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Sunday, April 17, 2016

City Council Moves Against Horton Street Bike Boulevard

Council Reversal:
No 'Chokers' for Horton Street 

'Level Four' Traffic Calming Snatched From Consideration,
Horton Street Pushed Back to Level Three

Mayor, Vice Mayor Break Explicit Campaign Promises

Emeryville will not implement a key provision of its $200,000 Bike Plan the City Council revealed April 5th when they voted to negate a contentious traffic calming metric on Horton Street mandated by the Plan, an action requested by City staff, developers and the business community repeatedly over the years.  The provision, the emplacement of certain specific traffic calming devises called chokers on the street, was unanimously approved in 2012 when the Council certified Emeryville's award winning Bike Plan and so the April 5th decision represents a reversal for the City.
 With its signs, stencils and other traffic mitigating measures in place, Horton Street as of now is at traffic calming 'level three' according to the Bike Plan but with the latest reversal, the Council now unanimously disregards the Plan's long passed schedule 'Level Four' traffic calming for the street and instead will implement a different version of a Level Three calming device, namely speed bumps.  Mayor Dianne Martinez and Vice Mayor Scott Donahue, who ran as a slate, broke specific campaign promises by their votes on April 5th.

At issue are so called 'chokers', a pinching down of the street to one lane in a specific area designated as the Level Four traffic calming treatment intended to drive traffic volumes down to less than 3000 vehicle trips per day.  Bike boulevards are defined as "bikes preferred, cars allowed" streets and Horton Street is the first of Emeryville's network of official bike boulevards that has run into bike safety problems excess traffic volumes brings.
Dianne Martinez & Scott Donahue
Broken promises for Horton Street.
(Photo from their campaign flyer)
Now they think Level Four traffic calming
is too much.
Bike safety must continue to wait
for Emeryville.
Horton has long been a source of contention; developers and business interests wishing to place more cars on the street with the only push back for bicyclists being Emeryville's long ignored Bike Plan.  The street could serve as a safe north south route for bikers through the town but Horton has been plagued by huge numbers of vehicles that only gets worse every year as traffic counts show.  The City responded by writing the 2012 Bike Plan, after spending two years of public meetings and $200,000 on it. Up until now the Plan has withered, the City Council refusing to implement it.  That was supposed to change on April 5th but the Mayor and Vice Mayor changed their minds.

Even as the City Council ignores the Plan, as individual candidates, every four years they universally have told voters they like bicycling and they will implement our Bike Plan.  Mayor Martinez and Vice Mayor Donahue joined their colleagues and voted NO to chokers for Horton Street on April 5th but in 2014 when they were running for Council they told voters they would support the Plan and install chokers.
On October 7th of that year, candidate Scott Donahue told Emeryville citizens:
"I strongly support Emeryville's Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan overall, including maintaining Horton Street as a bike boulevard.  I helped craft the plan, having spent more than 10 years on the City's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.  It is a balanced plan and addresses the needs of all stakeholders."   -Scott Donahue,  2014

Councilman Donahue refused to comment to the Tattler about the discrepancy between what he told voters he would do versus the vote he took on April 5th.
Mayor Martinez was even more explicit in the run up to her election, telling voters on October 9th:
"I support Emeryville’s Bike/Ped Plan and believe that Horton Street should remain a Bicycle Boulevard as defined by that plan, and that we should continue to strive for under 3,000 vehicle trips per day on this street."   -Dianne Martinez,  2014
Candidate Martinez elucidated the need for Level Four traffic calming for Horton Street, taking a more cautious approach than moving directly to Level Five traffic calming what Emeryville's Bike Committee recommended at the time. She directly said if elected she would vote for Level Four traffic calming for Horton Street telling voters:
"In light of the recent community meetings at city hall, I’m personally in favor of Level 4 traffic calming measures, without going straight to the experimental traffic diverters (part of a 'Level 5' strategy) recommended by the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). "   -Dianne Martinez,  2014

Emeryville's city staff has long been against Level Four or Level Five traffic calming for Horton Street as regular Tattler readers know.  City Manager Carolyn Lehr recently told the Tattler she's against chokers completely, calling them "too extreme."  Ms Lehr moved against the Bicycle Committee and against the Bike Plan's settled bicycle policy by removing Level Four traffic calming from consideration for Horton Street.  Ms Lehr's plan to remove chokers was revealed at a February 1st community meeting to discuss the temporary traffic calming measures, the public not given an option to consider them and weigh in.  Instead, the community was given several Level Three options to consider for the street against the wishes of the Bike Committee.
For her part, Mayor Martinez told the Tattler recently she does not approve of what Ms Lehr and the staff did by taking Level Four traffic calming off the table for consideration.  The Mayor defended her vote against Level Four traffic calming for Horton Street, hinting perhaps someday the Bike Plan could still be implemented, regardless of her vote on April 5th:
"I stand by my original answer from my campaign. I support Level 4 traffic calming short of (Level 5) diverters.  Chokers were not offered to the BPAC as part of the experimental Level 4 calming [at the February 1st community meeting], and that's unfortunate that they weren't reviewed by the public as a potential tool for traffic calming.  However, I'm not willing to wait another minute to implement much-needed measures on Horton.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and there is always room to review the effects of the proposed plan and add more calming measures in the future."  -Dianne Martinez,  2016
Vice Mayor Donahue was adamant about following the Bike Plan and installing chokers for Horton Street after the February 1st community meeting (but before his April 5th vote).  Upset at the City Manager and the staff for not including discussion of chokers at the community meeting, he told the Tattler in March:
"I'm disappointed chokers were not presented as an option to be studied at the [February 1st] community meeting but I will insist that they be studied and will put it on the next [Council] agenda if staff will not do it".   -Scott Donahue, 2016
The Councilman refused comment to the Tattler about why he changed his mind.


  1. This is a disappointment. I like Dianne and Scot but they should support bicycling in Emeryville more. Scott's refusal to answer is troubling and Dianne's excuse seems kind of lame.

  2. I’m interested in who voted for installing a “Choker” on San Pablo Avenue that is under construction on the 45th intersection right now. As I understand, the Choker is being installed under a grant from the “Safe Kids to School” program but I do not believe this will be making it safe to cross here, and in fact, will make it more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. Here is a list of the potential problems with this “Choker”:

    1. Speeding cars will be passing through a narrow roadway with pedestrians standing on islands merely inches away.
    2. If the narrowing does slow down cars, there will be more stop and go traffic and congestion that will increase exhaust pollution.
    3. During congestion, cars will use 45th street (a bicycle boulevard) as an alternate route and shortcut through the residential neighborhoods.
    4. Autos merging onto San Pablo Avenue from 45th Street will have to block the crosswalk in order to proceed onto San Pablo.
    5. The bus stop in front of the Choker cross walk will block the auto’s line of sight of pedestrians when busses pick up passengers.

    I wish things like this would be thoroughly thought out before they are implemented. I don’t see that the use of “Chokers” on a major roadway to be a very good solution and I believe the money would have been better spent by installing a traffic light system that would have encompassed the entire East and West 45th Street San Pablo intersection. This would have made it safer and more usable for all.

    1. Well, I can reply to most of your concerns. First of all, a choker means a pinch point wherein the formerly usually two lane roadway becomes one way. It acts like a one lane bridge. The function of chokers is to reduce traffic volume; to make the travel down the street so bothersome and time consuming that drivers take a different street...hence their efficacy in reducing traffic volume. This is a feature, not a bug. This routing traffic off the street is the function of "Level Four" traffic calming according to our Bike Plan.
      What you're talking about is a 'bulb out', a narrowing of the street but still accommodating all lanes of traffic through (in the case of San Pablo that would be all four lanes). Bulb outs are part of Level Three traffic calming in Emeryville. Just so you know, bulb outs have been shown to be moderately successful at slowing down cars but not good at lowering traffic volume. So it can be surmised that the work being done on San Pablo Avenue will probably slow cars down but not much else. It's unlikely to increase cut through traffic to other neighborhoods as you fear. At least that's what studies have shown. The exhaust pollution increase will likely be negligible and be more than offset by the lower and safer speeds near the school. We need to make our streets usable and safe for all...including children.
      It's unfortunate the City Council doesn't include bicyclists in the "all" equation. They seem to think our streets are for vehicles and for children to safely cross but not for bikes to use.

  3. I must say I am surprised. This is not how I thought Dianne and Scott would have voted.