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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First CNWS Community Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday, Jan 17

The first meeting (PDF) of the nascent Community Advisory Committee for the Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project is Tuesday, January 17, at 6:00 pm in the City Council Chamber at 1950 Parkside Drive.

The CAC is a group of 11 Concord residents (plus 3 alternates) selected by City Council to give resident input on the Reuse Project progress and plans, and to assist in drafting the Specific Plan which will serve as the guide for Phase 1 development.  They will meet regularly on the third Tuesday of every month.  All meetings are open to the public.

Bike Concord’s position is that all streets in the project should fully reflect Complete Streets principles.  To that end, we support streets which include full separation of modes (pedestrian, bicycle, and motor) not only along roadways but also at intersections.  This means separate travel space for each mode, demarcated not just by painted lines but by vertical separation elements such as posts, landscaped planting strips, and/or grade separation (e.g., raised bikeways).  Another key element is the provision for protected movements (e.g., left turns) through intersections for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, separated from each other and from motor vehicle traffic.

Given the blank slate, for all intents and purposes, presented by the Reuse Area property, there is no practical reason for the City not to commit fully to the transformation of the former CNWS into a sustainable, vibrant addition to our existing community, and, in doing so, foster a haven for walkers and bicyclists.

Advocacy update

Here is a general update on Bike Concord’s advocacy work.

City Council

Edi Birsan (video interview with Bike Concord and transcript) and Carlyn Obringer (video interview with Bike Concord  and transcript) were the winners out of the seven candidates for Concord City Council this November. Both of them have demonstrated an understanding of how much bicycle transportation can contribute to health, safety, and reduction of public costs. We hope to be able to count on them to continue demonstrating that understanding as transportation and planning decisions come before Council over the next four years.

A fifth seat on Council is now vacant, due to the election of Tim Grayson to the Assembly. It will be filled by majority vote of Council (i.e. at least three out of the four members currently sitting) from those who choose to apply. Any Concord voter is eligible to apply. Here is the link to do so. The deadline is Friday, January 13 at 5pm.

Measure X

Unfortunately, Measure X received only 63.45% approval from Contra Costa voters, a decisive majority but short of the required two-thirds for passage. Measure X was a proposed countywide sales tax of 0.5% to fund transportation projects in a specified set of categories. A few of those categories included bicycle infrastructure projects. These projects would have been held to a Complete Streets policy which was fairly robust by Contra Costa standards.

Bike Concord put in significant volunteer time to help persuade our neighbors, friends, and family members to vote yes on Measure X in the weeks leading up to the election. It is possible the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) will revise the measure and resubmit it to voters in 2018. If so, we will be ready to mobilize for advocacy and, if the new measure sufficiently addresses bicycle safety, we will volunteer for the campaign again.

Infrastructure projects

Small but steady progress continues to be made in improving Concord’s bicycle infrastructure. Staff have not brought forward any plans for the Class IV protected bikeways or protected intersections which Bike Concord is aiming for on the major streets where most destinations are, but there are projects planned, and a few completed, for paint-only Class II lanes on some low-traffic streets.

Buffering routinely in projects

One significant point of progress is that City of Concord staff are now routinely designing new bike lanes with paint-marked buffer space whenever possible. This is both subjectively and substantively safer than a single paint stripe separating bicycle traffic from adjacent motor traffic, which used to be the default. And if the buffer is at least three feet wide – which it is in some of the projects planned so far – it can be filled later with vertical separation elements, such as posts or planters, to create a protected Class IV facility.

This shift was not inevitable; it is a result of persistent advocacy by this organized community of Concord residents, which has motivated staff to educate themselves about bicycle infrastructure and push further in the direction of safety than they otherwise would have. Your emails of support, attendance at meetings and events, and even your online participation in Bike Concord give weight to our advocacy and help drive shifts in the right direction like this one.

A note about small infrastructure projects

You may notice that the projects completed and planned so far are small. They comprise only a few blocks each, and do not solve bicycle safety issues on major streets. This  means it is not reasonable to expect these first few projects to be heavily used, until they become part of a wider network which reaches most or all major destinations and provides continuous safe facilities, including safe movement through intersections.

Staff has targeted these small projects first because they are relatively easy, both in their design challenges and in their funding requirements. This is reasonable. But it is important to bear in mind that our major streets and major intersections remain to be addressed for bicycle safety; until we deal with them, we will not have a bicycle network that a lot of people will use.

These small projects are still worthwhile and will play a role in our future bicycle network. Bike Concord has assisted the City in bringing them forward by offering detailed input and by writing letters of support to go with applications for grant funding to implement them. This matters, as most infrastructure grant programs require evidence of community support for a project.

Completed – Salvio St from Port Chicago Hwy to Parkside Dr

Part of the route from Todos Santos to the public library and the City complex at 1950 Parkside Dr now has buffered bicycle lanes in both directions. A couple of blocks of Salvio on that trip remain without bicycle space: Grant St to Port Chicago Hwy.

Planned – Grant St from BART to Todos Santos

These lanes will connect our downtown BART station to Todos Santos. Thanks to strong, persistent advocacy by BC and our partner Bike East Bay, the project (PJ 2277 in the City’s Capital Improvement Project list) was upgraded from unbuffered bike lanes (i.e. single-stripe) to buffered ones. It also includes upgrades to the traffic signal detection loops along Grant St in both directions, so that bicycles will be detected and can get a green light even if there are no cars along in the same direction. As anyone who rides at times of low traffic knows, this is a frequent problem when bicycling on the road as the law prescribes (CA Vehicle Code and Concord Municipal Code), so staff’s attention to this point is very welcome.

Planned – Concord Blvd and Clayton Rd from Sutter St to downtown

These lanes are also part of PJ 2277, along with the Grant St lanes above. They will comprise part of the much-needed bicycle connection between downtown Concord and the Monument Corridor Trail (MCT). Unfortunately, there are no specific plans yet to resolve the remaining bicycle safety gap from Sutter St to the MCT via Clayton Rd and Market St. Bike Concord has made this need very clear to staff, and we will continue advocating for a solution.

Planned – Willow Way from Diamond Blvd to Iron Horse Trail (IHT)

This single block of buffered bicycle lanes will connect the IHT to the Veranda shopping center currently under construction on Diamond Blvd, as well as to the adjacent existing Willows shopping center. The Willow Way lanes are part of the permitting conditions set by the City for CenterCal, the development company on the Veranda project. This was a response to specific advocacy by Bike Concord; the Veranda project included no connection to the IHT at all in its original concept. Willow Way will complete a bicycle route of continuous dedicated space to both shopping centers from any point of origin along the IHT or the Contra Costa Canal Trail.

Photos from Tamale Fest 2016 by Ford Tivakul

Ford is a Bike Concord member and photographer.

Transcript of 2016 interview with Edi Birsan

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 –

BC: Pedicab.

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.