Two steps forward…

I try to give credit where due, and I do think that the Oakland DOT is doing a good job of trying to address social justice issues in its community engagement process for the bike plan update. But some of the other bike planning efforts going on in Oakland highlight how difficult it is to keep focused on those issues.

One example was a workshop in Fruitvale about a proposal to redesign and pedestrianize East 12th Street near the Fruitvale BART station. The idea (in my opinion) is probably a good one; the much-touted Fruitvale Village transit-oriented development actually has struggled financially for most of its existence, and it’s not very well connected to the rest of the neighborhood. But at this meeting, BART Director Robert Raburn and myself were the only two community members present, and the ideas presented were very focused on the infrastructure. One of the consultants noted that they hadn’t done any work on the programming of the space–meaning, thinking about what uses will be encouraged or allowed.

To me, this is not a street project, it’s a community project; it’s right in the center of a vibrant community. The project should start with the programming; who belongs in this space? Who is it for? What kinds of activity do we want to support? If you haven’t addressed those questions, you can’t know what the infrastructure should look like.

Then I heard about a community meeting about Telegraph Avenue in Temescal. Ideas about what to do with Telegraph have long been contentious, dating back to the implementation of the protected bike lanes on lower Telegraph (through 27th). Those were intended to go all the way to Berkeley, but push-back, particularly from the Temescal business district (40th to 51st), as well as AC Transit, kept the city from moving forward at that time. Now there is new money to repave Telegraph (dangerously bad on that stretch), and the city and Bike East Bay are trying again.

I was out of town for the community open house. Reports are that it did not go well. Some of the comments sound like standard resistance to change, but the consistent complaint is that the people running the meeting did not want to hear community input, and did not leave time for it at the meeting. They asked participants to fill out a survey which is designed to limit the input obtained; the questions are leading, and the road diet proposal which was shelved because of community resistance in 2015 is now presented as fait accompli, with only the final details to be worked out. It feels disingenuous, even to someone like me who supports the project.

The structural problem is that street conversion projects are mostly grant-funded, and advocated for by biking and walking groups, and by the city staff involved with bike and walk projects. Everyone on that side of the table wants the project to happen, and because of the way the grant cycle works, they’ve already had to make the case and do most of the design work for it. It’s probably too late for meaningful community input, and that’s how it feels to the community.

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