Oakland ‘slow roads’ road closure program ends

It was an idea coined in the early days of stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic: to close off a few blocks in some residential areas so co-residents can step outside to get some fresh air and walk or bike without be able to drive To get out of the way of speeding cars.

Many Bay Area cities adopted the so-called “slow streets” concept, as did the growing trend of closing off downtown blocks so that restaurants could set up tables on sidewalks, parking lots and curbside parklets, which were not allowed inside. ,

Today, cities across the region are rethinking how much of their streets to give back to cars. Oakland, which has covered 21 miles for safe roads, is pulling back many of its barriers. So is Berkeley. Alameda is going in the other direction, slowing down its roads for another year. And San Francisco has chosen a middle ground: Four roads will be slow.

“What we see now is the time to develop ‘slow roads,'” said Oakland Department of Transportation director Ryan Russo.

“In the early stages of Covid, the needs of the community were that people were connected, children weren’t in school, people needed to move around their neighbourhoods, there was no football or gymnastics after school,” Rousseau said.

“There was little to do with anything, so we put up these barricades, and people actually came out and used to walk the streets and ride scooters,” he said. “But that’s not really the need that we’re in now. We’re at a different stage. Kids are moving to Little League. We’re seeing a decline in that kind of use.”

At least initially, the program received very positive support, and it allowed many people to use the streets in their neighborhoods for recreation, according to the Department of Transportation’s response to the survey.

But the level of support varied across demographics and neighborhoods.

“The thing about slow roads is that they acted differently across the city. Some areas have done a great job, in others you may not even notice the difference,” said Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay.

Although effective in blocking or at least slowing down traffic, the program did not address some of the most pressing safety concerns of people, he said.

For essential workers who were still commuting to work, as well as for many residents of East Oakland neighborhoods, traffic safety was a bigger concern than providing street space for physical activity.

In 2020, Oakland Police reported an increase in traffic-related deaths – 33 people were killed, up from 27 the previous year. According to city documents, speeding, failure to yield and running a red light were among the incidents of reckless driving that were blamed for the spike.

This was not a new trend either. A 2018 report found that the city has about two “serious or fatal” traffic collisions each week, with a disproportionately large number of seniors and people of color living near more dangerous roads. Most accidents are concentrated in 6% of the city’s 800 miles or more of roads.

Taking notice of such statistics, the city’s Department of Transportation expanded the Slow Streets program to include 15 “essential places” in May 2020. There, it added additional barriers to help residents safely reach grocery stores, COVID-19 testing sites and other destinations.

In those locations, road fixtures such as permanent concrete “safety islands” or more permanent barriers will be built to protect pedestrians.

In the meantime, the city will also explore installing traffic-calming measures in slow street spots that were based on planned bike routes, Rousseau said.

In addition, the department will try to make it easier for neighborhoods to “pop-up” slow roads if they want to reclaim blocks for non-car activities. Currently, the block party allows that the closure of roads requires efforts such as petitioning neighbors to sign it.

Rousseau said that Slow Streets and such programs have changed the thinking of many people about how they can rearrange their streets temporarily or for good. Businesses that were once aware of bike lane additions or road lane reductions have seen how changes in road use can be beneficial.

“It’s an awakening of what our right of way can be. We are truly stewards of the public’s right, which is such an important asset to the community,” Rousseau said. “There’s still so much potential for what these places can do.”

The Department of Transportation will present an update on the transformation of its slow roads at a virtual meeting of the Cyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission on January 20 at 6 p.m. The meeting is open to the public and at https://www.oaklandca.gov/meetings/. cyclist-and-pedestrian-consultant-commission-bpac-meeting-January-2022.

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