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File #: 2020-7963   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: City Council
On agenda: 5/19/2020
Title: Recommendation to Endorse Implementation of Temporary Street Reconfigurations to Provide Space for Social Distancing in Response to the COVID-19 Emergency. (Transportation 4226287)
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - April 21, 2020 Letter from Downtown Alameda Business Association, 2. Exhibit 2 - Map of Slow Streets, 3. Correspondence - Updated 5-19, 4. Presentaiton

Title

 

Recommendation to Endorse Implementation of Temporary Street Reconfigurations to Provide Space for Social Distancing in Response to the COVID-19 Emergency. (Transportation 4226287)

Body

To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

The coronavirus pandemic has rapidly and dramatically changed the transportation and economic environment in the City of Alameda (City) and the needs of Alameda residents and businesses.  In response to the COVID-19 emergency, staff has initiated a multi-phased plan to provide additional space on city streets to allow for social distancing. The program includes the “Slow Streets Alameda” program in residential areas and a yet to be implemented program for Park Street and Webster Street commercial areas to provide for curbside retail and other measures to manage through COVID-19.  The two programs are described in this report as the “Slow Streets” program and the “Commercial Streets” program.    

 

COVID Slow Streets Program.   On April 29, the City launched the Slow Streets Alameda program in response to the COVID-19 emergency to provide more space for residents to walk, run, bike, scooter and roll, while meeting the current physical distancing requirements of at least six feet. Pacific Avenue between Grand and Oak and Versailles Avenue between Fernside and Central were temporarily re-configured with temporary barriers and signs to discourage through traffic, while still allowing emergency vehicles and those needing to access a destination on the street, like residents and delivery drivers. Based on direction from Council, staff is prepared to expand the program as necessary to accommodate the desire for more space for walking and biking. The potential expansions and improvements are described below in this report. Staff is recommending that the Slow Street program be terminated and that longer term transportation planning continue to occur through a formal Transportation amendment process with the termination of the Shelter In Place element of the Alameda County Health Order.

 

COVID Commercial Streets Program.  In anticipation of the re-opening of commercial businesses on Park Street and Webster Street with social distancing requirements and the need for additional space for customer lines (with 6 foot spacing), in-store occupancy limits, and restrictions on indoor seating and indoor activities, staff is preparing a program to provide additional space for customers and “take out” services on Park Street and Webster Street by repurposing space within the right-of-way to support social distancing and business recovery. Staff is recommending that the commercial streets program continue until such time that the City of Alameda determines that the program should be terminated.  

 

The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the current and possible future programs impacting the public right-of-way and provide an opportunity for the community and City Council to provide direction and guidance on these efforts. 

 

BACKGROUND

 

COVID-19 Slow Streets Program

Under the current April 29, 2020  Alameda County Shelter in Place order, many Alameda residents are seeking ways to safely leave their homes to exercise while maintaining the required physical distancing to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of their family members and neighbors. It can be difficult to maintain 6 feet or more of physical distance on most sidewalks. Because of this, many people are choosing to walk in the vehicle lanes of some streets to maintain adequate physical distancing, exposing themselves to vehicle traffic.

 

The City of Oakland was one of the first City’s in the nation to launch a slow streets program and is in process of launching 74 miles of “slow streets”, which discourage through traffic  and provides more social distancing opportunities for pedestrians and bicyclists.   Several other cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Emeryville, San Mateo, Seattle and Denver have developed and implemented similar programs.

 

On April 29, 2020, staff launched a pilot program limiting through motor vehicle traffic in Alameda on Pacific and Versailles Avenues. 

 

COVID-19 Commercial Streets Program: Park & Webster

Meanwhile, on April 21, 2020, the City received a letter from the Downtown Alameda Business Association (DABA) asking the City to start thinking creatively about the needs for space on Park Street.  The letter (Exhibit 1) states in part that the:

 

“gradual lifting of the shelter-in-place order will require some serious and creative thinking for reentry strategies that continue to provide social distancing etiquette and support for our businesses. ​While all cities are in the same boat, stronger, proactive cities and business districts will work together to create and restore a safe, fun atmosphere with plenty of room to walk, wave to friends and feel a part of society again.  

 

The Downtown Association envisions a best possible scenario that includes expanded walking areas and safe passages for our customers and pedestrians. If you can picture reconfiguring the current four-lane traffic to two-lane traffic…        

                     Current parking lanes on Park Street are used for customers and pedestrians providing additional space to walk.        

                     The first traffic lanes in each direction could shift and be used for parking       

                     Designate parking spaces on each block to provide short-term stopping for contactless delivery/take-out vehicles.       

                     Identify and close some side streets to offer additional space.        

                     The addition of potted trees and plants along with well-kept tables and chairs would allow people to purchase food at restaurants and take it outside all summer. This would support our dining establishments who are facing a drastic loss of revenue from distance seating in-house.

 

Is this way out of the box for a city to consider?  Why, yes it is, but this is Alameda.”

 

DISCUSSION

 

COVID-19 Residential Slow Streets Program

The Slow Streets Alameda program was launched on Wednesday, April 29 on two streets:  Pacific Avenue between Grand and Oak Streets, and Versailles Avenue between Fernside Boulevard and Central Avenue. These two streets were selected to pilot the program because they both have low traffic volumes, they are both designated bike routes in the City’s Bike Plan, and they are both being considered for future improvements to support bicycling and pedestrians in the Active Transportation Plan effort now underway.   Seven barricades were installed along these streets with “closed to through traffic” and pedestrian warning signs, and a web page (www.SlowStreetsAlameda.org) with a volunteer form, survey and service request form, and FAQs posted. 

 

As of May 5, 233 surveys had been completed, 25 service requests had been received, and 32 people had volunteered to help with the program.  Based on the 233 responses received in the first week, the survey indicates that:

 

                     75% Support, 19% Don’t Support; 4% Somewhat/No Opinion.

                     Of respondents that live on the street, 60% Support, 35% don’t support, 5% Somewhat/No Opinion.

                     Criticisms received include:

o                     Not enough barricades at cross streets, so many drivers are still driving on street. (In response, during the week of May 11, staff increased the number of barricades along these streets.)

o                     Additional streets needed.   The primary location where respondents would most like to see an expansion of Slow Streets is the western end of Pacific Avenue. Then respondents would like to add more streets in the west end, extend Versailles to the south, and add Shoreline, San Jose/San Antonio, and Santa Clara or Haight.

o                     Streets are for cars, not people

o                     People aren’t wearing masks

o                     People should not be encouraged to leave their homes

o                     Program is taking City resources away from more important COVID-19 responses, and

o                     Residents not informed or asked about the program in advance.

 

                     72% would like to see the program continue.

 

In addition to the survey, Public Works has received more than 20 calls with concerns about the safe street program.

 

At this time, staff plans to proceed based upon the following principles and objectives:

 

Temporary:  Staff plans to maintain and improve the program for the duration of the Alameda County Shelter in Place component of the Health Order.  Once the Shelter in Place Order is lifted, staff plans to discontinue the program.

 

It should be noted that most of the streets identified for the temporary Slow Streets program are currently designated bicycle routes that are anticipated to be recommended to be bicycle boulevards in the draft Active Transportation Plan (ATP) currently being prepared.  If these recommendations are supported by the community and Council, traffic calming treatments could be added to these streets, such as mini traffic circles and speed humps or tables, to create shared, low-stress bicycling streets with reduced and slower auto traffic.  In addition, the ATP consultants and staff are considering the potential for “Sunday Streets” type programs that would close specific streets to traffic to allow for enjoying physical activity on a regular (monthly, quarterly or annual) basis.

 

Enforcement and Safety:   Enforcement of the Slow Streets temporary program is limited and difficult to implement.  This program relies on Alameda residents respecting each other’s needs.   The City does not have the enforcement resources or tools necessary to effectively and strictly enforce the restrictions on vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists on the designated slow streets, similar to other cities.  Instead, the City will aim to educate and raise awareness of the increasing prevalence of non-motorist use of the roadway and to encourage orderly, shared use of our roadways. If enforcement becomes a problem as the result of Alameda residents not respecting the needs and safety of their follow residents on the slow streets, staff will discontinue or reduce the extent of the program.  

 

Expansion:   Expansion of the program will be dependent on two primary factors: 1) the extension of the Alameda County Shelter in Place Order, and 2) success and safety of the existing program.  The current Alameda County Shelter in Place order is due to expire on May 31, 2020.  If it is lifted on that date, there will be no further expansion of the program and the program will be discontinued.   If Council endorses the program, and based upon the opinion of the City Manager/Emergency Operations Director, the program is not becoming a threat to public safety, staff is planning for the program expansion through the remainder of the Shelter in Place Order as outlined below and in Exhibit 2, which includes a map.

 

By May 22, add two more street segments if the program is supported:

 

                     Extend Pacific Avenue Slow Street from Grand Avenue to 9th St.

                     Add Santa Clara (6th to Pacific)

 

If the Shelter in Place Order is extended for a month or more, future expansions could include some, all, or none of the following options, depending on the evaluation of the program:

 

                     Sixth (Santa Clara to Haight) and Haight (Sixth to Ninth)

                     Ninth (Pacific to San Antonio)

                     San Antonio (Ninth to Morton), Morton (San Antonio to San Jose), San Jose (Morton to Fernside).

                     One or more Bay Farm Island streets, possibly Catalina Ave.

                     8th Street to Jean Sweeney Open Space Park

                     Extend Pacific west to 8th Street

                     Extend Versailles south to Otis

 

(Shoreline Drive is not proposed to be part of the Slow Streets program at this time due to the complexity and anticipated high cost of closing off all or part of the street and the impacts to AC Transit service which runs on a segment of Shoreline Drive.) 

 

Any expansion would include the following elements:

 

                     Courtesy notices to Slow Street residents prior to installation.

                     “Road Closed To Thru Traffic” barricades blocking the inbound travel lane at: start and end points of the segments; at arterial and collector cross streets; and at cross streets that are both well-connected to the street grid AND uncontrolled.

                     At the busiest uncontrolled crossing streets, consider:

o                     Adding “Watch for Peds/Bikes” warning signs (W11-15) at crossing street approaches to the Slow Streets, where there is space.

                     Signs/stencils on back of barricades or on the street, alerting people that cross traffic does not stop and to look for traffic.

                     Signs educating residents of important program and safety information.

 

 

COVID-19 Commercial Streets Program

As described in the letter from DABA, COVID-19 creates a challenge for the local business district.   To support the recovery of the local economy and the success of Park Street and Webster Street businesses, staff is developing a program to temporarily reconfigure the use of the public right-of-way on Park Street and Webster Street to support the recovery of local businesses and protect the health of Alameda customers by creating more physical space to park and walk.   Specifically, objectives of any proposed reconfiguration should:

                     Support business needs for additional space to meet temporary changes in operations to address public safety and COVID-19 as articulated in the County Health Orders.

                     Create more space for people to safely walk along the corridors while physically distancing as more stores and businesses open.

                     Create more space for customers to safely stand in lines to shop at businesses while also allowing enough space for people to walk along the corridor.

                     Create more space for well separated (6 feet or more) dining and shopping. 

                     Create more space for convenient customer pick up of products and to-go meals from outside the building.

 

To support the economic recovery of Alameda’s two main streets, staff is developing plans in collaboration with key stakeholders, including the business districts and AC Transit.  Since the needs and wishes of the two business districts are not uniform, staff is developing a program for each district.   Outlines of the programs are summarized below.  

 

                     Customer Pick-Up and Loading Zones.  Strategically and quickly deploy additional pick-up/loading zones along the corridor in place of metered parking spaces as needed to accommodate specific business needs.

                     District-wide Encroachment Permits.  Approve a “district wide” encroachment permit for the use of City sidewalks and parking lanes for commercial purposes subject to special conditions to ensure public safety and social distancing.   (This avoids the need for each business to apply separately and pay the necessary fees for an individual encroachment permit.)

                     District-wide Use Permit.  Approve a “district wide” use permit to allow businesses to use any on-site (private) parking areas required by City ordinance for non-parking purposes, such as outdoor seating, customer waiting areas, product display, etc. (This avoids the need for businesses to individually apply, pay for, and wait for an individual, business specific use permit.)

                     Lane Reconfiguration.  Reduce the existing four travel lanes on Park Street and Webster Street if supported by WABA from four lanes to two lanes in the core area of Park Street. At this time, on Park Street staff is considering a “core area” of two to three blocks between Lincoln and San Jose. The two inside lanes would be used for automobile traffic, and the two outer lanes would be repurposed for parking, loading, and bus turnouts.

                     Sidewalk Space Expansion.  Relocate the existing curbside parking spaces to the repurposed former outer travel lane and use the former curbside parking lane for expanded space for pedestrians, commercial businesses operations, such as customer waiting areas, outdoor seating, etc.  These areas can be made ADA-accessible through temporary ramps or raised platforms, as needed.

                     Side Streets.  If desired by the business district, close a side street.  For DABA, Alameda Avenue might be closed to traffic from Park Street to Oak Street.  

 

 

As described above, staff is recommending that any program to reduce lanes and reconfigure commercial streets   extend beyond the term of the Shelter in Place order while physical distancing requirements are in place.  Staff anticipates that the new configuration would remain until such time that congestion and/or transit delays caused by the reconfiguration outweigh the benefits provided by the additional space for physical distancing. 

 

COVID-19 Impacts on Prior City Council Priorities

Staff would be remiss if it did not disclose to the City Council and community that these plans and efforts responding to the COVID-19 emergency are impacting staff’s abilities to deliver on prior commitments related to transportation planning and projects.   Developing and implementing these programs is time-consuming and has taken time away from work on prior transportation planning and project implementation efforts.   For example, the September 2019 Council referral directed staff to complete the Active Transportation Plan for Council adoption by October 2020.   Staff does not believe it will meet that deadline as the result of delays caused by COVID-19 and the transportation planning efforts described in this report but not anticipated or planned for in September of 2019, when staff committed to meeting the October deadline. 

 

Transportation Planning staff and Public Works staff remain committed to completing all of its prior commitments and projects that are of importance to the City Council, but COVID-19 has required a major shift in the allocation of time and resources that will impact our ability to deliver on a wide range of transportation plans and projects over the next six to 12 months. 

 

ALTERNATIVES

 

The Council may pursue several different alternatives:

 

1.  Support the COVID-19 Slow Streets Program through the conclusion of the Shelter in Place component of the Health Order, and staff moving forward with the Commercial Streets Program largely consistent with what is outlined in the report.    The development of programs outlined in this report. 2. Direct staff to change direction on one or both programs.

 

3. Direct staff to discontinue work on one or both programs.

 

FINANCIAL IMPACT

 

Slow Streets program costs to date include staff time to plan and implement the program, materials for constructing signs, and development and printing of outreach materials including posters, lawn signs and flyers. Similarly, the Park and Webster Streets programs will require significant staff resources, consulting fees, and capital costs. While a total cost has not yet tallied for these programs, staff expect costs of several tens of thousands of dollars. These costs are likely to be charged to the COVID-19 and Measures B/BB bicycle/pedestrian funds (Project No. 4226287).

 

Besides financial costs, implementing these two new programs has, and will, come at the expense of time, effort, and resources invested in other high-priority projects, e.g., traffic calming.

 

MUNICIPAL CODE/POLICY DOCUMENT CROSS REFERENCE

 

Actions to preserve the health and safety of Alameda residents and business customers and actions to support the health and economic survival of the Alameda business community are consistent with General Plan Land Use, Transportation, and Safety Element goals and priorities.   The Council’s recently adopted Street Design Resolution (#15648) states that “when designing, redesigning or resurfacing streets consistent with this policy, improvements and right-of-way space shall be allocated based upon the following principles and priorities…Provide safe and convenient access for vulnerable users including children, seniors, and people bicycling and walking..., and Safety for people walking and bicycling shall be the highest priority.”

 

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

 

Pursuant to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines section 15301(c) Existing Facilities, 15601(b)(3) (Common Sense Exemption), and 15183 (projects consistent with a General Plan or Zoning), each as a separate and independent basis, the proposed temporary reconfiguration of these existing streets to increase space for pedestrians and bicyclists is categorically exempt from further environmental review. 

 

CLIMATE IMPACTS

 

Supporting bicycling and walking will help the City meet its goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by supporting mode shift away from automobiles. The City’s recently-adopted Climate Action and Resiliency Plan found that transportation accounts for 70% of the City’s GHG emissions, and that moving people out of automobiles is paramount to reducing transportation-related emissions. Providing local Alameda streets for people to exercise while also social distancing, and encouraging these modes of transportation, can reduce emissions from people driving further distances to exercise, and help the community develop lifelong habits of walking and bicycling for fun and trips.

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

Staff recommends that City Council consider staff’s current implementation approach to Slow Streets Alameda and the future temporary repurposing of core commercial streets, in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

 

CITY MANAGER RECOMMENDATION

 

The City Manager recommends that City Council support pursuit of design to meet the curbside retail demands of the commercial districts.  My recommendation is that if the Council wants to continue the program in some form, it should be more of a long-term evaluation by the Transportation Commission and Transportation and Public Works staff where potential streets are considered for partial or full closures as part of a Transportation Planning process that evaluates localized access and pedestrian safety.   

 

Respectfully submitted,

Andrew Thomas, Director, Planning, Building, and Transportation Department

 

By,

Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator

 

Financial Impact section reviewed,

Nancy Bronstein, Acting Finance Director

 

Exhibit: 

1.                     April 21, 2020 Letter from DABA to City Council and Staff

2.                     Map of Slow Streets

 

cc:                     Eric Levitt, City Manager