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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Emeryville Can't Seem to Close the Deal on Bike Boulevards

10 Years On, We're Still Waiting for the Horton Street Bike Boulevard

$10,000 to Study a Study

Opinion/News Analysis
It's Emeryville!  And everyone loves bicycles, right?
We think so much of bikes here, some ten years ago we heralded our premier north/south bike corridor as our first 'Bicycle Boulevard'.   And that means the purple signs went up and paint stencils on the asphalt went down.
But is that all there is?  Are we finished?  Can we wash our hands of it now?

Purple Sign:
Nice, but you need more 

than this to make a Bike Boulevard.
No, we're not finished.  The problem is that even though purple signs proliferated and asphalt stencils were dutifully applied proudly proclaiming Horton Street to be a bike boulevard, the street isn't a bike boulevard yet.  It takes more than this to make a bike boulevard as it turns out.  
Ten years on, we still don't have a bike boulevard on Horton Street.   We're still waiting.
Emeryville's Bike Plan, approved unanimously years ago by the City Council is clear on this subject; a bike boulevard must also be a place where bikers can travel in safety.  That means fewer cars and that's the problem on Horton Street.  There are far too many cars and as a result bicycling is unsafe there.
The Bike Plan has the solution: a bike boulevard cannot have more than 3000 vehicle trips per day sharing the street with the bicyclists.  And Horton Street has anywhere from 4800 to over 12000 vehicles (depending on where) as measured by the City.

Bike Stencil:
Add this and you still don't
have a Bike Boulevard.
Horton Street has turned out to be a very contentious thoroughfare.  Bikers want use of it but so do developers and business owners.  The latter wants full use of the street for automobile and truck traffic for their customers, clients and tenants.  Wareham Development's CEO Rich Robbins came right out and publicly said it; Horton Street should be exclusively for vehicles he said.  It shouldn't be a bike boulevard at all he says.  He posits bikes are interfering with commercial uses of the street.  Cutting into his profits it would seem.

Who Gets to Use Horton Street?
But the question of who gets to use Horton Street has already been settled.  That argument was finalized years ago when the City Council approved the $200,000 Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan.  It's the law in Emeryville.
Even with purple signs and stencils
you can still wind up with this.

The number of vehicles need to be
limited to make a street safe
for bicyclists.
Horton Street is primarily for bicyclists.  Cars and trucks can share use of the street, but bikes are supposed to be the prime users.  That's what a bike boulevard is.  Otherwise, it would just be a normal street with funny purple signs and stencils.
The way we make bicycles the primary users is by use of traffic calming solutions spelled out in the Bike Plan.  The traffic calming guarantees no more than 3000 vehicle trips per day, the upper limit for a bike boulevard.
There are five levels of traffic calming, each level more regulatory and stringent than the previous. We made it through to Level Three no problem. But we seem to be incapable of moving from Level Three to Level Four on Horton Street, because Level Four traffic calming would start to actually curtail vehicle traffic, a big problem for the developers and the businesses.
Level Four mandates use of 'chokers' or narrowing of the street to make it impossible for two vehicles to pass each other at the same time (at two critical locations on Horton).  It's supposed to make the street less convenient for cars and trucks, pushing some of them to other streets to keep the bike boulevard safe for bikes.  After two years if the chokers don't work, if they are ineffectual at keeping traffic less than 3000 per day, the Bike Plan calls for Level Five 'diverters' to be used, allowing only emergency vehicles, buses and bikes through.

The Status Quo is a Comfortable Place
This is what a Bike Boulevard
should look like: primarily bikes.
Most of the people that matter in Emeryville (the business owners, the developers and the City Council majority) like Horton Street just the way it is.  They don't want Level Four (or Level Five) traffic calming.  They feel fine putting more and more traffic on the street and keeping the purple signs and the street stencils.
Council member Nora Davis came right out and publicly said it; she has no problem with signs and stencils but chokers and diverters are something she will not allow.  Apparently Ms Davis has no problem subverting the same Bike Plan she herself voted to implement.

Study the Study: $10,000
But the ingrates on the Bike Committee keep insisting the Bike Plan be followed, forcing the reluctant City Council to make decisions.  After years of stalling on traffic calming for Horton Street, the Council now has a new idea.  The Study (the already approved Bike Plan) now must be studied they say before they can move.  They can't glue down temporary rubber bollards forming a choker like the Bike Plan says because it must be studied how to do that (never mind that the Plan tells us how to do it).  Realize these rubber bollards are to last only for two years so we can see if they are effective in limiting the number of vehicles to 3000.  So the City of Emeryville is going to spend almost $10,000 to study the study after which time they'll presumably come up with another reason why the $200,000 Bike Plan can't be followed.
We have to ask why it's so difficult and imprudent to just glue down the bollards now and save the $10,000 (other than the benefits that can be had by stalling for more time).  The City Engineer says its imprudent to glue down bollards redirecting traffic a little without a major study.  But how is it so standard (no study required) for the City to do just that when doing street work as they routinely do?  Or for the developers themselves?  They do it all the time and there's never a study performed.  Now it seems to be some perplexing nearly impossible task.

Ten years is too long to wait.  The City of Emeryville is obviously stalling.  It's obvious they don't want to move Horton Street to Level Four traffic calming because the City Council's developer friends don't want it.  With up to 12,000 cars a day on Horton Street, readers need to remember that it's not a bike boulevard at all regardless of all the signs and stencils.  And so we will continue to wait.
What we will get is City Council member's constant public crowing about how much they love bikes, especially in their re-election campaign literature.  They never stall on THAT.

1 comment:

  1. This post is especially helpful because it reminds us of history. Please remind us once again around election time, so that voters can interpret what City Council candidates are saying at the time in light of what they've actually done for us.