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How Oakland’s incompetent bureaucracy set bicycling back

In creating the 2007 budget, Oakland’s City Council made a critical decision that would place the most basic and necessary piece of bicycle infrastructure in serious jeopardy. In switching to higher-revenue, sidewalk-friendly “Pay and Display” parking kiosks, and so removing parking meters, Oakland would lose the vast majority of legal bicycle parking. Bike/ped activists recognized the threat and acted quickly to find a solution.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee created a Bike Parking Subcommittee, which I chaired, and we identified and lobbied for budget measures to ameliorate the kiosks’ impacts on cycling. Oakland was already planning to fund a new CityRacks program, which would install bike racks over three years throughout the city’s commercial districts. Based on a successful policy I had seen in Portland, we convinced the City Council to waive the Minor Encroachment Fee for bike parking, allowing people to install custom-made racks in the sidewalk without paying $1500. But those medium-term programs joining kiosks in the budget did not address the imminent removal of all meters.

Custom bike rack in Portland, OR.

Custom bike rack in Portland, OR.

With assistance from the bike/ped program staff, we evaluated options for solving the problem temporarily. For CityRacks, the city had already determined that two racks per linear commercial block (with more available by request and extra capacity in targeted areas like Old Oakland and Temescal) would satisfy demand. It turns out that retrofitting parking meters (replacing the head with a bar big enough to prevent a lock from being slipped over it) is actually more expensive than installing new racks, though of course faster. Fortunately, the Parking Department and the bike/ped program staff worked out an agreement to retain two parking meters per block, removing the mechanism and labeling it as bike parking. The deal was presented to and approved by the City Council’s Public Works Committee.

A city staffer and an intern spent the summer of 2007 clearly marking the meters to be retained with a big white X on the sidewalk (also, apparently a merchant or two figured out what they were doing and marked their own meters). I reviewed their downtown selections and agreed with them. Once the meter was removed in front of a downtown bar at which I used to DJ, the owners were going to put in a custom rack.

But, of course, the parking meter removal was not done properly at all. Everyone sees the headless poles all over Oakland’s streets. And every bicyclist sees that very few of them had their heads retained in order to function as bike parking. Before the Parking Dept made a half-hearted effort to fix the problem, the bike/ped program found that only 47% of the 576 meters to be retained were in fact left in usable condition. The figure has been raised to about 70% through a few random head replacements and the bike/ped staff grudgingly accepting some meters retained that were not marked (like the one in front of the bar that was planning to replace it with a custom rack). Despite the City Council’s direction, affirming a plan drafted by the Parking Department itself, bicyclists lost almost a third of their needed parking through sheer incompetence on the part of city workers.

Three bikes locked to one meter, downtown Oakland.

Three bikes locked to one meter, downtown Oakland.

Unlike San Francisco, Oakland has an Environmental Impact Report supporting its bicycle master plan and no barrier to installing bike parking but the time it takes to fully implement the CityRacks program (two more years). When the economy recovers, and as bicycling becomes more popular and valued, businesses will begin to take advantage of the ability to install custom-made racks. But in the meantime, we could have adequate bike parking if a large, revenue-generating city agency could perform a basic task given to them. Unfortunately, in Oakland that is simply too much to expect.

Posted in budget, california, citycouncil, cityworkers, oakland, transportation.

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7 Responses

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  1. Max Allstadt says

    Headless meter poles drive me nuts. The potential to reuse meters for bike lockup and as a pedestrian safety barrier is so obvious that it boggles my mind that it didn’t happen.

    If this city had planned ahead, we could have kept the old meter heads, and had art students re-decorate them as they saw fit, but including a “bike parking” stencil. It would have cost next to nothing. It would have added distinctive character to the city. It would have demonstrated ecological commitment to reuse and transformation. Don’t like art students? Fine. Have the Business Districts each adopt a characteristic logo/color scheme for their meterheads, but still include the “bike parking” stencil.

    So easy. Such a wasted opportunity.

  2. dto510 says

    Max, didn’t you read the blog? The city, thanks to bike/ped advocates, did plan ahead and marked specific meters to retain their heads for use as bike parking. Then the TrafficParking Dept just ignored this and lopped off most of the heads anyway.

  3. Max Allstadt says

    I get it. I boggle at the Traffic Department. It’s worse than a coordination or chain of command issue when that the Traffic Department doesn’t think about bikes. Bikes are traffic, and the Traffic Department ought to be thinking progressively about them.

    I think also think that if there had been an aesthetic/identity measure accompanying this plan, the screw up wouldn’t have happened.

    Lastly, I would encourage cyclists and business owners to create their own permanent post caps, unilaterally. Be creative. Get a cordless drill, and bolt something big and not sharp to the top of the poles. Then strip the nut with a file. Presto. Bike rack.

  4. dto510 says

    I’m sorry, Parking Department. But yeah, it’s just unfathomable that they could screw up so much.

    The city (NOT the Parking Department) will have sufficient racks installed in two years. Who know when the poles will be removed. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to tell merchants about the opportunity to install a custom-made rack (there is no shortage of metal-workers in this town), or to contact the Bike/Ped program about having a CityRack installed on their block.

  5. Max Allstadt says

    Frustrating, but not so awful. This is the same parking department that disgusting troll Deborah Edgerly apparently packed with incompetents. She’s gone, and with any luck, we’ll run her out of her house in Dogtown once it’s all over.

    Oakland does a lot of two steps forward, three steps back. This sounds like one forward, one back, two forward. Hooray! Net gain.

  6. bikerider says

    Actually, the real scandal isn’t so much that the meter heads were removed, but that bicycle funds are being tapped for the replacement bike parking. As I understand it, the CityRacks program is paid largely out of dedicated bike/ped grant funds, and it is ridiculous that those funds are being used to help fund a car parking program — instead of going to their intended purpose (i.e. NEW bike/ped infrastructure).

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Printer Jam - The theme song for Oakland government « Living in the O linked to this post on March 5, 2009

    [...] Pedestrian Advisory Committee fights to keep old parking meters as bike parking and wins, but the meters get removed mistakenly and are only now starting to be [...]