Op-ed: Draft bicycle plan is good, but not good enough

Bike Plan drafting. Photo: Courtesy Dave Campbell
Bike Plan drafting. Photo: Courtesy Dave Campbell

Berkeley’s draft bicycle plan, released Aug. 29, is a good improvement over its current plan, and is better than most bicycle plans currently under development in other East Bay cities such as Concord, Pleasanton and Moraga. But Bike East Bay members and thousands of people who bicycle in Berkeley every day have higher expectations for the number 2 city in the US for bike commuting.

As explained below, in order to meet Mayor Tom Bates’ stated goal of having the “best bicycle plan in America,” Berkeley’s draft bicycle plan needs more protected bike lanes like the one recently installed on Fulton Street. There is plenty of time for the public to weigh in and help deliver the bike plan residents have asked for.

Key dates to know:

  1. Sept. 29: deadline for written comments
  2. Oct. 20: Transportation Commission and deadline for public comment
  3. Dec. 13: expected City Council Approval

For details about the draft bicycle plan, and to submit your comments, go to BikeBerkeley.com.

Analysis of Berkeley’s Draft Plan

What we like

The draft plan includes a network of protected bike lanes in the downtown and Southside areas, and this is appropriate because these congested areas in the core of the city are where most crashes occur.

On Milvia Street, an innovative two-way protected bike lane is proposed through the downtown, the highest priority bike project in the draft plan according to public input to date. Protected intersections are also included, bringing the protection of modern bikeways like the new protected bike lane on Fulton Street into intersections to maximize safety.

In fact, Berkeley is getting its first protected intersection this December at the intersection of The Alameda and Hopkins Street, in front of the North Berkeley Library. Learn more about protected intersections here. Major upgrades are also included in the draft plan to Berkeley’s nationally recognized bicycle boulevard network, including safer crossings at busy arterials, more traffic circles with stop signs adjusted for efficient bicycling and off-set intersection connections.

The draft plan also sought significant public input over the course of the last two years, the kind of extensive public outreach Bike East Bay wishes all cities would engage in for their bicycle plan updates. A key finding of Berkeley’s public outreach comes from a public opinion survey showing that 70% of Berkeley residents who currently do not bicycle often or at all are interested in bicycling more if streets were safer. It’s certainly no surprise to hear that a higher quality product creates more demand.

What needs to be improved

Bike map

The main shortcoming of the draft plan is its retreat from an earlier commitment for Berkeley to have a dense network of low-stress comfortable, family-friendly bikeways throughout the city, including protected bikeways on busy streets residents use every day.

The purple lines and the dashed orange lines on the draft bikeway map shown here are the only proposed low-stress bikeways. The rest are bike lanes out in traffic, or future studies. An initial map of a draft Berkeley bicycle plan, shown at the May Berkeley Bicycle Subcommittee meeting, showed a more dense network of low stress bikeways, and in fact staff emphasized that a fully connected low stress network was the direction the plan was taking as a result of public input received. The current draft bicycle map omits many needed low-stress, protected bike facilities.

On parts of Hearst Avenue, Adeline Street and Alcatraz, for example, the earlier draft bicycle map indicated protected bike lanes, but the current draft bicycle map falls back to standard five feet wide bike lanes out in traffic or says “future studies are needed,” without explaining what needs to be studied. San Pablo Avenue is designated a future study, as is Telegraph Avenue, parts of Adeline Street, Gilman Street, and Shattuck Avenue. Yet for the past two years the public has been asking for protected bike lanes on these types of streets, not future studies. Parents bicycling their kids to school on Hopkins Street want a protected bike lane, but for some strange reason the draft plan does not reflect these requests. Read our blog on past planning efforts throughout the East Bay and how they have failed to capture public input.

Here’s Bike East Bay’s proposed low-stress bikeway network:

Proposed low stress network

  • Green lines are protected bike lanes and paths
  • Purple lines are neighborhood bicycle boulevards

In defense of the draft bicycle map, perhaps the intent of “future studies” is for the city to study how to design the rest of each street given that the public has asked for a protected bike lane, but the draft plan does not say that is the intent and needs to say so, in order to clarify that no future study needs to study whether to put a protective bike lane on these streets-the plan should show these protected bike lanes. By doing so, Berkeley’s bicycle plan will reflect the vision of the people of Berkeley, expressed over the course of the last two years — a vision of a dense network of modern, comfortable, attractive bikeways for residents of all interests, abilities, comfort levels, and a network that extends throughout the city. Bike East Bay’s goal: no resident should have to travel more than three or four blocks to get on this comfortable bike network, and the bike network should get them safely and comfortably to their destinations. This we do not need to ‘study.’

bus

To use an analogy, you may have heard that AC Transit is developing a transit plan in cooperation with the Alameda County Transportation Authority. Such a plan shows San Pablo Avenue, University Avenue and Shattuck Avenue, for example, as transit corridors, based on analysis and public input. The transit plan does not state “future studies” are needed to determine whether to put transit on these streets or how to redesign the streets in order to do it. We ask for the same approach to our bicycle network. It is also worth noting that more cities are realizing a best practice is to redesign streets for both transit and bicycling together, as Berkeley is currently doing on Bancroft Way and we hope they do on Dana Street. Why bikes and buses go together.

Berkeley also has an award-winning climate action plan. The climate action plan specifically states the number one thing each resident can do to help clean the air is replace one car trip a week with walking or bicycling. Yet Berkeley is far from reaching its greenhouse gas reduction goals for transportation under this climate action plan.

National studies have shown that low stress comfortable bikeway networks significantly increase bicycling in cities where they are being implemented. Studies specifically show for protected bike lanes that 10% of the users of these facilities used to travel by a different mode, many of them presumably by driving.  If 10% of people driving in Berkeley switch to bicycling, that would help Berkeley achieve two important goals: (1) significantly reduce greenhouse gases, and (2) help Berkeley reach its target of 15% of bike trips by 2025 in this draft bicycle plan.

Mayor Bates’ promise

Back in 2013, as Bike East Bay was preparing for Bike to Work Day, we asked Mayor Bates to commit to Berkeley having the best bicycle plan in the world. Mayor Bates didn’t go that far, but did commit to Berkeley having the best bicycle plan in America. Mayor Bates also enjoyed the company of Copenhagen Mayor Morten Kabell on Bike to Work Day 2015 and heard Mayor Kabell’s acknowledgment that protected bike lanes are what Berkeley needs to build. This December, Berkeley City Council is going to approve the update to Berkeley’s bicycle plan and as this is Mayor Bates’ last term in office, his vote on this bicycle plan may be his final vote as Mayor of Berkeley. Let’s make Tom’s last vote as Mayor his best.

Other good bike plans for comparison:

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Dave Campbell is Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay.