Keep Temescal pedestrian friendly – help appeal the auto-centric McDonald’s redesign

9 Dec

Over the past several years, Temescal has become one of the most vibrant business districts in Oakland. Whether it’s Monday or Saturday night, the restaurants and bars in the area are packed and as long as it’s not pouring rain, there are plenty of people walking or biking up and down Telegraph. Initially, most of the excitement happened between 51st and 49th, but more recently the Temescal energy has moved South (and a bit North) along Telegraph, all the way to Aunt Mary’s and Remedy Coffee at 43rd.

This area is very pedestrian oriented, with fairly wide sidewalks, buildings right next to those sidewalks, not too many curb cuts or surface parking lots, and plenty of pedestrian crossings. Unfortunately, McDonald’s occupies a huge space on Telegraph next to 45th with parking taking up most of its lot and a pretty ugly, outdated building occupying the rest.

So when I heard McDonald’s was planning to remodel, I thought that could be a very good thing. I’m sure the new building will be much more attractive and inviting. However, the new design, which the Planning Commission approved last week, sacrifices the one good quality of the current design – the building is almost right next to the sidewalk (with some landscaping in between) and it’s very easy for pedestrians to enter.

When I used to take the 1 daily, I often saw people hop off the bus and walk right into the McDonald’s. It’s also one of the main restroom stops for AC Transit bus drivers, and I’ve seen dozens of drivers stop there.

The new design would make this pedestrian access much more difficult and dangerous as the drive through will now be right next to the Telegraph sidewalk, with the building in back of the drive-through and the pedestrian entrance to the building on the far side of the lot:

McDonald’s reps explained at the Planning Commission hearing that this design works best for the flow of cars, and I’m guessing that’s true. But an auto-centric design like this has no place in this pedestrian friendly neighborhood. It’s a very similar issue to the problem with the initial Safeway on Pleasant Valley design, which had all the buildings set far back from the street and a sea of parking next to the sidewalks. (Thankfully Safeway’s revised proposal, after the community and Planning Commission expressed concerns, places many of the buildings next to the sidewalks.)

It seems like McDonald’s is saying they do not want pedestrian customers, as the building will be walled off on all sides by car lanes and car traffic. It’s an odd business choice, since there are schools nearby and the students travel there by foot, and there are plenty of bus riders that frequent McDonald’s.

But I’m not worried about McDonald’s bottom line. What I’m concerned about is the overall pedestrian experience in Temescal, and it’s clear to me that this design will detract from this.

Unfortunately, the Planning Commission did not see it this way – except for two commissioners who dissented, Galvez and Zayas-Mart. So now it’s up to the community to appeal the decision to the Council.

About a dozen of us, including many ULTRA members, are working to file an appeal, but unfortunately appeals are not cheap. The appeal, which must be filed by this Monday, December 13th at 4pm will cost us $1,352. This may sound like a lot of money, but it’s a small price to pay to ensure Temescal remains a walkable, vibrant neighborhood. Plus, it’s not so much if we all chip in. I and several others have already chipped in, and so far we’ve raised $575, almost half of the total.

If you agree that the pedestrian experience in Temescal is important to preserve and improve, please chip in. Whatever you can afford will make a huge difference!

Once we file the appeal, I’ll provide updates on the progress as the appeal is only the first step. To convince the Council to call for a new design, we’ll need to email councilmembers and show up to speak at the Council meeting. We’ve done this before with the surface parking lot in Uptown and I’m sure if we all chip in we can succeed again!

UPDATE 1 (Friday at 1pm): We’re less than $40 away from reaching our goal! Thanks to everyone who’s chipped in, and for those of you who were considering contributing $5, $10 or $20, now’s the time to do it.

UPDATE 2 (Friday at 1pm): We’ve reached our goal! There are some fees associated with fundraising, so we’d still appreciate contributions.

11 Responses to “Keep Temescal pedestrian friendly – help appeal the auto-centric McDonald’s redesign”

  1. Justin December 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm #


    I may be reading the diagram incorrectly, and/or your post, but it appears to me that there is a) a larger percentage of the frontage of McD’s facing the sidewalk (it looks like the length of the place now, instead of the width); b) fewer, narrower curb cuts to stop the real problem (cars crossing the sidewalk) and c) there’s some landscaping.

    I wish the whole thing would just go away, but I think the ped point here is to try and make the ped experience better while people walk PAST McDonald’s, which the bldg width and the narrow curb cuts do. I honestly dont care if people can walk in, and hope they dont. I’m not sure it’s worth the money to ensure that people can walk into McDonald’s

    • V Smoothe December 9, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

      I don’t see how the pedestrian experience is improved when pedestrians are being forced to walk between the street and a line of cars at the drive through.

  2. Max Allstadt December 9, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    The fundamental problem here is that this is a very car centric design.

    It’s right at the intersection that creates a feeling of division between the main drag of Temescal and the part of Temescal south of 45th that is still having trouble tying itself in to the fabric of the neighborhood.

  3. Richard December 10, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    Some good urban design/zoning standards would avoid this kind of problem, for example by banning parking and/ drive-throughs within a certain distance of front property lines and/or requiring the building be built to the sidewalk. For that matter, I’d favor a ban on all drive-throughs in pedestrian-oriented commercial areas.

  4. JJJ December 11, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    The drive thru should be hidden in the back of the property, not the main sidewalk feature.

  5. Justin Horner December 11, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    Yeah, well, it’s just a crappy design overall. Looks like you have the money for the appeal, or should I say, WE have the money for the appeal!

  6. Eric McClure December 11, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    We had success convincing a local bank to alter their plan for a Taco Bell-style drive-thru a few years ago.

    Maybe something in what we did can help you guys get through to McDonald’s.

    Good luck!

  7. Naomi Schiff December 11, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    The downtown Mcdonald’s near the library is right next to the sidewalk, has a drive through, and seems to function. So it must be feasible. 13th and Jackson.

  8. Max Allstadt December 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    I think that the best solution possible for the long term is to deny the application completely.

    The site is 3/4 of an acre, zoned C-28, on a corner lot. It is absolutely ideal for a 3 story courtyard multi unit residential building, with ground floor retail.

    The city should look at policies which deny fast food restaurants and drive thru restaurants the right to rebuild along “grow and improve” areas of the city as designated by the LUTE. Make them wait until the economy comes back and residential development is desirable again.

    It’s important to pair a de-facto moratorium on reinvestment in these restaurants with an incentive strategy: The city should find ways of encouraging and facilitating situations where owners can find favorable terms for becoming silent partners with developers seeking to build denser and more appropriate buildings on top of former fast food lots.

    And hey, there’s no reason the McDonalds can’t go in the ground floor of a 3 story residential building. The message should be: you don’t get to reinvest now and create another fastfood restaurant like the old one that will lock up this site for decades. But if you make arrangements to build appropriately later, the city wants to help make that happen.

    • Oakland Space Academy December 15, 2010 at 12:37 am #

      Good points Max! This site should be three stories minimum. And given that it is on a busy commercial corridor, 7 or so blocks from a regional transportation node (BART), it seems like 4-6 stories might be more appropriate.

      But this saga also raises larger and more important questions beyond just this piece of property, such as:

      Why is this type of development even close to legal in this place and age?

      And why does a significant majority of our Plan Commission think it appropriate?

      I mean, this is really basic stuff; it is incredibly disconcerting that Oakland is getting it so wrong…

  9. Julius Nurem January 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Maybe if we think outside the box a little. Develop a separate free standing buiding (small) just as a separate kitchen to serve drive thru customers. A new concept —“McHut”. More cost to develop but with a double drive thru window system and a long stacking lane against inner property line it could generate more revenue and even be a training center for new employees –“job training”, hmmm. Splitting the drive thru function from the main building would free up the site to put the main building wherever it needs to go and probably improve parking and access to and from the streets away from the corner. Automobiles (gas or otherwise) will always be around so give up on complete urbanization without cars, however, its time for us to reconsider the “drive thru” world where land coverage is reduced as a result of the drive thru and its associated parts. Corporations will tell you that turning a car on and off is a bigger use of fuel than idling in a drive thru. Might be true for a very short duration but not true when you look at the time cars really wait. Regardless, there are other solutions out there but they take creativity, mostly from the businesses that really drive development, not the people designing or attending Planning Commission hearings. Maybe McDonalds and Oakland should get together to explore another possible angle to this project with development of a job training component. Cities and the private sector can work together to “stimulate” the economy, build long term relationships and public trust. New ideas out of the box can cost more money but there is also out of the box income possibilities too.

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