Walk This Way

At the November 18, 2021 BPAC meeting, Colin Piethe presented on the Walk This Way Toolkit.
The Walk This Way Toolkit for underpass improvements is a project that was led by the Department of Planning & Building in 2016, and is now managed by the Department of Transportation. The toolkit is aimed at helping developers, City staff, and members of the public have a 1) menu of design tools to address the dark and uninviting nature of underpasses and 2) guidance on how to navigate internal and external processes for improving underpass areas.

Excerpts from presentation:

  • Study area: the toolkit studies 4 underpasses to develop design solutions and agency navigation for underpass improvements.
  • Oakland has over 85 pedestrian-accessible underpasses across 5 freeways.
  • The City’s Department of Race and Equity’s Oakland Equity Map visualizes priority neighborhoods and pedestrian high injury corridors.
  • The existing conditions study identifies negative sensory impacts & common characteristics of underpasses.
  • The existing conditions summary identifies patterns in the built environment that influence a pedestrian’s experience.
  • The toolkit organizes design solutions in categories guided by agency jurisdiction and permitting processes.

Furnishings invite pedestrians into the underpass; high-contrast, color, and light bring drivers’ attention to pedestrian spaces.

  • Maintenance: Routinely clean site furnishing elements.
  • High-contrast bollards at crosswalks.
  • Remove all barbed and razor wire
  • Decorative elements such as privacy slats, custom vinyl screening, or ribbon, to existing fencing
  • Relocate fencing behind columns (pair with incorporating columns into a broader graphic identity strategy)
  • Incorporate portable toilets and handwashing stations into broader graphic identity

Underpass walls and embankments can integrate materials and forms to create pedestrian-oriented space.

  • Provide a buffer between traffic and sidewalk, with parking, bikeways, or planting; separated Class IV bike facilities
  • Provide multi-modal safety standards (e.g., parking daylighting, widen sidewalks, speed bumps, bump-outs, flashing bollards, accessible pedestrian crosswalk signals)
  • Integrate colored concrete or pavers in roadway or sidewalk
  • Use decorative exposed aggregate, stone, concrete scoring or formliner, or pavers for surfacing of embankment slopes and walls.
  • Re-shape embankments to neighborhood-scale forms such as smaller, terraced, retaining walls.
  • Decorative, all-weather metal cladding (steel, corten) panels (such as cladding used on sides of buildings, parking garages, utility infrastructure screening) on sides of freeway
  • Modify or remove non-structural underpass walls to widen pedestrian space
  • Incorporate sound attenuation elements that are decorative or sculptural
  • Modify pedestrian and traffic circulation patterns
  • Shield pedestrian spaces from vehicular traffic using continuous solid barriers
  • Divide the road and sidewalk with a fully enclosing wall

The full presentation and summary of discussion are below.


Summary of discussion

  • The inter-agency coordination is challenging. In a current example, a developer has been seeking to install artwork in a Caltrans underpass. The developer has reached the conclusion that the Caltrans requirements make the project infeasible, despite significant funding from the developer.
  • OakDOT is working with Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Department to understand better the implementation of public art and pathways for OakDOT to partner with artists.
  • OakDOT is seeking to learn from other agencies that have had been able to improve Caltrans underpasses, like an underpass in Campbell that has been particularly successful. Another example is in Emeryville where the Bay Trail crosses under the freeway (along Powell St under I-80).
  • Cars and trucks parking in underpasses create a visual barrier by hiding the sidewalk from the street. Restricting parking could improve sightlines, especially near intersections where there is a traffic safety benefit in addition to a personal security benefit.

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