Less than a year after opening a dramatic redesign of Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland, the city is reporting huge benefits from the project. According to the new Oakland DOT’s short Progress Report: Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets [PDF], the new parking-protected bike lanes, while flawed, are already producing more-than-promising results.
For the first time in five years, says the report, there have been no pedestrian crosswalk collisions reported along the section of the street that was reconfigured. The total number of collisions along the corridor decreased by forty percent in 2016 compared to the average number of collisions between 2012 and 2015. The lanes opened in April last year.
This is happening even though there are a lot more people biking (up 78 percent) and walking (up 100 percent) along the corridor than before the lanes went in. Not surprisingly, most bicycle riders and pedestrians using Telegraph say they feel safer with the new configuration, which places parked cars between bike riders and traffic and shortens the distance pedestrians have to cross travel lanes.
The new design reduced the number of travel lanes to one, which horrified many people who thought that would mean traffic would grind to a halt. That hasn’t happened—but speeding has gone down significantly. Median speeds there now match the actual posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour. On the part of Telegraph that was not reconfigured—where there are still two travel lanes in each direction, parking along the curb, no bike lane, and no median—speeds stayed high, with 85 percent of drivers going over the speed limit.
“We are excited to show how you could measure changes as a result of this project,” said Sarah Fine, a planner with Oakland’s new Department of Transportation and one of the authors of the report. “We can measure changes in speed and volumes, but we can also get a better picture of how the street functions for everyone. It’s nice that it bears out the way we thought it would.”
The report relies on a variety of data sources, including street surveys conducted by city planners in May and June of last year, collision data from the Oakland Police Department, and speed measurements made in June and September of last year.
The city’s report is a summary of information collected by the planning firm Fehr and Peers. That memo [PDF] contains more interesting information than just what made it into this summary. For example, the “pedestrian yield rate” along the newly configured street changed dramatically. That is, pedestrians trying to cross Telegraph at marked but unsignaled crosswalks do not have to wait as long as they used to for a car to stop so they can cross. Before the project, a pedestrian waited on average for four cars to pass before the fifth car would stop. Now, cars stop much more willingly, and pedestrians usually only have to wait for one car to pass before a car yields, if that.
It’s easy to guess why. With only one travel lane, drivers are not searching for opportunities to zoom around each other, and they are forced to drive at the same pace as other vehicles. That means a more reasonable driving speed, which gives them the chance to see pedestrians as soon as they step into the crosswalk.
The report notes a few additional trends along the corridor. Bus ridership along Telegraph has decreased somewhat. That may be due to service changes along the corridor, wherein a popular route was split in two shorter routes, and its express service was eliminated.
The city’s progress report also notes that local business sales taxes increased last year, and five new businesses have opened in the neighborhood since the project went in. But it stops short of taking credit for these changes as a result of the new streetscape. This section of Telegraph is home to First Fridays, a wildly popular monthly event that closes the street to car traffic and showcases local art in the evenings. That, and new local development, have also contributed to robust local sales revenue.
The new configuration is not without flaws, as the report notes. Cars frequently park in the lanes, for example. Since May of last year, Oakland parking enforcement officers have doubled the number of parking tickets they write. However, the city also acknowledges that writing tickets is not a permanent solution, and more must be done to make it clear to drivers where the parking lane is.
Oakland has funding from the Active Transportation Program for a second phase of the project and plans to add “vertical separators,” sometimes called “soft-hit posts,” to more clearly delineate the bike lane. Those may be added as soon as the next month or so. In addition, some street areas that are currently painted beige have not been easily understood by users as keep-clear zones, and the city is considering how to change those markings to make it more obvious.
In the future, raised curbs, improved crossings, and some signal changes are being planned, as are bus islands to help transit riders more easily board buses. Final designs for these last improvements are still in the planning stages, with the funding becoming available in 2019.
“We want to make sure everyone knows about what we’re considering doing,” said Fine. “We’ve been in touch with local stakeholders, particularly people involved with First Fridays, because we want to meet everyone’s needs in this process.” This report was a first step toward acknowledging some of the feedback the city has already received, as well as a way to present data so everyone can be on the same page.
The Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets project brought dramatic change to the area. It’s hard for people to get used to something they’ve never seen before, but over time people have adjusted to the new shape of the street.
The positive trends reported here bode well for figuring out solutions to problems engineers have long considered intransigent, such as getting drivers to slow down and reducing collision risks for pedestrians. The data in this report will be useful for any city that wants to slow down speeding vehicles but is facing complaints that road diets will cause traffic congestion.