Nearly two years after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing cities to lower speed limits in business districts with a history of dangerous collisions, eight roads in Oakland will have their limits reduced with news signs in place by the end of the week.
Assembly Bill 43 allows cities like Oakland to reduce speed limits by five miles per hour in business areas with heavy car, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. Decades of research has shown that lowering speeds can lead to fewer and less-deadly collisions.
Before AB 43, speed limits in California were derived mainly by taking the average speed of drivers on a road.
The stretches of Oakland roads that now have lower speed limits include San Pablo Avenue between 16th and William streets, Macarthur Boulevard between 89th and 90th avenues, 11th Street from Broadway to Harrison Street, 12th Street from Broadway to Alice Street, and Fruitvale Avenue from E. 22nd to E. 19th Street and between Lynde Street and Blossom Street.
Roadways that will have new speed-limit signs by the end of this week, according to a city spokesperson, include Fruitvale Avenue from E. 15th to E. 10th Street, 23rd Avenue from Foothill to International Boulevard, 14th St from Broadway to Oak Street, and two sections of Foothill, between Rutherford and High street, and Congress Avenue to Cole Street.
On Monday morning, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, City Councilmembers Noel Gallo, Nikki Fortunato Bas, Janani Ramachandran, and Oakland Department of Transportation Director Fred Kelley, unveiled a new speed limit of 20 mph at Fruitvale Avenue and E. 15th Street. The city leaders spoke about the importance of speed-limit reductions to pedestrian safety and how they may help businesses attract more customers.
The speed limit reductions are part of Oakland’s citywide Safe Oakland Streets (SOS) initiative that is expected to continue to other parts of Oakland, totaling 26.5 miles over the next few years.
“Every week, two Oaklanders are killed or severely injured in traffic crashes on our streets. And one out of every four traffic fatalities involves unsafe speeds,” said Mayor Thao at the press conference. “Reducing speed limits through policy, infrastructure, and environmental design is a key strategy for reaching the city’s SOS goals. We know that the city design can help and support how drivers drive.”
“In California alone, 1,100 people were killed while walking in 2022. And Oakland is not immune,” said OakDOT Director Fred Kelley.
“The simple fact of the matter is that speeds kills. Higher speed vehicles lead to more serious pedestrian crashes. Our vibrant businesses draw people on foot, on bikes, and on cars,” President and District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas said.
District 5 Councilmember Gallo said the reduced speed limits will benefit children who must navigate Oakland streets while walking to their schools and going to parks.
“By lowering our speed limit, we are sending a clear message that drivers need to think twice about their behavior and make sure we are having safer neighborhoods,” said District 4 Councilmember Janani Ramachandran.
The city initiative began a few years ago with an ambitious goal to eliminate all severe and fatal crashes in Oakland by 2042. Leaders are concentrating their efforts in city neighborhoods where low-income Black, brown, and Asian people, as well as seniors and persons with disabilities, tend to live and have historically been disproportionately impacted by poor road infrastructure.
Over the last two years, The Oaklandside has examined how poorly designed and maintained road infrastructure across the city, including wide streets and nonexistent lights, can often lead to poor decision-making by drivers and lead to collisions.
Not everyone is optimistic that the reduced speed limits will make Oakland’s roads safer.
A manager at Hotboys Chicken on the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 16th Street told us that he found it “weird” the city would choose a road that ended on a dead end where there is generally less speeding than other parts of the city. The manager, who asked us not to use his name due to privacy concerns, said he has seen illegal and dangerous driving, including sideshows, occur in front of the business, and has never seen existing traffic laws enforced.
“They never pull anyone over, and we’re almost in front of the city offices. It is what it is,” he said.
Karen Fong, the owner of Poke Zone, a restaurant on 11th Street between Webster Street and Harrison Street, told The Oaklandside it was “good” the city was reducing the speed limits because she often sees people speeding by. But she worried people might ignore the signs.
“I think if they put down something on the concrete, that might be better,” she said. She concluded that a giant painted warning on the street telling people to slow down might make more sense.
Listen and view the full statements from Mayor Thao, councilmembers Gallo, Bas, and Ramachandran, and Director Kelley from OakDOT during the Sept. 25 press conference below.