“Parallel bike routes” are coming to San Pablo Street. Here’s what it would look like
As the East Bay prepares to transform San Pablo Street into a modern urban corridor that makes it easier to walk, bike, bus and drive, decisions made by different cities years ago are affecting what the streets will look like and what exactly they will accommodate. A big part of the project where this is especially true is the bike lanes.
In order to revamp the road, Oakland and Emeryville want to add dedicated bike and bus lanes in San Pablo. However, Berkeley and Albany disagree with this design. This forced county engineers working on the redesign to create a network of “parallel” bike routes, mostly in Berkeley and Albany, that run alongside San Pablo Street. Cyclists will be encouraged to use these smaller residential roads instead of San Pablo to get from one place to another.
Planners from the Alameda County Transportation Commission, the lead agency working to redevelop San Pablo Street, recently revealed at a subcommittee meeting of the Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee which streets could be used to host the parallel bikeway.
In Oakland, cyclists will be encouraged to use lanes built directly on San Pablo Street from 16th Street in downtown Oakland through Emeryville and back into North Oakland before splitting onto 65th Street that will lead to unprotected “parallel” bike boulevards through residential streets. This means there will be only six blocks of protected bike lanes in Berkeley for this project.
Improvements parallel to the Oakland bike path will begin at 65th Street and extend through Berkeley and Albany from 65th Street to Brighton Street. Cyclists will ride on 65th Street and Vallejo Avenue in Oakland, and 66th Street, Maple Avenue and Idaho Avenue in Berkeley.
Speed barriers and diverters, new crosswalks, flashing signals at busy intersections, signs and sidewalk markings will make these streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, county staff said.
The design is in the final stages, although more details are needed to turn it into an engineering plan. The closer the design is to completion, the more difficult it is to make changes.
According to Bike East Bay’s advocacy director, Robert Prinz, who is also a member of the Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission’s technical advisory committee that provided feedback on the project, the decision to not have protected bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes on San Pablo Street through most of Berkeley is a result of feedback that Submitted by Berkeley residents and city officials in 2017 and 2019. At the time, the Berkeley City Council was not on board with bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups in the East Bay. Many Oakland and Berkeley residents also opposed the creation of dedicated bike and bus lanes on San Pablo Street because they would require the removal of car lanes.
Even after Berkeley City Council members such as Terry Taplin were elected to the Berkeley City Council in 2019, Prinz said the project was effectively closed. Berkeley Council members voted in 2021 to extend the project’s bike lanes to Hines Street and Russell Street, but there won’t be any dedicated bike or bus lanes on San Pablo Street from Hines to Gilman Street. The City of Berkeley relies on the Ohlone Greenway and other bicycle networks to accommodate most of the new bicycle traffic.
Safer crossings and signals, new routes and bus schedules, among many other changes
Alameda County Transportation Commission planners say they hope to build safer crossings in San Pablo between Oregon Street in Berkeley and the Albany city limits by adding bus lights at AC Transit stops and new traffic signals. These types of traffic slowing measures will also be added to San Pablo Boulevard from 20th Street in Oakland to Ashby Street in Berkeley, although those two cities will also have a dedicated rapid bus line.
On the other side of Berkeley and Albany, El Cerrito will soon begin construction of a half-mile of protected bikeways in San Pablo between Knott Street and Potrero Street, serving cyclists to and from the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station.
Some parallel bike streets have already had upgrades, such as the traffic circle at 66th Street and Maple Street in Berkeley. Other bike boulevards will connect to streets already designated as bike boulevards or sites that, as Auckland’s official bike route map explains, “prioritize through cyclists’ trips.” Some of these streets, including 61st Street and Lowell Street, are in disrepair, with torn potholes and poor signage.
Last week, AC Transit planners announced their plans to reorganize the entire system starting in 2024, including removing Line 72R, which runs on San Pablo Street. The new realignment will run one of the two tracks every seven and a half minutes.
San Pablo Avenue currently has two vehicle lanes extending in both directions for miles and has no protected bike lanes, designated bike lanes, or bus-only lanes.
Cyclists and pedestrians also make extensive use of some of the proposed bike routes. During a lunch hour watch at 65th Street and San Pablo Avenue last Monday, Oaklandside saw more than two dozen cyclists speeding through the intersection as several cars sped by.
The parallel San Pablo bike routes and the bus and bike project schedules overlap. Prinz said the parallel bike paths project will begin construction “in late 2024,” and the San Pablo bus and bike lanes in Oakland and Emeryville will hopefully begin construction “sometime in 2025” after several public outreach meetings in 2024.
According to county transportation planners, they reviewed each city’s bike plans and held conversations with residents and transportation advocacy groups before choosing which residential streets would be used for parallel bike lanes.
Last year, county planners held a town hall meeting in Berkeley where residents spoke at length about their desires and concerns about San Pablo redevelopment. Some residents worry that removing driveways and parking in front of businesses on San Pablo Street will lead to fewer customers.
Some North Aucklanders still feel that way. Dana Oppenheim, owner of Paradise Café on 63rd Avenue, has been concerned about the San Pablo Street project since she discovered it could remove parking in front of her business. She told The Oaklandside that although she is a cyclist and wants bike lanes, her customers and food delivery employees depend on that parking, as nearby neighborhood streets are used for church, school and senior parking.
Matthew Brown, a resident of the Paradise Park neighborhood that straddles Oakland and Berkeley, told us he “doesn’t care much about cyclists passing through” the neighborhood because he said they’re usually well-intentioned and thoughtful about helping create safer neighborhoods. But he warned that other people in the neighborhood might not appreciate more cyclists using their streets as a bike path.
“Some people don’t even like walking my dog there. It’s really quiet, but maybe that’s why cyclists might prefer this because it’s safer than biking in San Pablo. Walking and biking in San Pablo is ‘not a pleasant experience’ at the time,” Brown said. Present.