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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Emeryville City Hall Staff Doesn't Understand Bike Boulevards

"Like a Squeezed Balloon..."

Emeryville's City Hall Staff Can't Imagine
Bike Boulevards

Analogy for Sisyphean Meaningless Work: 
Squeeze it here and the air goes over there;
you've accomplished nothing says Emeryville.
News Analysis/Opinion
Sometimes a single utterance gives away the whole game...
When a feature of a democratically vetted new polity is described by those entrusted with promulgating it as a flaw, you know there's a fundamental lack of understanding going on.
And that's what's happening behind the scenes at Emeryville City Hall right now.

Case in point: when recently interviewing the department heads management staff, the same curiously quoted axiom kept coming up: the idea of the futility of squeezing a balloon as a stand-in for meaningless work.  What these paid staffers are referring to is our Bike Plan and its provisions for building a network of bike boulevards in Emeryville.
Bike boulevards are corridors set aside primarily for bicycles and central to that endeavor is the requirement laid out in the Bike Plan to strictly limit the number of motor vehicles using these specially designated streets.  The Plan seeks to force cars from the bike boulevards over to regular streets for the safety of bicyclists.  This isn't a bug, it's a feature.
"If the idea is to atomize traffic in town, 
trying to keep an equal amount 
on all streets that the balloon 
analogy reinforces, then there's really 
no such thing as a bike boulevard". 

And yet our City staff can't seem to understand this basic principle, hence the oft repeated balloon analogy.  What they don't understand, they don't want.  At its core is a refusal to accept bike boulevards.  If the idea is to atomize traffic in town, trying to keep an equal amount on all streets that the balloon analogy reinforces, then there's really no such thing as a bike boulevard.  And viewing their actions trying to stop the Horton Street Bike Boulevard specifically over the last couple of years, it's safe to say we now know the philosophic underpinnings to their work: they can't even imagine a bike boulevard.

City Manager Carolyn Lehr
A fundamental lack of cognition:
"Like a squeezed balloon, the traffic
will just go elsewhere, you're
not solving anything" she said
of bike boulevards.
Who has spoken of squeezed balloons at City Hall?  The top brass; our City Manager Carolyn Lehr, our Director of Public Works Maurice Kaufman and also at least one underling.

We call on the Emeryville City staff to educate yourselves about our General Plan, our Bike Plan and Bike Boulevards.  The squeezed balloon image that you've been citing as reason for your dismissive demeanor is actually how it's supposed to work; we're supposed to squeeze traffic off the bike boulevards and onto regular streets.  Remember, it's bikes preferred, cars allowed on bike boulevards.  So stop trying to subvert that basic premise and get with the program.


  1. Nobody is suggesting that all traffic be the same on all streets. But we can't have Hollis St gridlocked with only bikes on Horton St. That's a recipe for disaster. People and businesses need to use all our roads and more are coming. The bikers are going to have to learn to share the streets. Somebody has to be the adult (me) and break it for you.

    1. Sure...what you say has some rationality (but the balloon analogy does posit a goal of atomization of traffic). The City Council appears to share your view since they have shown a multi-year reluctance to implement the Bike Plan. The Plan cost us $200,000 and was democratically vetted but if the Council wants to overturn it they have the right. But they must amend the Plan to do it...ignoring the Plan is unacceptable. Amend or implement; that's the extent of their power.

  2. Right, it would be better to amend the General Plan than to ignore it.

    Horton Street is already a pretty good option for cycling and is certainly not the main problem cyclists face. Much worse are our many streets with speeding cars, cars that don't observe the required 3-foot buffer between them and bikes, and cars turning right without looking for bikes. Where's the law enforcement?

    So yes, let's not ignore the General Plan. But let's also stop ignoring the rules of the road.

    1. You may think Horton Street is OK for bikes now (it currently has in excess of the 3000 maximum dictated by the Bike Plan) but after the Transit Center and Sherwin Williams projects get built, both on Horton Street and both very auto centric, the street will more than double the volume of traffic. See if you like it then.

    2. Great point. So let's encourage the city to think proactively, by requiring designs to mitigate the anticipated car traffic. Would it be possible, for example, to severely limit the number of parking spaces in the new housing, so that (for once) people without cars will foot the expense of parking they don't use?

      Fewer parking spaces in housing would bring down per-unit costs, while rewarding people for not driving. The Bay Area needs more housing, but we also need to stop choking off our streets with more cars.

      So if you want to argue that making Horton St. a bicycle boulevard would proactively influence the design of the Sherwin Williams project in a good way, I'd be willing to listen.

    3. Yes, the fact that there's a bike boulevard adjacent to the Sherwin Williams project could be used as leverage by the City Council to deliver a better project. So far they haven't been willing to use it that way, opting instead to placate the anti-bike staff at City Hall. The problem I think is that while we got a new council majority, they never fired the department heads among the staff. As it is now, the staff (hired by the old conservative city council) keeps sabotaging the Bike Plan. The new council should have hired a whole new crew that's amenable to the (would be) progressive vision of the new council. The problem is as it turns out they were never as progressive as they advertised.