On Tuesday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee will try to settle the issue by considering a compromise plan: reopen Telegraph to traffic in both directions and change the lanes so the plaza can more than triple in size.
The broader issue, pedestrian advocates and business owners agree, is the direction of Oakland’s downtown: Will it be a car-friendly metropolis that draws shoppers with wide streets and ample parking or a downtown that cuts traffic flow in favor of benches, fountains and casual window-shoppers who stroll in and out of shops?
Jonathan Bair, a leader with Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, said the Oakland compromise is shortsighted.
"This is the same old car-first planning that the city of Oakland has been doing for decades that hasn’t been serving the city well," Bair said. "Cars are not an inherent good thing. If cars passing through were a barometer of economic vitality, then West Oakland would be the jobs center of the Bay Area."
The compromise makes sense, said Daniel Parolek, a principal at Opticos, a Berkeley urban design and architecture firm.
"As an urban designer and an urbanist in general I am in complete agreement in replacing roads with pedestrian spaces," Parolek said. But "the key is the balanced combination between pedestrians and cars that seems to activate these spaces."
Telegraph and Broadway are two major thoroughfares in Oakland, and there’s something strange about disconnecting them when they finally meet downtown, Parolek said.
"You have Telegraph and Broadway converging as these radials downtown, that becomes a really strong symbol of the core or heart of the city," Parolek said. "So closing it off has a much different impact than closing off a tertiary street."