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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cyclists Given a Fighting Chance

Committee Makes Definitive Vote: YES To Bikes On Horton Street

Emeryville's increasingly dangerous main bicycle route won a rare victory last night, when a city advisory board unanimously adopted measures aimed at limiting the surging number of motor vehicles using the road.
The vote came in defiance of Emeryville's largest property owner, San Rafael-based Wareham Development Co., and one of the city's most important employers---Swiss Pharmaceutical behemoth Novartis.
Members of the city's Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee unanimously adopted a proposal that reduces the speed limit on the city's so-called 'bicycle boulevard' to 20 miles per hour and also forbids more than 3,000 motor vehicles from driving on it per day. If traffic exceeds that level, a series of speed bumps or other measures to discourage motor vehicles would be installed.
The 'bike boulevard' consists of Overland and Horton Streets from 65th to 40th. It connects with bike routes in Oakland in the south and a bike lane that leads to a bike path in Berkeley's Aquatic Park.
The most heated part of the committee vote was one defining exactly what a 'bike boulevard' is. Several years ago the city council chose to erase bicycle lanes already along the streets and designate the route a 'bicycle boulevard.' However, the council never bothered to define the term.
Bicyclists, who 20 years ago could ride just about anywhere in a then, largely industrial Emeryville now compete for road space with all the traffic generated by the city's big-box retail boom. Frequent close calls and even road rage are becoming more common.
After years of complaints about growing dangers faced by people choosing to walk or ride a bicycle in Emeryville, the council commissioned a new $200,000 bicycle/pedestrian plan from Alta Planning, a Berkeley consulting firm. But the report brought sharp condemnation from both Wareham and Novartis.

Wareham's Emery Station East: This and other Wareham
developments on Horton Street have added substantially
to the 4600 cars per day.
In a sharply worded letter to the city, Wareham reiterated previous proclamations that cyclists don't belong on Horton Street and instead should be relegated to an non-existent street west of its property along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.  Geoff Sears, representing Wareham said the plan would "negatively impact" cars commuting to proposed new office buildings including the council approved 'Transit Center' on Horton Street.   According to Mr. Sears, cars and trucks need unimpeded access along the entire length of Horton Street to access Wareham property and that cyclists would hamper such access.
In an April 4th letter, Mr. Sears complained that the 'bike boulevard' plan was too friendly to bikes and was written from a "bicycles only" perspective.  The letter also reminds city officials that Wareham is the single largest property owner in the area and warned that Wareham's operations would be at risk if Horton Street were a bike boulevard.
Novartis also wrote a letter to the city complaining that they need more cars on Horton Street.

The plan developed by Alta and approved by the committee calls for traffic calming measures to be employed if vehicle speeds regularly exceed 20 MPH or if volumes rise above 3000 trips per day.  No specific traffic calming measures were adopted by the committee Tuesday but they generally range from side walk intersection 'bulb outs' to traffic diverters.

City traffic counts show vehicle traffic on Horton Street is already over 3000 trips per day along much of the boulevard and that it spikes to more than 4600 per day near Wareham's developments.  The 'Transit Center', an office tower proposed for the vacant lot to the north of the Amtrak station will bring many more cars onto the street.

Monday's committee vote makes the third time the body recommended traffic calming measures.  Twice before, the city has moved against the bike committee; once at the transportation committee level and once by the city council.  The newest vote for bike safety on Horton Street also could be crushed by the transportation committee or the city council in upcoming decisions.
However, Monday's vote carried more weight than previous ones because it supports a new $200,000 document commissioned and paid for by the city.


  1. Wareham always gets everthing it wants from Emeryville. This'll be no different. They may complain now but in the end it'll be the bikers who'll be the ones complaining.

  2. Thanks for a well-written report on the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee's latest action in this long uphill climb.

  3. Love the images attached to this article, really encouraging to cyclists.

    The truth is, whether big business likes it or not, pedestrians are the sign of a healthy city. Without happy "slow traffic" on the street, a city just becomes industrial and too dangerous for families to live comfortably.
    Last time I checked, Emeryville was trying to be less industrial and more of a community. Maybe I was mistaken, but that's why I chose to live here. And I ride my bike everyday, supporting all the little businesses I discover along the way.