Reshaping streets for transport justice: webinar with Oakland, CA

Because people in councils and consultancies are generally employed, white, middle-class, the solutions they suggest for cities are often “elite projections” and won’t really do the good for those unlike them – unless they (*we) take special care. Oakland has a great pivot story, which is still going… so tune in August 6th to learn!

As COVID-19 put the City of Oakland into lockdown and the streets needed to respond, the city came up with ‘Slow Streets’: a comprehensive plan to swiftly, temporarily close 120 kilometres of city roads to most car traffic, allowing these thoroughfares to become places for walking, jogging, biking, and other outdoor activities needed by people staying at home for COVID-19. (See feature image.)

It didn’t take long before the city planners realised this programme was in the wrong direction.

They were oriented towards the street uses of people with jobs who were working from home, which was… mostly white people who weren’t the most in need. With the best of intentions, the city council staff hadn’t heard or accounted for the majority black and brown communities of Oakland – with a preponderance of households who had to keep moving around and working despite COVID, just to keep food on the table.  

While everyone appreciated the chance to use the street outside their door, what these communities needed most was just to make essential city movements more safely. It’s stuff in the bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

The city realised how out of touch it was, and pivoted its whole COVID tactical urbanism program – using a big ground level engagement initiative to hear what locals really needed. 

Warren Logan and the city of Oakland spearheaded a new phase of ‘Slow Streets’ called ‘Essential Places’, with the aim of addressing inequity. Rather than close entire streets, the city set up quick barricades using traffic cones and signs to narrow the trafficked lane by zebra crossings in front of locations like shopping centres and clinics, allowing people to reach them with less risk of being run over.

Unglamorous, but what people actually needed more than closed streets: zebra crossings where cars actually give you a chance to get across (during COVID lockdown, and anytime?!)

There are so many good lessons in here for us – especially as NZ’s best transport improvement projects like Innovating Streets and mass transit are rarely done in places that directly benefit poorer, browner communities.


Warren Logan serves as the Policy Director of Mobility and Interagency Relations for the Mayor’s Office of Oakland, and he’s the guest speaker at the Waka Kotahi-NZTA Innovating Streets University webinar next week!


Date and time: Friday 6 August, 8.30 NZST

Please register in advance by using this Zoom link

For more information about Warren and his work, here are some great articles:

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