Vehicles traveling from Alameda travel on Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland next to a new sidewalk construction, including orange cones and jersey barriers.
Construction is underway near Fruitvale for the neighborhood's first protected bike lanes on Jul 11, 2023 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Amir Aziz

East Oakland’s first protected bike and pedestrian lane on Fruitvale Avenue is finally being constructed after 15 years of planning design. It’ll run between E. 12th Street and Alameda Avenue at the foot of the Fruitvale Railroad bridge. Some community leaders and people who live on and off this road say creating a safe place to bike and walk in a long-neglected part of the city is long overdue.

“I’m excited about it,” Rob Prinz, a director at Bike East Bay, told The Oaklandside yesterday in an interview. Prinz has been advocating for a safer Fruitvale Avenue since the beginning of the design and legislative process. 

“I think it’s dope,” said PJ Carrasco, a chiropractor who lives in front of the new bikeway at the corner of Fruitvale Avenue and Elmwood Avenue. “I hope people do use it.” 

Clarence Johnson, a security guard at Fruitvale station who bikes up and down Fruitvale Avenue daily, said he welcomes “anything to help make the road safer.”

The Fruitvale Avenue crossing could connect to the Fruitvale Land Crossing Bay Trail project by the middle of next year. Prinz says cyclists will be able to quickly and safely crisscross through most of the town. Expanded sidewalks will also make it easier for people to walk from the Fruitvale BART up and down the street to Alameda and nearby businesses, including the popular Guadalajara Restaurant off E. 12th Street.

The Fruitvale Avenue project, called Fruitvale Alive!, will remove one northbound car lane and turn it over to bikes, leaving one lane for cars going each way. Visible concrete separations on each side of the road should also slow down vehicles that currently speed out from Alameda into Oakland. 

Long-time research into driver speeding has found that narrower car lanes force drivers to reduce their overall car speeds. This leads to safer streets because the slower people drive, the less likely a collision can lead to serious injury or death. 

Construction of the protected lanes, from Alameda Avenue through E. 12th Street, will continue throughout the year. This area of Fruitvale Avenue will change significantly, with wider sidewalks allowing pedestrians and cyclists to pass through a few feet away from cars on the road. Credit: Amir Aziz

Bike East Bay’s Prinz said that the bike-protected lanes on Fruitvale Avenue will be “gold-plated” in quality. He especially likes that it will be the same height and right next to the pedestrian sidewalk, with black asphalt and yellow markings. Being on a raised platform helps remove cyclists from the main roadway, making it easier for drivers to see them. Other cities in the East Bay, including Fremont, have built raised bikeways, but this will be the first one in Oakland. 

Other protected bike lanes, such as the ones on Telegraph Avenue, are on the roadway itself and are variously protected by concrete barriers, bus platforms, and parked cars. Prinz said Oakland has not been able to build raised bike lanes up to now because of budgetary issues; it’s more costly to redesign established sidewalk curbs. For this project, which received millions of dollars from a California Active Transportation Program grant, the city and engineers at the Department of Transportation had enough money and time to fully redesign the street, including curbsides. 

Prinz also notes that because there is less cycle and pedestrian traffic on Fruitvale Avenue than in places like downtown, there is less likely to be conflicts between bikers and walkers. 

The most noticeable change in the sidewalk is that it’s being expanded from five feet to seven feet. The project will also add new pedestrian and traffic lights and add pedestrian bulbouts on street corners to make roads shorter and easier to cross. It will also include a row of landscaping at the edge of the sidewalk, which could presumably prevent cars from driving onto the sidewalk to go around stopped cars.

“I hope the city maintains the landscaping,” Prinz said. 

The Fruitvale Alive! project is connected to another bike lane project on Fruitvale Avenue, from E. 12th Street to E. 22nd Street, that was completed last year. That project added new buffered bike lanes through new paint and bike markings over ten blocks, but it also removed many parking spots in front of businesses. After members of the community complained that there was not enough parking, the city restored most of them. 

Other protected bikeways are being built on dangerous Oakland roads this year, including on 14th Street and around Lake Merritt, fully enclosing the city’s most famous park with a cycle track. 

A bikeway is also being constructed on the other side of the Fruitvale bridge in Alameda through Tilden Way to Broadway. People biking on the actual bridge, though, will still be forced to either use the main roadway alongside cars or dismount their bikes and walk across the narrow bridge passageway.

Fruitvale residents weigh in

Oakland resident P.J. Rivera stands near his home near the construction of the protected bike lanes. He’s worried about more traffic that could lead to worse pollution. Credit: Amir Aziz

P.J. Rivera, whose family has lived in a house on Fruitvale Avenue for three generations, said cars have always sped up and down the street, making it dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. He said the sidewalk is so narrow that he’d often worry about getting hit by people walking and cycling by.

“Once cars are leaving Alameda and getting [past the bridge], nobody goes under 25 miles per hour passing here. They hit Oakland, and they can just go fast as fuck,” he said in an interview on the porch outside his home. Speeding in East Oakland is a well-known phenomenon linked to poor enforcement and decades of badly-designed infrastructure.

Rivera said a wider sidewalk on the north side of Fruitvale Avenue might help students that walk to and from some nearby schools, as well. 

“If you have two adults and a whole class of 20 or 30 kids like that, that’s nerve-racking, you know what I mean? So I’m glad that kind of opens that up. You don’t worry about kids running to the street or nothing,” he said. 

P.J. Rivera’s house is only steps away from the new protected bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalk. He said the city might raise the height of his home’s entryway to avoid water pooling from the newly raised sidewalk. Credit: Amir Aziz

While he appreciated the safety components of Fruitvale Alive!, Rivera worries that it might cause even more traffic in front of his home as the street gets safer, which could lead to a greater concentration of smog pollution. Rivera’s home, where his mom and his dad also live, is already within 300 yards of the busy 880 highway, is in front of working train tracks (with nightly train deliveries), and is next to an old abandoned glass factory with a history of toxic fumes. 

More traffic might also make it harder and more dangerous when his mom wants to leave the house, Rivera said. But he remains open to the new project. “Hopefully, there’s more visibility, ” Rivera said. 

Lou Salerno, an Alameda resident, walks along the Fruitvale Avenue Bridge to get to his home on Jul 11, 2023. Salerno believes the narrower driving lanes the new bike lanes will create won’t necessarily slow down drivers intent on breaking the law, including by running red lights. Credit: Amir Aziz

Lou Salerno, the former owner of the Oaktown Cafe in downtown Oakland, is not as hopeful that the new road design will slow down cars. The New Jersey native, who walks along Fruitvale Avenue to the Fruitvale BART station several days a week from his home in Alameda—(he travels to San Francisco for cancer treatments—says he expects drivers to speed up once construction ends next year. 

“A lot of these people don’t give a flying leap,” he said. During construction, he says, traffic has slowed. But he doesn’t expect it to last. “As soon as this gets all completed, it’ll be a different world. It’ll be back to the way it was before,” he said as we spoke on the Alameda Bridge walkway.

Salerno says he has been walking tens of thousands of steps a day for the last four years to get exercise. He says he’s almost gotten run over several times while crossing at intersections on Fruitvale Avenue, especially at the Elmwood Avenue intersection, as drivers are getting off the freeway. 

Salerno says that the people who often give him the most trouble on his walks, surprisingly, are scooter riders, who use both the sidewalk and the road at will and tend to catch people off guard as they speed up. “They don’t deserve to be on the sidewalk,” he said. 

A buffered bike lane on Fruitvale Avenue, near E. 12th Street, was painted years ago has now faded. A painted pathway will replace it by a protected bike lane that will be completed in 2024. Credit: Amir Aziz

East Oakland resident Clarence Johnson, who bikes up and down Fruitvale Avenue daily, says he feels relatively safe biking on the road in its current design, but only because he rides on the opposite side of the street with cars coming toward him. 

“If I biked [with the traffic], with cars coming up behind me, that can be a hazard. You won’t know what will happen, and the cars will be on top of you. And if I look behind to see if someone is close to me, that second [could be deadly],” he said.  

Johnson told The Oaklandside that even with the wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes come in, he would still likely bike the opposite way, based on his experience in Oakland. 

“The protected lanes would be better, but I would not be used to it. Maybe I’ll get used to it,” he said.

Correction: We misidentified E. 12th Street as 12th Avenue. We have fixed the street names in the story.

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.