Slow Streets–Essential Places Program Update

At the January 20, 2022 BPAC meeting, Megan Wier and Jason Patton, OakDOT staff in the Safe Streets Division, will present on upcoming changes to the Slow Streets–Essential Places Program in response to the ongoing and changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes include removing the temporary Slow Streets and Essential Places materials, including temporary street closures, and shifting efforts to longer term strategies for pedestrian safety and neighborhood traffic calming. The presentation is below.

An East Bay Times article (15 Jan 2022) summarizes the program’s changes.

Excerpts from the presentation:

Phase 1 – Evaluation Findings (April to September 2020)

  • Oakland Slow Streets created space for physical activity without impeding necessary street functions.
  • Oakland Slow Streets received a lot of positive support.
  • Support and use of Oakland Slow Streets varied by demographic and geographic group with the highest levels from higher income, White, and North Oakland residents. Essential workers and Deep East Oakland residents expressed that the program was not meeting their needs and conflicted with public health messaging.
  • Oakland Slow Streets communications did not reach enough Oaklanders.
  • For many Oaklanders, traffic safety was a more important transportation issue than creating space for physical activity, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods with less telecommuting.
  • Cones and barricades were not sustainable materials, requiring extensive maintenance and generating significant replacement costs.

Phase 2 – Challenges (Fall 2020 through 2021)

  • ~2 years of a “temporary” program where temporary materials = high maintenance
  • Declining use through time, even on popular corridors, as California reopened, schools resumed, residents began driving more again, and the virus was better understood
  • Waning support and growing complaints, especially from neighbors on nearby streets:
    • “I supported during shelter-in-place but now…”
    • Slow Streets criticized as “privatization”
    • Diverted traffic unfairly affecting others
    • Safety concerns at major cross-streets
    • Drivers unable to use key traffic signals
  • Competition with other demands as OakDOT staff work to deliver safety improvements and respond to resident concerns

Phase 3 – Sustainable Strategies (beginning 2022)

  • Redirect staff efforts by removing all temporary Slow Streets and Essential Places materials and shifting to longer-term improvements. The removal of temporary materials, including the temporary street closures, will start in late January 2022.
  • 1. Expand Essential Places: Prioritize essential services for quick build and permanent pedestrian safety projects.
  • 2. Neighborhood Bike Routes Slow Streets: Build a network that serves pedestrians, bicyclists, and micromobility users, and advance these streets as community space.
  • 3. Pop-up Slow Streets: Support resident-initiated use of streets as neighborhood space for community-building.

Phase 3 – Expanding Essential Places

  • Install pedestrian safety improvements at essential services, especially those serving our most vulnerable residents
  • May include safety islands, hardened centerlines, bulb-outs…
  • Prioritize using High Injury Network and equity factors like income and race
  • Continue to use temporary materials for rapid installation
  • Continue systematically upgrading these locations to permanent treatments (like concrete safety islands).

Phase 3 – Neighborhood Bike Routes Slow Streets

Proposal: Build a Slow Streets Network that serves pedestrians, bicyclists, and micro-mobility users, and advances these streets as community space.

  • Partner with the BPAC Infrastructure Committee to update the Neighborhood Bike Route Implementation Guide to be a “Slow Streets Implementation Guide”.
  • Proactively address nearby residents’ concerns for diverted traffic and safety at major cross-streets through planning, outreach, and context-sensitive design
  • Implement permanent Slow Streets through the City’s Capital Improvement Program and the Five-Year Paving Plan.
  • Near-term opportunities include 8th St West Oakland, paving projects, and the East Oakland Neighborhood Bike Routes ATP grant.
  • Design elements include new signage and markings (to be developed), speed humps, traffic circles, improvements at major street crossings, and context-sensitive diverters at key locations.

Phase 3 – Pop-Up Slow Streets

  • Support neighbor-initiated use of streets as community space by advancing opportunities for Pop-up Slow Streets.
  • OakDOT is participating in a multi-department effort to improve special events permits in support of neighborhood block parties.
  • “Pop-Up Slow Streets” is a way for residents to use their streets as community space by experimenting with temporary street closures.

Phase 3 – Policy Issues for Further Discussion

  • Building a Slow Streets Network is in tension with resident-initiated Pop-Up Slow Streets that are unlikely to result in a connected network.
    • Proposal: Develop a naming convention to clarify this distinction.
  • Many existing and proposed Neighborhood Bike Routes are on “collector” streets that are intended to be through streets for drivers.
    • Proposal: Seek opportunities to reclassify these streets as local streets.
  • Per State law pedestrians do not have right-of-way in the street except at crosswalks.
    • Proposal: Use Oakland’s authority for traffic calming and temporary street closures to support pedestrian activity.


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