Traffic & Safety Meeting 10/24/2013

The Traffic & Safety Commission meeting on October 24th led to some results and news of interest to AS&R. Details below, but here are the highlights:

  • Complete Streets: The Commission approved the final plan and sent it on to the City Council. The controversial bus stop move is still included in the plan.

  • UC Village Project: Staff showed more details of the bike path and related traffic features. The presentation included a tentative but creative solution to the conflict between bike riders and bus passengers that AS&R has been worried about.

  • Washington Avenue Sidewalk Parking: The Commission is taking this issue more seriously than it did in the past. At their next meeting, they will take up the controversial idea of eliminating some parking to solve the problem.

  • Buchanan Marin Bikeway: Staff provided more details of what steps they are taking to protect cyclists from right-turning motorists, and when those steps are likely to occur.

  • Sidewalk Maintenance: Though not on this meeting’s agenda, the issue has been brought back to the Commission’s attention for further discussion soon.

Complete Streets

The Commission took its final look at the Complete Streets plan for San Pablo Ave. and Buchanan St. The only real question left was whether the plan should show the northbound AC Transit stop at San Pablo and Solano shifted from the southeast corner of the intersection to the northeast corner. Most people in the planning community support the move, but most of the local merchants oppose it. The Commission heard many more strongly-worded statements of opposition at this meeting. In the end, though, the Commissioners seemed swayed by the notion that the plan represents a sort of idealized vision of how the street might look someday, and including a controversial element like this just keeps it in the mix for future discussion, without necessarily legislating that it must be done. The Commission voted unanimously to send the plan on to City Council with the Commission’s blessing, including the bus stop move.

AS&R is very pleased that the Complete Streets plan is finalized and is moving on to its next phase of approval.

UC Village Project

City staff showed a detailed plan of the proposed bike path and other transportation aspects of the project. They emphasized that these features are still in flux day by day.

The biggest improvement is a relocation of the bus stop. AS&R has been concerned that the planned bus stop in front of the senior housing (just south of Monroe) would create conflicts between bike riders on the path and bus riders crossing the path as they enter and exit the bus. The designers have eliminated this stop.  They are proposing to move the southbound stop just south of San Pablo further south to just north of Village Creek. This is just north of the grocery store and the north end of the bike path.

This stop location avoids any conflict between bus passengers and people biking on the path. It would work well for bus riders, since it gives them better access to the grocery store, which staff said AC Transit prefers. Placing the bus stop further from the senior housing is not an issue according to the senior housing developer because in its experience few seniors living at its facility ride public buses because they are over 80 years old on average.  Nonetheless, staff cautioned that this relocation idea is very new and still needs further consideration and vetting.

Staff were attentive to AS&R’s long-term goal of continuing the path north all the way to Marin Ave. to connect with the east end of the new Buchanan path.  They suggested this extension could be routed in a small westward arc to create a bus stop island where passengers could wait, board and alight from the bus.  This is basically the same design AS&R previously proposed for in front of the senior housing based on similar cycling facilities in San Francisco and Vancouver.  It is easier to arrange at the new location because no buildings are being proposed in that area.

The newest plans also showed more about how traffic conflicts at San Pablo and Monroe will be managed. The intersection is narrower relative to Monroe than before, allowing a shorter north-south crossing distance for peds and bikes. Notably, this change was made at CalTrans request, suggesting the agency is working constructively toward approval rather than moving to denial at the outset. The path and sidewalk will cross Monroe on a “speed table”, at an elevation halfway between street level and sidewalk / path level. So motorists on Monroe will encounter a bump and people cycling on the path will encounter a dip. This should help each group of users recognize the need to look out for the other. Staff also agreed to consider warning signs such as those proposed for Buchanan St. (see below).

The only piece not shown on the newest plans was a connection from Dartmouth St. south to Codornices Creek. This will be essential to connect to the new path to be built along the creek, and also to help southbound cyclists on the path make a smooth transition to the road and on to Berkeley. Staff indicated that that design will be coming soon.

It was rewarding to see staff and the designers paying attention to important details that will affect the usability of all the paths being added.

Washington Avenue Sidewalk Parking

It was announced that the Traffic and Safety Commission will be considering red curbing one side of Washington from Cerrito to Pierce at its November meeting.  The purpose of this red curbing is to eliminate motorists’ parking their vehicles on the sidewalks on both sides of the street because the road is too narrow to accommodate parking fully on the street on both sides. The way the vehicles are parked fully blocks both sidewalks, necessitating that people walk in the street.

While parking on sidewalks is illegal according to State law, the Albany Police Department APD was instructed a long time ago not to enforce the law on Albany Hill, even upon complaint.  The APD continues to abide by this directive, which creates tremendous liability for the City.  Red curbing one side of the street will allow the APD to start enforcing the law on the other, resulting in the sidewalks becoming available for walking.  AS&R supports the red curbing as the only solution that has been presented that will attain this goal.  More background follows.

The issue of these sidewalks being blocked by parked cars was first raised during the ATP workshops over two years ago.  A participant who had relatively recently moved to this segment of Washington noted the sidewalk blockage.  He said he made a point of parking his car fully in the street in the hope of starting a positive trend that would clear the sidewalk.  The street side mirror of his vehicle was promptly knocked off by a hit and run motorist.  He had it replaced.  It was promptly knocked off again by another hit and run motorist.  He gave up and joined his neighbors in parking on the sidewalk.  About the same time, a parent living on this portion of Washington that she walk in the street pushing a stroller with her two young children.

In addition to creating a hazard for residents that walk, this segment of Washington is a designated priority sidewalk in the Active Transportation Plan (ATP).  This was in response to AS&R advocacy following a discussion on the discussion list that indicated numerous people walk this route to reach the transbay bus stop on Pierce and numerous students walk this route to reach Albany High School.  It is the northernmost route south of the peak of Albany Hill.

The Traffic and Safety Commission subsequently looked into this issue.  The information about APD not enforcing the law came out. Measurements found that cars could not be parked in the street on both sides and maintain emergency vehicle access.  Consequently the only way to solve the sidewalk blockage problem and maintain emergency vehicle access is to prohibit parking on one side of the street by painting the curb red.  Albany’s Municipal Code actually anticipates this situation and provides red curbing one side of the street as the solution.

The subsequent study also revealed that motorists speed on this local street, with indication they use it as a cut through to avoid San Pablo, Solano and Buchanan.  These factors raised concern that red curbing one side of the street would widen the travel lane resulting in motorists driving even faster.  This was a dubious conclusion because the road width taken up by vehicles parked partially on the street on both sides is almost the same as vehicles parked fully on the street on one side.

Nonetheless, the City has focused on motorist calming measures since this issue came to light.  A stop sign has been installed at Polk. The wide intersections with Gateview Avenue and Cerrito Street have been narrowed by placement of temporary barricades. The City is planning to install a speed table with cross walk at the top of the hill to connect to Catherine’s Walk. However the City still has not taken the politically difficult step of actually solving the problem of parked cars blocking the sidewalks.

AS&R noted this again after the report on Washington at the September Traffic and Safety Commission meeting.  In response it was announced at the last meeting that red curbing one side of the street will be on the body’s November agenda, with complete noticing to the residents of the affected segment. Needless to say, eliminating the public parking in front of where people live will inconvenience those using that parking, and so will likely and understandably result in considerable opposition.  Unfortunately no one, including AS&R, has found another solution.  So parking convenience should not trump the City’s responsibility to enforce State Law to assure people can walk on the sidewalks instead of the street.

Buchanan Marin Bikeway

Now that the bikeway is mostly complete, AS&R’s biggest concern is the possibility of motorists turning right from eastbound Buchanan / Marin not noticing cyclists traveling along the path. There are several different steps being considered to mitigate this:

  1. Passive signage. Aleida has already ordered signs for the Jackson intersection, warning drivers that they are about to cross a two-way bike path. These signs should be installed in the next few days. She is going to order signs for the San Pablo intersection as well. She promised that the new right-turn lane there will remain closed until those signs have been installed.

  2. Leading pedestrian interval. After an eastbound red light phase, if the button has been pressed for a walk signal, the light will remain red for the first few seconds that the walk signal is on. This gives pedestrians a chance to enter the crosswalk before fast-moving cars start making turns. With the path here, the extra protection is helpful to cyclists too. Aleida announced a leading pedestrian interval was just implemented on Buchanan at Jackson about a week ago. Adding one at San Pablo is harder, because the existing traffic light controller can’t support this feature. Sometime within the next year, that controller should be upgraded, either as part of an upgrade of all the controllers along San Pablo by CalTrans or by the City as a leading element of the next project phase (extending the bike lanes from Cornell to San Pablo). At that time a leading pedestrian interval can be implemented there. Caltrans has already given its approval for this.

  3. Blank-out no-right-turn signs. This technology was recently installed at Marin and Santa Fe. It indicates no-turn-on-red during certain time periods. Here, the no-turn-on-red signal would be active only during the leading pedestrian interval. This way, the leading pedestrian interval is fully protected — no cars can cross the path during those few seconds. This system will be installed at Jackson St. soon. Staff hopes to install one at San Pablo too, but of course that has to wait until the main signal is upgraded and the leading pedestrian interval is implemented, and it will also require additional permission from Caltrans. Staff sounded optimistic that this will all work out.

Sidewalk Maintenance – Future Agenda

Early this year staff recommended and the City Council adopted a goal of improving sidewalk maintenance. This was a result of AS&R’s sidewalk census making apparent the poor condition of the sidewalks throughout town. Last spring, staff presented a plan to the Traffic and Safety Commission. Staff subsequently indicated to AS&R that some adjustment to the plan would be made and it would be brought back for consideration in this fall. In the meantime, sidewalk maintenance had fallen off the Traffic and Safety Commission’s list of future agenda items.

At the end of each Traffic and Safety Commission meeting is an agenda item to consider future agendas.  In public comment, AS&R noted the outstanding sidewalk maintenance improvement plan and advocated the Commission bring it back for an update.  The Commission agreed and placed this on its November agenda. Staff relaid the plan is likely to go to Council for adoption by then.  The Commission noted the item would be an update in that case.

AS&R also noted the plan staff proposed last spring, while a big improvement, still unfairly place the burden for repairing this public infrastructure entirely on the owner of the property adjacent to the repair site.  AS&R reiterated its position in support of a parcel tax to pay for sidewalk maintenance, just as there are parcel taxes to pay for road and storm drain maintenance and each water users bill to pay for maintaining the sewer system.  Sidewalks are the only public infrastructure where the entire cost falls on specific people rather than the public as a whole.

Still, the plan staff proposed last spring would be a big improvement over the current situation, and so worth supporting.  It would resolve the other current problems with sidewalk maintenance.  The first is that identification of damaged sidewalk is only by public complaint.  This provides non uniform information, and again contrasts with the City uniformly surveying the condition of other public infrastructure such as roads and sewers.

The second issue is that property owners currently are responsible for identifying, hiring, managing contractors.  This increases the burden upon property owners, resulting in some who can afford to pay for repairs not choosing to undertake them.  It also results in greatly increased costs due to the spot nature of the repairs.  Under the plan staff proposes, the City would uniformly survey sidewalks for damage in need of repair, package numerous repair locations into a single project, contract for and manage the work, and subsequently charge the property owners adjacent to each repair for the work.  This would result in repairs being made uniformly and at far reduced cost.

The did plan include a property lien option for low-income property owners. The Commission commented on the need for a such a provision. Staff subsequently responded it would consider adjusting the plan to further accommodate low-income property owners and bring it back this fall.

No comments yet to Traffic & Safety Meeting 10/24/2013

  • Amy Smolens

    Thanks for this detailed report, Harry – fantastic information!
    That new design of the bus stop relative to the bike path is great and I am also happy to see that the signage for drivers on Buchanan will be installed soon.

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