The northernmost section of Telegraph Avenue, running from 52nd Street to the Berkeley border, is going to undergo a big transformation soon.
Starting in 2025, Oakland will repave this roughly one-mile span or roadway, completing Telegraph’s Avenue transformation from a dangerous driver’s paradise to a road with extensive speed-slowing designs, dedicated bus lanes, and improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Two designs are being considered for the new northern section of Telegraph.
One would add bus-only red-painted lanes to each side of the road alongside car-slowing additions like large bulb-outs, new crosswalks, and a protected bike lane. Parking spaces on one side of the street would also be removed to accommodate the bus lane. This ambitious design could take seven to ten years to build if the engineers find it needs “major” traffic signal changes.
The alternative design would add a protected bike lane and concrete islands next to the sidewalk to facilitate boarding from AC Transit buses and other speed-slowing infrastructure. It would keep most of the parking on both sides of the street and could be built faster.
“We’re talking to lots of people, to AC Transit, and we’re convening a group of different engineers internally to hash this out and see what are we missing and how to pick because these are very different timelines,” OakDOT planner Cathy DeLuca said at a recent meeting of the city’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.
Telegraph Avenue in Uptown has already undergone a transformation
One of Oakland’s most iconic streets, the scene of protests in the 1960s and 70s, a gateway connecting to Berkeley and its university, Telegraph has undergone significant changes in recent years. From downtown to the Temescal district, starting in 2018 OakDOT added the most extensive network of protected bike lanes in the city, as well as concrete bus islands. Parking spots on some parts of the street also helped narrow the roadway to reduce traffic speeds.
These changes have been controversial, especially in the late 2010s when a pilot bike lane project featuring soft bollards was erected. Some felt this created a chaotic and confusing streetscape for drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians. Some local business owners were particularly upset at the changes, fearing the cluttered streetscape and reduced parking would result in fewer customers visiting the area.
The city eventually added permanent concrete islands on the road and improved the protected bike lanes.
The northern stretch of Telegraph is considered among the most challenging areas to bike and walk around in the city. With two lanes in each direction, the road design seems to encourage drivers to speed, especially near the Highway 24 on- and off-ramps. Some of the intersections around these highway ramps don’t have traffic-slowing apparatus like wide crosswalks or flashing beacons. Where they do have lights, these are often ignored by motorists, and the police rarely cite drivers for reckless behavior.
The road from 52nd to Woolsey is a vital retail and social services corridor for people to get to and from North Oakland to Berkeley and vice versa. It connects UC Berkeley students to Temescal’s popular restaurant and bar scene. Oakland residents use it to move to and from several major hospitals, including UCSF Children’s Hospital and the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley. It’s also used by one of AC Transit’s busiest bus lines, Route 6.
In the last few years, collisions that led to severe injuries or deaths have been rising on this part of Telegraph. Between 2017 and 2022, there were 52 crashes, about 60% between cars.
According to OakDOT, the city hopes to complete traffic and design studies of Telegraph Avenue this winter. They will contact the community for feedback on the final designs. At some point in 2024, the final design will be chosen, and construction is expected to begin in 2025.
One possible area of conflict with these road renovations is whether or not city planners will allow AC Transit to pursue its vision of reconfiguring roads to provide the fastest possible bus service, even if this has the potential to make the road less safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. According to road safety advocates, bus-only lanes create more areas on the road where traffic conflicts can occur.
For example, cyclists and right-turning vehicles would cross into each other’s lanes when approaching intersections, as they do in downtown Oakland on Broadway. Drivers might also veer into the bus-only lane, using it to pass other motorists in the vehicle lane, something that happens on International Boulevard right now.
The City of Berkeley is simultaneously considering major changes for Telegraph Avenue from Woolsey to the edge of the UC Berkeley campus.
Berkeley is considering a redesign that is similar to the bus-only option in Oakland, according to Berkeley’s transportation department. Besides a red-painted dedicated bus lane, there would be a dedicated bike lane next to the sidewalk.