Including community voices on the road to recovery from the pandemic

In light of relaxed restrictions set by the Alameda County Department of Public Health in June 2020, the City of Oakland implemented the Flex Streets Initiative to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local businesses. The Flex Streets Initiative worked to streamline the permitting process for sidewalk, parking lane and road encroachments. The goal behind this initiative was to encourage economic recovery by allowing businesses to use sidewalks and streets for outdoor dining and retail since indoor dining was not allowed by public health order.

The Problem

To implement the Flex Streets Initiative, the City of Oakland was faced with the challenge of understanding how the community felt about the use of sidewalks in their neighborhood. It was also important for the City of Oakland to understand the physical distancing requirements needed for residents to feel safe with outdoor dining. To address this challenge, the City of Oakland collaborated with co:census to launch an SMS survey to learn how the public perceived parklet installations. Flyers with information to complete the SMS survey were distributed in areas near the parklets.

Insights

After reviewing the data collected, the City of Oakland found that most held positive opinions regarding the Flex Streets Initiative. Overall, survey respondents felt comfortable and safe using the parklets. Most negative feedback was focused on excessive noise, destruction of bike lanes, close proximity to vehicle traffic and lack of mask wearing by customers. Following an analysis of the data, a staff agenda report and presentation was put together to share the findings with the Oakland City Council in June 2021. Based on the findings, Oakland City Council approved the recommendation to extend the Flex Streets Initiative to March 2022.

Moving forward

The City of Oakland is currently evaluating what the Flex Streets Initiative should look like after March 2022 and whether to continue waiving permit fees. A cost-benefit analysis on the amount of revenue lost on parking for the city and nearby businesses versus what the Flex Streets Initiative has done to expand revenue is also being conducted. The Oakland City Council will be enacting new legislation governing the Flex Streets Initiative in spring of next year.

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