Your emails needed for bicycle safety on Clayton Rd, Willow Pass Rd, and Concord Ave at SR-242

The public open house yesterday on the Caltrans project to add ramps to SR-242 in Concord went reasonably well. Details follow.

But first, a request to Bike Concord members and supporters: Please send an email to  sr242claytonramps@gmail.com in support of high priority for bicycle safety in this project. (Note: The address we were given at the meeting and posted here earlier, sr242@claytonramps.com, seems to have been incorrect. Please use the gmail.com address instead.)

We were told at the open house that the quantity of comments from the public makes a difference in internal Caltrans decisions, by strengthening the position of those staff members whose view is supported by the comments received. There are staff who would prefer to relegate bicycles to the sidewalk, and others who take bicycle transportation seriously. Please add your email in support of the latter by the deadline of October 10. It will make a difference.

Here is a brief suggested text which you can simply paste into your email and send. Or if you have the time, please express the same substantive points in your own words. Relevant personal experience is worth including.

I am a resident near the proposed Caltrans project to add ramps to Highway 242 in Concord. It is important to me that the project provide for safe bicycle movements through the intersections in its scope, in space separated from pedestrians and protected from cars.

sr242claytonramps@gmail.com is the address. Deadline is October 10.

Now about the meeting.

There were six people in the room from Bike Concord, and about six other members of the public, as well as Mayor Laura Hoffmeister and Vice-Mayor Ron Leone. Staff present were Susan Miller of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), and a couple of Caltrans staff.

We were told the following:

  1. The plan for bicycle safety in the project so far is to widen some sidewalks to 10-12 feet, with the expectation that these will serve both bicycle and pedestrian traffic in both directions. We expressed the view that 12′ is the bare minimum for this purpose, and that mixing bicycle and pedestrian traffic is best avoided; the project should involve full mode separation wherever possible.
  2. Low-level design decisions are not being made at this point; the only decision being made now is the choice between Alternatives 1 and 2, the difference between which is mainly which streets will receive the new on- and off-ramps of 242. (Bike Concord has not taken a position on this question yet.)
  3. We emphasized that regardless of design details, we wanted a commitment to the functional goal of making these intersections safe for average bicyclists, including families with children. Staff responded that they could not promise any particular functional outcomes on this point, and that safe bicycle movements through the intersections will be provided for to the extent “feasible”. We pressed the point that “feasibility” in bicycle infrastructure typically means motor level-of-service (LOS) is to be prioritized over bicycle safety, and that we expect Caltrans to reverse this order of priorities in its evaluation of feasibility. We discussed some specific movements and motor-bicycle conflicts at the intersections, and proposed some design options to address them. Staff were not dismissive, but they again deferred these questions to a later time.
  4. The project is far from implementation, and will certainly not be implemented before the relevant corridor projects pursuant to Concord’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Plan, which will be adopted next Tuesday. This is welcome news to us, as it means we have time to influence the project, and that the functional goals of our future local project for this corridor will be able to shape this Caltrans project.

We were told there won’t be a second public input meeting. Instead, staff will follow up directly with parties who submit input, and further versions of the design will be publicly posted.

Bike Concord has requested digital copies of the updated concept drawings for Alternatives 1 and 2. We will post them on this blog when we receive them.

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Report on August 3 Planning Commission meeting

Thanks to everyone who set aside their evening to come to yesterday’s Planning Commission meeting on the final draft of the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Master Plan.

Unfortunately, the Commission chose not to adopt the resolution we were proposing. It would have clarified that the use of motor level-of-service (LOS) as a reason to rule out project design elements that are necessary for bicycle or pedestrian safety is inconsistent with the General Plan. The General Plan in its current form already commits the City to prioritize safety for all three modes above LOS.

Staff’s opinion was that this resolution would constitute an amendment to the General Plan. Bike Concord disagrees, but Planning Commissioners understandably chose to be cautious and defer to staff’s view on this point.

However, most of the Planning Commissioners were sympathetic to the issue we were raising: that the high priority given to LOS has been a persistent barrier to bicycle safety and is likely to continue to be so until the City changes its priorities. Planning Commission Vice-Chair Jason Laub in particular committed to help overcome this issue when it arises in specific projects before Planning Commission in the near future. Although we did not get the formal resolution we were seeking, we have succeeded in putting the issue of LOS vs safety on the agenda of Commissioners, staff, and to some extent, City Council. It will take sustained pressure, dialogue, and attention to every relevant future project to bring our work to fruition, but we are nearer to success than we have ever been.

Great comments from everybody – Brian Cory, Dave Pitman, Amy Ma, and Barbara Brunell, as well as kind words for Bike Concord from Coire Reilly of Contra Costa Health Services. Our turnout was important; this was reflected in the comments of Planning Commissioners and those of Transportation Manager Ray Kuzbari, who acknowledged that Bike Concord has become a strong community worth listening to.

If you have seldom or never been able to attend a public meeting with Bike Concord but support our mission, please consider choosing a meeting in the near future to come make a supportive comment. Your public support will be even more valuable if one meeting is all you can do, because you will be a new voice and face.

Concord City Council signs on for new CCC transportation sales tax

City Council voted unanimously tonight (with the exception of Tim Grayson, who was absent) to adopt a resolution giving Concord’s approval to the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to put the proposed new half-cent sales tax for transportation on November’s ballot. CCTA needs approval from at least 10 out of the 19 cities of Contra Costa County in order to levy the tax, in addition to two-thirds’ approval from Contra Costa voters in November.
 
Bike Concord has been heavily involved in the Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) for the new tax: by attending meetings to follow the process, submitting letters and making comments in support of significant apportionments for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a strong Complete Street Policy, and by participating in the Expenditure Plan Advisory Committee (EPAC) in support of Bike East Bay.  This new revenue will be a great help in funding many badly-needed bicycle infrastructure projects across Contra Costa and in Concord in particular.  We hope to be able to commit significant time and energy as volunteers in a few months to help persuade our neighbors to approve the tax in November.

Planning Commission support for prioritizing safety over cars in the Master Plan

Bike Concord’s primary advocacy target at the moment is to obtain an explicit commitment in the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Master Plan that all the projects and studies which implement the Plan will be conducted in compliance with existing General Plan Policy T-1.9.5 by prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian safety over motor vehicle level-of-service. Such a commitment would in effect require that a shared travel lane be converted into bicycle lanes where this is necessary to promptly assure safe bicycle travel on a street.

We received clear support on that point at tonight’s Planning Commission meeting from three out of four Commissioners. Thanks to Carlyn Obringer, Jason Laub, and Ray Barbour for lending their voices to help us get this important commitment for a safer, healthier, more equitable Concord. (Commissioner Lamar Anderson offered no comments on the Master Plan, either in support of or opposition to our request.)

We now have majority support on this point from Planning Commission, two strong supporters on City Council (Councilmembers Helix and Birsan), and ambiguous support from a third Councilmember (Vice-Mayor Leone). We will continue working to build more support and ensure that this crucial commitment is included in the final Master Plan draft.

Bike Concord considers this explicit priority commitment an essential element and will not support the Master Plan without it. We have made City staff aware of this, and hope to be able to speak well of the Master Plan when it comes before Council for adoption in September.

Report on City Council study session on the Master Plan

Ten Bike Concord members turned out for tonight’s City Council study session on the draft of the Master Plan. Bike Concord organizer Smitty Ardrey made an announcement (video) before the Master Plan agenda item about our upcoming Bike to Work Day celebration, and some of the other services we have scheduled. It was a great segue into the Master Plan presentation by Alta Planning + Design.

Bike Concord had submitted a letter ahead of time asking Council to support us in asking staff to add commitments in the Master Plan for the recommended Complete Street Studies to be conducted consistent with General Plan Policy T-1.9.5 by prioritizing safety for all modes above motor speed and level-of-service.

In the absence of such a commitment, we can be sure the Complete Street Studies will be conducted with the opposite order of priorities, as every other “feasibility” study for bicycle infrastructure has been so far in this city. The result will be infrastructure choices which are inadequate for bicycle and pedestrian safety, and high cost estimates (due to expensive street widening as a substitute for conversion of a motor traffic lane or street parking into adequate bike lanes) that will delay important safety projects by years. Bike Concord therefore insists on a commitment to abide by Policy T-1.9.5.

Before any of us got up to make comments during the meeting, Councilmembers Helix and Birsan spoke up in support of adding that commitment to the Master Plan.

Councilmember Helix’s comment (video) to staff and consultants:

“On your next steps, your June 2016 Revised Draft Recommendation, I would like to see some specific language in there consistent with steps this Council has taken in its amendments to the General Plan. Specifically, reference to ‘Prioritize pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile safety over vehicle speed and level-of-service at intersections and along roadways.’ Every day you see examples where some car is in a hurry to get somewhere and bicycles, even in the bicycle lanes, are at risk. And that’s not what we’re striving for. And that’s the whole purpose of, really, great studies like this. And to me, you can have the greatest study in the world, but you’ll negate its significance if you do not emphasize the things that this Council has as far as where our priorities should be. And I hope that will be reflected in the language as you develop.”

Councilmember Birsan (video) echoed Helix’s comments, and added that he specifically supports Class IV protected bike lanes down the whole length of Monument Blvd. This would be a change from the conceptual plan in the current Master Plan draft, which proposes a 12-foot sidewalk shared between bicycle and pedestrian traffic in both directions on one side of the street, and no bike lanes.

Mayor Hoffmeister commented (video) that Council had been working with technical staff to find ways to “balance” motor traffic flow with safety. The implication is that these are equally important priorities.

I (Kenji) amended my pre-written comment (video) to thank Councilmembers Helix and Birsan for their support, and to note that Policy T-1.9.5 does not call for level-of-service to be “balanced” with safety for all modes, but rather for safety to be prioritized above level-of-service.

Bike Concord members Laura Nakamura (video), Yelena Myakisheva (video), and Amy Ma also gave comments.

We’ll see in our conversations with staff over the next couple of weeks whether they are still hesitating to put in the language we’ve called for. We will also continue seeking support on this crucial point from the remaining three members of City Council – Mayor Hoffmeister, Vice-Mayor Leone, and Councilmember Grayson.