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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grand Bargain Fails For Horton Street Bike Boulevard

City Hall Reneges on Bike Boulevard Deal

News Analysis
Emeryville's Transportation Committee, made up of two council members, blocked the implementation of traffic calming for the Horton Street Boulevard in January*, negating a requirement of the city's own Bike/Pedestrian Plan and welshing on a side bargain struck between City Hall and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee.
It's the latest salvo in a multi-year conflict over Horton Street traffic calming proposals between the Bike Committee and City Hall.  Twice before over the years, the Bike Committee unanimously voted to recommend traffic calming measures for Horton Street to increase safety for bicyclists and both times the City Council overruled the Bike Committee. This time the Bike Committee had a much stronger hand; the rule of law with the recent passage of the new Bike Plan and a grand bargain struck with City Hall involving the giving away of bike lanes in trade for implementing the traffic calming.

The blocking maneuver by the Transportation Committee was a clear violation of the requirement, spelled out in the new Bike Plan to move up a chain of increasingly vigorous traffic calming measures meant to reduce traffic volume to below 3000 vehicle trips per day (VTD).  Horton Street is now at 'Level Three' and since the traffic volume keeps increasing, it's time to move to 'Level Four'.  Level Four requires locating traffic calming devises on the street in two strategic locations spelled out in the Plan. The City Council can pick between two options:  'chicanes', a forced weaving of traffic, side to side or 'chokers', a neck down of the street to one lane over a short distance.  The Tattler reported on this requirement last fall.

The Horton Street grand bargain is an agreement the Bike Committee made with the Council last fall to try to force Level Four traffic calming.  The Bike Committee agreed to allow the removal of bike lanes required by the Bike Plan for Horton Street in trade for City Hall not obstructing the Plan's requirement to install the Level Four traffic calming measures.  A sort of extra kick in the pants.

The Background:
Traffic Calming
Horton Street has been a very contentious thoroughfare as it turns out.  Automobile interests have been vying for increased use of Horton, prompting the City Council to widen the street.  One developer in particular, Wareham Development, told the Council that the street should not even have bikes on it at all.
The Bike Committee recognized Horton Street to be the best option for bicyclists traveling north/south through Emeryville and they sought to increase bike safety by getting bike lanes requirements into the previous Bike Plan, as a place of refuge on the increasingly dangerous street.  The City went on to paint most of the required the bike lanes on the street, skipping the area from 45th Street south to the Oakland border.  The Bike Committee also suggested that the City Council install a choker on the street to make it more bike friendly, an option on which the Council voted NO.

The problems arose later when City Hall, under pressure from the Bike Committee declared Horton Street to be a 'Bike Boulevard', or a bicycle preferred street, strongly suggesting that traffic volumes should be lowered.  Again the Bike Committee implored the Council to install a choker on the street but they were rebuffed by the Council.
This was further exacerbated after the Council signed the new Bike Plan into law last fall.  With its program of increasingly rigorous traffic calming levels and its strict time lines to accomplish it, the Bike Plan has ostensibly tied the Council's hands, forcing traffic levels to stay below 3000 VTD.
Of course a law is only relevant if there is political will to enforce it, a fact not lost on Wareham.  With its many buildings on or near Horton Street and its most favored developer status at City Hall, Wareham intervened and told the Council they don't approve of traffic calming past Level Three for Horton Street.

The Grand Bargain
City Hall has been positioning itself to increase vehicle traffic on Horton Street even as the Council voted to implement bike boulevard status for the street and the Bike Plan with its necessity for fewer cars.  There has been much pressure on the south end of Horton Street to maximize the street for cars there.  The City physically widened the street in anticipation of adding another lane of traffic south of Park Avenue, a move not yet made.  The City Manager is trying to create a place holder with the street widening to accommodate the anticipated gush of cars when the Sherwin Williams site gets developed, a position he expressed publicly.
But the most pressure has come to bear on the Bike Committee to give up the required bike lanes on the section of the street north of Park Avenue to 45th Street, to allow for more parking for Peet's Coffee and other businesses there.  Some have postulated that the parking there is temporary, also meant to serve as a place holder to allow an extra travel lane to be added for the future Sherwin Williams project.

Ever since the Bike Committee wrote bike lanes for Horton Street into the first Bike Plan in 1998, the lanes were meant to serve as a bargaining chip to be given away only with assurances for real traffic calming to reduce traffic volumes.  The Committee discussed at length how the most preferable option would be to have no bike lanes, but only if Horton Street had far fewer cars; a condition that could only be had with traffic calming such as a choker or traffic diverter.
Finally, the Bike Committee did relent and gave away the bike lanes on this section of Horton Street and the vote included the provisions that the Bike Plan be obeyed and the proper traffic calming delivered.  The idea is that the bike lanes would go but Horton Street would get Level Four traffic calming.  The elimination of bike lanes on Bicycle Boulevards without traffic calming represents a scam perpetrated by City Hall documented by the Tattler.
The Transportation Committee vote to block Level Four traffic calming in January* is a City Hall welshing of the grand bargain.

* Correction: previously the Tattler reported the Transportation Committee meeting happened last week. Council member and Transportation Committee member Jennifer West instructs us that the meeting where they blocked the traffic calming actually was in January.


  1. Maybe now you understand that the city doesn't want traffic calming for horton st. If they don't want it it aint going to happen. At this point this isn't even news. You should get off this story.

  2. Soon to be Emeryville's solution to the problem, “Regrettably, a decision made with a heavy heart, sections of the Horton Street and 45th Street Bicycle Boulevards will have to be removed from the Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan and the General Plan due to the inability of the city to make it safe for bicyclists.”

    1. Good point! Perhaps the Transportation Committee blocked implementation of the traffic calming with a heavy heart. I should have found out if their hearts were heavy for the story.

  3. Very interesting and I recall, one vociferous member of the Bike/Ped committee WARNED over and over again that this exact scenario would play out. In about 2004, former out of town commissioner Bryce Nesbitt urged and demanded that bike lanes on Horton St be removed and that the street be declared a "Bicycle Boulevard" which is a pretty meaningless designation. With the lobbying help of councilwomen Ruth Atkins and Nora Davis, the committee acquiesced, the bike lanes were painted over, the purple signs went up, Ruth and Nora smiled for the cameras and patted themselves on the back, Rich Robbins build more office buildings, traffic increased, the streets became less safe and surprise, surprise, the "bike blvd" became too dangerous to ride on, and surprise-surprise the council reneged on promises to preserve it as a usable bike route with traffic calming barricades. Thanks a lot Bryce!