Transcript of 2016 interview with Carlyn Obringer

Here is a transcript of Bike Concord’s video interview with City Council candidate Carlyn Obringer on September 28, 2016. In the November 8 election, Carlyn won one of the two available seats. She had previously chaired the City’s Planning Commission.

BC: Hi, I’m here on behalf on Bike Concord. We are interviewing candidates for Concord City Council in the 2016 election. With me right now is Carlyn Obringer, one of the candidates. Carlyn, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you’re running for Council.

Obringer: Okay, great. So, my name is Carlyn Obringer, and I’ve lived in Concord for almost a decade. My husband Justin and I chose Concord when we got married because we were attracted by its beauty in the shadow of Mt Diablo, its prime location in the Bay Area, and also its affordability at the time. And over the past decade – I won’t go into all of the organizations I’ve been involved with, but I’ve served the community in a number of volunteer leadership capacities, including doing things like chairing Concord’s Planning Commission, organizing our Fourth of July parade, and planning annually Concord’s Art and Wine and Beer Walk, which I also founded. So I love our city. You won’t find a bigger booster for Concord. And I’m running to make it an even better place to live and work.

BC: As you know, Bike Concord’s mission is to make bicycling a safe and convenient transportation option in our city. What’s your personal experience with bicycling? Do you bicycle yourself, and for what purposes?

Obringer: So I do on occasion, but to be honest with you, I live very close to downtown Concord, and so I do more walking than I do biking. So I live in a transit-oriented development. My husband and I deliberately chose it so that we could walk to BART in seven minutes, walk to downtown. In fact, I walked here tonight for my interview, because my husband and I only have one car. I walk to City Hall, I walk to church. And so I kind of come at things more from a pedestrian perspective. But on occasion when I do have some time, I do ride my bike on the Canal Trail, which is maybe three blocks from my home. So usually it’s recreational. But I do walk to get to, like I said, business meetings as well as personal meetings, and places around town that are within a 20-25 minute walk.

BC: What’s your experience with local transportation issues? What problems do you see and what solutions do you favor?

Obringer: Sure. So my experience – I deal with this quite often as chair of the Planning Commission. We have projects that come before us all the time. And one of the major issues is, how is this new development – if there is new development – going to impact existing traffic flow. And so that’s one of the things that we take into consideration. And right now we’re taking a look at some brand-new developments that are coming into downtown Concord and trying to figure out – One of the big concerns is, we would like to develop these empty parcels, but how do we do so in such a way that does not attract 500, 600, 1000 new cars? And from my perspective, bikes and walkability need to be a key part of the solution going forward. And I’m proud of the fact that whenever there are projects, even if they are imperfect, such as the new 3000-square-foot Veranda shopping center, that I have been able to at least find a way to connect that project to existing bike trails so that people from one side of Concord can get there without having to use a car. I also serve on TRANSPAC, by the way, which is a regional transportation planning body. And so I had input into Measure X, which is going to provide funding for infrastructure as well as some small funding for things like CCTA [sic; i.e. CCCTA], so the County Connection. And also some funding for BART as well.

BC: How large a part do you think bicycling can play in Concord’s transportation system?

Obringer: Well, I think we need to dream big, because every single day I hear people complain about how it takes them 55 minutes, an hour to get from one part of Concord to another. And I do hear these complaints. And so, you know, I take a look at places like Copenhagen, where I’ve spent some time, because my husband has both lived and worked there. And the story in Copenhagen was, in the 70s it was choked with cars. And then they had to get off of fossil fuels, because they are a tiny country and they were impacted by the oil spikes in the 70s. And so it took a long time. But now you go to Copenhagen, and there are bikes everywhere. And it really is a direct result of government policy-making. So Concord right now – You know, we’ve grown. We were once an agrarian farm society. We slowly but surely added parcels of land from the County into the City. And so I think as a first step, I’m proud of – again, it is imperfect – but the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan that I helped to put together along with Bike Concord and many others, to work on completing our streets, and identify locations where we can put in bike lanes as we receive developer fees and grant funding. And so I think it’s the first tiny step in many toward making Concord a more bikeable and walkable community. And I think it’s also really important that Concord does have more bike lanes, and really useful ones on arterial streets, because I think that that will help us to attract people who right now aren’t even thinking about Concord as a place that they would want to live: people who are pushed out of San Francisco and Oakland. And I think that they might be attracted to Concord if they see that we really do have robust bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

BC: It’s well worth noting, I think, that there is a lot of bicycle traffic already on some of our arterials, I mean, Monument – current residents.

Obringer: Yes, that is true.

BC: Bike Concord’s vision for our city is one in which there are safe, reasonably direct bicycle routes between all points in our city, not just some routes. Do you support this as an unconditional goal, or do you see it as a second priority behind facilitating motor traffic movement?

Obringer: So this is a really tricky one, because I have participated, like I just talked about, with the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan. And I would truly like to see bike lanes on Clayton Rd. I would like to see them on Willow Pass. I would like to see them on Concord Blvd. And so the challenge is, when we were told that it would cost $22 million to put in bike lanes for just a piece of Clayton Rd, it seems like that is a pretty big challenge. So I don’t want to make a promise right now that I can’t keep, because I don’t know where the City would come up with the money to install those bike lanes for just a portion. However, I do think that we’re at a critical point where we just – we can’t keep adding cars and single-occupancy vehicles on the road, because the vehicles are already choked. So we have to find a way. So again, I think Concord Blvd is a good place to start. I think Monument Blvd is a good place to start. I’m honestly not sure what’s going to happen with Willow Pass Rd, because there’s discussion about is that going to be widened, related to the redevelopment of the Naval Weapons Station. But I am committed in the short term to focusing on streets that have been identified, like Monument Blvd and Concord Blvd, and seeing how we can find funding to really do some of these more massive projects on streets like Clayton Rd and Willow Pass Rd, or even Oak Grove and Treat going forward. But I think we have to take a long-term view of this, and in the short term I think it would be difficult to install bike lanes on all of our arterial streets right away.

BC: If I could just follow up on the point about Clayton Rd. The $22 million figure that you mentioned was what staff cited as the cost of widening the street in order to put in bike lanes without what are called “road diets” – in other words, conversion of one motor travel lane into bicycle lanes for safe travel. Would you be in favor of putting road diets on the table in order to lower that $22 million figure to get bike lanes on Clayton Rd?

Obringer: I would. I would be willing to discuss that further. I think one of the challenges is, it’s not necessarily the people of Concord who are clogging our roads. Quite frankly, it’s people who are coming from East County who are driving through Concord. So I think there are a number of different policies that we have to take a look at, including creating good-paying living-wage jobs right here in Concord, for the people of Concord, as well as East County, so that it’s easier for them to take BART or ride their bike, or walk to work, as opposed to using Concord as a pass-through. So I think that that would make it a little bit more palatable, shall we say. If we didn’t have so many people already using Concord as – It can help to – There will always be the argument from people that, you know, you can’t take away a lane of traffic because then nobody will be able to move. Clayton Rd will turn into a parking lot. So I think we need to approach the traffic situation from a number of different perspectives. And I think creating good-paying jobs is one way to do so.

BC: How do you intend to connect the Reuse Project, the Naval Weapons Station, to the rest of the city?

Obringer: So that is a good question. And, you know, you hear everywhere the mantra “One Concord.” So, meaning that we’ve got to make sure that we don’t have this shiny new city on the hill while the rest of the city with our existing problems of affordability, crumbling infrastructure, public safety, the need for good-paying jobs, is ignored. And so that’s something I’m very committed to. And when it comes to the Reuse Plan, I think it needs to be done in a very thoughtful, accountable way. So I’m personally not one of those who’s in a rush to get things going, because again, I want to focus on our existing city. But at the same time, I think that we need to create a greater connectivity. We can do that through solid bike infrastructure. And one of the things I envision out at the Naval Weapons Station is, it’s a blank slate. So that’s the perfect place to really install those Class IV bike lanes, like they have in Denmark. That’s the perfect place to implement bus rapid transit. That’s the perfect place to plan for driverless vehicles, because again, we’ve got the GoMentum station and driverless vehicle testing happening right now. So I think also having shuttles that go around the Naval Weapons Station and connect to the North Concord / Martinez BART station and other points along Willow Pass Rd. So again, I think creating connectivity via infrastructure using the existing BART station, creating high-quality – a truly high-quality bus rapid transit system, as well as Class IV bike lanes. And then connecting down Port Chicago down to Salvio and Grant St, I think are ways to connect the two parts of Concord physically. And then in terms of, you know, also reminding folks that our downtown is really Todos Santos Plaza, so not creating a new downtown up on the Naval Weapons Station. And also working to create good-paying jobs not just in that part of town but also in our existing city.

BC: Funding for construction and especially maintenance of bicycle and pedestrian facilities can be difficult to find. What new sources of funding would you be willing to explore?

Obringer: So, one of the things that I believe that Measure X will be able to provide, and the reason I’m supporting it, is because it enables cities to improve their infrastructure. So 70% of that funding, from what I understand, is going to return to source. So it will go back to cities. And so we can use that in a number of different ways. So in addition, beyond, you know, just completely redoing our roads or resurfacing our roads, I think we can use some of that source of funding to install protected bike lanes. And that’s something that, you know, I am an advocate for protected bike lanes, and I do not believe, you know, just drawing a sharrow – That is not effective. And that is not – I am opposed to those going forward, and I have been publicly. So I think that any bike lanes that we install at the very least have to be protected. But I think, so that source of funding. So existing Measure J funds, Measure X going forward. Also, I periodically see grants from the state and other funding sources that I send to planning staff. And I encourage them to apply, because I know that City staff doesn’t see everything. And so – and that applies to things like electric vehicle charging stations, as well as bike infrastructure. So the ATP funds I had seen, I think, over a year ago, and had questioned staff as to why aren’t we going after all this low-hanging fruit. So I’m hopeful that now that we’ve got our Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan approved, that the City of Concord can now aggressively – And that’s one of the things that I would strongly encourage and advocate for, is for staff to make it a priority to identify and aggressively go after sources of funding that we can use to improve our bike and pedestrian infrastructure here in Concord. So making that a priority for their work.

BC: Would you be willing to participate in a tour of Concord so you could be shown potential bicycle and pedestrian improvements that have been identified by the community?

Obringer: Absolutely. And I already have participated in one. So not this past May, but the May before. So I participated in the pedestrian piece. And I actually identified several intersections, including my favorite, the Intersection of Death, that I walked on my way here tonight, the intersection of Clayton Rd and Oakland Ave, as well as down here at Concord Ave and Salvio St. So some of these areas that had not been identified by consultants, I took them there during our – during the tour that was helping to inform the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan. So I think that I do have a good sense of the areas that I personally walk. But Concord is a very big city, so I am always willing – It’s 31.1 square miles, so I don’t know all of those miles. So I am more than willing to go on a tour and be shown and see how I can help be part of the solution.

BC: Thank you for your time, Carlyn. Thank you for speaking to Bike Concord members.

Obringer: Okay, well, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

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3 thoughts on “Transcript of 2016 interview with Carlyn Obringer

  1. She mentioned “… it’s also really important that Concord does have more bike lanes, and really useful ones on arterial streets…”, I agree it is unrealistic to have bike lanes everywhere; just not fiscally possible.

    I am not convinced protected bike lanes are the final word. As a cyclist, I am happy just to have a marked Bike Lane complete with enforcement of No Parking within the lane.

    I encourage planners to identify streets parallel to main arteries be identified (and marked) as bike lanes. Also, increase safety by using traffic calming methods on these routes so stop signs can be minimized while still calming traffic (as a commuter, I will pedal on busier arteries to avoid the stop signs every block and this minimize my commute time).

    Lastly – and I know I am drifting off topic – there is virtually no enforcement of the state law requiring motor vehicles to maintain at least 36″ when passing a cyclist. Ask Concord PD is they have EVER issued a citation for violating this law. If your interest is advocating for safe bicycle routes (and encouraging cycling as a mode of transportation) let’s focus on enforcing the laws that have been passed to do just that!

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    • Hi Dave, thanks for commenting.

      Regarding the financial feasibility of bike lanes – It’s certainly not financially possible to install bike lanes everywhere at once. Bike Concord’s goal is to get them installed gradually in all the places where they are needed, namely on streets where motor traffic typically exceeds 25 mph. This won’t be funded out of the City’s regular tax revenue; few road projects are, including those intended mainly for motor traffic. Instead, they will be funded by applications to grant programs administered by the State or by local transportation boards such as MTC or CCTA.

      I understand your satisfaction with unprotected Class II (i.e. paint-only) bike lanes. I am also one of the minority of bicyclists who are confident enough not to need physical protection from adjacent motor traffic. I ride on Monument Blvd, Treat Blvd, and Clayton Rd in their current state with no demarcated space for bicycle traffic at all – not on the sidewalk (sidewalk bicycling on many sections of those streets is actually illegal under Municipal Code) but on the road. But I think you’ll agree that if we want a large number of people to switch trips from the car to the bicycle, paint-only lanes next to heavy or high-speed motor traffic are not going to get us to that goal.

      That leads to your point about parallel routes on quieter streets vs making major streets safe for mass bicycling (as distinct from bicycling by a confident minority like you and me). There are certainly benefits to routes on quieter streets, and best practices on how to do such routes well. Some recommendations for such routes have recently been adopted officially in Concord as part of the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Plan, which we’ve covered extensively on this blog.

      However, Bike Concord’s position is that alternative routes on quieter streets are not an adequate substitute for making our major streets safe for bicycle traffic. Our reasons are explained in a letter we submitted to the City of Concord last year together with several other community organizations. To summarize:

      1. Major streets are not just routes to high-frequency destinations; almost by definition they consist of high-frequency destinations themselves, so that most bicycle trips cannot omit them no matter how good the alternative routes are.
      2. Many of our major streets in Concord have no reasonably direct alternative routes.

      “Reasonably direct” admits of some difference of opinion. But I think there is a good threshold given by researchers with the Mineta Transportation Institute in a 2012 paper explaining their Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) method of assessing the quality of a city’s bikeway network. That threshold is that “an acceptable lower-stress route should not be more than 25 percent longer tha[n] the shortest possible route using links of any level of stress. For short trips, the criterion was that a lower-stress route should be no more than 0.33 miles longer than the shortest route (0.33 miles require two minutes travel time at the relaxed pace of 10 mph).” (Emphasis added.)

      Thanks for the suggestion of finding out if our Police Department has been enforcing the recently-enacted state statute requiring that motorists give at least 3 feet of lateral distance when passing bicyclists. I will pass on that question to Lt Russ Norris, whom I had occasion to chat with a few weeks ago about some possible collaboration between Bike Concord and the Police Department.

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    • Dave, regarding your question about citations for violation of the Vehicle Code requirement to give at least 3 ft lateral distance when driving a car and passing a bicyclist – I received the following response from Lt Russ Norris of Concord PD.

      “Yes, if a violation of this section is witnessed by an officer, they may choose to issue a citation. It looks like the section became law in 2014 and to date we have issued no citations. This suggests that officers either have not witnessed the violation, witnessed it and chose to instead educate the violator about law requirements, or the violation was included within a more significant violation on a citation.”

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