Oakland Forging Ahead With New Ideas for Transportation

Oakland's new Department of Transportation has a new Strategic Plan
Oakland’s new Department of Transportation has a new Strategic Plan

It’s exciting times in Oakland, California. In the past six weeks, Oakland has passed a raft of policies that promise to have a lasting effect on the city’s future transportation and development. This is all being done as part of the city government’s reorganization, creating a new Department of Transportation to better strategize and coordinate transportation planning and construction.

The new policies include a strategic plan, an organizational chart for the now-forming Oakland Department of Transportation, a new citywide parking strategy (adopted last night by the City Council), parking requirements that better suit the city’s planned growth, and the adoption—before being required to do so by the state—of induced vehicle travel instead of car delay to measure environmental impacts from new development.

Oh, and the city just posted a job listing for the permanent DOT Director. A national search has begun for the right person for what might be the most exciting job in planning available right now.

Much of this rapid progress is due to the guidance of Jeff Tumlin, who has been Acting Interim Director of the DOT, in charge of heading up the reorganization and laying the foundation for its future. Tumlin gives credit to the high level of local public support for changes, a great team, and the city’s “willingness to align civic values with the mechanics of governance.”

The reorganization is giving the city an opportunity to step back and rethink its priorities, of which it has taken full advantage.

This strategic plan will act as a backdrop and framework for future policies and programs. Arielle Fleisher at SPUR wrote an in-depth report and analysis of the plan. In it, she points out some of the plan’s strong points:

OakDOT’s strategic plan demonstrates a thoughtful understanding of the nexus between mobility and opportunity, prioritizing strategies to make sustainable modes of transportation available to everyone.

OakDOT doesn’t just acknowledge the impact of transportation costs on affordability—the agency lays out a series of strategies to make it easy and affordable for all Oakland residents to get around without a car. These strategies include: encouraging unified fare payment among transit operators; improving access to bike, car and ride-sharing options for residents of all income levels; and improving late-night transportation options.

But, she writes, a strategic plan is only part of the work that needs doing.

As OakDOT implements its vision for equitable transportation, the agency will need to be mindful of how this vision will impact, among other priorities, its corridor approach to planning. For example, OakDOT will need to decide, with community input, if its goal is to maximize transit ridership or broaden the reach of transit outside high-ridership zones.

Hand in hand with the strategic plan, the parking policy reform the city just passed includes some very Shoupian dimensions. These include dynamic pricing at parking meters to create more parking where it is most in demand—a policy being tested in downtown Oakland—and separating the cost of parking from the cost of renting housing, or “unbundling” parking. The latter can lower living expenses for people who don’t have cars and, combined with the city’s recent elimination of parking minimums for new developments, will make it less expensive to build new housing as well.

These are the kinds of forward-thinking strategies that, taken together, can make a city a more enjoyable place to be, offering travel choices that allow people to get safely where they want to go without having to get in a car.

  • dug

    Congratulation to Matt Nichols for championing this work to see Oakland into the 21st Century of transport planning and policy. Kudos to Mayor Shaaf for being willing to shake things up.

  • david vartanoff

    fun fact. never see anyone from City of Oakland at an AC Transit BOD meeting.

  • Oakland needs to shift its transportation corridor planning to a European-style tram-network with trams (i.e. long modern streetcars) running on dedicated right-of-way. Our city has a rich history of interurban trains, many of which crossed the Bay Bridge, and streetcars. We must use our wide streets to reestablish this infrastructure and avoid half-baked solutions like bus rapid transit. Only a tram network can significantly shift mode share to transit.

    • Installing rail is the equivalent of hardwiring your computer. I’ts expensive and nearly impossible to change. Look to self driving electric buses for competitive transit in the future.

      • Hardwiring is what you need for good urbanism, as Europe, Asia, and many American cities have demonstrated for over a century with urban rail. Self driving cars are a big improvement over normal cars because they reduce overall cars by up to 90% by creating a taxi fleet, but they don’t do much for public space. Electric buses lack the comfort and permanence that attract transit use and real-estate development.

        • This is a bit like saying IBM has figured out mainframes already so why try to innovate any more. Self driving autos don’t do much for public space? Take a look at all the public space used by parking. We could get all of that back. You don’t need permanence to promote use, this is the 1800th century assumption that convinces people public transit agencies will always need an 80% subsidy.

          • Good point Will,

            You’re absolutely right that self-driving cars will have huge positive savings for streetscapes, but only if that space is purposely allocated to better uses, like wider sidewalks, cycle tracks, and lanes for trams. Right now we have no policy in place to ensure that reclaimed space will go to positive uses and not more car lanes. What I was trying to get at is that self-driving cars are point-to-point, they don’t have the center-to-center connectivity that encourages people to walk through public space to and interact the way good transit does.

            I’m a software developer and urban planner, and I’ve concluded that good urbanism is not analogous to tech. Tech generally advances linearly (with some exceptions), such that we’d rarely go back to technology of a hundred years ago. Urbanism isn’t like that. Good forms of urbanism took thousands of years to evolve and are based on more complex factors than the latest technology, such as sociology. That’s why cars ruined our cities–leaders thought the latest thing had to be good for human settlements, and they were dead wrong.

            I just released an article on the user-experience of public transit that gets at some of these topics:

            http://rescapes.net/the_amtrak_standard

          • I think we want the same thing. To live in a thriving city where its safe for kids and seniors to get around. Also, I love riding on Amtrak. I’ll read that article today.

            I see self driving tech as the next big opportunity to increase the incentive to live/work local. As the convenience of getting around with ride share approaches the convenience of owning a car, fewer people will buy them. This means that the cost of travel per mile will go up but the annual cost of travel will go down. More people will seek local work and entertainment. Its unrealistic to expect people to sacrifice comfort and convenience to get on transit.

            Personally I think all transit should be small & frequent self driving electric buses. These are the software of transit. I wouldn’t bet on any transit company that’s trying to predict customer demand and hardwire it for decades. Here’s my campaign for BART: roscoeforbart.org.

          • Cheers to all that, and best of luck running for the BART board. There’s definitely a camp that sees transit as needing to evolve like software, and then there’s the camp that sees fixed-guideway transit as fundamentally better for urbanism than car-sized and bigger point-to-point technologies. It’s a great debate for Oakland to have.

      • @Will Roscoe – Faulty analogy all the way. Roads are “hard wires” just the same as rail. The question is which mode one wants to encourage over the other.

  • We are simply wrought with half-baked transportation policies and no clear local or regional visions. Transportation issues need to be addressed at the city, regional and greater regional levels. SF is entertaining the idea of putting part of the M line underground at a cost of around $3B 2016 dollars, but doesn’t consult with BART about its long range plans of potentially adding a line down 19th Ave (which is sorely needed). The BART extension in Livermore looks like it’s heading to the 580 median and completely bypassing downtown and a direct ACE connection. Still no Caltrain/T-line connection at Bayshore (promised how many years ago?).

    Part of the problem is with NIMBYs, who fear unsavory elements roaming around downtown Livermore like the Walking Dead or putting small business owners in bankruptcy if Geary gets rail, regardless of the countless studies and success stories around the country and world that prove otherwise. Part of the problem is lack of communication among agencies. In fact, there are too many transit agencies in the Bay Area. Time to consolidate (and privatize).

    • Randy Johnson

      You had me until the last word. Privatization has not proven to work. After all, it’s called public transportation because private industry couldn’t make it work in decades past.

      • Hong Kong’s trainsit is mostly private and their subway capacities are more than double that of BART’s 20 year plan. Public systems have very little incentive to innovate.

        • Randy Johnson

          That’s great, but the United States is not Hong Kong.

          • So just go ad “in the United States” at the end of of both sentences.

          • Randy Johnson

            The United States does not have the development patterns or densities of Hong Kong. The comparison is pretty irrelevant.

          • I think we agree there. Just pointing out how you could fix those 2 sentences for clarity that we’re not concerned with irrelevant complications.

          • This is independent of the location. This is the technology they choose to build. BART management is choosing to maintain their system that was designed in the 60s at a cost higher than that to replace it.

    • Jame

      Consolidate. Yes. Privatize? No.

  • RichLL

    Yeah, Oakland, the city mired in debt, that spends 75% of its budget on police and fire, and is constantly on the brink of bankruptcy, is the poster child for the 21st century livability movement.

    Stick to San Luis Obsipo.

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