To: City Council
Re: Arastradero Restriping Trial Extension
From: Douglas Moran, 790 Matadero Ave
Date: 2011-08-01

I support the extension of trial with the reservation that the current configuration has severe deficiencies, but going back to the old (4-lane) configuration is unpalatable because of its many problems. However, the trial needs more than fine-tuning:

  1. Some of the problems with the current configuration are a result of the City ignoring the issues and inputs of various stakeholders.
  2. The City's persistent mismanagement of public meetings has poisoned the discussion, creating a widespread impression that the City is hostile to various stakeholders. If the City doesn't want the "Complete Streets" philosophy to be viewed as a transparent fraud, it needs to make radical changes in public outreach during the extended trial.

Background (reminder of key principles)

The discussion of specific projects tend to get focused on details and the underlying principles tend to be forgotten, and it is good to revisit them at key points in the deliberations:

  1. Traffic engineering measures are often counter-intuitive.
    1. They may "fix" a problem by transferring it elsewhere
    2. They can turn out to make the problem worse
    3. They may be both of the above
  2. Traffic calming has two basic principles:
    1. Traffic smoothing:
      • Reduce the "peaks" (highest speeds). Reduces severity of collisions that occur.
      • Raise the "valleys". Failure to do this can substantial increase travel time, which in turn displaces traffic onto other streets.
    2. More predictable traffic movements:
      • Fewer decisions & distractions & stress
      • Fewer mistakes
      Example: The Arastradero 4-lane configuration had very bad predictability because cars would stop in the left travel lane to make left turns:
      • Poor anticipation of such stops by cars following
      • Cars behind the stop vehicle would have to merge right, often into faster moving traffic that doesn't expect those lane changes because they are unaware of the stopped car.
    The combination of the two can dramatically improve safety by reducing the number and severity of collisions.

Problem: Arastradero Restriping is NOT traffic calming

Although the Arastradero Restriping Trial uses some of the techniques of traffic calming, it is not traffic calming because it ignores the basic principles:

  1. It focuses on slowing traffic, rather than smoothing traffic. Not only is the problem of raising the valleys being ignored, but various of the advocates argue for further lowering those valleys.
  2. The City seems to be ignoring widespread, reasonable feedback about areas with poor predictability

These deficiencies have led to the displacement of traffic onto nearby residential streets which are even more sensitive to this traffic.

  1. Most Barron Park streets don't have sidewalks,and many are narrow. Consequently this displaced traffic is competing with pedestrians.
  2. Most of the Barron Park streets seeing this displaced traffic are also major bike routes to schools. It is not acceptable to largely ignore that improved safety for bicyclists on one route may have come at the cost of making other routes more dangerous. Examples:

Problem: "Silence implies Consent": A poisoned atmosphere

The previous head of the Traffic Division ignored various of the key stakeholders and clearly favored others, thereby creating a poisoned atmosphere, and current staff has done little to reverse that situation. At public meetings, a large segment leaves angry at what has occurred: It would be bad enough if they felt that their concerns were simply being ignored, but many feel that they have been insulted, disparaged and misrepresented by the supporters of the plan. For example, someone complaining about traffic moving at only 5-10 mph will then be characterized by the project's supporters as someone who wants to drive 50 mph and doesn't care about the safety of children. While the City cannot prevent such abusive speech, its consistent and persistent failure to distance itself from such abusive behavior by the plan's supporters creates a strong impression that the City approves of the bullying of non-supporters.

An example of this occurred at the Planning & Transportation Commission meeting of July 13. Commissioner Garber stated (pg 21 in transcript, pg 41 in PDF, starting at line 9):

The last thing I wanted to mention is that there are comments about disregarding drivers and I think that is probably a real comment but I interpret it differently and that is that I donít think there is disregard for drivers but I do believe the community has changed over the last 10 years since the study has started and with increasing velocity it has changed even more quickly in recent years to a re-evaluation or allocation of the values that driving has in our community. Its not that driving has been disregarded or lowered in value, itís that the pedestrian involvement and biking involvement in our community has risen. ...
Out of context this comes across as a reasonable statement. But the context was a response to a slide in my presentation (below) (I checked the transcript to confirm that there was no other reference to "disregarding drivers"):

Impression: Disregarding Needs of Drivers
  • Origin? Difficulty of doing anything put disproportionate burden on vehicular traffic
  • Impression: feedback from drivers ignored. Examples:
    • Signage and lane markers: too little, too late
    • @Terman: Brief stretch expands to two thru lanes and then merges down (Opposite of traffic calming)
    • Missing left-turn pocket for Miranda just before Foothill creates long backups (exacerbating pre-existing)

Notice that what I was talking about were problems that were:

  1. Unnecessary
  2. Easily remedied
  3. Contrary to "Traffic Calming"

In this context, Commissioner Garber's comment becomes the opposite of what it purports to be: It is an insulting rejection of legitimate concerns. And it is a disingenuous tactic that has been employed routinely by supporters of the plan throughout the process. Notice that Garber is being dismissive of the safety of motorists. It is this sort of signaling that is convincing an increasing number of residents that the City has launched an undeclared war on motorists.

Fix: A more active role in managing public comment

The City has a long history of Staff exercising only a very light hand in trying to maintain civility in discourse. A low point was reached several years ago when a supporter of a City proposal was allowed to interrupt and heckle an opponent.

Council should encourage staff to play a more active role in creating a more productive and civil discourse:

  1. Preemptive: A part of the presentation, remind the audience of the tradeoffs
  2. Corrective: Don't let abusive statements go unnoted. While this is acceptable in some situations, the atmosphere on this topic has been so poison that such will likely produce a response. Examples:
    1. Anyone who worries about traffic flow is anti-bicycle, anti-pedestrian, and willing to have children killed to save a few minutes of travel time.
    2. "My child is important, your's isn't" In a discussion where one speaker has pointed out that the plan has shift the risk from one group of children to another, there is inevitably a series of response from people saying that the plan is good-enough because it has made their children safer. These people may be clueless, tactless or just narcissistic. Regardless, such statements produce anger among those whose concerns that they are dismissing, and such not be allowed to pass by City staff.
      [[This problem persisted at the Council hearing. Despite two residents speaking on the safety problems for large streams of students using Maybell and Los Robles, at least two of the supporters explicited restricted the issue of safety only to those students using Arastradero.]]