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.

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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.

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.