Paving Equity Into the Streets of Oakland

Source: Transfers Magazine

OakDOT’s approach to equity has helped it serve the communities hit most significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few weeks into shelter-in-place orders, OakDOT initiated the Oakland Slow Streets program, which for significant street segments invited non-motorized street users off of the sidewalks and into the roadbed while restricting motor vehicle traffic to only local trips. The purpose was to provide the road area for non-motorized users to safely move and maintain physical distance. While popular in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods in Oakland, we quickly heard from partners in communities that have been victims of structural inequality, that the initiative was not meeting their needs. Specifically, many in these communities were not telecommuting and were essential workers still traveling to workplaces. A more pressing concern was traffic that was speeding near essential services and workplaces like grocery stores. Hearing this feedback, OakDOT made several adjustments to the program, including the development of Oakland Slow Streets: Essential Places, which installs rapid, low-cost pedestrian crossing improvements to locations in priority neighborhoods where people were still traveling to during shelter-in-place like grocery stores.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the movement for social justice in response to police killings of Black people have highlighted that government needs both a humble and intentional approach to truly begin to reverse long-standing structural inequities. We will realize equity when identity and location cannot predict outcomes. Unfortunately, almost every indicator of well-being shows troubling disparities by race and place. OakDOT is committed to achieving equity using a systematic and professional approach. Authentic community engagement and transparent, data-driven decision-making need wider adoption. Cities nationwide are learning from our approach — in turn, better serving their own communities. Combating racism and inequality may not seem related to potholes, but Oakland is showing that in a significant way, they absolutely intersect.

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