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Improving Cyclist Safety Through Infrastructure in the Bay Area

Earlier this year, Oakland city officials broke ground on a $20.9 million project that re-envisions 14th Street. Will it keep Bay Area cyclists safer?

That’s what city officials and the Oakland cycling community are hoping for. The project, which is expected to finish in fall 2025, includes separated bike lanes, better pedestrian crossings, sidewalk improvements, new bus boarding islands and shelters, protected intersections, new traffic signal and street lighting, and a “comprehensive parking management plan from Bush Street to Lakeside Drive/Oak Street,” according to the city.

“Today we are delivering on our promise to Oaklanders for safer, calmer streets,” Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said on the first day of construction in January. “The transformation of 14th Street through the heart of Downtown Oakland will not only improve safety but also create an inviting atmosphere to visit our local shops, restaurants, and other businesses.”

The 14th Street corridor is among the city’s most dangerous, located on the High Injury Network. According to city statistics, the network consists of about 2% of city streets where 47% of severe and fatal bicycle crashes take place. Vehicle and pedestrian accidents are also high along the network. The redesign was approved in June 2022, less than a week after 42-year-old Dmitry Putilov was killed riding along 14th with his two children. He was hit by a speeding driver, who did not stop.

The Oaklandside reports that 191 people were injured along 14th Street between 2016 and 2020, and in the last five years, a person was injured by traffic violence, on average, every 9.5 days.

Calmer, safer Oakland streets

Local bicycle advocates have praised the redesign, saying that infrastructure is vital in creating safer streets for cyclists and all road users.

“​​Protected lanes help by making the street a little narrower, which subconsciously lets people know they should slow down a bit, that this is a city street and it’s not a freeway,” Alfred Twu, an architect and member of Berkeley’s bike planning commission, said during a protest at the site of Putilov’s death, one block from city hall.

The 14th Street redesign is one of many planned street calming projects around Oakland. Last year, a project along 8th Street in West Oakland started. While there are no bike lanes planned for this project, residents in the surrounding neighborhoods are relieved at new measures to prevent speeding and subsequent accidents.

Oakland launched a Bicycle Master Plan in 2007, but progress was slow to start. In the four years following the adoption, only 10 miles of bike lanes had been implemented. Advocates have long kept up with the progress and urged city leaders to make bike infrastructure a priority.

Walk Oakland – Bike Oakland (WOBO) has had a campaign dedicated to the effort for years. The group was also adamant about the adoption of the 14th Street project.

The science behind bike infrastructure

The redesign of 14th Street takes place a block from the Bay Area Bicycle Law office, and we’re excited to see a revived focus on cyclist safety, especially given many of our clients face accidents on roads that could benefit from having designated bicycle infrastructure.

Cities across the U.S. are increasingly dedicating more funds to bike lanes. According to the Urban Institute, in 13 cities, new protected cycling infrastructure increased from about 57% between 2016 to 78% in 2020. “This rate increased steadily across most cities, indicating a growing focus on ensuring safety,” the institute says.

There’s good reason for this. A growing body of research shows that bike lanes, especially those that are protected, are effective at keeping cyclists safe and encouraging more people to take up cycling. Bike lanes can also be good for businesses and help increase mobility among low-income residents.

A 2019 study from the University of Colorado Denver and University of New Mexico found that “it’s not the cyclists, but the infrastructure built for them, that is making roads safer for everyone.”

Many have thought that a safety-in-numbers effect would make streets safer. But the researchers say this isn’t the case. No matter how many more people take their commute on two wheels, it’s still vital to have bike lanes. The study found that bicycling infrastructure is “significantly associated with fewer fatalities and better road-safety outcomes.”

In an analysis, the research found that in Portland, Oregon, “between 1990 and 2010, (the) city’s bicycle mode share increased from 1.2% to 6%; over the same period, the road fatality rate dropped by 75%. With added bike lanes, fatal crash rates dropped in Seattle (-60.6%), San Francisco (-49.3%), Denver (-40.3%) and Chicago (-38.2%), among others,” the researchers write.

This research has made it clear that projects like the 14th Street redesign are the right way to enhance safety for our city’s cyclists.

“When we believed it was the old safety-in-numbers concept, that meant we had to figure out how to get more people on bicycles to make a city safer,” says study co-author Nicholas Ferenchak, PhD. “That’s not easy. But this research has boiled it down for city planners: create cycling facilities, and you’ll see the impact.”