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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Bike Boulevard Scam

Emeryville Subverts Safe Biking
Bike Boulevards Encourage Car Use

News Analysis
The last several years has brought a Bay Area renaissance of bicycling as a legitimate form of commuting, not just recreation. Central to this flowering has been the municipal legislation of transit corridors known as bicycle boulevards.  Cities around the region have been implementing networks of bike boulevards to help encourage bicycling.  Bike boulevards are meant to increase safety and to provide for the most direct routes to ease commuting for bicyclists.
In Emeryville however, bike boulevards are being used to enhance the ease of and encourage the use of automobiles at the expense of bicycling; precisely the opposite of the intent of these boulevards.

Emeryville started implementing a network of bike boulevards a few years ago by replacing planned or existing class 2 bike lanes.  This has been done by amending the Emeryville Bike/Pedestrian Plan.  So far there hasn't been any public outcry against this because most people perceive a bike boulevard as being better for bikes than a class 2 bike lane which is essentially a street with striped bike lanes; one for each direction.  In a normal town, the public would be correct; a bike boulevard IS superior but here in Emeryville bike boulevards are just a degradation of a class 2 bike lane to a class 3 bike route.  This is because Emeryville hasn't defined a bike boulevard as a quiet street, like our neighbors have.

  • Bike Boulevard- A street where cars are allowed but bicycles are preferred. The cars that are allowed must be attenuated as per speed and volume so as to encourage bike use and discourage car use. 
  • Class 1 Bike Path- A completely segregated path for bikes that is separated from cars by physical barriers. 
  • Class 2 Bike Lane- A street where bikes are segregated from the cars by use of a painted lane on the side of the street, usually one each side. 
  • Class 3 Bike Route- A street where bikers are given green way-finder signs. Bikes and cars share the street with no preference to one or the other. 

Without traffic calming: a Bike Boulevard is essentially no different than a Class 3 bike route, since bikers must share the road with unrestricted cars.

With traffic calming: it can be argued that Bike Boulevards are safer for biking than a Class 2 bike lane since the cars are few and moving slowly.

Emeryville Bike/Pedestrian Plan, adapted in 1998 proscribed a network of mostly Class 2 bike lanes throughout town to keep bikers safe from moving cars on the streets. The last few years has seen the removal of many of the striped lanes in favor of bike boulevards by the Transportation Committee. The committee, comprised of council members Nora Davis and Ken Bukowski has noted that the bike lanes constrict car use by removing parking spaces on streets that are too narrow to accommodate both lanes and parking. The original Bike/Pedestrian Committee was aware of this but it was determined that in in absence of effective traffic calming, it is important for safety to segregate the cars and the bikes on a few key streets.

In Berkeley, bike boulevards are seen as improvements for bike safety since cars are not permitted to travel faster than 25 mph and the number of cars is limited to no more than 3000 per day.  Berkeley monitors their bike boulevards to assure compliance.  In Emeryville, the council majority has said NO to any traffic calming of cars on our new bike boulevards, rendering them to the lowest level: Class 3.

The result of this quiet imposition of bike boulevards in our town over the last couple of years has been the lowering of bike safety and the raising of accommodation for cars.

A new Bike/Pedestrian Plan to supersede the old plan is being worked on at City Hall and will be complete by the summer of 2011.  The new plan will provide for a large network of bike boulevards but citizens already have something right now to assure safe biking: the existing Bike Plan and its network of Class 2 bike lanes.   Forces in town that want to accommodate more cars, the forces that have the council's ear, can be expected to intercede and make the new plan help their interests.  This will take the form of more bike boulevards with out any of the enforceable automobile restrictions that our neighbors have.  Residents that want bicycling to remain a viable form of transportation will have to make their voices heard if they expect to be able to safely ride a bike in Emeryville.

Class 1
The Bay Trail along the bay front is an
example of a Class 1 bike path

Class 2
A Class 2 bike lane is supposed to provide enough
 room next to the parked cars to prevent bicyclers
 from injury due to car doors opening
Class 3
A Class 3 bike route is a normal street
 except  for the green bike route signs
Bike Boulevard
A bike boulevard has street stencils
A Bike Boulevard also has
purple signs


  1. I wouldn't expect anything less from Emeryville

  2. • There are a handful of "traffic-calming devices" along the Horton/Overland Bicycle Boulevard, but traffic-calming is more about the feel of a street than what devices get deployed. The most effective traffic-calming feature is a mature tree canopy.

    Unfortunately, the trees on that street where severely overpruned yesterday. Motorists now have sightlines that extend the entire length of the street and can be expected to speed up accordingly.