Exploring geographies

I love how cycling changes my experience of moving through the city; it’s part of what’s informed my Bike Lab work from the start. And I love sharing that experience with others, which is why I’ve been running urban geography rides for WOBO. The urban stories of investment and disinvestment, advantage and disadvantage come to light as you ride through neighborhoods at a human pace.

This week, WOBO referred to me a wonderful opportunity to lead a group of officials and planners from Portland who were in town to meet with local groups to learn about best practices here in the Bay Area. Right up my alley, so to speak. They wanted to have a mobility tour, so we planned to do one loop on bike share bikes, and another on scooters. With help from Kerby Olsen and Chris Hwang, we got passes for GoBikes and Lime scooters, and planned to head off into the city.

Oakland really showed up for the day. On the way down I saw Fantastic Negrito being filmed out in front of the Paramount, and Frank Ogawa had an International Worker’s Day protest; a lovely intro to an afternoon of Marxist geographies.

International Worker's Day protest

Sarah Iannorone, organizer of the Portland group, also practices urban field geography, so she dug the itinerary I’d prepared, which focused on the challenges of planning in a deeply unequal city like Oakland.

A number of folks from OakDOT came out to support the event, including Lily Brown (head of the bike plan process), Hank Pham, Ahmed Ali Bob, David Pene and Mikaela Hiatt. We started by talking about the bike plan. Phoenix from Cycles of Change contributed his (generally positive) impressions of how the bike plan had gone, from the perspective of a long-standing community organization. Then we headed off along Telegraph and into West Oakland.

Phoenix talking about Cycles of Change and the Oakland bike plan. Image by Sarah Iannarone

Highlights included the Telegraph temporary bus boarding islands, the Tuff Shed village on 27th, the Paint the Town mural at the California Hotel, the (not very successful) “linear park” on Mandela Parkway, the abandoned 16th Street train station (always an interesting and challenging stop), the new BRIDGE Housing developments west of 16th Street, and the spot at 12th and Brush where a literal and figurative “DO NOT ENTER” sign divides West Oakland from downtown.

Poster for 12th and Brush street on redlining and urban renewal

There’s a proposal to remove the 980 freeway. My challenge to the planners on the tour was this: We know that 980 and the other urban renewal projects around West Oakland disadvantaged the community. But if we remove it, how can we ensure that the project actually benefits that community?

We were running late, mostly because of the logistics of using “new mobility” services for a large group (the services aren’t designed for it). So by the time we got on the scooters we were down to a handful of people. But the smaller group had a good time heading around Lake Merritt, passing both a serious-looking scooter crash on Broadway, and a serious Gig car-share crash on Grand. Then two of our scooters crapped out and we doubled up for a while (no names mentioned). The lake was beautiful, as usual, and we managed to return to Frank Ogawa without further incident. Except, when we got there one of the scooters wouldn’t end the ride; fixing that took 20 minutes of messing around with the app and eventually digging enough to find a support phone number.

As an introduction to new mobility, the tour was perhaps not the most complimentary, but it was real. The logistical and technical issues, and the vendors’ tendency to avoid dealing with them, are a real part of the mobility landscape.

Anyway, I love this kind of stuff, so I’m now formalizing urban exploration tours as a line of business for Totally Doable. Are you looking for experiential learning about the city, highlighted by real-world locations, illustrated by data and history, with a perspective rooted in social justice? Hit me up.

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