Here are Bike Concord’s minutes from the sixth meeting of the Plan Advisory Committee, which was held on Monday, August 24.
The meeting agenda and staff’s PowerPoint presentation are available online from the City: http://www.cityofconcord.org/pdf/projects/transit/10192015.pdf. As the discussion in this meeting concerned the details of project prioritization criteria in the presentation (listed on page 13) compared to an alternative version presented by Bike Concord, it is important to read both in order to understand the following record of the discussion.
Laura Hoffmeister (hereafter called “LH” to distinguish her from Planning Manager Laura Simpson) called the meeting to order at 5:31pm. The following people were present:
- Laura Hoffmeister (Vice-Mayor and chair of the committee).
- Sergio Huerta (at-large member and vice-chair of the committee, Bike Concord).
- Claire Linder (at-large member, Bike Concord).
- Carlyn Obringer (Planning Commission representative on the committee).
- Mark Sinclair (Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Committee representative on the committee).
- Jennifer Donlon-Wyant (Alta Planning + Design, consultant on the Master Plan).
- Andy Mogensen (Principal Planner, City of Concord).
- Laura Simpson (Planning Manager, City of Concord).
- Ray Barbour (member of the public).
- Jacob Jones (member of the public).
- Brian Cory (Bike Concord).
- Dave Kamlin (Bike Concord).
- Aaron McHugh (Bike Concord).
- Smitty Ardrey (Bike Concord).
- Kenji Yamada (Bike Concord).
No changes to agenda. No public comment on non-agenda items.
Andy noted that there was a letter (from Bike Concord) on item 2 and offered to give a break later for members to read it.
Claire noted that BC had asked for extra discussion time on the project criteria. Andy said we could do this, and the 30 minutes on the agenda was just a suggestion.
All members agreed that the vision statement as shown in the presentation reflected the previous meeting’s discussion.
A break was taken to read the letter from Bike Concord.
LH suggested that staff make their presentation, and then address the suggestions in the letter if desired.
Andy said the Technical Advisory Committee had reviewed the project prioritization criteria proposed by staff and approved them. The TAC is primarily city technical staff, but also includes staff from BART, the County, etc.
Jennifer explained what the project prioritization criteria are. They are a set of objective standards that award a specific number of points to any possible bicycle, pedestrian, or safe route to transit project, in order to determine which ones will have first claim on the City’s resources. They apply only to infrastructure projects, not to programs such as education or enforcement. Based on scores yielded by the criteria, projects will be classified as short-term, mid-term, or long-term.
The Master Plan will be in effect for twenty years from the time of adoption.
A high priority score will help a project win funding from grantors at the state, regional, and county level.
If funding is available for a lower-priority project and not for a higher-priority one, the priority scores will not prevent the immediately fundable project from moving ahead.
LH asked which criteria would address the issue of needing to move utility installations or acquire easements to complete a project. Andy suggested that the presentation move ahead so that this could be answered in the course of describing staff’s proposed criteria. LH agreed.
Jennifer noted that the project prioritization criteria need to reflect the goals of the Master Plan (finalized in the previous PAC meeting) in order for those goals to be achieved.
Jennifer quickly read over the titles of the proposed criteria from the presentation.
Carlyn asked how “Community-Identified Challenge Areas” were identified. Jennifer said through all input opportunities, such as community surveys, workshops, tours, letters from the public, etc. In answer to Mark, Jennifer confirmed that this will include future input, not only what has already been received.
In answer to a question from Smitty, Jennifer said Alta will submit a list of projects ranked according to the final prioritization criteria along with the Master Plan.
In relation to the proposed Feasibility criterion, Jennifer said Alta and the City do not have precise data on how much right-of-way any given street has (i.e. how wide it is). They are using best guess.
“Further study” in the proposed Feasibility criterion means study is required by CEQA in order to remove a motor lane.
LH asked why not award some points for low-feasibility projects that score high on safety, instead of zero. Jennifer said we may want to consider removing the Feasibility criterion altogether, because it could rule out a project that the community really wants. LH agreed that this might be a good idea. Carlyn agreed that the proposed Feasibility criterion could rule out a project that the community strongly wants.
Andy said after a lot of discussion, staff and Alta had decided on zero points for low-feasibility projects because the criteria need to give low scores to some projects, otherwise there is no point in prioritizing them.
Sergio asked for an example of why a project would receive zero points on Feasibility. Andy gave an example of bulldozing houses to put in a bike lane (!). He admitted that the proposed Feasibility seems to target “low-hanging fruit”, but noted that this is only one criterion, representing 20 of 100 points.
Claire asked whether there was any possibility of partial points out of the 15 maximum on the Transit Connection criterion, e.g. for a paratransit stop. Andy said a paratransit stop could not get any of these points because it would not serve the general public. Claire said this was just an example, and wanted to know if partial points on this criterion were possible for any project. Jennifer said partial points on this criterion could make sense, e.g. for projects that connect partway to transit. But in response to a further question from LH, Jennifer clarified that the Transit Connection criterion as proposed by staff does not allow for partial points; this would have to be added.
Andy pointed out that bus stops are numerous in Concord, so almost any route will serve some bus stop, and if serving a bus stop were sufficient to get points on the Transit Connection criterion, then the criterion would be of little use to prioritize some projects ahead of others. Carlyn asked whether there was any distinction on the Transit Connection criterion between high-volume and low-volume bus stops. Jennifer said no, in the interest of equity. Staff wanted to make sure people who rely on bus transit are able to get improvements that serve their bus stops.
[It remains unclear to me whether a project that connects to a bus stop would receive 0 or 15 points under staff’s proposed Transit Connection criterion. – Kenji]
Jennifer presented the Activity Generator criterion. She said that like the Transit Connection criterion, it does not allow for partial points as proposed, but could be changed to allow this.
Della Acosta (Bike Concord) joined the meeting at this point.
The Estimated Demand criterion is based on Alta’s demand map, which estimates demand based on high-frequency destinations rather than any current bicycle or pedestrian traffic. It also does not allow partial points in its proposed form.
Bike Concord’s letter
LH suggested that staff respond to Bike Concord’s letter.
Claire said that Bike Concord appreciates staff’s work, and the letter is intended only to expand on that work.
Bike Concord proposed changing the Safety criterion to award 20 points on the basis of motor traffic volume and speed, with an additional 5 possible points for collision data. (Staff’s proposal targets collision data only.) Jennifer acknowledged that motor traffic volume and speed are deterrents to walking and bicycling. However, staff does not have data on motor traffic for the entire city. She noted that collision data is of high importance to potential project funders.
Claire asked for clarification about the lack of data on motor traffic volume, and asked if the discussion could be opened to public comment. LH declined to invite public comment at this point. Andy reiterated that staff do not have data on motor traffic speed and volume for every street in the city. Claire asked what it would take to get that data. LH said it was impossible to get data for every street; the City only gathers this data on certain streets. Claire asked if data could be gathered for major streets. LH said this is the data the City already has. Andy said if the criterion were based on data available only for major streets, then this would rule out projects on any other streets.
Andy said the City often has to hire traffic engineering firms to collect traffic data. Claire said this is what she was talking about for the Safety criterion. Carlyn said such collection is very expensive. Andy added that it is not done routinely and the data is not up to date. LH said the City only has to routinely monitor traffic counts on certain major streets due to gas tax and Measure J obligations.
Jennifer said that although citywide motor traffic data is not available for use in the Safety criterion, street classification (into categories such as “arterial street” or “collector street”) could serve as a proxy for it, since Bike Concord’s alternative Safety criterion seemed intended to put priority on major streets.
Jennifer added that staff’s proposed Community-Identified Challenge Area, Transit Connection, and Activity Generator criteria would already tend to target locations on arterial streets, as well as the Estimated Demand criterion which does not appear in Bike Concord’s alternative set.
Claire reiterated Bike Concord’s point about deterrence, that a sole reliance on collision data leaves out people who drive because bicycling and walking are too dangerous (and thus do not generate any collision data). This means locations where improvements are most needed may not receive priority.
LH added that a bicyclist who collides with an inanimate object may not report the collision.
Jennifer reiterated that funders put great weight on collision data. Claire said Bike Concord is not disputing that collision data should be considered. Jennifer again expressed her certainty that staff’s proposed Community-Identified Challenge Area, Transit Connection, and Activity Generator criteria would effectively result in high priority scores for projects on high-volume, high-speed streets. The only criterion in staff’s proposal that might give a low score to these streets is the Feasibility criterion.
Andy suggested running through staff’s proposed criteria to estimate the score of a desired project. He thought would score highly.
LH said some downtown areas had high concentrations of collision data, but not necessarily high motor traffic.
Claire highlighted freeway crossings as a location where data shows few collisions. This is an example of the deterrent effect: few people bicycle or walk through these locations due to the high danger. Jennifer said any bikeway or sidewalk projects would likely target a corridor, which would include freeway crossings if necessary. She also thought freeway crossings would score high on the Community-Identified Challenge Area criterion because they were heavily marked by attendees on the maps at the March 19 Community Workshop.
Jennifer noted that Bike Concord’s alternative made no changes to text of the Activity Generator criterion. Points had been reallocated among the criteria:
- Safety was up from 20 to 25 points.
- Activity Generator up from 15 to 20 points.
- Transit Connection had received a provision to award partial points to indirect connections.
- Estimated Demand had been removed altogether.
Jennifer noted that Bike Concord’s alternative changed the definition of Feasibility to target the availability of funding rather than the need for right-of-way or traffic study.
Staff were concerned about this alternative because any project could have potential funding sources, which would make it hard to prioritize some projects above others on this criterion.
Claire pointed out that Bike Concord’s proposal shifted points from Feasibility to Safety, as our position is that safety should be a higher priority than avoiding or delaying projects with significant constraints.
Explanation of Bike Concord’s letter
Kenji reiterated Claire’s assurance that BC’s letter was not intended as a slight to staff, but rather to build on their good work.
BC’s alternative Feasibility criterion
Kenji said Bike Concord’s concern with staff’s proposed Feasibility criterion was that it would give a low priority projects that are most needed, mainly those on arterial streets.
Kenji expressed interest in Jennifer’s suggestion of using street classification as a proxy for the data BC was trying to target under the Safety criterion. The intention was for top priority to go to streets that most deter people from bicycling and walking.
By starting these projects first, Bike Concord does not mean construction must begin first, but rather that the process of seeking funding and doing necessary study should begin first.
Kenji said Bike Concord had included an alternative Feasibility criterion in terms of funding opportunities in order to give staff the flexibility to immediately begin any projects for which particular funding was available – e.g. a route to school – even if other projects without comparable funding opportunities would otherwise have scored higher.
Jennifer said the scoring criteria already do not prevent staff from seeking funding for any project. The criteria section of the Master Plan will likely begin with a paragraph that allows staff the flexibility to seek any available funding for any project.
Kenji said that in this case, it might be better to remove the Feasibility criterion altogether, noting that staff had expressed openness to this earlier in the meeting.
The deterrent effect
Kenji emphasized that Bike Concord’s key point was the concept of a deterrent effect (i.e. streets and intersections that are so dangerous that they deter people from bicycling and walking at all). He acknowledged Jennifer’s point that collision data is of high importance to funders, but pointed out that for the goal of getting people to bicycle and walk, the Master Plan must address danger which does not necessarily result in injuries and deaths. Collision data will not suffice, but street classification might. Bike Concord was open to other ideas to address deterrence.
LH suggested adding a component in the Criteria section of the Master Plan that provides for motor traffic as an allowable additional consideration. Andy reiterated that motor traffic data is not sufficiently available. LH acknowledged this, but suggested that if a funding opportunity comes up that could apply to an arterial or collector street, motor traffic data could be used to support the grant application. Andy was doubtful that there would ever be a case where motor traffic data would make a difference for a grant.
Andy said more motor traffic data might be available the next time the Master Plan is updated (i.e. several years after adoption). LH said it would not be available citywide.
Andy said a big reason why staff’s proposed criteria were written as they are (i.e. with Safety targeting collision data only) is because this is a “best practice” and what funding agencies are looking for. LH thought motor traffic volume could help in a grant application for a project where accident data is lacking.
Jennifer said she had seen some consistent themes in transportation project grants over the last few years, and some changes based on what funders are looking for. They tend to look for detailed collision data, down to details about specific movements involved in each case. They are also looking for projects that benefit disadvantaged communities, and an analysis of cost vs benefit in terms of increased bicycling and walking instead of driving (“mode shift”).
Jennifer said staff had tried to capture a focus on arterial streets in the criteria in a number of ways. One of the biggest was the Community-Identified Challenge Area criterion. Community input has heavily identified arterials as areas for desired non-motor traffic improvements. Jennifer felt that this addressed deterrence, and asked Kenji for his thoughts.
Kenji thought staff’s proposed criteria partly addressed deterrence, but not entirely. He gave freeway crossings as an example, brought up earlier by Claire, where people do not even try to bicycle because danger is so high. He was not sure that this was captured in community input data, but thought it would be captured by data about amount of traffic at these locations.
Andy asked whether it was captured by estimated demand. LH thought possibly not. She asked for examples of dangerous freeway crossings within Concord. Kenji named Sun Valley Blvd / Willow Pass Rd under I-680, and Concord Ave under I-680.
Andy said bus ridership data could show places where people might bicycle and walk more if there were good infrastructure, including freeway crossings.
LH suggested that staff think about how to add language to the Master Plan indicating that high-volume streets could be looked at for funding opportunities regardless of their priority score. Laura Simpson suggested that where data on motor traffic volume and speed is available, it could be included in grant applications to strengthen them.
Andy said the fact that Concord contains a Priority Development Area (PDA) has made grants significantly easier to win. The City obtained at least $500,000 in grant funding last year. Part of this money is why there is a Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Master Plan process happening at all. Concord scored high on MTC’s grant priority criteria.
Carlyn asked whether the PDA includes only the area around Concord’s BART stations and downtown. Andy said many of Concord’s freeway crossings are in the PDA. LH said that even if a particular area is not in the PDA, being a connection to the PDA will help win grants.
LH invited comments from the public.
Kenji said that he appreciated that there might be good proxies for the safety targeting that Bike Concord was asking for, but BC’s main concern was the proposed Feasibility criterion.
Brian Cory expressed dissatisfaction with Concord’s representation at TRANSPAC and CCTA, and described some of his personal investigation of this issue. He thought the City needed to better inform Councilmember Leone, who represents Concord on TRANSPAC, about project funding needs.
LH responded that some of Brian’s factual understanding was incorrect, and offered to speak with him outside the meeting to clarify. She said that for representation at the County for our active transportation funding needs, Concord had depended so far on residents applying for and being appointed to the Countywide Bicycle Advisory Committee. The PAC’s work and the project criteria will allow stronger input through TRANSPAC to CCTA to get projects listed for funding.
Laura Simpson noted that Ray Kuzbari (Transportation Manager, City of Concord) provides input to the County about Concord projects to list for funding.
Kenji said he had been attending meetings of the Expenditure Plan Advisory Committee (EPAC) for Measure J reauthorization. There is a set of candidate projects for funding from a Complete Streets category of about $200 million. There are no major complete street projects for Concord in the list. Kenji said this is why Bike Concord is anxious to see major projects start as soon as possible, so they can get into lists like this and not miss opportunities for major funding.
Dave Kamlin said he was pleased to hear that staff was open to removing the Feasibility criterion. He was concerned that it would give zero out of 20 points to bike infrastructure projects on major streets, not just extreme examples like the hypothetical that Andy brought up.
Dave said he used to be a County Connection driver on route 20, which serves DVC. He wondered if connection to a high-frequency destination outside of Concord, like DVC, would give points to a project under the proposed criteria.
Andy though the Feasibility criterion would only give zero points to a project which would require eminent domain.
Aaron McHugh asked whether removal of a motor lane to add a bike lane would cost points for a project under the proposed Feasibility criterion. LH said it would, because it would require a traffic study.
Aaron asked if staff are using data only on car-bicycle collisions, or all collisions. Jennifer said they are not only using UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), which is limited to collisions involving injuries. Staff are using the Statewide Integrated Traffic Record System (SWITRS), including all collisions whether with or without injuries. They are looking at collisions involving bicyclists and pedestrians, regardless of whether a motorist was involved.
Aaron asked whether collision data at a particular intersection will raise the priority only for projects at that intersection, or along the entire corridor that the intersection is part of. Jennifer said Alta will be giving city staff recommendations of specific corridors for bike lanes (for instance) and design concepts for selected corridors, although not for every street in the city. They will also provide best practices for intersection designs in general.
Smitty asked how and whether the priority score of a project could change with changing conditions. Jennifer said Master Plans are usually updated every five years, but Alta is recommending that staff re-evaluate collision data annually. Alta will provide their raw data to staff upon completion of the plan draft, and staff can update this periodically. LH pointed out that the PAC is a temporary committee, but will be replaced upon completion of the Master Plan with a permanent Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, one of whose tasks will be to recommend updates to the Master Plan and project prioritizations.
Jennifer clarified that Alta is working with collision data covering 2009-2014.
Smitty suggested that the prioritization criteria admit of some subjectivity. Jennifer said this is not the case, that anyone applying the criteria to a project will arrive at the same number.
Sergio asked why eminent domain is to be avoided, and why it is relevant in case of removing a motor lane to add a bicycle lane. Andy said eminent domain is very costly, controversial, and difficult. Sergio asked whether it would be necessary to add bicycle lanes, e.g. on Monument Blvd. LH said it would not, if the lanes were to be added within the existing right of way.
Carlyn asked how staff would resolve conflicts between community priorities for projects and priority entailed by existing plans, e.g. the Downtown Corridors project. Andy said this project is in the design and funding stage. Carlyn wanted to know how an existing project like this would rank according to the proposed criteria, compared to other possible projects that might be high priorities for the community. Jennifer said this is why the prioritization is flexible, so that if possible funding arises for a project designated as long-term, it can be applied for immediately. She also noted that the priority rankings generated by the Master Plan should be incorporated into any future specific plans. LH gave a hypothetical example of two projects with 50 and 75 points respectively, where a funding opportunity arises for the 50-point project. Staff would be free to seek this funding immediately, even though there is a higher-ranked project.
Jennifer suggested that the final form of the Master Plan might assign projects only to general categories of short-, mid-, and long-term, rather than assigning them their specific numerical scores.
Andy said he had written the City’s application for the Downtown Corridors grant of $250,000 which is funding the design and study for bicycle and pedestrian improvements around Todos Santos and along Grant St to BART. The grant had been easy to win because the project satisfies many criteria.
LH asked whether staff had considered not using a point system for project prioritization at all. Andy said they had chosen a point system because it is a management best practice. Jennifer said they prefer a point system because it is objective and quantified.
LH asked whether a high point score would necessarily put a project in the short-term category. Jennifer said a long-term project could have a high score. The high score would mean the City would give priority to the initial parts of the project, i.e. study and the search for funding, compared to other projects. In other words, “short-term” or “long-term” describes how long the project will take to complete, while the numerical score determines how soon the project will start.
Claire expressed concern that the Feasibility criterion could delay important projects. Jennifer said earlier discussion had been about removal of the “further study” phrase from the Feasibility criterion. Andy expressed willingness to remove that phrase if the PAC preferred.
LH asked if staff was willing to add the provision for partial points for indirect connections on the Transit Connection criterion. Andy said staff preferred all-or-nothing on this because most projects concern corridors rather than specific points, so a project providing only an indirect but not a direct connection to transit is unlikely.
LH asked if funding could be sought to close many small gaps, e.g. in sidewalks, under one project. Jennifer said grants for projects like this used to be easier to obtain than they are now.
Kenji asked how many points would be awarded under the revised Feasibility criterion to a project such as a hypothetical complete street project on Monument Blvd. Jennifer said this is not clear until right-of-way is evaluated. The project would receive full points if improvements could be fit by narrowing motor lanes without removing any of them. Kenji asked if this meant that a road diet (i.e. removal of at least one motor lane) would necessarily cost the project ten points on Feasibility. Jennifer said if the PAC approved removal of the “further study” phrase from the criterion, then a road diet would not cost the project ten points. On the other hand, if the project required widening the public right-of-way (i.e. making the entire street wider, not just reallocating space within it), then it would lose points on Feasibility. Kenji asked if this meant that first a study would be done, then a Feasibility score would be assigned. Jennifer said no. Alta will estimate right-of-way needed for each project in order to submit its recommendations to City staff upon completion of the draft Master Plan.
Kenji was still not clear on the answer to his question, and asked how Alta would determine whether bike lanes “could fit” within a given street width which is currently dedicated exclusively to motor traffic lanes. Jennifer said they would estimate whether desired bike lanes and sidewalks could fit within the street width along with motor lanes for “what’s currently in this roadway”. Kenji asked how Alta would determine how many motor lanes are needed. Jennifer said this would be part of the study conducted after the project score has already been calculated. Alta will provide “typical cross-sections”, showing how bicycle lanes and sidewalks could fit within the existing right-of-way with, for instance, three motor lanes. (Not sure how significant this number is.)
Request for PAC approval of staff’s proposed criteria
Andy said staff were asking the PAC to approve staff’s proposed criteria before the close of this meeting.
LH summarized the changes she thought had been agreed on so far:
- Addition of a provision for partial points for indirect connections on the Transit Connection criterion.
- The “further study” phrase to be removed from the Feasibility criterion.
Jennifer requested the PAC’s thoughts on addition of a criterion targeting arterial streets and other streets with high motor volume and speed. LH thought Laura Simpson had adequately addressed the concern behind this by suggesting that data on motor volume and speed be submitted as supporting information in grant applications. Carlyn suggested that street classification could be included in the Safety criterion. Andy said it could not be, because the City does not have sufficient data to quantitatively categorize all streets.
LH said she wanted to see staff bring back a new draft of the criteria with these changes and seek PAC approval then. Andy said this would require a special PAC meeting between now and early December. Jennifer and Andy cautioned that delaying PAC approval of the criteria would introduce a delay of as much as three months to the entire Master Plan process. LH said she was prepared to accept this delay if necessary in order to see the changes.
Jennifer proposed as a compromise to satisfy Bike Concord’s concerns, the replacement of staff’s Estimated Demand criterion with one aimed at projects that address areas which deter bicycling and walking. LH said she would still need to see the final details in order to approve the proposal.
LH thought that staff were moving too fast in trying to obtain approval for the project prioritization criteria. Carlyn agreed. Andy said a followup meeting next week, as proposed by LH, was not possible. He pointed out that the City’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had had extensive input on the proposed criteria. Carlyn said that the whole point of the presentation of the criteria at this PAC meeting was for the committee and the public to give meaningful input, not just to give approval. LH asked Andy to arrange a date by email for the special PAC meeting to review and approve the revised criteria.
Jennifer asked again whether a criterion should be included to target arterial streets. LH thought Laura Simpson’s proposal about including motor traffic data as support in grant applications was sufficient without such a criterion.
Andy agreed to send out an email to arrange a date for the special meeting. He noted that Jennifer would not be able to attend, as the City’s contract with Alta includes funding for her attendance at only a set number of meetings. He said he would try to get a member of the City’s transportation and engineering staff to attend, probably Transportation Manager Ray Kuzbari.
Claire asked whether the criteria point numbers were open for reallocation. Jennifer said they were, and that staff would bring back the criteria with a higher relative score for Safety, as requested.
Andy said staff’s next task was to actually assign priority scores to projects, but this would have to be delayed by about a month due to the postponement of approval for the prioritization criteria. Staff are also preparing project design guidelines based on statewide best practices.
LH brought up again that freeway crossings should be recognized in the Master Plan as a particular safety need and barrier to active transportation. Andy said there will be a special section in the Master Plan to address this.
Mark pointed out that the Master Plan is about policy, not specific project design, and thought the process should keep moving and not get caught up on small details. Carlyn expressed appreciation for Jennifer and Andy’s work, and for attendance by Bike Concord and other members of the public. She felt that as a committee member it was important for her to fully hear the community’s input, and did not want people to feel that decisions were being rushed through. LH agreed that a careful process would prevent mistakes.
LH adjourned the meeting.
The special PAC meeting to give final approval to the amended project prioritization criteria was later set by email for Monday, November 16, 5:30pm, Permit Center Conference Room, 1950 Parkside Dr.