Help Us Improve Bike and Pedestrian Connections at the Kaiser Convention Center Project!

 

Pedestrian and bicycle connections between the Lake Merritt BART station and Lake Merritt are lacking. Individuals traveling on foot to the lake and eastward must navigate indirect routes and narrow sidewalks. Cyclists, meanwhile, must take a circuitous route around the eastern edge of the Kaiser Convention Center to reach the lake. Luckily, there is an immediate opportunity to improve on these connections.

The redevelopment of the Kaiser Convention Center  on 10th Street is moving forward and is likely headed to the Oakland City Council next month. However, existing designs produced by the developer leave the 164-space parking lot functionally unchanged, converting only the surface materials to be more porous and decorative.

We at Transport Oakland believe these public lands, adjacent to one of the most valuable recreational spaces in Oakland and just a few blocks from BART, should be better utilized. At a minimum, the Oakland Planning Department should require significant improvement of the pedestrian and bike connections between Lake Merritt station and the Lake itself by converting the driveway on the west side of the facility (and alongside the Oakland Museum) to a fully-pedestrianized park/plaza extending through the existing parking lotCheck out this Streetsblog article for more information.

We invite you to review the project information and compose your own message to the Planning Commission, or join us in signing the letter by copying and pasting the message below into an email to the Planning Commission requesting that the Commission require changes to the designs.

Consideration of the project is ongoing, with the next Planning Commission meeting scheduled for April 3rd.

Email your letter to: RMerkamp@oaklandnet.com

Dear Planning Commission Members:

The renovation of the Kaiser Convention Center offers a rare opportunity for the City of Oakland to vastly improve the pedestrian connections between Lake Merritt, the Lake Merritt BART Station, and the surrounding neighborhood. As Commissioners charged with thinking holistically about City development projects and overseeing these projects’ compliance with existing City plans and policies, we urge you to support a design for the Convention Center that will improve connections to public transit, expand public green space, and enhance access to the Lake, Oakland’s crown jewel.

The City has both a legal and moral obligation to maximize public resources and take bold steps to encourage sustainable transportation. Oakland’s Energy and Climate Action Plan (Resolution No. 84126 C.M.S.) calls for a 36 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent reduction in vehicle-miles traveled from 2005 levels by 2020. Additionally, the City’s “Transit First Policy” (Resolution No.73036 C.M.S.) prioritizes policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled and improve sustainable transportation by promoting walking, bicycling, and public transit. Finally, the City’s “Complete Streets Policy” (Resolution No.84204 C.M.S.) states that the City will approach every relevant project as an opportunity to improve streets and the transportation network for all categories of users and to maximize opportunities for Complete Streets and connectivity.  

Retaining the existing 164 parking spaces at the expense of a sufficient pedestrian and bicycle connection to the Lake would ignore these municipal obligations. The current pedestrian connection between Lake Merritt and the Lake Merritt BART Station area is confusing, uninviting, and dangerous. The existing sidewalk that runs along the Convention Center’s southwest parking lot entrance is narrow, poorly lit, and circuitous, impeding pedestrian use between 10th Street and the Lake. Failure to address these connectivity problems through this project will perpetuate the neighborhood’s poor transit and pedestrian access, rendering any such project in direct violation of the aforementioned resolutions. The existing plan not only disregards established City policy, it also represents an outmoded design out of sync with a City that prides itself on its forward-thinking agenda.

Given that the Convention Center is within a short walking distance of BART, multiple AC Transit bus routes, and nearby and underutilized parking facilities (including facilities at the Oakland Museum the Lake Merritt BART station and Laney College), it is entirely feasible to eliminate Kaiser Center parking spaces while still providing sufficient access for tenants, commercial customers, and people attending public events.

To achieve a more beautiful, accessible, and sustainable project, I urge you as members of the Oakland Planning Commission to immediately:

  1. Clarify the minimum number of parking spaces required by the City for this transit-rich facility less than 0.25 miles from a downtown Oakland BART Station;

  2. Advise Department of Planning staff to require that the applicant draft an alternate landscape plan that creates a pedestrian plaza and bike path on the west side of the facility to provide a clear, safe, comfortable, and continuous green connection between Lake Merritt Blvd., the Convention Center, and the Lake Merritt BART Station;

  3. Advise Department staff to convene a working group with Department of Transportation staff to develop a proposal that improves the pedestrian crossing between Lake Merritt and the Convention Center, and to immediately implement the recommendations that come out of this working group;

  4. Direct the applicant to incorporate secure, on-site bicycle parking facilities into the design.

I understand the complexities surrounding this project and the public interest in moving it forward. However, I am confident that modifying the exterior design can be made without slowing progress on other aspects of the project. As Planning Commissioners entrusted with development oversight throughout our great City, it is incumbent on you to ensure developments are pursued with the best interest of the public in mind. This is especially true for projects that sit on public land and are connected to public resources as high-profile and frequently used as Lake Merritt. I urge you to prioritize public access over private parking at this site and to improve the pedestrian connection between Lake Merritt, the Convention Center, and the BART Station. This is a once in a generation opportunity that has the potential to transform the  community’s access to public amenities for generations to come. Conversely, modifying the design of this space will become increasingly difficult once the Convention Center is reopened. Please don’t pass up this opportunity. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

[Your name here]