You may have heard of a new trial coming to fruition in Downtown Oakland this summer.  On the stand: an awkward section of roadway between Telegraph Ave, Broadway and 16th Street. The judge: your City and you!

The City of Oakland’s Public Works Agency will run a 6-month pilot period this year to evaluate the utility of this space, named Latham Square, as a public plaza. On February 23rd, the City held a community workshop to publicize the project and to gather neighborhood input for the initial design of the space.

Walk Oakland Bike Oakland is thoroughly excited about this win-win scenario: improve community space in the Downtown/Uptown corridor and limit the dangers posed by this confusing intersection.  While buses are vital to the downtown corridor, the Latham intersection real estate is dominated by cars. Nevertheless, traffic rerouting is not foreseen to have a significant impact and bus route accommodations will be relatively simple.

The workshop displayed a historical photographic walkthrough of the Latham Square space informed by the Cultural Heritage Survey. This reminded participants of possibilities for the setting. Streets full of horse-drawn buggies, streetcars and vintage automobiles have shifted to a car-centric design. The imagery reminded us of the centrality of different transit modes to public aesthetics. Luckily -perhaps because of it centrality transit, buildings, and sightline- Telegraph and Broadway is purported to be the most photographed intersection in East Bay history!

The event continued with current contextual update and open design charette. Members from the design firm Rebar Group (responsible for many of the first San Francisco Parklets) were on hand to describe their current design partnership with the City of Oakland. A cost effective approach is being considered: to create a stimulating yet low cost space which can more intensively altered later. To add a uniquely Oaktown flair, they look to reuse of surplus materials from City and Port storage yards. Similar projects in San Francisco include the Castro Commons and Guerrero Park.

Jamie Parks, Oakland’s Complete Streets Program Manager, explained that both the initial pilot design of the Plaza and the possible design improvements thereafter would heavily considered community input and actual use during the trial. The project occurs the as the City is studying the rest of Telegraph Ave in 2013, and eager to improve the corridor after the failure to pass the northern Bus Rapid Transit segment. WOBO and the East Bay Bike Coalition are collaborating, gathering a community input and advocating for an improved bikeway along Telegraph Avenue.

Workshop ideas floated creatively- visions included art by Oakland artists, food trucks, a cycle track, music, community performances.  Cyclists stopped to connect in what is now a difficult transit funnel, and imagined rolling along a bike lane from the Plaza to Berkeley. Many participants and passerby were struck by the enormous size of the intersection. Others commented on the unique view of from the middle of Telegraph, one never overtly afforded to residents otherwise. While the Fox Theater is frequently appreciated, folks noted that more leisure space at the base of the Cathedral and Rotunda buildings permitted the shine of their facades to be absorbed.

My favorite realization: imagining for the first time an Oakland where horses drank from the Latham fountain, dedicated 100 years ago.

Please let the City know what you imagine. For feedback, designs, and more, see the City’s website.

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