It’s official: the City of Concord has adopted the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Master Plan at its September 27, 2016 Council meeting. It is the culmination of many hundreds of hours of work between the city and Bike Concord along with its partners. While there are many things about it that, if implemented, would improve active transportation here, the city’s commitment to safety for all users has been uneven. During the plan’s input phase, it was determined that the public’s overwhelming reason for not biking was due to safety concerns. However, the city refused to make an explicit policy commitment recognizing this in the final master plan. On several occasions, the mayor has called for the need to “balance” motor convenience with the rights of cyclists’ and pedestrians’ safety, although this prioritization is at odds with the General Plan and the stated goal of increasing active transportation. At several meetings, city officials have speculated that converting vehicle traffic lanes to bike/ped space would degrade throughput and that drivers would then target cyclists and walkers. This seemed counter-intuitive: protected, dedicated space for bike/ped was more dangerous than no protection on a busy street? Sure enough, research shows the opposite: not only were protected spaces safer for cyclists and walkers, they reduced vehicle-vehicle accidents too! A copy of our letter summarizing the data (included as part of the benched correspondence) can be found below. Although invited to respond to Bike Concord’s findings at the September 27th council meeting, the city declined to address this refutation of their position, and as of this writing, we have received no other communication from them regarding this matter.
What This Means in Practice
We contend that meaningful protection of the roads’ most vulnerable users (cyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities) must be protected as the top priority, and cannot take a back seat to (or “balance”) motor traffic level of service. When projects move through the implementation process, Bike Concord has been on hand to fight for more than a sign and some paint – which in practice thus far, has often meant the extent of accommodation. As this plan moves forward, as projects get funded and approved, we need your help to turn out for public meetings and advocate for active transportation: protected space on arterial roads.
September 23, 2016
Mayor Hoffmeister, Vice Mayor Leone, Council Members Birsan, Grayson & Helix:
We feel a response is warranted to a comment made by City staff at the August 3, 2016 meeting of the Concord Planning Commission, and later reiterated by Mayor Laura Hoffmeister on August 22, 2016 in a letter to Concord resident and Bike Concord member Andrew Williams.
The position expressed at the Planning Commission meeting by Transportation Manager Ray Kuzbari assumes that the conversion of motor traffic lanes to bicycle travel space would be implemented (and cause an assumed decrease in LOS to motor traffic) without the inclusion of protected bicycle facilities. Under the City’s projected scenario, this would not be safe for bicyclists because the speculated increase in motor vehicle congestion would “….create delay, queuing, and typically, make people mad….things like that could result in erratic driving and putting motorists and bicyclists at risk.” (Mr. Kuzbari, August 3, 2106)
This view is inconsistent with the California Vehicle Code (CVC), which recognizes bicyclists as legal users of the road with the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. To exclude them from the use of roads to which they are legally entitled — either explicitly in policy or tacitly by failure to remedy the hostile conditions that discourage cycling — based on conjecture that it could inconvenience or otherwise incite motorists into committing unlawful acts is unacceptable. From Mayor Hoffmeister to Mr. Williams:
Please note that if a road diet were implemented on a roadway that does not provide excess capacity, such an action would result in downgrading the level of service to unacceptable levels during the peak hours. This, in turn, would create traffic congestion, vehicle delay and long backups, and could result in erratic driving and unsafe conditions for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike.
This essentially maintains that cyclists and pedestrians are themselves responsible for any expression of road rage delivered upon them, as if this were an acceptable and understood outcome for their presence on the street during “peak hours.” Victim-blaming has no place in policy making. Would the City likewise blame mugging victims for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Would law-abiding motorists be at fault for using the same roads concurrently with reckless and aggressive drivers should they become involved in a collision? These incidents would be a matter of law enforcement, not of design.
The argument here is that facilitating bicycle travel on streets with heavy motor traffic could decrease safety for all users because of the reasons stated above. We know of no research that supports this assertion. Following is a brief list of studies which demonstrate the opposite: that the installation of dedicated bicycle space, particularly protected space, results in markedly lower rates of injury for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists:
- Chen, L. et al., 2010 – Evaluating the Safety Effects of Bicycle Lanes in New York City
- Marshall, W., and N. Garrick, 2011 – Evidence on why bike-friendly cities are safer for all road users, Environmental Practice, 13, 1
- Teschke, K., et al., 2012 – Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study – American Journal of Public Health
- Wolfson, H., 2011 – Memorandum on Bike Lanes, City of New York, Office of the Mayor, 21 March 2011 – Injury Crashes for all Users Fall After Installation of Protected Bike Lanes
Conversely, we are unaware of any study that supports the City’s contention that motor traffic congestion combined with the installation of dedicated bicycle infrastructure exacerbates hazards for bicyclists or for other road users. However, if the City is aware of any such study that supports such a conclusion, we would be interested to review it.
We look forward to your reply, and to continuing to work together to enhance the viability of active transportation options in our city.