Oakland introduces color to bike lanes to increase safety

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

(photo credit: City of Oakland)

San Francisco. Pasadena. Los Angeles. San Diego. Long Beach. What do all of these California cities have in common? Each has made building up innovative infrastructure for safe and convenient bicycling a big priority. The city of Oakland can’t yet be added to that list, but the City is hoping to change things up a bit.

“We’ve used the green treatment in a shared lane situation where it has been used, to date, in traditional bike lanes,” said Jason Patton, PhD, Oakland’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Manager.

This experimental design, green in color, was painted on the travel lane to help bicyclists and motorists share the road. Green color is now approved for use in dedicated bike lanes, as many cities have done. Oakland is also experimenting with painting bicycling markings, called “sharrows,” on the actual travel lane on 40th Street.

The city is conducting the experiment along with with the Federal Highway Administration and California Traffic Control Devices Committee.

“Green was recently approved for standard treatment for use in bike lanes but it hasn’t been approved for a standard treatment in a shared lane situation,” said Patton. “This regulatory process, recognizing there’s a need for innovation and evolution, has a process for experimenting with non-standard devices.”

The traffic experimentation process Patton refers to allows cities to submit a proposal to state and federal regulators, who can use the data collected to decide if the non-standard features like the sharrows can become an acceptable standard.

For readers unfamiliar with protected lanes (that would likely be most Angelenos), cyclists often ride in the “door zone,” the area immediately adjacent to curbside parking into which car doors open. Usually drivers have to squeeze by bikers.  

This project, part of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan, seeks to improve access for bicyclists to MacArthur BART.

“It’s one of the major east-west thoroughfares in that area. There’re nearly 100,000 people that live within a two-mile radius of MacArthur BART. There are about 5,000 that live within a half a mile but there’re 96,000 that live within two miles.”

“It’d great if we can get those 5,000 people to walk to BART, but if the bike shed is effectively bigger than the walk shed–more people are willing to bike than they are willing to walk–you can get a lot of efficiencies out of that,” said Patton.

The City is promoting bicycling as healthy, non-polluting and affordable transportation to realize its sustainability and livability goals.

“In Oakland’s master bike plan, one of the emphasis is connecting surrounding neighborhoods to bike stations. Recognizing that if people can get to BART safely by bicycle, people aren’t making very short trips by car, short trips being high polluting trips and also causing parking issues at BART stations.”

The project will be implemented in phases and data will be collected during that time with final reporting completed in 2015.

So far, reactions from the biking community have been positive.

“People were saying that drivers tend to be giving them a little bit more consideration, they don’t feel as threatened by the drivers that were out there in terms of drivers honking from behind, or passing too close or going too fast.”

However, motorists have yet to fully adopt the idea.

“Some of the comments we’re receiving are—‘What are you doing here? Why are you doing this? Why do people need to ride bikes on 40th street?’” said Patton.

Since 2006, the City has been working to improve bike access. This just might be the answer.

“We’ve been trying to figure it out the past 7 years and we’ve finally come up with a compromised solution that everybody could live with that still has opportunity to increase bicycle safety.”

Like Oakland, some cities throughout California, are beginning to get somewhat more serious about implementing facilities to better integrate bicycling into their transportation mix.

An important takeaway is that cities, regions and the state need to make sure that major infrastructure projects are results-oriented like Oakland’s cycling sharrow experiment. California’s infrastructure agencies should spend its scarce resources on investments that will prove to boost the state’s triple bottom line of economic prosperity, environmental quality and community health. That’s one of the goals of the California Economic Summit’s Infrastructure Action Team, which will be releasing a list of actions the state can take to give the state’s roads, rails and bikeways a leg up.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza