Oakland Tech students used the temporary crosswalk on Broadway to pick up food across the street and to walk to the school's upper campus a few blocks way. Credit: Jose Fermoso

Oakland parents, teachers, city officials, and traffic safety advocates gathered Wednesday and Thursday mornings at Oakland Technical High School to call for temporary traffic slowing solutions on Broadway, the main road that fronts the 109-year-old school where about 1,500 students are enrolled. 

Volunteers from local traffic safety organizations, including Walk Oakland Bike Oakland and Traffic Violence Rapid Response, created a temporary, rainbow-colored traffic-calming crosswalk across Broadway to show city officials how easy it is to make crossing the busy street safer for students and other pedestrians. 

The event comes two months after a young man was hit as he crossed Broadway. The student is now back in school after suffering fractures. 

“Anything and everything the city could do to make this high school or any other school safer for pedestrian cyclists, should be a top priority,” District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb said in a statement before the event. “Let’s make sure the environment [is] as safe as possible given the reality of how high school children act and not how they should act.“

“I am so delighted because with the energy of volunteers, [we] were able to design something that could demonstrate what kinds of changes could be possible in this roadway,” said Chris Hwang, the board president at Walk Oakland Bike Oakland.

The event today was also tied to the city’s 30th annual Bike to Work Day, which over a thousand East Bay residents pledged to participate in, according to Bike East Bay, which coordinated the rides. 

Cars frequently speed by Oakland Tech, endangering students

Traffic Violence Rapid Responses member Bryan Culbertson and Oakland Tech Sophomore Amalia Campbell work on the temporary crosswalk on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Credit: Jose Fermoso

The biggest traffic safety issue at Oakland Tech is that cars constantly speed on Broadway while the school’s students are trying to cross the street. Often this happens at lunchtime and in the afternoon as students cross Broadway, sometimes outside of crosswalks and against stoplights, to purchase food. The school sits on a block that is so large, at more than 600 feet, and without any crosswalks in between, that it incentivizes students to jaywalk rather than walk all the way to the ends of the block where they would have to wait for a push-bottom crosswalk to stop traffic and allow them across.

Traffic safety advocates also say that Broadway is too wide, with four lanes, two for each direction. This encourages drivers to speed and can create blindspots for drivers who are passing slower cars or vehicles that are stopped because a pedestrian is trying to cross in front of them. 

“Four-lane roads are the most dangerous,” Natalie Mall, a volunteer for Rapid Response and one of the organizers said. “When someone tries to cross the street, one car can slow down, but the other car in the other lane may not, and you can’t see it.” 

Organizers of the pop-up crosswalks received written endorsements from nearly all of the businesses in front of Oakland Tech, including Burger King and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. 

(From left) Oakland Tech Principal Martel Price, District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland’s Chris Hwang outside Oakland Technical High School on Thursday, May 18, 2023. Credit: Jose Fermoso

Nick Sok, the manager of Lee’s Donuts, the corner store across the street from the school, told us he supports more crosswalks. He said he doesn’t blame youth for currently walking across the street in areas with no crosswalks because he and others selling food are technically closer to the school’s entrance where they cut across. 

Since it often takes months, if not years, to build new infrastructure, Mall said advocates hope their demonstration encourages the city to make quick changes to the most dangerous streets using cones, traffic signs, and other traffic-slowing elements. 

The crosswalk striping on Broadway was added by volunteers using chalk and removable paint spray, and the “road diet” lane reduction that led into the crosswalk used traffic cones and delineators. The volunteers also added plywood ramps for people with disabilities and made large traffic signs. In all, the cost for the demonstration was $400-$500 in materials and three weekends of work by four volunteers, said organizers. 

To make sure the road diet followed proper design road standards, the volunteers talked to local traffic engineers and copied the Oakland Department of Transportation’s guidelines for other traffic slowdowns. They also received permission from the city to create the pop-up crosswalks by applying for a temporary encroachment permit a few weeks ago. 

Students and faculty want changes

Oakland Tech student and avid cyclist Amalia Campbell helped get the temporary installation started with the help of her father, Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Andy Campbell. Credit: Jose Fermoso

Over the two day demonstration, hundreds of drivers slowed down, allowing students to safely cross the temporary intersection, especially during lunch hours. The 51A AC Transit bus and several very large delivery trucks were also able to drive by without incident. Most students we spoke with said they felt safe using it and they hope it is made permanent. 

“I’m happy about it,” one yelled out loud as they crossed. 

Several students explained why they think the demonstration is so important. 

One student named Dylan told us he saw a fellow student get hit in March and that sometimes he doesn’t feel like talking about it because it was a traumatic experience. A student named Halima told us that she gets dropped off at the front of the school because walking to it is hazardous and that a crosswalk would “definitely” help students. Tech parent Maria Torres told us her 11th-grade student is often worried to walk to the school’s upper campus four blocks away. Torres encourages her child to bring their own lunch so they don’t have to walk across Broadway.

One of the students involved in making the event happen today was Amalia Campbell, a 10th-grader living with her family a few blocks away. Campbell is an avid cyclist who, her father Andy Campbell told us, feels comfortable enough biking in Oakland to ride all the way downtown. The older Campbell is a member of Oakland’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and a cyclist. But Amalia, her father said, is keenly aware of the specific hazards students face, especially since most of her friends walk or bike to school. 

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“The way the street is designed doesn’t make sense for how many pedestrians there are,”  Campbell told The Oaklandside. When Rapid Response’s Natalie Mall emailed her father and other local advocates to create a temporary intervention, the younger Campbell asked her principal to try to make it happen. 

Principal Martel Price has been thinking for years about improving the dangerous conditions students face on Broadway. He told The Oaklandside that he has written city officials to add more crosswalks because he’s seen kids nearly get hit. 

“We’ve always discouraged kids from crossing. Sometimes they’re gonna do it anyway. But other times they’re just talking in their groups, and not paying attention. If one person walks out, they’ll all walk out,” Price said. “So if they’re gonna do it anyway, let’s empower them to make changes around their activities, and the way they move through the world.”

Chris Hwang, fromWalk Oakland Bike Oakland, told The Oaklandside she was impressed with the principal’s determination to improve road safety. She remembers an early planning conversation where Price disclosed that some parents would likely be confused by the temporary crosswalk during drop-offs, but that shouldn’t stop them from doing it. 

“I think educators want conditions to change,” she said. 

Traffic Violence Rapid Response volunteer Mingwei Samuel sets cones at the beginning of the second day of the traffic slowing pilot. Credit: Jose Fermoso

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.