Reversing the City’s transportation priorities

sint-annastraat-nijmegen-netherlands

The image above is a randomly chosen street in a randomly chosen town in the Netherlands. It shows bicycle traffic in a protected space, separate from the space for pedestrian traffic, and including riders of various ages, including a senior who evidently feels safe and confident in carrying a considerable amount of cargo with her bicycle.

This is possible in Concord if we set the right priorities in our street designs.

Currently the City’s effective priorities for street design and performance, which render difficult or impossible a vision like the one you see in this image, are:

1. Maintain level-of-service (LOS) D or better for motor traffic. This means no more than 35–55 sec of delay at signalized intersections, or 25–35 sec at unsignalized intersections.
2. Provide safe movement for all modes, including bicycle traffic and pedestrian traffic.

Bike Concord’s major advocacy goal, for which we hope for support from recently-elected Councilmembers, is to reverse the order of these priorities. This ordering is harmful to our quality of life in numerous ways. It is also contrary to the City’s commitment in General Plan Policy T-1.9.5, as well as many other commitments and promises the City has made.

sint-annastraat-nijmegen-netherlands-intersection

And here is the intersection just behind the point of view in the first image. This is not some headline cutting-edge project in the Netherlands. It’s an ordinary intersection, representative of many others. It provides ways for pedestrian and bicycle traffic to move through without conflict with motor traffic, including left turns.

A key thing to understand about Dutch intersections like this is that motor traffic is not permitted to turn right during the same phase when bicycle and pedestrian traffic are proceeding straight through the intersection to the right of motor traffic. In other words, right hooks at intersections, one of the biggest causes of car-bicycle and car-pedestrian collisions, are eliminated.

The obstacle to eliminating the dangerous practice of permissive right turns by motorists which is standard practice here in California and in Concord is that permissive right turns reduce motor vehicle queuing and delay, although at a major cost in safety for non-motor traffic. They are therefore consistent with the current effective priorities of both the City of Concord and Caltrans.

It’s that ordering of priorities that we have to change.

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21 thoughts on “Reversing the City’s transportation priorities

  1. Concord is not located in the Netherlands nor does Concord have anywhere near the number of bicyclists. The general public think most cyclists should stay off the streets. Pushing for very expensive bicycle lanes (for just a few bicycles) in a city whose streets need millions in repairs does the bicycle community no favors. I advocate setting the bicyclist’s goal a little closer to what is doable, both from a fiscal as well as a political perspective. Start with old school 3′ or 4′ bike lanes signed AND ENFORCED as bike lanes. Ensure funding allows for maintaining the bike lane (smooth pavement and lane sweeping). Push the Concord PD to enforce the State law requiring motor vehicles to maintain a minimum of 36″ when passing a cyclist – at all times, not just when convenient (the Concord PD has not issued one citation for violating this statute). When Concord has marked and enforced simple bike lanes and motor vehicles are required to maintain a safe distance from cyclists, more people will ride their bikes. When the number of bicyclists increase ten fold, only then will the City will be closer to having the political standing to invest at a higher level of bike lanes.

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    • Dave, I’m curious – are you saying that it’s better to have more bike facilities that are mediocre or fewer ones that are better? While getting more cyclists on the road is a way to get better funding, we won’t get those numbers without facilities, and we should still work toward best-in-class facilities for the future. Agreed that PD enforcing passing clearances would be a good start, as you point out.

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      • Claire, my feeling is it is better to have more bike facilities even if they are mediocre. The good people of Concord may tolerate funding ‘mediocre’ bike lanes. Alternatively, if the position is to not vary from best-in-class facilities (which come with a best-in-class price tag) it will be a non-starter. This is especially true given the the amount of roadway maintenance – deferred maintenance – which most will view as a higher priority than building best-in-class bicycle facilities.

        My position is to lobby for what is achievable – with the understanding it may not be the most desirable.

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        • Dave, I would agree with you if I could believe that “mediocre” bike lanes with no safe facilities on major streets had a serious likelihood of generating sufficient bicycle traffic to shift the political calculus. Because of the fact that most major destinations are on major streets, and because of the stated reluctance of many people to bicycle in paint-only, unprotected lanes, I have a hard time believing that proposition.

          There is also strategic sense in pushing for what is excellent and reasonable, but politically very difficult, in order to make the mediocre more politically mainstream. I would argue that we are already seeing this: as a result of Bike Concord’s constant push for major street infrastructure (I argue), staff who were formerly reluctant to plan so much as sharrows are now trying to add buffered bicycle lanes wherever it’s relatively easy. In the past, even an unbuffered lane was hard to get anywhere. I think it would be a mistake for BC to stop calling for serious, high-quality, and comprehensive infrastructure. That would make our stated vision less coherent, and weaken the pressure for the City to do the best it can even within its current unfortunate order of priorities.

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          • BC can advocate for whatever they want. Meanwhile I am cycling along painted bike lanes blocked by parked vehicles, along bike lanes which are clogged with debris, bike lanes which are poorly repaired after street maintenance has been inadequately repaired, and dedicated bike paths whose surface is badly in need of repair due to broken and rough pavement that will not be repaired because of lack of money.

            Building dedicated and protected bike and pedestrian ways are too expensive and there is never money earmarked (nor made available) for on-going maintenance.

            As to taking a firm stand for protected bike lanes based on people claiming lack of protected bikeways as the reason they leave their bike in the garage, you are being misled (to say the least). People who want to cycle will cycle; they may prefer a nice protected bike lane, but that isn’t reality. Those same people will come up with another excuse as soon as you give them protected facilities…and then another and another (have you not raised children?).

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            • BC is working on all of those problems to the best of our ability. I am personally working on getting official followups to two specific reports of blockages of bike lanes in PH and Walnut Creek which I submitted to their respective traffic enforcement units recently, and I was successful in getting a property owner to remove their cars from the bike lane on Detroit Ave a couple nights ago. BC is working on several fronts to help the City of Concord get grants to fund small bicycle infrastructure projects which are already in the pipeline, and we helped a great deal in getting a significant percentage of prospective Measure X money allocated for large, serious bicycle infrastructure projects – which effort will not go to waste, as Measure X will be back at the ballot in another form at some point, and past advocacy gains will go into the next plan.

              None of this is mutually exclusive with advocating directly for protected bicycle travel facilities and movements at intersections.

              The experience of Copenhagen and of many cities in the Netherlands is evidence that large numbers of people – including parents with children and seniors – will use protected bicycle facilities even if they have rejected bicycling in favor of driving cars as a transportation mode before. I understand you believe those examples are not applicable to our context in Concord. I think it’s fair to ask you specifically how they are not applicable. The link I gave in an earlier comment (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html) responds to a number of reasons commonly given for that opinion.

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              • I read your link to “excuses”; made me smile. I have heard many of them before – there were a few new ones as well. I am not convinced that resolving any of these “excuses” will have much of an impact (maybe I’m wrong). Personally, if you solve one excuse, the wannabe cyclist will just start chanting about the next excuse on the list. I see a similar response when I talk with people about going to the gym or taking the stairs instead of the elevator or bringing a healthy lunch from home instead of heading to McDonald’s for lunch. Ya, yA, ya, we’ll do it tomorrow. But as you know, tomorrow never comes. Also why has bicycling caught on in San Francisco, Davis, Portland, Seattle….? Certainly not because they built separated roadways for cyclists (I believe we are starting to see some in Portland, but that may became a reality after reaching a critical mass (what, they have something like 11%-12% of commuters doing so on bicycles?)

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                • There are a couple things I’d like to reply to in your comment when I have a little more time, but just wanted to get one thing clear: by “separated roadways” do you mean on-street facilities protected by vertical separation elements, i.e. those which fall in Caltrans’ recently defined Class IV? Or do you mean an off-street facility like the Iron Horse Trail (Caltrans Class I)?

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                  • Most of my comments are in reference to the Class IV facilities. I mentioned the Class I facilities as a further example of good intentions/facilities which are often ignored when it comes to maintaining them after the ribbon cutting ceremony.

                    Please do not feel you need to reply to my comments. You don’t have to convince me, I haven’t the millions of dollars you need to bring your dream to fruition. Spend your time convincing those controlling the purse strings.

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            • Jumping in here… I think we can all agree with the need to better maintain and make use of the infrastructure that is already in place. I had three flats in November and December, three separate incidents of glass-in-tire. I’ve submitted hazard reports for potholes in bike lanes along my commute. And don’t get me started on people in cars disrespecting people on bikes…

              That being said, I don’t think any of these complaints are at odds with wanting better infrastructure. Quite the contrary – I think the more we push for cities to be aware and responsive to the needs of residents who ride bikes, the more we will see the quality of the existing network rise. I think there have been a lot of compromises made, and it’s time for us to be standing up for bikeways that really do encourage more people to feel safe and comfortable riding.

              Did you know the average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase 75 percent in its first year alone? In Seville, Spain, an 80-mile network of protected bike lanes boosted biking from 0.6 percent to 7 percent of trips in six years. After buffered bike lanes were installed on Philadelphia’s Spruce and Pine streets, bike traffic increased 95 percent and the number of people biking on the sidewalks fell 22 percent. NYC’s Prospect Park West protected bike lane saw a 190 percent increase in weekday ridership, with 32 percent of those biking under age 12. (Sources and more statistics: http://www.peopleforbikes.org/statistics/category/protected-bike-lane-statistics#if-you-build-it-people-will-ride).

              I don’t believe that expecting many people to ride on a regular bike lane next to 40+ mph traffic is realistic. That’s what cities have been asking of people for the last couple of decade, and while it might work for you and me, it’s never going to work for more than a small percentage of the population. So, yeah, we don’t know exactly how many people will choose to ride to BART or to school or to the store in Concord. But we are confident, from our conversations with residents, with parents, with community members, that there is strong demand for better facilities to ride on and we’re going to do everything we can to give them the opportunity to do so.

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              • All well and good. What does it cost to build and maintain a mile of protected bike lane and what is the cost of a mile of striped and signed Class I bike lane? Now, how much money is the city of Concord truly willing to make available for bike facilities?

                I agree that in a world bloated with abundant resources, the protected bike facilities should be achievable. On the other hand, if resources are scarce, one may want to look at the alternative which gives the most bang for the available buck. It is similar to a parent who has three kids to feed. The parent understands that feedings fruits and vegetables- organic – is best for the children but the budget does not allow for it. Is the parent doing the children a service by feeding them a little bit of expensive (good) food while the children starve or should the parent compromise and feed the family less expensive (but not as nutritious) food but no one goes to bed hungry?

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                • New pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Concord is almost entirely funded by grants from state and regional programs, most of which are earmarked for the purpose and will go to other local jurisdictions for similar projects if Concord doesn’t apply for and receive them. Very little money from the City’s own revenue is involved.

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          • Kenji….and another thing. If BC want to make an impact, implement this idea: develop a “car free” zone around all public schools. I believe Concord schools are ‘community based’ in other words children attend the school (or are supposed to) in their neighborhood. I find it crazy to see SUVs backed up for three blocks as parents take their turn to let little Johnny out in front of the school. These kids should be walking or biking to school and most – if not all – live within a mile of the school. And many would not be harmed by walking (or pedaling) a bit more and being chauffeured as bit less. If BC could work a plan to ban cars within three blocks of a school during the times schools begin classes and then again at the end of the school day, parents could still drive Johnny to school but would have to drop him off at the 3 block perimeter. I know people in our neighborhood that drive their kids to school – and we live about six blocks from the school. I believe that after mom or dad transport their child two or three blocks just to let them out of the car to walk the last three blocks will last about a week at which point mom is going to tell Johnny just walk the whole way (what, another two or three blocks?).

            Yes, there will be parents concerned about their child’s safety, and those feeling strongly about this can certainly walk their children either from home or park at the perimeter and walk them to the school building.

            Yes, there are issues that need to be addressed, but I think this type of program is a community program that BC should be pursuing.

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            • Yes, this sounds like a really good idea to me! Would you be willing to lead that project? I think a lot of BC members would gladly help, e.g. with drafting documents, giving public comment, and reaching out to contacts at schools.

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    • Hi Robert – Yes, the Canal Trail and Iron Horse Trail are excellent recreational facilities. However, Bike Concord’s primary focus is transportation. The trails do not reach most high-frequency destinations. Almost any bicycle trip for transportation in Concord will require use of the streets, and most will require use of a major street. For that reason, we consider it essential that our streets, including the major ones, be made safely usable by bicycle traffic.

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  2. Good opposing viewpoints here, and I will not take sides, because they all have merit. Shades of gray? However, I would like to nitpick you, Kenji, over a seemingly innocuous word choice. “…excellent RECREATIONAL facilities..” Emphasis mine. As someone who has intermittently commuted to Pacheco from eastern Concord for a quarter century, the Canal and Iron Horse trails are essential commute routes. I use them to avoid the shorter but harrowing routes through town. I suspect many other cyclists with different points A and B similarly go out of their way to spend as much time on the trails as.possible. I think it is important to not encourage the view that trail access is merely a pleasant recreational perk of the area, like strolling around the duck pond at Heather Farm. We need to insure that the trails’ status continue their migration towards full-blown right-of-way, immune from capricious revocation by the county, water district, or parks district.

    This has been chapping my hide since decades ago, when I first saw the anti-switchback cutting sign just west of Taylor Blvd on the Canal Trail, sternly instructing user that, “you are here for RECREATION..” No, actually I’m here trying to get to work…

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    • You are right, and I take your correction! They are transportation routes as well, and are correctly cited as such by our local government agencies for the purpose of showing existing bicycle facilities. And I take your correction on the strategic point about how to talk about them too. I have also been annoyed by the specific sign you mentioned. 🙂 The point I was trying to make about the trails is not that they are not transportation facilities, but that they are not sufficient transportation facilities. There are few high-frequency bicycle routes that can be completed without use of major streets, and still fewer that can be completed without use of streets at all. (A commute from a home with an egress on one of the trails to Pleasant Hill BART might be the only exception.)

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