Arterial streets vs. side routes

In public discussions of the Master Plan, one topic which has come up and will come up again is the choice between making our arterial streets safe for bicycle traffic (e.g. Monument Blvd, Concord Ave, and Oak Grove Rd), vs. leaving those streets unchanged and instead trying to route bicyclists through residential side streets using signage.

Depending on one’s priorities, either approach may seem like the better one. Reasons for the side streets approach include:

  • It will involve much less immediate inconvenience for motorists.
  • It can be done much more quickly.
  • It will cost much less time and money for the City.

If these factors are a higher priority than those below, then the side streets approach makes sense.

However, there are reasons for the arterial approach which, in Bike Concord’s view, are compelling if the City’s priorities are to encourage the choice of bicycle transportation and to make it safe. A premise of the Master Plan is that they are.

Perceptual ease of getting there on a bicycle

The goal of the Master Plan is to create conditions in which people will choose to bike and walk in our city, as well as do so safely. People make this choice based on their perceptions of the difficulty or ease of any given option. A big element in that perceptual difficulty or ease is how perceptually direct the route is – in other words, how many turns it involves.

There are many possible trips from residential neighborhoods in Concord to Todos Santos, for which Monument Blvd would be the most direct route.  For each one an alternative route can be found through residential neighborhoods to avoid Monument – and each of those alternative routes involves half a dozen chances to take a wrong turn, which a prospective bicycle traveler will have to bear in mind in order to reach her destination.

The Monument route has no such complications.  A person can get on a main street and ride it all the way to downtown.

Offering people a route with six or seven turns to remember over a 3-4 mile trip, instead of a straight shot along a major street, is a good way to make sure a lot of people choose to get in their cars and take the arterial route instead.  If the Master Plan is intended to encourage the choice of bicycling, it should avoid setting up this kind of choice by making our arterial streets attractive for bicycling.

Serving all major destinations

A possible response to the perceptual ease criterion, in defense of a side streets approach, is that a side route could be prominently marked with wayfinding signage, and that this would suffice to make the route easy to follow.

Unfortunately, this approach still relies on an unsound assumption: that an arterial street is only a conduit from one point to another, and does not contain destinations along its own length which bicycle travelers may wish to reach.

In reality most arterial streets do contain such destinations along their entire lengths, because they tend to pass through commercial zones. (Monument Blvd, Concord Ave, and Willow Pass Rd are examples of this, while Concord Blvd is to some extent an exception.)

To put it another way, an arterial street is not just a way to get from A to B.  It consists, by definition almost entirely, of high-frequency As and Bs.

As a result, there is generally no section of an arterial street which can be left unsafe for bicycle traffic without inconveniencing and endangering a significant number of people, if bicycling is to comprise a significant portion of Concord’s transportation.

Speak up for safe arterial streets

If bicycling is to become a safe, attractive transportation option in Concord, our arterial streets must be modified towards that end. Alternative routes through small residential streets will not suffice. But in order to embrace an arterial approach in the Master Plan, the City will need to hear from a lot of residents in favor of that approach.

The most effective thing you can do to send this message is to show up in person to a meeting of the Plan Advisory Committee and speak up for safe arterial streets during public comment time. The PAC’s next meeting is this Monday, April 27. Bike Concord organizers will be present at this and every PAC meeting, as well as the next Master Plan Community Workshop on July 30. Come say hello and we’ll be glad to hear your ideas and give you a Bike Concord pin.

If you are unable to attend this PAC meeting, or the next one on Monday, June 22, please email your comments to Principal Planner Andy Mogensen at Andrew.Mogensen@

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