Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Oakland Proud: OakDOT's Strategic Plan and Equity

Photo: Erica Terry Derryck, City of Oakland.
Yesterday, joined by Mayor Libby Schaff, Public Works Director Brooke Levin, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, Mayor’s Policy Director for Transportation and Infrastructure Matt Nichols and Bloomberg Associates Transportation Principle Janette Sadik-Khan, Oakland Department of Transportation's ("OakDOT") Interim Director Jeff Tumlin released OakDOT’s first Strategic Plan (“Plan”).

Widely anticipated, the Plan does not disappoint, especially to those valuing fairness and opportunity, and is the nation’s first major-city transportation plan with equity as its guiding principle.  In addition, the Plan crucially examines financial and environmental obligations and impacts, creating a grounded framework for sustainable transportation. (We hope the authors of the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan intensely take note.)

Besides the Plan’s refreshing creativity, honest social recognitions and admirable targets desired, TransportiCA is amazed at the metrics, benchmarks and partnerships developed for Plan implementation, and hopeful, continuous success.  Understanding transportation equity is not just a public-sector issue, as public-private partnerships are welcomed and encouraged in the quest for the transportation opportunities outlined.  Further, the Plan emphasizes its nature as fundamentally “living,” being continuous in implementation and amending for future needs / accomplishments.

The Plan can be downloaded at OakDOT’s beta website.  Below, we have listed verbatim key takeaways from the Plan, and TransportiCA’s reaction to them.  While there are MUCH MORE actions listed in the Plan, those highlighted below are of special note TransportiCA.

Listing jobs and housing considerations may initially seem a mistake for a transportation plan; however, OakDOT gets this right, as today we are discovering the interconnectedness of jobs, housing and transportation, and how these historically individual elements considered together can create a truly equitable system of opportunity.

• Define equity for Oakland, and develop quantitative equity metrics (p.13).
As TransportiCA has mentioned before, for many major policies, having well-defined concepts and goals are a must for any plan to be successfully followed.  Again, this is an issue we raised recently with the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan and the VERGE 16 conference, as neither defined “sustainability.”  As established, “the goals of the plan must not only be explicitly stated, but also, most importantly, well-defined, in order for all parties and stakeholders to judge the plan by merits equally understandable and objective.”  Although no denotation is provided in the Plan, OakDOT mentions the importance of needing the definition in place for success, and that is a monumental step forward, compared to other agencies.

• Support transit subsidies for youth and elderly populations.
• Enable and encourage Oakland residents to reduce the need for car ownership and use by providing increased transit, bike, car share and rideshare options.
• Leverage public-private partnerships to support the transit needs of low-income residents and persons with disabilities.
• Develop creative solutions to ensure that Oaklanders without adequate access to banking have access to new mobility options.
• Ensure that parking and traffic permits, fees and fines are not unduly punitive, especially for residents, and that revenue is used to improve mobility choices (p.13).
Looked at individually, the above five targets seem unique to the novice analysts, but in reality, they all work toward the objective of access, making sure all populations of transit ridership and travel modes are accommodated for, further allowing Oakland’s transportation to truly be a comprehensive system, as opposed to, piecemeal configurations assisting some, but not as many as possible.

• Create staff education opportunities including principles and methods of community engagement, cultural competency and sensitivity training (p.14).
Too many times this has been seen as a "third-rail" objective in the private sector, and even government personnel trainings.  However, today, as Oaklanders are proud of who they are biologically, ethnically and sexually, the need to understand diverse populations becomes imperative, especially in a major city like Oakland.  TransportiCA is confident OakDOT would provide the speakers and resources needed to effectively address a diversity of concerns and community engagement, and we hope all other city entities–especially the police–take part in this amazing educational opportunity.

• Pursue strategies that decrease travel times for transit dependent low-income workers.
• Support regional transportation planning targeting the needs of late-night workers.
• Increase first- and last-mile connections to major job, educational and social services centers.
• Make transit payment systems more convenient.
• Ensure that shared mobility options operated by private organizations serve access—and functional—needs populations to the fullest extent practicable.
• Ensure existing residents and businesses benefit from transportation investments and support city efforts (p.15).
Carrying-out a survey for the needs of transit-dependent populations can be expensive and time-consuming.  However, Oakland is fortunate to have many social and academic organizations within, and nearby, potentially assisting with this vital effort.  As we highlighted last month, MTC is boosting efforts to reach-out and assist late-night workers, securing dependable service to/from the San Francisco.  We hope OakDOT becomes are partner with this effort, also reaching-out to private sector, and considering a holistic view of this effort – inclusive of private first / last mile connections.  We also think putting BART's "red tickets" and other discounted fares should be available for purchase and storage on Clipper, making it more convenient and centralized for a rider.

While the old cliché states “it takes a village,” we find this especially important in designing and administering an equitable policy of this scope.  We are glad OakDOT has taken a systems-view approach on equity and transportation, and expect only the best, based upon what we have seen so far.

• Establish a multi-agency Vision operations, and into all projects Zero task force.

• Adopt Vision Zero Policy and communication strategy.
• Create OakDOT Vision Zero Action Plan.
• Integrate Vision Zero goals, principles and policies into all agency plans, programs, projects and processes.
• Develop a comprehensive strategy for safety education.
• Ensure that the advancement of traffic safety goals does not run counter to other equity goals (p.17).
TransportiCA is especially excited Oakland will be potentially taking part in the Vision Zero ("VZ") campaign, making it the last of the big three cities in the Bay to join.  VZ is an amazing effort, and by its very nature, founded upon the collaborative effort between many civic and public safety agencies.  The VZ campaign has also been successful in not only raising the profiles of non-drivers, but positively valuing their placement and contribution in a city’s transportation system.  We hope this campaign–as we imagine, “VZOak”–will follow other cities best practices, with the exception of San Jose’s decision to not include target dates; this is not only a far variation from current VZ practices, but to TransportiCA, this removes accountability and the need for immediacy for campaign enforcement.  We are not aware of any other municipality that has not set target dates for accomplishment.

3. Incorporate safe and Complete Street designs into the design process (p.17).
Too many times, we have been walking or biking somewhere in Oakland, the sidewalk abruptly ends, or there is no place to sit and relax, no shade nearby, nor even effective lighting during an evening stroll.  All of these elements are important characteristics of Complete Streets, and we are thankful OakDOT will incorporate this effort.  Complete Streets is also an incredible effective / affordable way to compliment and assist Vision Zero campaigns, and will also liven the areas of Oakland traditionally ignored, due to lacking such pedestrian infrastructure and accommodations.

• Create a signal operations plan that prioritizes safety for all modes.
• Implement Pedestrian Signal Policy.
• Update all pedestrian signal heads to countdown timers (p.19).
Not much to add here, seeing as though OakDOT’s Interim Director Jeff Tumlin LITERALLY wrote the book on pedestrian safety. (BUY, BUY, BUY.)  We will add that we are glad there will be countdowns on pedestrian signals, and curious if OakDOT will look at signals that give pedestrians a head start before vehicles.

• Create a Safe Routes to Transit program and integrate Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design techniques, particularly near and along transit corridors (p.19).
Besides effective environmental design techniques being a low-cost system of law enforcement, they are also known for beautifying and enhancing the perceived safety of respective corridors.  We advise OakDOT to speak with the Telegraph-Temescal Business District, as they recently took part in a SPUR session about their design techniques, and am hopeful the District will share their vital takeaways.

“Vibrant" is not exactly an adjective you find next to the words 'sustainable infrastructure'–especially for a government publication.  However, as we said before, OakDOT has created a new standard with this report, so why shouldn’t our infrastructure be resilient and lively at the same time?

1. Bring Oakland’s streets into a state-of-good repair.
2. Plan and develop capital projects in an equitable, timely, efficient and coordinated manner.
3. Make walking safe and delightful (p.21).
All of this sounds great, but will be even more so, if not solely achieved, but continuously improved upon.  TransportiCA is interested in OakDOT's ability to make walking "delightful," given America's perverse attachment to sedentary activities.  However, transportation investment and infrastructure experiences the "if you build it, they will come" effect, so we wait for action on these ideas.  We also note, transit benefits greatly from better roads and pavement conditions; if you do not believe us, ride L.A. Metro's line 720 on Wilshire Boulevard, from Western Avenue to Westwood Boulevard.

4. Achieve full ADA public right-of-way compliance.

• Develop ADA Public Right of Way Transportation Transition Plan with measurable benchmarks (p.22).
Despite TransportiCA believe this is a no-brainer, we are always surprised how disabled and mobility-impaired accommodations—even those legally mandated—are either ignored, or simply paid lip-service.  Further, achieving this section will also take many educational opportunities and sensitivity trainings to staff not impaired.  Sadly, we are reminded of the MUNI drivers who intentionally ignore disabled passengers, as the drivers are either behind schedule, or simply do not have the tolerance / patience for assisting those in need.

5. Improve the quality and completeness of Oakland’s bikeway network.
• Update the City’s Bicycle Master Plan to identify and prioritize a network of high-quality bikeways.
• Pursue all “easy wins”—the nearterm, low-cost and high-impact opportunities—to implement new and improved bikeways.
• Move aggressively to design and implement protected bike lanes and protected intersections through major roadway projects.
• Expand and improve the CityRacks Bicycle Parking Program to meet the growing demand for publicly accessible bike parking.
• Promote quality bike parking on private property by updating the planning code’s bicycle parking requirements to national best practices (p.23).
This will be a difficult section to achieve, yet completely worth it when accomplished.  We are learning more than ever the benefits of bicycling—not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically.  In fact, OakDOT's Interim Director Jeff Tumlin gave a TED talk about the many benefits of active transportation; this is required viewing for TransportiCA staff.
Creating a bicycle culture is also a monumental task, as drivers more often do not believe bicyclists should share the road, and even transit drivers out bicyclists at risk as they weave in and out of their boarding areas, in addition to sometimes honking at cyclists nearby.  We are confident Oakland will work toward implementing a system transportation accommodating and dignified to cyclists, and advise OakDOT to call Davis for more information.

6. Expand access to shared mobility services.
• Support roll out of Bay Area Bike Share
• Develop car and scooter sharing programs
• Conduct shared mobility engagement campaign in low-income areas (p.23).
Building upon the prior section, bringing non-automotive shared mobility to low-income areas is essential to equity, as well as, combating the plight such areas typically face with poor air quality.  We all know, historically, low-income areas have had to deal with industrial and possibly port air toxic concerns, let alone the mass of car pollution generated near major interstates.  Expanding such programs will not only improve air quality through incredibly reduced emissions, it will also reduce congestion—a bike's space requirement on the road is miniscule, and improve the health of those partaking in this system.

7. Strengthen Oakland’s economy through improved goods movement, while reducing negative health and safety outcomes in our neighborhoods.
• Partner with Alameda County Transportation Commission to implement the Goods Movement Plan.
• Work with regional and state agencies to implement the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan in Oakland’s Marine Terminal Areas and Airport (p.24).
As noted previously, we have major reservations with the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan, and have concluded it is not sustainable under our construct of such.  While TransportiCA wholeheartedly supports the ambitions to improve environments around ports and goods movement corridors, we hope OakDOT consults a variety of organizations for best practices and proven techniques for improving air quality.  Besides meeting with economic chambers, port authorities and civic leaders, please speak with respective environmental justice groups, neighborhood organizations, and small business alliances who can also provide valuable experience and suggestions.

8. Create Complete Streets corridor program.
• Develop and adopt corridor-level plans that incorporate transit, biking and walking improvements.
• Deliver Complete Streets (p.25).
Instituting Complete Streets is awesome; Instituting a Complete Streets Corridor is an incredible undertaking.  However, we are confident there are enough resources and best practices available from ITE, Caltrans, UCTC and other great academic institutions to guide OakDOT's way.

11. Coordinate land-use with transportation planning.
• Coordinate land use planning efforts with transportation plans and projects.
• Manage demand for transportation induced by private development, businesses and institutional employers.
• Leverage private land use development to achieve public right-of-way improvements (p.25).
Since 2009with the enactment of SB 375, Metropolitan Planning Organizations in California have coordinated land-use and transportation planning at the regional level.  OakDOT's commitment to take on this feat at the civic level is a mark of leadership in equity, but we hope citizens are present along the way, not only have a say in these matters, but also to understand the importance of such integration, and the significance to opportunity this planning creates.

12. Green Oakland’s streets to improve air and water quality.
• Support initiatives that decrease automobile emissions and improve air quality, especially in historically impacted communities and neighborhoods.
• Support OPW’s Urban Greening Retrofit Plan.
• Target capital project screening program for inclusion of green infrastructure in high flood risk and underserved areas (p.25).
Street design, traffic levels, mobility choices and other critical factors have an incredible impact on air AND water quality.  It is appreciated to see OakDOT wanting to immediate establish other administrative partnership to better the environment, and we are hopeful the mission to enhance the lives of underserved citizens trumps any silo politics.

13. Improve transportation choices and minimize parking demand, congestion and pollution.
• Through Transportation Demand Management (TDM), prioritize making the most effective use of existing infrastructure before adding new supply (p.26).
TDM has long been an underutilized, and incredibly misunderstood tool for transportation management, congestion relief and environmental protection from transportation.  We are excited OakDOT is elevating the awareness of TDM's need, and hope citizens and business support such efforts, as well.

15. Enhance the cyclist and pedestrian realm with affordable, energy efficient lighting.

• Update the street lighting catalog to include durable, easily maintained pedestrian and plaza fixtures.
• Complete conversion of all existing street lights to LED (p.26).
In San Jose's April 2015 Vision Zero Update, there is an excellent section on the importance of LED lighting in combating traffic fatalities; further, LED lighting is also key to increasing the safety of public spaces.

16. Integrate art and playfulness into infrastructure.
• Develop arts policy for major projects.
• Develop arts policy for integrating art into everyday infrastructure, such as unique crosswalks (p.27).
Whether it is San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pasadena or Azusa, many California cities have discovered the beauty and interest in unique street striping and crosswalk design.  As well, bright pedestrian crossings raise the profile of those in the crossing, enhancing safety, while also create a vibrant public art feature.

Despite our prior commentaries, we actually do not have much to add to this section.  OakDOT’s Plan has done a phenomenal job acknowledging that citizens are fundamentally civic customers, and it is the public servant's job to assist them in their task at-hand, providing a comfortable and dignified experience.  Too many times we have said to ourselves after bad government experiences, “if this were the private sector, that person [confident that would not be the word used] would be fired.”  With the outlines and hopeful commitments of this section, OakDOT is creating a training system and responsive staff that treats the customer as “king.”  (“King,” in the traditional sense of hierarchy, not in the historically gendered / subordinate manner.)  We also hope that OakDOT does its best reminding staff their paycheck comes from these customers.

We also would recommend OakDOT look into "mobile office hours" conducted at community and cultural centers, libraries and other popular civic and transportation facilities; besides bringing city hall closer to where the action is, hearing citizen's voice where they are provides for a more open and direct interaction than the formal and intimidating environment at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

TransportiCA reaffirms our belief OakDOT has established a new standard / paradigm for transportation fairness and opportunity through its strategic plan.  We only hope the drive to accomplish this remains strong, as implementing these measures can only make Oakland a better, funner, more vibrant, sustainable and equitable place to walk, bike, drive, live and call home.  Mayor Schaff and Mr. Tumlin, make Oakland Proud.

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