The Department of Transportation (OakDOT)'s Slow Streets – Essential Places Program aims to make a network of neighborhood streets more safe, slow, comfortable, and fun for all road users, encourage residents to use their streets as community space, and improve pedestrian safety at key locations where people are likely to be walking. This program builds on lessons learned during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Slow Streets - Essential Places Program has three components:
1. Expand Essential Places: Prioritize pedestrian safety improvements at essential services that our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, rely on. Use quick build and permanent construction methods to implement meaningful, timely, and sustainable safety improvements.
- Status: OakDOT is working to define essential places to include: schools, health clinics, Head Start centers, libraries, recreation centers, and transit stations, and has identified up to 380 possible locations in Oakland. Planning is underway to identify which locations overlap with the Five Year Paving Plan for delivering safety improvements through upcoming paving projects and other grant opportunities.
2. Slow Streets: Implement permanent Slow Streets through the City’s Capital Improvement Program, the Five Year Paving Plan, and the planning-to-date for Neighborhood Bike Routes (also known as bike boulevards). Develop a network of Slow Streets that serves pedestrians, bicyclists, and micro-mobility users, and advances these streets as community resources. Proactively address nearby residents’ concerns for diverted traffic through planning, outreach, and context-sensitive design.
- Status: OakDOT staff are evaluating ~50 miles of streets included in the Five Year Paving Plan that are also designated as existing or proposed Neighborhood Bike Routes by the 2019 Bicycle Plan. This evaluation is focusing on implementing the recommendations of the Neighborhood Bike Route Implementation Guide through upcoming paving projects. Simultaneously staff will be updating this guide to be a Slow Streets Implementation Guide.
3. Pop-Up Slow Streets: Support neighbors’ use of streets as community space by advancing opportunities for temporary street closures initiated and produced by residents. OakDOT envisions "Pop-Up Slow Streets" as a way for residents to use their streets as community space by experimenting with temporary street closures.
- Status: A multi-departmental effort is underway to reform the City of Oakland’s special events permit process. OakDOT is participating in this effort to establish new regulations that are supportive of simple street closures on quiet residential streets. This new permit process would be the basis for a OakDOT initiating a Pop-up Slow Streets Program.
At the outset of the pandemic, from April to July 2020, OakDOT closed 21 miles of neighborhood streets in support of shelter-in-place and made pedestrian safety improvements at 15 locations providing essential services – health clinics, food distribution hubs, testing sites, and grocery stores. This was followed by an evaluation period and the understanding in late 2020 that the pandemic would define a significant portion of 2021. To improve the sustainability of the program, OakDOT made adjustments at specific locations and moved towards more durable materials. More adjustments were made in response to increased traffic in summer 2021 with the California reopening and children returning to school. Simultaneously, the use of Slow Streets decreased with the end of shelter-in-place and with the reopening of parks, schools, and commercial establishments. At the beginning of 2022, OakDOT shifted to the three program components described above in ongoing pursuit of the joy and refuge that Slow Streets brought to people and families in the early months of the pandemic.
Phase 1 - Implementation: The program was rolled out over a period of three months. “Soft closure” barriers were installed to support the use of over 21 street miles throughout the city for physically distant walking, wheelchair rolling, jogging, and biking.
Another phase of the program, Slow Streets: Essential Places, was launched in May 2020, which installed intersection improvements at 15 locations to support residents’ safe access to essential services such as grocery stores, food distribution sites, and Covid-19 test sites. The City then worked to improve the design and materials used at these locations to provide better protection for pedestrians.
In fall of 2020, the City received a grant from Smart Growth America to work with artist Jonathan Brumfield to pilot a solution for more aesthetically pleasing, sturdy Oakland Slow Streets barricades that better reflect East Oakland culture and still support safe distancing while traveling and exercising during the pandemic. Brumfield, in partnership with East Oakland residents, built a set of four barricade planters and a set of corresponding culturally-relevant signage.
Phase 2 - Program Evaluation and Context Specific Changes: Beginning in October 2020, OakDOT made location-specific changes in recognition that Slow Streets corridors were not working the same in every neighborhood. One corridor was evaluated and modified based on feedback from the neighborhood group that OakDOT had partnered with to implement the Slow Street. For some other corridors, surveys were sent to every resident/business to solicit feedback on that specific corridor. The resulting modifications included Slow Streets signage and barricades being upgraded to more durable materials and the installation of additional treatments at major cross-streets. With the reopening of schools in summer 2021, OakDOT removed some Slow Streets barricades at specific school locations in response to requests from those schools and to allow for AC Transit to resume its school bus routes. Additionally, OakDOT replaced barricades and signs with more durable materials in spot locations to reduce the overall maintenance needed to sustain the program. A summary of modifications is available here.
Phase 3 – Permanent Slow Streets and Essential Places: In January-February 2022, OakDOT removed all temporary Slow Streets and Essential Places materials, including temporary street closures. This change was prompted by the ongoing nature of the pandemic, the continuing reopening of the economy, and the practical challenges of using temporary materials on a long-term basis. The removal of the temporary materials allowed OakDOT staff to shift their attention to the new program components focusing on permanent pedestrian safety and neighborhood traffic calming improvements.
Members of the public may submit comments on the Slow Streets Essential Places Program to the City of Oakland 311.
Last updated: 7/5/2022