Here is a transcript of Bike Concord’s video interview with City Council candidate Edi Birsan on October 18, 2016. In the November 8 election, Edi won one of the two available seats. He was a sitting member of City Council and this was his first re-election.
BC: Hi. My name is Kenji Yamada. I’m here on behalf of Bike Concord. We are interviewing candidates in 2016 for the City Council of Concord. And right now I’m here with Edi Birsan, one of the candidates. And Edi, why don’t you tell us a little about your candidacy and what you hope to accomplish if re-elected.
Birsan: Well, I’m Edi Birsan. I’m on the Concord City Council, so this is my re-election. What I intend to accomplish is to continue with what I’ve been doing so far, which is to represent the city and make it safe for all means of transportation; make sure that we have complete streets; make sure that we operate in a manner that satisfies all the different modes of transportation and all the different needs of different people within our transportation area.
BC: Thank you. Edi, how much do you personally bicycle, and for what purposes?
Birsan: I do not bicycle. I have difficulty with neuropathy, and as such it is not advised for me to be on a bike.
BC: What’s your experience with local transportation issues? What problems do you see, and what solutions do you favor?
Birsan: My experience with transportation issues is that there’s a great need for us to rework a lot of our streets. A good example is Detroit Avenue. That’s a project that I pioneered and participated in from the grassroots, even before I was elected the first time in 2012. It’s the primary example of what I would like to see us do straight across the city in as many places as possible. We have a new street; we have a pilot program for bike lanes; and we have sidewalks completely on both sides of the street. These are the things which were missing on the previous Detroit project, and I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to do that.
BC: Bike Concord’s vision for our city is one in which there are safe, reasonably direct bicycle routes between all points in Concord, 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?
Birsan: One of the problems we have – and I’ve seen this quite often – is that bike and motor traffic are considered two components of a hostile force. We forget that there is third and fourth capacities: first, the pedestrians, and then those who have ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act, i.e. those whose needs are specifically addressed by the ADA]. We have to actually balance all three needs of both bike, vehicle, and we have to take care of our pedestrians, with particular attention to those who are less mobile. I don’t see anyone as primary or secondary. I see that the primary role is safety, and efficiency for all three. Eventually I hope that we have drones that will be able to carry us to various places, and autonomous drones, so that we’ll be able to not worry about who’s going to be smashing into who. But in reality, and in the first section, we need to balance our needs between bikes, cars, and pedestrians. Unfortunately, we have too many streets not only that don’t have bike lanes, but also don’t have sidewalks. And we have to focus on the ability to move people, large numbers, in a proper manner, so that it’s safe. And Detroit Avenue is a good example of what I’m trying to do. And I’m watching for opportunities to do that throughout the city.
BC: How large a part do you think bicycling can play in Concord’s transportation system?
Birsan: From what I can tell, Concord is a city where we have – we’ve had an 11% growth in our senior population and an 11% shrinkage in our younger population under 18. Bicycle – It would be nice to be able to say that our seniors would continue to become bike riders. But there’s certain physical limitations. I believe that it’s got to be a part, but I don’t know what percentage it’s going to be, because there’s a lot of demographics involved. When I look around at bikers, they are principally people under 40, that I’ve seen on a large number. And we’re trying to encourage more people, especially our Millennials, to bike as – rather than the traditional California method, which is, you turn 16 and you get a car. How about you turn 16 and you start learning how to ride a bike to high school? So this is going to be a cultural shift that we have to encourage. And it’s – we’re fighting the demographics here in Concord in regard to age and being able to retain our youthful future residents.
BC: How do you intend, if elected, to connect the Reuse Area – the Reuse Project – to the rest of the city?
Birsan: In the Reuse Area, we’ve already put in that it has to be complete streets. I’m a big advocate, and I’ve said it many times, that every single street on the base reuse has to have a bike lane. The current next 10-year phase will connect at Willow Pass and start at Willow Pass about 400 yards east of its current border with Lynwood, and will then extend directly northwest to the BART station. So it will be connected both at Willow Pass – which will have major reconstruction – and it will be connected at BART, and we’re hoping to have several connections along the side going to the Coast Guard area, going to basically Holbrook, and by the bottom part of Hwy 4, both on the north side and on the side – well, on the north part of the base, the bottom part of Hwy 4. So that’s the way I see the connections.
BC: Funding for construction and especially maintenance of bicycle and pedestrian facilities can be difficult to find. What new sources of funding for Concord would you be willing to explore?
Birsan: Well, one of the things we did with Measure Q is, we immediately took 20 – Measure Q was a 5% sales tax, increased – that our residents extended in 2014. And one of the things we did immediately was take $22 million forward as a loan and pledge $2.5 million for Measure Q so we can do bike and can we do pedestrian stuff. And we’re going to see it on Oak Grove, we’re going to see it all through the city. We’re going to see complete streets beginning to be made. So there’s an example of a creative, innovative way to bring money in, by pledging some of the Measure Q money. And it also means that we can’t grab it and spend it on operations or some other things – one-time money. So we have to spend it on transportation. I’m also looking forward to passage of Measure X, which will give 23% return-to-source. This is a sales tax increase in the county. And we’ll get a percentage of what is collected in Concord to be used any way we want in Concord for our streets and our pathways. [Unfortunately, Measure X fell slightly short of the two-thirds supermajority required for passage.]
BC: Would you be willing to participate in a tour of Concord so you could be shown potential locations of various bicycle and pedestrian improvements that have been identified by the community?
Birsan: Absolutely. I love tours of my city. I give tours of my city. And I would love to take some more. You should get a hold of John Mercurio, who is an expert on paths, and was responsible for some of the bike paths that were actually put in the last ten years. And I would love to see what we could do. Unfortunately I will not be able to do this on a bicycle. But, if you have a horse-drawn carriage or some other device, I’d be more along to cooperate. Give me some advance notice on whether the tour will be in costume, or whether it will be just me running beside you guys as you speed along on your bike – in which case there would be a very short tour. But I’m more than willing to go over the city on where you guys think there should be bikes. But I do want to ask that when we look at bikes – We have a bias towards bikes: bicycles. I would like us to also consider trikes, because that’s something I could ride. And also we have – I would like to see more tricycle-type operations. I would like to see those carriages that are bike-driven. I’ve seen them down in Long Beach and LA. I’d like to see that as a device being used for transportation here. It’s where you have a bicycle in front, but it’s a little carriage behind, and it’s like a bike taxi, only it’s –
Birsan: Pedicab. Okay, very good. I would like to see that develop. I would particularly like to see it develop both between the BART station and downtown, because it’s a nice short haul. I think that would be something that would be a tourist attraction, and would also go towards making Concord appear and be more bike-friendly, and also more innovative in the transportation method.
BC: Thank you for your time, Edi. Appreciate your thoughts.
Birsan: Sure. Vote on November 8.