Bicycling tour of Concord with Alta and city staff

Jennifer Donlon-Wyant of Alta Planning & Design and Andrew Mogensen of the Concord Planning Division led members of the public today on a tour of bike route conditions in Concord.

A tour of walking conditions was also given separately and simultaneously, so that attendees could choose one or the other.

The bicycling tour commenced from Concord BART, departing through southbound Oakland Ave.

Jennifer Donlon-Wyant of Alta Planning & Design briefs the group before departure from Concord BARt for a tour of bicycling conditions in Concord.
Jennifer Donlon-Wyant of Alta Planning & Design briefs the group before departure from Concord BART for a tour of bicycling conditions in Concord.

Biking stop #1

We rode along Mt Diablo St and made a few quick turns through residential streets to enter the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Our first stop was at the junction of the Canal Trail and Clayton Rd. Points discussed here included:

  • Comparative effectiveness of different ways of getting cross-traffic to stop at trail crossings.  Flashing amber lights in pavement, at driver eye level, or a full traffic signal (as actually present at this crossing) are some options.
  • Maintenance costs of various treatments.  Lights in pavement are very expensive and troublesome to maintain.
  • Three-dimensional alternatives to a level crossing: overpasses (as on the Iron Horse Trail at Treat Blvd) or underpasses (as on the Iron Horse Trail at Willow Pass Rd).  These avoid the problem of cross-traffic, but are costly and require a great deal of space.  It’s important to bear in mind that all pedestrian-use routes must serve wheelchair users as well.  To this end, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires a maximum 5% elevation grade on pedestrian routes.  To be no steeper than 5%, an overcrossing bridge has to start considerably in advance of the intersection.

Biking stop #2

We turned back from the Clayton Rd crossing and entered Concord Community Park through Reed Way.  The entrance itself passes through a chain-link fence and has been intentionally narrowed with a metal barricade.   Several riders noted that this was a serious hazard; one had a family member who had suffered a fall because of it.  Jennifer said Alta intended to recommend removal of this barricade so that bicyclists can enter the park pathway safely without dismounting.

The pathway through the park itself is paved with loose gravel.  This is not so bad for mountain bikes, but is hazardous for wheels with with smooth, thin tires.

Members of the group informed us here about a mobile app called Civic Hero which allows geotagged reporting of city maintenance issues such as uncollected garbage or potholes.  Andy told us that the City does receive and respond to these reports.

In answer to a question, Jennifer and Andy told us that citizen letters in support of city applications for infrastructure grant funding are very important; at least one city has actually coordinated a schoolchildrens’ letter-writing campaign which won them a competitive grant for some of their bicycle infrastructure plans. As we move into the implementation phase of the Master Plan, we can all personally help in a similar way with the biggest obstacle to realizing our vision of a bike-friendly Concord: funding. Bike Concord will put out the word for such opportunities when the time comes, and we hope many citizens of Concord will respond.

Biking stop #3

Our next stop was a return to Clayton Rd. We crossed at Rosal Lane and convened on the grass next to the minimum-width sidewalk on the north side of the street. Here there was more discussion of possible treatments for difficult sections of arterial street. This part of Clayton Rd is one such section. There is no bike lane on either side of the street, no adequate width for sharing the outer lanes, and a sidewalk barely wide enough for two pedestrians, let alone bicycle traffic with pedestrians.

Points discussed here included:

  • A lane shared by buses and bicyclists is impractical.  Buses periodically travel considerably faster than bicycle traffic, but maintain about the same average speed as bicycles due to stops, so that a bicyclist and bus will repeatedly find themselves in close proximity in such a lane.
  • One way to gain road width for a bike lane is by removing the median.  But benefits of the median include shade for the road, a sense of place, aesthetic beauty, and some reduction of motorist speed due to the perception of enclosure.
  • Jennifer and Andy informed us that posted speed limits are not set arbitrarily and cannot be changed arbitrarily; they are set at the 85th percentile of actual motor speeds observed on a road.  In other words, the actual behavior of motorists determines the posted speed limit.  This is an important point to bear in mind as we think about how to design streets for safe speeds.
  • Jennifer described various types of crosswalk marking.  The “standard” type in the United States is the one we are familiar with: two parallel lines, perpendicular to the street.  There is also a “ladder” style, in which the space between the two parallel lines is filled with cross-lines.  Data has shown that these cross-lines alone, without the parallel lines bounding them, are equally effective at making motorists aware of pedestrians crossing the street, and the omission of the parallel lines saves considerable maintenance costs.
  • Andy informed us that the major consideration for city planners in any road treatment is not its initial cost, but its maintenance cost.  This is important for us to bear in mind because while we may locate grants for the installation of certain improvements, grants will seldom cover necessary ongoing maintenance.  Long-term cost-effectiveness is therefore usually a higher priority than initial cost in choosing one treatment over another.

A few bicyclists passed by on Clayton Rd while we were talking: most on the sidewalk, and one on the road.

Biking stop #4

After crossing Clayton Rd at Rosal Lane, we continued through residential streets until turning left on Concord Blvd at Concord High School. A stretch of this street now has a bike lane, although it does not continue all the way to downtown.

We turned right on Farm Bureau Rd, and then signaled and made an unprotected left turn onto Euclid Ave. There is no space here for a bicyclist, or anyone, to wait for an opening in oncoming traffic before turning left.

After turning right on 6th St, we pulled off the road for a discussion. The unprotected left turn was a concern for several people, since this route through Euclid Ave is their preferred way to avoid the dangerous stretch of Concord Blvd on their way to BART. One idea to improve it was a simple traffic circle. A bicyclist or motorist entering the circle to turn left would have the right of way over any oncoming vehicle that entered the circle later. This would remove the uninterrupted advantage of oncoming traffic.

Biking stop #5 (finish)

We returned to downtown via Salvio St. On the way, we passed some teenage boys, one carrying a long, heavy tool of some kind, running down Beach St towards what appeared to a fight in the making. City Budget Officer Jovan Grogan called police dispatch. A car driven by a police lieutenant arrived within minutes and headed down Beach St. We continued on without waiting to see what happened.

At Todos Santos Plaza we stopped for our final discussion. The need for bike parking in Todos Santos was a major theme. Jennifer pointed out that bike parking needs generally fall into two categories: short-term and long-term. For visits to shops, open bike racks are generally sufficient, and cost only a few hundred dollars each. For commute needs, lockers are preferred, but these can cost between $2000 and $3000 each.

Andy said the City is planning to replace some on-street car parking with bike parking on Salvio St at Todos Santos. It will be loop racks like the ones already installed at City Hall.

The downtown gap

In response to a question about our big-picture goals for the Master Plan, several of us emphasized that the bicycle gap between the Monument Corridor Trail and our downtown must be closed. There is currently no safe bicycle route between these points, and the route is of major importance as it connects the core of our city to the principal bicycle route of the region, the Iron Horse Trail – as well as by extension, the Walnut Creek downtown. It is not necessary that every street between the MCT and downtown Concord should be a high-quality bicycle route, but at least one continuous line of travel must be, and it must be well marked and well maintained.

Attendees

Planning Commission Chair and PAC member Carlyn Obringer was among those who chose the walking tour.  At-large PAC member Claire Linder joined the bicycling tour, as did the City’s Budget Officer Jovan Grogan.

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