Oakland parents, teachers, city officials and traffic safety advocates rallied at Oakland Technical High School Wednesday and Thursday morning to call for temporary solutions to traffic delays on Broadway, the main thoroughfare that fronts the 109-year-old school where about 1,500 students are enrolled.
Volunteers from local traffic safety organizations, including Walk Oakland Bike Oakland and Traffic Violence Rapid Response, created a temporary, rainbow-colored traffic-calming crosswalk across Broadway to show city officials how easy it is to make the busy street safer for students and other pedestrians.
The incident comes two months after a young man was hit while crossing Broadway. The student is now back at school after sustaining fractures.
“Anything and everything the city can do to make this high school or any school safer for pedestrians should be a top priority,” District 1 Councilman Dan Kalb said in a statement before the event. “Let’s make sure the environment (is) as safe as possible (is) given the reality of how high school kids act and not how they should act.”
“I’m so happy because with the energy of volunteers (we) could design something that could demonstrate what kinds of changes could be possible in this road,” said Chris Hwang, the board president at Walk Oakland Bike Oakland.
The event today was also tied to the city’s 30th annual Bike to Work Day, where more than a thousand East Bay residents promised to participate, according to Bike East Bay, which coordinated the rides.
Cars often speed through Oakland Tech, putting students in danger
The biggest traffic safety problem at Oakland Tech is that cars are constantly speeding down Broadway while the school’s students try to cross the street. Often this happens in the afternoon and afternoon when students cross Broadway, sometimes outside intersections and against stoplights, to buy food. The school sits on a block so large, at more than 600 feet, and with no intersections in between, that it encourages students to jaywalk rather than walk all the way to the end of the block where they have to wait for a push- bottom crosswalk to stop traffic and let them cross.
Traffic safety advocates also say that Broadway is too wide, with four lanes, two in each direction. This encourages drivers to speed and can create blind spots for drivers passing slower cars or cars that are stopped because a pedestrian is trying to cross in front of them.
“Four-lane roads are the most dangerous,” said Natalie Mall, a volunteer for Rapid Response and one of the organizers. “When someone is trying to cross the street, one car can slow down, but the other car in the other lane can’t, and you can’t see it.”
Organizers of the pop-up crosswalks received written endorsements from nearly every company for Oakland Tech, including Burger King and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts.
Nick Sok, the manager of Lee’s Donuts, the corner store across the street from the school, told us he supports more crosswalks. He said that he does not blame the youth for currently walking across the street in areas with no crosswalks because he and others selling food are technically closer to the school’s entrance where they cut across.
Because it often takes months, if not years, to build new infrastructure, Mall said advocates hope their demonstration will encourage the city to make quick changes to the most dangerous streets with cones, traffic signs and other traffic-slowing elements.
The crosswalk striping on Broadway was added by volunteers with the help of chalk and removable paint spray, and the “road diet” lane reduction that led to the crosswalk used traffic cones and delineators. The volunteers also added plywood ramps for people with disabilities and made large traffic signs. In all, the cost of the demonstration was $400-$500 in materials and three weekends of work by four volunteers, the organizers said.
To ensure that the road diet followed the correct design standards, the volunteers spoke with local traffic engineers and copied the guidelines of the Oakland Department of Transportation for other traffic accidents. They also received permission from the city to create the pop-up crossings by applying for a temporary encroachment permit a few weeks ago.
Students and faculty want changes
During the two-day demonstration, hundreds of drivers slowed down, allowing students to cross the temporary intersection safely, especially in the afternoon. The 51A AC Transit bus and several very large vans were also able to pass without incident. Most students we spoke to said they felt safe using it and they hope it will be made permanent.
“I’m glad of it,” shouted one as they crossed.
Several students explained why they think the demonstration is so important.
One student named Dylan told us that he saw a fellow student get hit in March and that sometimes he doesn’t feel like talking about it because it was a traumatic experience. A student named Halima told us that she is dropped off at the front of the school because it is dangerous to walk there and that a crosswalk would “definitely” help students. Tech parent Maria Torres told us her 11th grade student often dreads walking four blocks away to the school’s upper campus. Torres encourages her children to bring their own lunch so they don’t have to walk across Broadway.
One of the students involved in making the event happen today was Amalia Campbell, a 10th grader who lived with her family a few blocks away. Campbell is an enthusiastic cyclist who, her father Andy Campbell told us, feels comfortable enough to ride bicycles in Oakland all the way downtown. The elder Campbell is a member of Oakland’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and a cyclist. But Amalia, her father said, is very aware of the specific dangers students face, especially since most of her friends walk or bike to school.
“The way the street is designed doesn’t make sense for how many pedestrians there are,” Campbell told The Oaklandside. When Rapid Response’s Natalie Mall emailed her father and other local attorneys to make a temporary intervention, the younger Campbell asked her principal to try to make it happen.
School principal Martel Price has been thinking about improving the dangerous conditions that students face on Broadway for years. He told The Oaklandside that he has written to city officials to add more crosswalks because he has seen children almost get hit.
“We’ve always discouraged kids from crossing. Sometimes they’ll do it anyway. But other times they’ll just talk in their groups, and not pay attention. If one person leaves, they’ll all leave,” Price said. “So if they’re going to do it anyway, let’s empower them to make changes about their activities and the way they move through the world.”
Chris Hwang, of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, told The Oaklandside that she was impressed with the principal’s determination to improve road safety. She recalls an early planning conversation where Price revealed that some parents would probably be confused by the temporary crosswalk at drop-offs, but that shouldn’t stop her from doing it.
“I think educators want conditions to change,” she said.