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Safety Improvements On Telegraph Ave. Could Squeeze Oakland's First Fridays

OAKLAND (CBS SF) - Work now underway on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland that was intended to improve safety may not be doing that and it may threaten the popular First Fridays events, local business district leaders say.

First Fridays have been cancelled during the pandemic. But Shari Godinez, executive director of the Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District, said that new bollards to direct traffic and new bike lanes have reduced the space available for vendors at the monthly food and arts festival. And she said they are hurting businesses.

The City Council resolved in July for the city Transportation Department to hold at least two community meetings about the project, but spokesman Sean Maher said none have been scheduled. Godinez wants work to stop until the meetings are held.

"Work has not stopped because we are obligated to fulfill the council resolution that ordered us to complete the work," Maher said.

The design of the project has not been completed, but it's not clear whether the work that's been done so far is permanent. Crews have added bollards between parking spaces and in beige-painted areas at intersections, as well as adding the curbside bike lanes, which have pushed parking toward the center of the avenue.

The project runs from 20th Street to 29th Street, which a city study showed is a high-injury corridor.

To make a right turn from Telegraph Avenue in that area, cars must now go over a speed hump, and the bollards are intended clear lines of sight and let turning vehicles see bicycles. All left turns are now prohibited from Telegraph Avenue onto 23rd Street, and left turns are prohibited from northbound Telegraph Avenue onto 25th and Sycamore streets.

The project is to be completed in 2021, according to a flier published by the Department of Transportation.

Godinez and the community benefit district's ambassador, Kevin Paredes, estimate there are one to five "near crashes" every day in the area, even with the changes already made. Parked vehicles block drivers from seeing bikes in the bike lanes, and vehicles sometimes drive over the bollards, they said.

Businesses have told Godinez that they have lost customers who like to pull up for just a moment, and she said First Fridays vendors will have much less space.

In 2014, the business improvement district took over management of First Fridays, which began in 2006 as the Art Murmur. Godinez said many vendors depend on First Fridays to keep their businesses alive and sales at businesses in the area rise 250 percent during First Fridays.

"It's such a win for the city of Oakland," she said.

New bollards in the center of the street between the northbound and southbound lanes can be moved around to create a fire lane for First Fridays. But the monthly event already runs in the red, so Godinez is not sure where the money will come from to move them and replace them each time.

Maher said, "We believe there are solutions that minimize the need to remove and replace any bollards. In addition, we believe there are solutions that can allow us to expand the footprint of First Fridays to keep the same number of vendors and in doing so keep the business district whole."

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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