By Will Kane
When Claire Antonetti cruised down the new, smooth bike lanes near her Maxwell Park home on Sunday she felt — for the first time in a while — as if her area of Oakland was becoming a neighborhood.
For years, the busy streets were high-speed pass-throughs for motorists whizzing down the Interstate 580 off-ramps. But on Sunday it was something else: parents installing training wheels, boys racing each other to the stop sign and neighbors waving as they pedaled to the store.
“There is no there there in this area,” said Antonetti, 62, referencing Gertrude Stein’s famous quote about Oakland. “We were destroyed by 580. It is a no-man’s-land.”
For years, neither the city nor its residents had the time or resources to worry about bike lanes or calm streets. But things are changing.
People moving into Oakland from San Francisco are bringing their bicycles, and Oakland is racing to paint enough bike lanes to keep them happy.
“With these really big trends taking off, we are really trying to keep up with a lot of the public’s interest,” said Jason Patton, the city’s bike and pedestrian program manager. “In certain portions of Oakland, we can’t keep up with what the public is asking for.”
The rise in demand for bike lanes and bike racks comes, in part, from the city’s changing demographics.
“Oakland has changed a lot in the last couple of years,” said Renee Rivera, executive director of Bike East Bay, a nonprofit that advocates for cyclists. “We’ve really seen the downtown and Uptown really get revitalized — we’ve seen a lot of people moving over from San Francisco.”
But it is too simple to say that the bike lanes are another symptom of Oakland’s gentrification, said Jeff Speck, a Washington, D.C., city planning consultant who has studied bike lanes and wrote “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time.”
“There is this misapprehension of bicyclists wearing spandex or hipsters as gentrifiers when in fact we have a hidden population of poor bikers that outpaces any other biking population,” Speck said. “However, there is most likely a correlation between bike lanes and gentrification, because it is often the vocal gentrifiers who demand bike lanes.”
Ten years ago, most riders in Oakland pedaled to the UC Berkeley campus from the edges of North Oakland. But now, a growing number of bicyclists are heading downtown to work or catch BART, Patton said.
“There’s really significant interest (in bike lanes) now in North Oakland, West Oakland, downtown and the neighborhoods around Lake Merritt,” Patton said. In the past three years, the number of people riding bikes in the city has climbed 15 percent, Patton said. Between 2000 and 2010, according to census figures, the number of people riding bikes to work in Oakland has gone up 140 percent.
The city, meanwhile, has installed 30 miles of bike lanes in the past three years. Roughly 140 miles of bike lanes crisscross the city.
“We’re basically installing bike facilities as quickly as we can with the resources we have,” Patton said.
But there are still problems.
Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, a regular bike rider, said she is concerned by the number of potholes in Oakland’s streets. In March, the city paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a cyclist who went into a medically induced coma for four days after she struck a pothole in the Oakland hills. “Pothole filling is really important for bicycling,” Kaplan said.
In addition to the roughly $1.6 million Oakland spends to repave roads each year, a “fair” portion of the city’s $350,000 bicycle infrastructure improvement budget is spent on filling potholes, Patton said.
This month the city unveiled a plan to install raised bike lanes — a separate tier from the sidewalk — along parts of Telegraph Avenue, one of the busiest biking streets in Oakland.
“There is this really large volume of people that are moving from the North Oakland/Berkeley area to downtown,” Patton said. We want to improve the street “so that Telegraph can live up to its potential. Very few people are happy with Telegraph in its current form.”
It could be more than a decade before the raised bike lanes are installed, Patton said.
— Reach Will Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org