Create a program to inventory, prioritize, and install sidewalk and accessibility improvements that address obstructions to pedestrian travel throughout Oakland.

  • While Oakland’s extensive sidewalk network has long worked effectively to enable people to walk among homes, jobs, neighborhood services, transit stops, school, parks, and other destinations, not all street segments provide sidewalks in adequate condition to serve all people. Residents shared comments that many sidewalks are not wheel-chair accessible. One related and frequent challenge is constrained sidewalk width.
  • Sidewalks along Oakland’s side streets commonly measure about six feet from curb to property line, and those along its larger streets like Forbes, Fifth, and Centre often measure eight to ten feet from curb to property line. While these dimensions usually accommodate the minimum 2.5-foot accessible width required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and often provide the four- to five-foot clear passage required for pedestrians to comfortably pass each other or walk abreast, there are many places where obstructions make passage difficult, especially in areas with heavier pedestrian traffic.
  • The challenges of narrow sidewalks impact not only people using a wheelchair or with visual disabilities, but people walking with strollers, grocery carts, suitcases, young children, or other items. Thus, a wide variety of Oakland’s community members endure inequitable constraints to mobility where sidewalks are obstructed.
  • As a best practice, it is preferable in urban mixed-use districts for sidewalks to measure at least ten to sixteen feet along streets to allow eight feet of clear pedestrian width in addition to space for street trees, utility poles, bus waiting areas, bikeshare stations, benches, and other amenities. This width is generally not possible in Oakland due to buildings or other constraints on development parcels, and the limited width of most rights-of-way, meaning that opportunities to reduce obstructions within existing sidewalks are especially important.
  • The most common sidewalk obstructions (especially where two or more of these occur in one place) include:
    • Utility and sign poles
    • Traffic signal boxes
    • Building entrance steps
    • Overgrown vegetation
    • Uneven sidewalk paving
    • Trash receptacles
    • Building construction scaffolding
  • Besides width constraints, curb cuts for driveways or parking lots make sidewalks challenging or unwelcoming in places due to steeper cross-slopes, vulnerability to crossing vehicles, and parked vehicles protruding into the sidewalk. Finally, sidewalks are missing or end abruptly in some places along desired pedestrian routes, such as along Bates Street between Boulevard of the Allies and Second Avenue, and between the Junction Hollow Trail and Schenley Park. This may encourage pedestrians to cross streets or railroad tracks in dangerous places, or require them to use a rough footpath.
  • Examples of these locations are illustrated in Figure 1, the map titled 'Sidewalk and Accessibility Challenges.’ The diagram on the next page highlights areas where community members indicated sidewalk conditions pose frequent accessibility constraints, and it also shows bus stops, which are priority areas for ensuring accessible sidewalk conditions.
  • Sidewalk slope is another important factor in accessibility. Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, only slopes up to 5% are fully accessible without additional facilities. Slopes of 5 to 8.33% may be made accessible with railings and other features, and slopes over 8.33% are not accessible. A number of Oakland streets are steep enough to not be accessible (see Figure 2). This strategy sheet does not propose changes to street slope (apart from curb ramps and other small-scale changes that can achieve accessibility), as that is not easily changed in most locations. However, steep slope locations adjacent to community destinations and areas with high pedestrian volumes should be evaluated over time for additional infrastructure improvements that will improve the access and mobility of all pedestrians.
  • Improperly parked scooters and other vehicles have led to sidewalk obstructions impeding travel for pedestrians, including seniors and people with disabilities. Improper use on sidewalks poses safety hazards to pedestrians.
  • Concerns have also been raised about dumpsters and incomplete utility repairs causing obstructions, and that densely parked vehicles in the curbside areas can heighten the difficulty and danger to pedestrians walking or rolling, by precluding brief detours off the sidewalk path that would allow users to avoid the obstruction.
  • Bridges in or bordering Oakland should be part of the sidewalk width inventory as well. For example, one community member voiced concern with the narrow pedestrian space along the Forbes Avenue bridge over Junction Hollow, an issue that may also be of interest to neighboring stakeholders.

Project Goals

  • Make sidewalk network accessible for all community members and visitors.
  • Improve pedestrian comfort and convenience.
  • Remove conditions that frequently make pedestrians vulnerable to traffic, falls, or other hazards.
  • Maintain opportunity to include street trees and street furniture as buffers between pedestrian passage and vehicle travel lanes.

Project Components

While many individual sidewalk and ADA passage constraints have been observed by community stakeholders and planners, a comprehensive inventory of these constraints has not yet been done. Funding and undertaking a comprehensive inventory is an important next step to identify all hazardous and challenging conditions, and enable a coordinated, efficient response. A recent inventory of sidewalk conditions in Homewood conducted by PathVu is a good example of this type of inventory.

After the sidewalk and ADA ramp inventory is complete, the facilities in poor condition should be mapped and assigned a priority level for making improvements. The inventory should be reviewed by the City and interested stakeholders and residents every year to determine which high priority locations can be addressed with available funding.

Opportunity to remedy accessibility challenges and inadequate sidewalk conditions will vary depending on the level of effort, responsible party, and coordination needed. See table below for details.

A potential shared use path connection(s) between Panther Hollow’s Junction Hollow Trail and Schenley Park across active railroad tracks will require study to address appropriate design response and cost. This connection requires study of feasibility of building a path overpass, underpass, or signaled grade crossing. Varied topographic conditions could make one or more of these approaches more attractive than others. The City should seek grant funding to undertake this study.

The duration of improvements at a given location will vary from 1 day to multiple years depending upon scale of change required.

When considering which sidewalk connectivity and accessibility problems to address soonest, priority locations should include:

  • Existing conditions that frequently cause pedestrians to divert into vehicle travel lanes or across railroad tracks where they are particularly exposed to danger
  • Sidewalk segments near bus stops, Pittsburgh Bikeshare stations, and mobility hubs
  • Sidewalk segments in the vicinity of neighborhood activity nodes, such as parks/recreation centers, schools, libraries, community centers, commercial districts, major employers
  • Those readily improved by enforcement of existing requirements of property owners, utility providers or other stakeholders
  • Segments adjoining redevelopment sites where improvements may be required for permitting and incorporated into site design
  • Segments where other utility or street infrastructure projects are planned and can accommodate related sidewalk improvements

Additional Information

  • DOMI plans to study opportunities to improve enforcement related to sidewalk safety and obstructions (such as scooters).
  • Continue ongoing enforcement of design standards for sidewalk construction per the City Right of Way Manual, which provides guidelines related to sidewalk materials, width, and more.
  • On a case by case basis, consider opportunities to widen pedestrian paths and add/widen bike (+) lanes on bridges in or bordering Oakland, when the bridges are determined to warrant repair and/or reconstruction.
  • Pursue opportunities to install new or improved pedestrian connections between Oakland and its surrounding neighborhoods, such as the Hill District, Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, Hazelwood, and others.

When to start: 0-2 years

Duration: Varies from 1 day to multiple years depending on scale of change required

Estimated costs: $-$$$ (out of $$$$) depending on facility design

Project lead(s): DOMI, DPW

Project partner(s): DCP, PennDOT, utilities, PAAC, OPDC, OBID, neighborhood associations

Potential funding source(s): City Capital Budget, grants

Examples, illustrations, data