BARTable by bike: Oakland Streets

A street mural at Ayala Avenue and Hermann Street in Rockridge. Photo courtesy of Tom Holub.

Editor's note: BART is currently running reduced service for essential travel. We are dispatching long trains even though ridership has been significantly reduced. We are doing this to ensure our riders can properly socially distance from one another. If you plan to ride BART, see our feature, Tips for riding BART during COVID-19.

Before heading out, make sure you understand local requirements on social distancing and wearing a mask. Alameda County and San Francisco city health officials require residents to wear face coverings any time they leave home and get within 30 feet of anyone not living in their household. If you need a mask, check out our feature, Bay Area businesses selling masks during COVID-19

Difficulty

• Short route: beginner
• Long route: beginner/intermediate

Terrain

• Short route: mostly flat pavement, about 18 miles total
• Long route: mostly flat pavement, about 39 miles total

Cautions

• Slow Streets are not closed to cars. Many of them are quite comfortable to ride but some still have substantial traffic, especially in East Oakland.
• Be careful when crossing major boulevards like 73rd, 35th, and Telegraph Avenues.
• You will encounter bad pavement and railroad tracks, particularly in West Oakland; use extra caution crossing train tracks. Always make sure your bike is perpendicular to the tracks before crossing to ensure your wheels do not get caught in the gaps between the rails.

Introduction

Oakland has a number of programs encouraging people to reclaim street space for non-motorized use. Paint the Town, a joint program of OakDOT and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, has been bringing neighbors together to enliven streets and intersections all over the city since 2018. Now in the COVID-19 era, the city is working on implementing 74 miles of Oakland Slow Streets, deploying soft barriers to reduce and slow traffic on residential streets to allow for better social distancing while exercising outside.

For more information about Slow Streets, see our feature Take a stroll on the Bay Area's Slow Streets.

This route will explore Oakland, riding along a bunch of the designated Slow Streets while visiting many of the Paint the Town murals and a number of other colorful public installations. It’s a great way to learn more about The Town, and see how these kinds of street programs are implemented in different parts of the city.

What to bring

Comfortable riding shoes, helmet, water bottles, sun protection (hat, sunscreen), extra layers or rain gear (just in case). A smartphone is handy for maps and looking up information or taking photos. And, of course, your Clipper card. Make sure to download the Ride with GPS app so you can easily reference the route.

How to get there

Both routes begin at San Leandro Station, where you can exit the station to the right (west) side, and use the pedestrian pathway to get to Alvarado Street. You can also pick up the route near any of the stations in Oakland, or use the long route to do the whole thing as a loop.

Short route

Long route

Highlights of the ride

The Scraper Bikeway

The 90th Avenue Scraper Bikeway, part of the Paint the Town program, is an innovative, center-running bike path, developed in partnership with East Oakland’s Original Scraper Bike Team. The paint at the intersection could use a touch-up, but the pathway is pretty fun to ride; take a detour up to Bancroft Ave to see what it’s like to claim the middle of the road.

The 90th Avenue Scraper Bikeway. Photo courtesy of Tom Holub.

Maxwell Park

As you head up the hill from the flatlands, you’ll get to the Maxwell Park neighborhood near Mills College. Though the development was originally racially restricted (see the original real estate ad at the link above), it has been integrated for many years as a multi-racial middle-class neighborhood. There are a number of cool mosaics in Maxwell Park itself, and the neighborhood is said to be where the practice of trash can mosaics originated. Now, locals have adopted their Slow Street and decorated it with flags and toys.

A Slow Street in Maxwell Park. Photo courtesy of Tom Holub.

San Antonio District back alleys

In the Spanish colonial era, much of today’s Oakland was part of Rancho San Antonio, which had been occupied by the Peralta family starting in about 1820. One of their houses still stands in Peralta Hacienda Historic Park, but by the mid-19th century the family had sold off much of the land, including the area now referred to as the San Antonio District.

The land between approximately today’s 14th and 23rd Avenues was purchased by lumber baron James LaRue, who developed it as a separate town, called Brooklyn at the time. Because it was an independent city, its street grid is offset from the rest of Oakland, and it is one of the few places in town where you will see streets with back alleys. These naturally slow streets feature numerous murals and other creative adaptations. The Ride with GPS route travels down Marin Way, but there are seven parallel alleys to explore if you are interested.

An alley mural in the San Antonio District. Photo courtesy of Tom Holub.

The Oakland Buddha

Oakland already has a few formal traffic diverters on its streets, and one of those, on 11th Avenue, has become a bit of an icon. In 2011, resident Dan Stevenson installed a small Buddha statue at the intersection to dissuade people from dumping trash there. The local community, which includes many Vietnamese Buddhists, informally adopted the statue, and over the years since it has become a substantial shrine, visited by Buddhists and others from around the city.

The Oakland Buddha shrine. Photo courtesy of Tom Holub.

16th Street Train Station

Down at the end of 16th Street sits Oakland’s largest white elephant; the majestic and decrepit 16th Street Train Station. Once the city’s main stop on the Transcontinental Railroad and the central hub for multiple Oakland trolley systems, the freeway era reduced the importance of the neoclassical building. Damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake resulted in its closure, and the building is now largely abandoned, although it is often used as a backdrop for music videos and commercials. An example of this is Draymond Green's Beats by Dre ad below (includes a bonus Scraper Bike sighting).

16th Street Train Station. Photo courtesy of Tom Holub.
 

The short route of the trip ends a few miles from the 16th Street Train Station at Oakland’s Frog Park. For the hearty among you, keep rolling back through Downtown Oakland, past the north side of Lake Merritt, and along the Bay through Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline to San Leandro Station.

Visit bart.gov/bikes to check BART’s bike rules, then strap on your helmet and get out there!

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