A Less than Pleasant Bike Route

July 2, 2008 at 4:44 pm 4 comments

I got on my bike shortly after I got home from work on Friday. I’d been invited to stay at my former roommate’s new house down in Fremont. I was going to get on at the nearest BART station to where I live, 19th Street in Oakland. However, because it was peak hours, they wouldn’t let me take my bike in, so I got adventurous (read: insane) and decided to make my way southward via MacArthur Ave. I had a vague sense that a ride through East Oakland isn’t the wisest of choices, but I was under the impression that I’d be missing the worst of the ‘hood, having assumed International is a more dangerous street. Also, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been curious to take routes I’ve never taken.

The heavy spillover traffic from 580 should have been my first clue that this would be no Sunday stroll. However, I took some satisfaction in breezing past immobile cars caught in gridlock. I took a moderate-sized hill up the other side of Lake Merritt, and I rode through the Diamond and Laurel districts which are slightly rough around the edges yet reaping the economic benefits of high-tech gentrification, as was apparent from the proliferation of organic produce markets, Thai restaurants, and smoothie blenders. From there, I made my way past the Victorian meets Spanish architecture and abundant foliage of Mills College. So far, so good.

However, as dusk approached, I became aware that loitering was becoming more common, as were boarded-up businesses, and I had another fifty blocks or so of this to ride through before entering the comparative suburban tranquility of San Leandro. Literally, from 60th Ave. all the way up to 110th, I rode through a ghetto landscape that frightened the hell out of me–and I work in a rough, inner city neighborhood in Richmond! I was in the notorious Oakland that gets so much bad press: destructive side shows and drive-by shootings. Even a couple men standing by the street warned me that I’d better be careful. The goal was to keep moving, and I maneuvered around stopped autos and ran red lights, whatever it took. All in all, a very sobering experience, to say the least.

However, shortly after I crossed the city line into the much whiter, middle-class San Leandro, I saw the headquarters for the city’s Republican party. Still, wired on anxiety and adrenaline from the ride, I felt an intense desire to throw a rock through the window. Have they bothered to look around them to see what the corporate, free market economy has wrought on neighborhoods like the one I had just gone through? I know it’s more complicated than that, and not all the people I saw on those streets deserve unconditional pity or anything, but still, the cost of a stealth bomber could probably help solve a lot of the ills of cities like Oakland and allow local governments to provide at least a modicum of the services they’re intended to provide. If that makes me a bleeding heart liberal, I’ll gladly wear the label.


Entry filed under: Bay Area. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jsruby  |  July 3, 2008 at 1:29 am

    Scraper bikes! Oaktown. Sorry your ride didn’t overcome the dispirit of our communities. Everyone needs a bike. Libre le velo!

  • 2. bananaseatjones  |  July 3, 2008 at 7:51 am


    I’ll qualify that by saying as an Oakland resident I know there are some very good communities in East Oakland. I just happened to be on a disturbing stretch of road, and it was eye-opening.

  • 3. Mark  |  July 3, 2008 at 11:02 am

    You could have jumped on BART at Lake Merrit, ya know.
    The ride around the Lake down e 15th to Foothill and jogging over to Bancroft is a flatter way to ge to the San Leandro Border. Bike Lanes almost the whole way. A little less run down they are in the storefront church stage instead of the boarded-up vacant stage. I live just West of High Street. Oakland makes a little shift just East of High and then another big shift somewhere around 80th Ave.

  • 4. bananaseatjones  |  July 3, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    I know I could have gotten on at Lake Merritt, but I had time to kill and was up for an adventure. Thanks for the suggested route. I haven’t really spent much time on either Foothill or Bancroft.


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