East Bay Greenway is a partnership between Oakland, Hayward, Alameda County, and local transportation agencies, including AC Transit and BART.

“As someone who has [biked] up and down many times on San Leandro, it is not a very safe spot,” bike and pedestrian commission member Nick Whipps said. “I’m excited this [project] is happening. Couldn’t happen fast enough.” 

Commissioner Alex Frank also described the street’s current condition as “really crazy” to ride on as a bicyclist. 

Officials are currently considering different design options for the path. One is a wide path of cement with different lanes that bike riders and pedestrians can both use, a feature engineers call “multimodal.” The second phase of the design and construction, which will be complete within ten years, could add additional lanes. The greenway will also be landscaped on both sides. 

Citlalli Herrera of the East Oakland Collective called into the bike and pedestrian commission meeting to request that public art be incorporated into the design, similar to the way the Berkeley-Albany Ohlone Greenway is decorated with sculptures and murals

“We also hope that equitable outreach is done with the community and that care is taken around residents that have been displaced or at risk [of being displaced],” she said. 

The original plan for the East Bay Greenway included removing the industrial train rail line, which would have given designers more room for the bike and pedestrian paths, in addition to more green and art spaces. But according to Bike East Bay director Robert Prinz, the environmental remediation costs to do that were “extremely high” due to “soil contamination over many decades of trains running through the corridor.” The Union Pacific Railroad also opposed removing the tracks even though they are lightly used.

Oakland has already constructed a small portion of the greenway from 75th Avenue to 85th Avenue, which has functioned as a sort-of pilot, but it does not go all the way to the Coliseum BART Station. 

People we talked to along the existing pilot pathway this week said they enjoy using it and would be interested in a longer route if it was available. The city has not released information on how much the current short path is used. While we took pictures and walked around on Monday and Tuesday this week there was not a lot of foot traffic. The existing pathway also isn’t very “green” or nice to look at. It’s littered with trash and surrounded by industrial trucking businesses and dusty train tracks.

Former bike and pedestrian commission member Midori Tabata noted during the commission’s meeting that the current greenway path has also been used by unhoused people as a place to camp and place belongings, sometimes making it unusable. Any new paths constructed in this area of the city, she said, should take this into account. 

OakDOT will begin construction on the next segment of the greenway starting this fall, from the Coliseum BART station to Seminary Avenue a few blocks away. This may help nearby residents walk or bike to the Coliseum to watch baseball games or use BART. 

Some portions of the East Bay Greenway will not be directly under the BART tracks. For example, at the start of the Lake Merritt section, there will be a two-way bicycle track on the Laney College side of E. 10th Street, in front of the Oakland Museum of California. This will run all the way to 9th Avenue at the edge of the Nimitz freeway. From there, one of the northbound vehicle lanes will be removed to add the continuing two-way protected bike track, connecting to E. 12th Street. And on E. 12th street, from 14th Avenue to Fruitvale Avenue, the current buffered bike lane on each side of the street next to the sidewalk, which was added a few years ago, will be removed in place of a protected one-way bike lane. 

The money to pay for most of the project is expected to come from Measure BB, an Alameda County transportation sales tax measure approved by voters in 2014.

The City of Oakland sees this project as being important to enacting its 2019 bike master plan. Similar projects include the protected bike path on Telegraph Avenue and the Lakeside Streets project near Lake Merritt, which features the city’s only cycle track. 

ACTC’s Bomberg said his team will reach out to residents who live near the greenway through postcards and in person at a few events this fall, including the Oakland Roots soccer game on October 1, and the Fruitvale Dia de Los Muertos party on October 30.

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.