‘Bulb-outs’ will narrow Broadway in downtown Oakland for pe…

Downtown Oakland’s main thoroughfare will go under major construction starting in 2025 to make it much safer for pedestrians to cross the street, according to the city’s transportation department. 

OakDOT plans to build ‘bulb-outs” on nearly every corner of Broadway from 2nd Street at Jack London Square to 11th Street.

Bulb-outs are sidewalk curb extensions at intersections. They’re shaped like light bulbs or water droplets in order to widen the sidewalk and shorten the width of the street. They’re often added during repaving or other major construction, and bulb-outs have become popular with city planners because they lessen the time it takes pedestrians to physically cross a street, which has been found to lower rates of collisions. Bulb-outs can also prevent cars from squeezing by other vehicles on the right side of a road to make right or left turns, maneuvers that put pedestrians trying to cross the street at risk of being hit.  

“The bulb-outs really shorten the crossing distance immensely. We create new turn pockets [for cars], and we’re able to make much tighter intersections and median islands to slow left turning movements,” OakDOT staffer Nicole Ferrara said at a recent meeting of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission where the Broadway rebuild was discussed. “I think it will feel very transformative from a safety perspective and a walkability perspective.” 

New sidewalk extension additions on Broadway will shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians. Source: Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT)

The Broadway redesign will partially remove one car lane in each direction from Jack London Square to 11th Street, replacing it with red-painted bus-only lanes, matching the current design on the street between 11th Street and 20th Street. The city will also add traffic signals at the 2nd and 4th Street intersections and add bus-only lanes between 20th Street and Grand Avenue.

In recent years, OakDOT has added bulb-outs or curb extensions to many of Oakland’s busiest streets. Fruitvale Avenue in East Oakland, between E. 12th Street and Alameda Avenue, is receiving several sidewalk extensions this year. San Pablo Avenue will get bulb-outs when the street begins its major redesign, and Telegraph Avenue and Grand Avenue have already received a few in the last two years.  

Broadway is also in line to get new lighting under the I-880 overpass, new pavement, and new crosswalks. Parking will be removed in some blocks to accommodate the bus-only lanes, such as on the southbound side of Broadway and the northbound lane between 21st and 22nd Streets. 

According to OakDOT staff, between 2016 and 2020, 40% of all victims of crashes on Broadway were Black. Most collisions in Oakland that lead to severe injuries or deaths affect low-income Black, Latinx, or Asian people, and most happen on the city’s busiest corridors.  

The Oaklandside reviewed data through the Transportation Injury Mapping System and found that the most dangerous intersection on Broadway south of 11th Street is 5th Street, where two lanes of cars merge onto either I-880 or the tube to Alameda. 20 collisions were observed at that intersection between 2010 and 2022.

This intersection will be rebuilt as part of the Oakland Alameda Access Project, adding a new horseshoe ramp under 1-880 at Jackson Street. This is supposed to lead to less car traffic on Broadway. 

Oakland has been adding curb and sidewalk extensions to road intersections in the last few years. This one was completed in the last year in the Montclair neighborhood of North Oakland. Credit: Jose Fermoso

This summer, OakDOT surveyed residents and found strong support for making Broadway safer for pedestrians, especially by building better crosswalks. They also found people want better traffic signals, which are often challenging to see and tend to malfunction. 

About 69% of the Broadway survey’s respondents were white, indicating that people of color were undrepresented in the survey results. The Oaklandside reached out to OakDOT to ask why they were unable to get more input from Black, Latino, and Asian people but had yet to hear back from the department before press time. 

Other major streets are in line for makeovers

“Bus bulbs,” or concrete medians for bus stops, as currently seen in uptown Oakland on Sept. 21, 2023. Martin Luther King Jr. Way will get several similar medians during construction, which is expected to begin in 2025 and into 2026. Credit: Amir Aziz

As part of its streetscape redesign program, OakDOT is also planning a complete transformation of part of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which runs through downtown Oakland. 

The MLK Jr. redesign is similar to Broadway’s but without dedicated bus lanes. The city will also add concrete raised medians as bus stops. Pedestrians will cross a lane of bike-only traffic at a crosswalk to get to the protected medians where they can wait for a bus. This type of design speeds up transit service because bus drivers can just stop on the road without turning their big vehicles in and out of sidewalk bus bays. Telegraph Avenue recently added these types of raised medians and they also exist along parts of International Boulevard for AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit line. The International Boulevard medians, however, are seen as dangerous by many because they are in the middle of the road, where car drivers often illegally speed by on the bus lane. 

The raised medians will also create space for city engineers to install a two-way cycle track on the east side of MLK Way, leaving space on some city blocks for on-street parking. Cycle tracks, such as the one on the West side of Lake Merritt, eliminate cyclists’ risk that someone in a parked car will open a door in their path and hit them. They’re a road safety solution that Oakland bicycle advocates have recently asked for, especially after a dooring caused the death of a four-year-old girl on Lakeshore Avenue.

A planned design of the MLK Jr. Way development that includes a new cycle track. The redesign will create a bike and pedestrian corridor between San Pablo Avenue and 2nd Street in Jack London Square. Source: OakDOT

Although these changes will eliminate parking, OakDOT says it’s attentive to the needs of drivers and businesses. “We’re trying to preserve parking as much as we can,” OakDOT engineer Beaver Bonsook said. 

Some people who live on MLK Jr. Boulevard do not want the city to add a protected cycle track there. Ben Delaney, a business consultant for nonprofits, recently sent a letter to city leaders saying that the changes are not necessary in light of the expected loss of the Howard Terminal ballpark project. 

At the BPAC meeting last week, Ferrara said that the city was moving forward with the project because they expect more housing to be built in the area, and it will provide cyclists and pedestrians protections from the heavy machinery. 

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