“The neighborhoods are very split up, and I think the City planners should do something about making the neighborhoods feel more connect to one another.” -comment by PinoyOaklander over at ABO.
This isn’t a one-off comment. I’ve seen this thought thrown out there by V Smoothe and many others. My first pass answer is that not all of Oakland is developed. Meaning, fully developed, built up more than one story tall, or with more than one activity available. So of course there’s nothing to do or see when you walk between different districts. For example, traveling from downtown and Chinatown up north to Temescal and Berkeley, there is not very much in between.
Broadway’s auto “row” is more appropriately described as an auto “sewer” with a highway overpass (another “sewer”). There is nothing interesting to do there except dine at Shashamane or MUA at the south end (nights only), hang out in Mosswood Park in the middle, visit Kaiser for ailments, or hit Royal Cafe and the 24hour Long’s on the north end. (At that point, one would presumably walk over to Piedmont or Temescal for eats and giggles.)
Telegraph is another lifeless 4-lane expressway with freeway overpasses. Dark and dank. There’s nothing there except a Walgreens, beauty supply shops and the occasional canned goods & liquor store. On the south end RockPaperScissors and possibly Mama Buzz (too hipster) redeem the street, until one gets to Bibliomania and Flora and FOX Oakland. (all night-time pursuits except for B-mania which is only open during work hours.) There’s a Koreana grocery store and Korean pool hall as well, which is okay but not for everyone.
Secondly, most of Oakland consists of 1-story detached single family housing, or “Suburbia.” Not exactly zoned for mixed use, outdoor cafes on the Seine or North Beach. We can change this via the underground economy, of course.
The challenge of connecting Oakland’s disparate pockets of vitality is worthy of discussion. How can the city be more connected? I think there are four major reasons for the current feelings of disconnectedness:
1- multiple freeways carve up the city into pieces;
2- development is centered in “micro villages” around transit stations, surrounded by ghastly underbuilt and low investment “ghetto” areas – or simply a sea of plain vanila 1-story single family houses;
3- cars dominate the streets; and
4- lack of good transit options besides infrequent AC Transit busses or widely-spaced, grade-separated BART.
So without ado, here’s my Vision for Improved Connectivity:
- 1. The single most effective thing Oakland could do to spur good redevelopment would be to concentrate redevelopment dollars in areas which are already built up as transit thoroughfares: Broadway auto row into housing/office space and light industrial, the MacArthur Transit Village concept (is it still happening?), the West Oakland transit village area, Fruitvale (increase density). I believe CEDA and private developers (Roy Alper of Gate48 and Project Civiq fame in Temescal; Phil Tagami with his newly re-opened FOX Oakland theater) are already taking the lead here.
- 2. Apply federal stimulus bill road paving funds (a paltry $5.4 million so far) toward a streetcar system for Broadway and International. Oakland must build up more public mass transit, instead of supporting more car mass transit with continual street repaving which it cannot afford now or later. Imagine a streetcar line on Broadway from CCA/Safeway trawling to downtown Oakland, and along International Ave down to 106th Ave in the “East 14th Business District” as Google calls it. That’s about a 10-mile trip.
Regarding cost on suggestion #2 — Phoenix’s new 20-mile light rail system was expected to cost $1.2 billion and is already exceeding ridership projections of 25k+ per day. Adding a system like this, very similar to SF’s MUNI T-line or F-line would be a boon to both Broadway, International and the lands within 1/2 mile of these streets.
Of course the question is, who will pay for it? I would argue that with commodity prices and labor costs way down, this is the best time Oakland will ever have to start such a project. The Mayor’s Office would need to lobby the state, feds and MTC for stimulus funding. Many people would suggest BRT instead. That’s probably what we’ll end up with, although BRT will be limited in a future without cheap – or even available – liquid transportation fuels.
Beyond this, the city can barter for goods and services needed to built the systems. That would be a good use of the type of tax relief City of Oakland gave Sears. (Which will probably go out of business this year.)
Yes, it is pie-in-the-sky, but this can be our future, not just Paris’s. It’s either this or continue relying on AC Transit busses, beat up old cars (nobody can afford new ones), beater bicycles and Crossroads’ shoes.
- 3. The easiest solutions would be to widen sidewalks and close car lanes to traffic, a la Broadway in New York. Increase the amount of spaces zoned multi-use including commercial (for more ice cream shops and the like).
More expensive: Remove certain freeways and their overpasses from Oakland. This too would improve connectedness within Oakland — for instance between West Oakland, North Oakland, Rockridge and Temescal. No more shadowy areas without light, dumping zones for the lazy and greedy.
Even if we don’t use them for cars (whose drivers rarely shop in Oakland, and pollute our air) or remove them, we can convert these overhead concrete monstrosities to sky gardens, rec spaces and transit routes. (See map of Oakland’s freeway web.)
In a shaky town known for earthquakes, these will fall eventually anyway. Why not open up this space now? I-980 is especially egregious. Oakland doesn’t need two freeways. Close 580/880 or reduce their laneage.
- 4. Diversify zoning. Allow for a small neighborhood business (bike repair shop, tiny neighborhood bar, veggie stand, mini bakery) every few blocks. These needn’t all be herded like cattle onto a small number of high-traffic thoroughfares. I saw this work very well in Japan, in addition to all the main street type developments. I saw it in Europe and China as well. Mixed zoning makes life fun. (I added this one after 8pm today so you may have not seen it the first time.)
So there you have it. My ideas to improve Oakland’s connectivity are through increased density along transit corridors, better transit (rail on Bway and Tellie), and increasingly mixed use of spaces everywhere.
Now take a look at improving connectivity in LA.