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Monday, September 28, 2020

Council to Make Doyle Street Traffic Diverters Permanent

COVID-19 Delivers Emeryville's First Bike Boulevard

Newly Calm Street Very Popular

Could Other Bike Boulevards Also Get Traffic Calming?

News Analysis

The City Council has placed on its October 6th docket, the permanent closure of portions of the Doyle Street Bike Boulevard to vehicular traffic, a move that likely would bring the street into full compliance with Emeryville’s Bike Plan, a first for any bike boulevard in the City.  The Doyle Street Bike Boulevard, with its temporary ‘K rail’ traffic calming measures placed last April, is now safe for bicycling for the first time in years with fewer cars on it than the maximum allowed in Emeryville.   Every other bike boulevard is still unsafe for bicycling according to the Bike Plan, because of too much vehicle traffic.

The much reduced vehicle traffic load on Doyle has come about because the City of Emeryville, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, blocked some portions of the street from vehicle usage with the water filled plastic K rails.

The temporary K rail diversion was done administratively owing to its low cost and the COVID-19 emergency invoked by the City.

View of an Emeryville Bike Boulevard
COVID-19 made something better
in our town.
K Rails will be replaced with
permanent (more attractive)
concrete  barriers. 

The new traffic calmed street has become so popular in the north Emeryville neighborhood and among regional bike commuters, the City Council has been prompted  to vote to make the changes permanent.  Emeryville will be helped with this expenditure by Alameda County Measure BB funds the City announced.

The Council action comes as a ‘consent agenda’ item (10.7) at the October 6th meeting, a sign they will almost certainly vote in favor.  Consent items are grouped together in bulk and voted on without discussion barring some new negative revelations.    With funds fully secured to permanently add traffic diverters to Doyle Street, a 5-0 Council vote is near certain. 

The diverters have not only made bicycling on Doyle Street safe but also enjoyable, say neighbors.  The reduced traffic street has also helped Emeryville to finally be able to make a claim of bike boulevard legitimacy.  Ten years after the City Council certified its Bike Plan that calls for a network of five bike boulevards, Emeryville finally now has a legitimate bike boulevard in Doyle Street thanks to the diverters.  

COVID Upsets the Dominant Paradigm

The Bike Plan calls for traffic counts to be made every two years for each of the City’s five bike boulevards to inform the Council as to the necessity of increased traffic calming.  Each bike boulevard is only allowed a certain number of average daily vehicle trips (ADT) and any overage is supposed to set off a new round of prescribed traffic calming measures.  That’s the way its supposed to work anyway.  The highest level of calming according to the Plan is Level Five, or traffic diversion, as Doyle Street now has.  The City of Berkeley has used Level Five diverters to great effect to help bike safety over the years.  But Emeryville’s bike boulevards have never progressed beyond Level Three traffic calming despite traffic counts that have called for increasing calming.

Many years ago,  the late City Councilwoman Nora Davis famously announced Emeryville will never have traffic diversion like Berkeley and she would only allow up to Level Three traffic calming on any bike boulevard (signs and paint on the asphalt, no diverters).  She stated Levels Four or Five traffic calming would disrupt vehicle traffic and therefore not be tolerated here regardless of what the Bike Plan says.  That default policy has been followed ever since by every iteration of the Council, making the COVID traffic diversion for Doyle Street a paradigm shifter for Emeryville.

The newly safe Doyle Street could ‘go viral'.  The street is now so popular in the North Emeryville neighborhood, others might demand the Bike Plan be followed in their neighborhoods as well, forcing the City Council to add diverters on the rest of the bike boulevards.

Councilman Bauters Gets Full Funding For Emeryville 

Council member John Bauters sits on the Alameda County Transportation Commission and has been instrumental in getting the funding for the traffic calming needed for Doyle Street (and possibly the other bike boulevards in Emeryville).  Measure BB, passed by voters in 2014 allows for this kind of safe street infrastructure but Council member Bauters was able to convince his Commission colleagues to waive the normally required matching funding from the municipality.  Mr Bauters argued that Emeryville’s small size made the matching funds requirement an undue burden and that the spirit of Measure BB would be subverted if Emeryville were to be forced to pay as much as the big cities.  His colleagues agreed and Emeryville has subsequently been released from the matching funds requirement as has two other small cities in the County. 

 Emeryville's Latest Traffic Count Results (2019)

Every bike boulevard is shown to be in violation of the Bike Plan due to too much vehicle traffic. At only 4% over the maximum allowable traffic before the COVID pandemic, Doyle Street certainly has been brought into compliance with the emplacement of the diverters.  However the other four boulevards are in even greater need for traffic calming.  Will the Council follow the success at Doyle Street and make the other bike boulevards safe too?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Council Punts on 47th Street Homes Project: Unstoppable in Wake of New Sacramento Law?

Tonight the City Council threw out a decision on the controversial 47th Street Homes project based on a lack of knowledge when the application was completed.   The date is important because the State of California has passed several laws protecting ‘upzoning’ or increasing density, as the 47th Street project would do.  At issue are SB 330 provisions that would make it more difficult for the Council to vote NO to the project.  Council member John Bauters asked staff to report on when the application was “deemed complete” because if that could be determined to be before the passage of Sacramento’s SB 330, then presumably more lax and defensible findings against the project could be made.  The staff was directed to find the application date and return the project to a future meeting.

100 year old Craftsman Homes would be
replaced with this.

The project was recently declined by the Planning Commission based on their finding that the existing homes are affordable and the replacements would be unaffordable, a fact the applicant, Forbes Development, admits.  But that finding might not be an acceptable one to turn down the project now that SB 330 is the law of the land.  The Council also had previously said NO to 47th Street Homes, in January due to the project's transitioning of the neighborhood from affordable to unaffordable.  

The action tonight indicates the Council believes they will have a difficult time voting NO to the 47th Street Homes project with the new rules in effect, barring a clear calendar impediment.  This could serve as a signal to developers to start tearing down existing homes all over the Triangle neighborhood and North Emeryville, the last stands of affordable single family detached homes in Emeryville, a clear goal of California Senate Bill 330.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Emeryville Transit Center's $8.4 million in Public Funds Fails to Help Transit

No Transit at Transit Center

City Won't Say When Bus Bays Will Be Operational

More than ten years after the City Council OKed it and after Emeryville taxpayers were later tapped for an economic subsidy of $4.2 million to help build a private development laboratory/office tower near the Amtrak station on Horton Street known as the Transit Center, citizens still wait for the publicly accessible bus bays that were touted as the primary reason for the Center and the public subsidy.  A year and a half after completion of the Transit Center, City of Emeryville officials are now admitting negotiations between the developer, the City and Amtrak are "not progressing as expected".  An agreement should eventually be reached and the bus bays made available for public transit use, the City added.

Privately however, a City official told the Tattler that the COVID pandemic has brought down Amtrak to such a degree (Amtrak ridership down a whopping 95%), it is unlikely the rail service even has any use for the bus bays anymore and any agreement for their use may be a long way off.   

The Transit Center, built by Wareham Development is also known as ‘Emery Station West’, and was approved for construction  in 2010 with a toxic soil clean up.  Wareham received its final occupancy permit in April of 2019 and with the Amtrak serving bus bays, Wareham also secured an additional $4.2 million in State of California Transportation Fund money ($8.4 million total public expenditures).  

Emeryville Transit Center
For all the taxpayer subsidy,
it's supposed to have a transit component.

The public largess given to Wareham for the Transit Center has been substantial. Notably, the City will receive no taxes by agreement for 12 years after the issuance of the occupancy permit.  This 'tax increment'  forgiveness is a relic from the days of the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency (RDA) and was commonly used by other RDAs up and down the state until they were all ordered shut down by then Governor Jerry Brown in 2012. The idea was that developers would get a tax break for a certain number of years in order to spur development. Critics noted that RDA financing came at the expense of local school districts and contributed to California’s public education slide beginning in the 1980s.  

However Wareham, unlike most other private developers from the redevelopment era, got an exemption from the State shuttered RDA money after the City of Emeryville convinced Sacramento of the extraordinary public benefit of the bus bays.  It is notable that the bus bays were added as an afterthought by Wareham and were meant to juice public money for the Transit Center who's primary function was always Emery Station West, the laboratory/office tower.  

Emeryville also gave Wareham a $208,000 tax rebate in 2017 for the project after CEO Rich Robbins convinced the City Council that since the bus bays represent a public benefit, he should get relief from the standard developer impact fees. 

The 165 foot tower also required the City Council in 2010 to amend the then newly certified General Plan to increase the allowable hight in that specific area from 55 feet to 165 feet.

The Mayor of Emeryville, Christian Patz was contacted to comment on when the public can expect to get the bus bays they paid for, but he declined.

Free Parking at the Transit Center
Private vehicles are using the bus parking  
that Emeryville taxpayers provided.
Why not?... since buses aren't using the spaces.