SEP 13, 2017
Travel down Telegraph Avenue in Oakland and you’ll encounter what look like giant cigarettes violently smooshed to the ground. These are so-called soft-hit posts, plastic barriers meant to separate motorists from cyclists and pedestrians that are proving as effective here as saplings against charging bulls.
For example, look at this sad specimen, with the bike lane in the foreground (before the double-white lines intended as a barrier between cars and cyclists):
Here’s another victim with the bike lane at right:
Oakland redesigned its Telegraph traffic flow last year, adding bike lanes along the curb protected by rows of parked cars and sometimes marked with green paint. It also added these posts to wall off various things from drivers—they appear around crosswalks, grayish-tan no-parking zones, a bike rack, and corners where drivers making tight turns could smack into cyclists and pedestrians. As a local rider, I can report that there was chaos when the new design debuted, with cars parking in bike paths as if they were valet lanes. Since then, most people seem to have gotten used to the reworked system (save for weekend nights, when anything goes).
To Oakland’s credit, soft-hit posts are something safe-street advocates often cry out for. San Francisco has anonymous activists installing them in areas they deem dangerous, to both corral cars and shame the city into erecting barriers. In Wichita, Omaha, and Providence, people have made their own post-protected lanes using toilet plungers.
But in Oakland, the officially sanctioned posts are clearly suffering. On a recent slog, I counted more than a dozen dead soldiers in six blocks. The ineffective poles could be denting general safety and perhaps the city’s coffers in replacement costs. Oakland says the situation on this artery, which it deems a “high-injury corridor,” will improve as it advances its Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets project. Construction planned for late 2018 could bring more “vertical delineators” between parking and biking lanes and also “curb protection for bikeways.”
“The flex-posts are providing important direction for drivers and protection for pedestrians and cyclists, but we’re not stopping there,” says Sean Maher, a spokesman for the newly created Oakland Department of Transportation. “Our anticipated next steps are all outlined at the project’s web page, including signage and paving solutions to help reinforce the safety and accessibility improvements OakDOT has already installed.”
What might be done in the meantime? As it turns out, San Francisco has been experimenting with these kinds of barriers, too. The city’s Municipal Transportation Agency explained in an April blog post: