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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Council, Staff Fear Looming Public Backlash Over Horton Street Bike Blvd

Fear Not:
 Base Public Policy on Measurable Metrics, Deliberative Process

Horton Street Backlash To Be Expected
'Complete Streets' Idea Won't Be Stopped

News Analysis/Opinion
After nine years planning, last week the Emeryville City Council directed the Public Works Department to install temporary bollards on Horton Street meant to slow down vehicles and to make the street so difficult to traverse, frustrated drivers will seek other streets for their north/south travel through town.  The idea is to make Horton Street inefficient and unpleasant for drivers.  And if that doesn't work, if drivers still continue to use Horton as a through street for commuting, frustrating as it is soon to become, then the Council will finally divert all through traffic off the street except emergency vehicles and bicycles.
We can see it now: drivers, residents among them, will be frustrated and angry.  A mob will descend on City Hall, yelling at the Council, angrily demanding the street be made whole once again for drivers.  There will be threats of recalls of Council members.

Passions always run high when people feel something is being taken away from them in the public commons.  It's to be expected.  Because streets belong to everyone, while the drivers will be yelling and screaming, another part of the public with equal access to the commons, bicyclists, will be made whole by the Horton Street traffic calming.  And all will be good; proper deliberative procedure will be done and democracy will be served.

Triangle Traffic Calming Analogue?
In the meantime, the fear is palpable at City Hall.  Council members, Staff alike are adamant, 'we don't want a repeat of the Triangle Neighborhood traffic calming debacle', they've said.  What they're fearfully conjuring is when City Hall attempted to slow down and divert speeding cut-through traffic in that neighborhood some years ago.  It was precipitated by resident anger over the speedways that had become the streets there and finally reached a coup de grace with the death of a child to a speeding car.

Temporary Traffic Calming
A few of these sand filled

barrels in the
Triangle Neighborhood
streets brought
pitchforks and torches
to City Hall.
The Triangle traffic calming began like the Horton Street traffic calming: with a plan, a public vetting and a vote of the Council.  It all happened in a nearly year long deliberative process, the public encouraged to attend the several Saturday meetings held at the Senior Center.  Many Triangle neighbors did attend and did help plan the traffic calming for their streets.  Many more couldn't be bothered.  Finally the plan was agreed upon.  Then came the temporary traffic bollards, put up to study the effects and to see if the problem had been solved by implimentation of the plan.  And right on cue, after the bollards went up, the angry mob came down...down to City Hall with their recall threats.

This was all too much for every Council member, save John Fricke.  The rest of them, worried about their re-elections or outright recall, withered under the threats and yelling and the year of deliberate and methodical study to calm traffic by responsible Triangle neighbors was flushed down the toilet.  The neighborhood yellers and screamers won.  The ones inclined towards good governance lost.
Later, after much consternation, a less invasive traffic calming solution was finally devised.

So we know an angry mob is coming to City Hall after the bollards go up on Horton Street.   But what should we expect of responsible elected public officials in response?  Should we expect them to react, to flush good governance, to selfishly move to protect their job in the face of the yellers and screamers?  Or should we expect them to do their job?

The difference with the Horton Street traffic calming, besides the nine years of study conducted, is the plan.  Whereas the traffic calming for the Triangle neighborhood had a plan produced by a city planning firm commissioned by the Council,  the Bike Plan ensconced at City Hall that is dictating the parameters of the Horton Street traffic calming, has the (defacto) force of law.   The City Council is free to amend the Bike Plan but they're not free to ignore it.  And if they buckle under the onslaught of an angry mob, they will have to amend the Plan to reflect that.

Only Two Choices Available
The Bike Plan dictates that the Horton Street Bike Boulevard have no more than 3000 vehicle trips per day, a number far lower than currently uses the street.  This fact is what is driving the traffic calming now being sought.  The Plan describes remedies to frustrate drivers and make them select different streets, leaving Horton below the 3000 mandate.  If however the Council decides to give in to the driver's demands, they have two choices:

  1. Raise the number of allowable drivers on Horton street, or 
  2. Eliminate its bike boulevard status altogether and return Horton to a regular street

If the Council moves to raise the Bike Plan's 3000 vehicle trips metric for Horton, they will be up against an increasing East Bay bike commuting coalition that will not take to that calmly.  Already, the 3000 number is higher than that of Berkeley or Oakland.  Those cities have bike boulevards that call for no more than 1500 vehicle trips per day.  During the formulation of Emeryville's Bike Plan, the 3000 number was a concession to the business community.  Any move to raise that already high number will be met with resistance.  And that resistance would be well founded.  A bike boulevard with more than double the surrounding cities ceases to be bike boulevard in anything other than name.  And of course there's also the original reason for having low numbers of cars on bike boulevards: because high numbers are unsafe.

Asphalt Grinder
One of these would
make short work of the
Horton Street Bike Boulevard
stencils... and
Emeryville's reputation.
If the Council moves to amend the Bike Plan to eliminate the Horton Street Bike Boulevard altogether, they will have to grind off the existing stencils on the asphalt proclaiming the street to be a bike boulevard.  Also, they'll have to take down the many purple signs now identifying Horton Street as a bike boulevard.   The press will be there for that, the Tattler among them, photo documenting the workers grinding off the stencils and taking down the signs. The resultant photos would make for some embarrassing moments for City Hall we imagine.  It wouldn't be a high water mark for Emeryville public relations among civilized cities, never mind the notion of good governance.

The problem is going to get worse for those who champion driving in Emeryville, those who balk at the idea of 'complete streets', streets designed for everyone to use.  We expect this problem to extend to other bike boulevards in Emeryville as we continue to add new apartment buildings and thousands of new residents.  The other bike boulevards also will be under existential threat as they also experience too much vehicle traffic.  Those other bike boulevards it should be noted, are allowed only up to 1500 vehicle trips per day as the Bike Plan dictates.

Moving forward, decision makers need to stick to the cogent, measured and rational policy that our Bike Plan delivers.  We need to force any Council member that waivers on Bike Plan implementation to show us their alternate solution.  Would be decision makers, too, shouldn't be given a pass.  If they propose to not implement the Bike Plan as City Council candidate John Bauters recently did, we expect them to show us which of the two choices; increase the allowable vehicle numbers or the elimination of the bike boulevard status, they support.

To the yellers and the screamers that we know are coming to City Hall, remember, the City Council's two choices elucidated above are your two choices as well.  It's OK to yell and scream but we want to hear your solutions.  Which one of the two choices will it be?

Are asphalt grinders in our future?  We think the last election has settled that question most likely.  Every City Council wanna be says they support our Bike Plan in their campaign literature and in televised debates every two years.  We think the newest Council members actually do support biking.  The asphalt grinders will likely stay in their garages.  Bring on the yellers and screamers.  It's all good.  Let's have some lively democracy in Emeryville.
Coming soon to the Emeryville City Council chambers.


  1. I'm a driver with a 45 minute commute, and my only goal each morning is to get out of Emeryville as quickly as possible. My route is frequently clogged by bikers, but my only gripe, really, is that I don’t live in an area like Virginia (more rural) with proper off-road bike paths, or like Copenhagen (urban) which was constructed with a more holistic view re: travel. I have nothing against bikes or cars, but I know full well that the best solution will be for me to move to one of those areas where these things are already solved. For Emeryville, I think you're right: torches and pitchforks are inevitable.

  2. What may have changed since the last battle for the streets is that there are a growing number of cyclists well aware of the need for safer streets. And the idea of drivers clamoring to have the streets all to themselves is beginning to sound strangely quaint.

  3. In driving around the Bay Area, I've noticed that cyclists don't use the bike blvd's anymore than drivers try to avoid them.
    As far as I can tell, the traffic patterns remain the same. But the whole thing gives politicians and public works departments something to do, I suppose.

    1. Except the Horton Street Bike Boulevard; bikers are using it with greater and greater frequency. Unofficial traffic counts puts bikes at about 25% of all traffic now. It's a very successful bike boulevard. You're correct that drivers are not avoiding Horton Street and that is the problem that needs to be fixed.

  4. Stay on Hollis if you drive, bike on Horton.

  5. This is a very interesting subject and I hope you can keep us informed as this progresses. One thing to note though, is that the Triangle traffic has more than doubled after implementation of the so called "traffic calming" except for 47th Street that basically got redirected and blocked off as in the original plan. 45th Street is also a so called "bicycle blvd." and far exceeds the 1500 car limit that is allowed on a bicycle blvd. above San Pablo Avenue. I hope the city will do something about this, but I predict, Horton Street will have over 6000 car trips per day within the next 8 years without totally blocking it off.

    1. I do hope you're wrong about Horton Street. Your frustration at the cynicism at City Hall is well placed but one thing you should consider: We now have a progressive majority on the City Council...and that's what it takes to effect change here.

      Thanks for the heads up about 45th Street...I will keep on top of that.
      Look to the Tattler to continue to follow this story.