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Five years ago, Oakland planners broke ground on a bold project on Telegraph Avenue: a protected bicycle lane. It might not seem like that big of a deal until you see it. Most bicycle lanes in Oakland and the rest of California are the buffered type, which place bike riders in a painted strip next to vehicle traffic, with parked cars on their right. Protected lanes entirely separate bicyclists from moving traffic by putting a barrier in between them.
To do this on Telegraph, Department of Transportation staff started by reducing its four-driving lane design to two, with one lane for each direction of vehicle traffic, and a center turn lane. Then they moved car parking about four feet away from the curb and painted stripes designating the space in between parked cars and the sidewalk as the protected bicycle lane.
Over time, the Department of Transportation, commonly referred to as OakDOT, added other physical barriers like bollards, plastic poles stuck into the ground to better separate the protected lanes from the parking spaces, and planters and small islands. This pilot project was intended to demonstrate the effectiveness of protected lanes, and eventually the city would build permanent concrete separators and wider bike lanes, making the changes permanent.
But on June 2, OakDOT Director Ryan Russo recommended abandoning the protected lanes and returning the street to a buffered layout. The announcement caught many by surprise and marked an about-face for one of the transportation department’s most high-profile projects.
In a blog post explaining his decision, Russo wrote that it came down to three things. First, the many staggered outlets and entry points for cars, bikes, and pedestrians created dangerous intersections between the protected bike lanes and traffic. Second, the protected design, at least in its pilot phase, failed to alleviate potentially harmful economic effects on local businesses. And third, OakDOT was unable to conduct sufficient and equitable community outreach about the redesign and its impacts. Russo said further improvements could not overcome these issues.
“We brought in well-received bus boarding islands, two kinds of plastic posts, and planters designed to both beautify and protect the installation,” he wrote about improvements. “But each of these interventions proved temporary and insufficient.” Cars ended up running over posts, people removed planters, and the islands caused accidents.