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File #: 2020-8363   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: City Council
On agenda: 10/20/2020
Title: Recommendation to (1) Waive the Encroachment Permit Fees Through October 31, 2021 for the Commercial Streets Program; (2) Delay Short Term, Temporary, "Special Event" Street Closures Along Major Commercial and Side Streets; and (3) Accept the September 2020 Status Report on Transportation; and Adoption of Resolution Authorizing the City Manager to Apply for and Receive Up To Seventy Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000) in Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) COVID-19 Rapid Response Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program Funds to Enhance and Expand Alameda's Commercial and Slow Streets Programs; and Allocate up to $75,000 in funds from Local Measure B/BB Bicycle and Pedestrian Funds (alternatively if more CARE funds are distributed, those funds could be used) for the Required Matching Funds, Should the Grant be Awarded. (Planning, Building and Transportation 4226287)
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - Status Report on Transportation (September 2020), 2. Resolution, 3. Correspondence

Title

 

Recommendation to (1) Waive the Encroachment Permit Fees Through October 31, 2021 for the Commercial Streets Program; (2) Delay Short Term, Temporary, “Special Event” Street Closures Along Major Commercial and Side Streets; and (3) Accept the September 2020 Status Report on Transportation; and

Adoption of Resolution Authorizing the City Manager to Apply for and Receive Up To Seventy Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000) in Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) COVID-19 Rapid Response Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program Funds to Enhance and Expand Alameda’s Commercial and Slow Streets Programs; and Allocate up to $75,000 in funds from Local Measure B/BB Bicycle and Pedestrian Funds (alternatively if more CARE funds are distributed, those funds could be used) for the Required Matching Funds, Should the Grant be Awarded. (Planning, Building and Transportation 4226287)

 

Body

 

To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly and dramatically changed the closely inter-woven transportation and economic environments in the City of Alameda (City). In response, since April 2020, City staff has implemented many new transportation efforts, or re-tooled existing efforts, to ensure that residents, businesses and visitors can safely live, work, shop, and dine in Alameda. On May 19, the City Council endorsed the implementation of the Commercial Streets program and the residential Slow Streets program, and provided general guidance on continuing these programs in the short-term. Both programs have been substantially implemented, including the restriping of segments of Park and Webster Streets in early July and August, respectively; issuing 18 parklet permits as of September 22 and an encroachment permit to partially close Alameda Avenue; and designating 4.5 miles of roadway as Slow Streets. Staff continues to work to enhance and expand the programs in response to changing County Health Orders, requests from the business community and other community input. Both programs are largely supported by the resident and business communities.

 

On September 1, City Council unanimously supported the extension of the Commercial Streets program beyond the initial end date of November 3, 2020 through October 31, 2021 in response to the continuing pandemic. City Council has previously endorsed continuing the Slow Streets program while physical distancing requirements are in place. Since these are expected to last at least through late 2021, staff anticipates continuing the program through October 31, 2021, as well.

 

The Status Report on Transportation (September 2020), Exhibit 1, includes an overview of the Commercial and Slow Streets program accomplishments, plus updates on work in progress or completed on the 2018 Transportation Choices Plan since the last report, in May 2020.

 

Staff recommend taking actions to continue, enhance and expand the programs in ways that are safe; to allocate funding to support the continued success of the programs, including permit fee waivers; and to authorize the submittal of a small grant application to further establish these programs. Staff recommend against temporary street closures, such as Park Street, at this time for health safety and other reasons noted in the staff report, with the caveat that this will be monitored and can be re-considered at a future date.

 

The Transportation Commission considered this item at its September 23, 2020 meeting. The Commission unanimously supported the staff recommendations for Commercial and Slow Streets.

 

BACKGROUND

 

To support its business community and the health and safety Alameda residents, employees and visitors during this global pandemic, staff developed the Commercial Streets program, and launched it in May 2020. The objectives are to:

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

                     Create more space for people to safely walk along the commercial 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.

 

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. To date, 4.5 miles of streets have been 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.

 

Updates on all that has been accomplished for both programs since April 2020 is included in the Status Report on Transportation, September 2020 (Exhibit 1), along with updates on all other transportation projects and programs, since the last update was provided in May. Since then, City staff have continued to focus on safety and traffic calming, and have prioritized the new commercial and slow streets program in response to COVID-19. Transit and paratransit service reductions and modifications are explained, as is a status of the funding projections expected for transportation.

 

DISCUSSION

 

Commercial Streets Program

From the community responses so far and communication with the business community, the program appears to generally be working well:

                     The business districts appreciate the roadway re-striping along Park and Webster Streets, and parklet spaces are being utilized more and more to support commerce.

                     The demand for parklets is increasing, as businesses see the possibilities and additional resources become available; and the community is utilizing these new outdoor spaces to shop and dine.

                     No new traffic safety issues have arisen on the re-striped streets.

                     The new 15-minute curbside parking is working as intended, with good turnover of parking.

                     There are no major traffic back-ups along Park and Webster Streets, where the lane reductions were installed.

 

There are some areas that still need improvement:

                     Signage and bollards often migrate, disappear or are vandalized; and the A-frame barriers have a construction-zone look. There’s a need to make the signage and barriers appear more permanent, and more aesthetically pleasing, as feasible.

                     There are some businesses not meeting the City’s parklet and sidewalk usage conditions and the County Health orders. Enforcement is needed to keep the community safe and maintain comfortable and accessible conditions for people walking. This issue was addressed by the City Council at its September 1 meeting, where Code Enforcement staff was shifted to focus on this type of education/enforcement. Staff are developing educational materials in multiple languages which will be handed out before enforcement actions are taken.

                     Bus transit travel times along Park Street have slowed by about ten percent, compared to before COVID-19. Staff are working on traffic signal modifications that will hopefully decrease this slow down. Staff have not received reports from AC Transit yet on any impacts to Webster Street.

                     Additional bicycle parking is needed, to encourage people to bike, rather than drive, to the shopping districts. Racks have been purchased and they will be installed this Fall.

                     The Downtown Alameda Business Association (DABA) has requested that the Park Street restriping be extended south from Encinal Avenue to San Jose Avenue so that additional businesses can participate in the parklet program. Staff intend to implement this restriping, at an anticipated cost of $40,000. 

 

To date, this new program has cost over $180,000 for staff time, consultant and contractor support, and materials, as shown below.

 

Costs for Commercial Streets Program (May- September 2020)

 

Street Striping Design (consultant)

$26,000

Park & Webster Streets Striping

$112,000

Sturdy (water-filled) Barriers

$25,000

Bicycle Racks (not yet installed)

$4,000

Signage for curbside parking

$1,400

Staffing: Public Works

$13,000

Staffing: Planning, Transportation Planning, Economic Development, Risk Management, Fire, Police

*Not estimated (substantial)

Total

$181,400*

 

Additionally, at its September 1 meeting, the City Council approved a referral to allocate $250,000 for a grant program for parklets and street closures to DABA and West Alameda Business Association (WABA), and to allocate $50,000 to purchase water-filled barriers to better separate and protect parklets from vehicular traffic. These are federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds that must be expended by mid-November, and are reimbursable from the federal government. At the same meeting, the Council also directed staff to allocate up to two full time equivalent Code Enforcement staff to educate and enforce the City encroachment permit conditions and County health code requirements in commercial areas and public parks.

 

Initially, before the long duration of physical distancing requirements and the County Health Orders were known, an end date of November 3, 2020, was used for the Commercial Streets program as a date when the days would become shorter and the parklets might no longer be needed. Given the continuing pandemic, at its September 1 meeting, the City Council approved that the “Covid-19 permit expiration date [is] extended from 11/3/2020 to October 2021 (but could end earlier if pandemic is defeated before then).” Staff will extend the full Commercial Streets program through October 31, 2021, with the option to end earlier, should physical distancing no longer be needed. By July 2021, staff will conduct an in-depth evaluation of the program and bring recommendations to the City Council on whether or not, and how, to continue the programs past this date.

 

Residential Slow Streets Program

The City, with City Council support at its May 19 meeting, expanded the original two Slow Streets to the four it has today:

                     Pacific Ave (Ninth Street to Oak Street)

                     Versailles Ave (Fernside Boulevard to Otis Drive)

                     Santa Clara Ave (Pacific Avenue to Sixth Street)

                     San Jose Ave (Morton Street to Oak Street) plus Morton Street (San Jose Avenue to San Antonio Avenue)

 

The City is collecting input via a community survey on the program web page, and has used this input to shape the program. As of early September, almost 1,000 people have responded to the survey. The vast majority of the responses were received early in the program implementation, before the second and third phases of the Slow Streets program were completed, so the overall survey responses may not reflect current opinions of the program, which has now been in place for almost five months. The survey highlights are:

                     73% support the program, 19% don’t support, and 6% somewhat support it or have no opinion.

                     16% of all respondents live on a Slow Street.

                     72% would like to see the program continue, while 21% would not, and 7% did not respond to this question.

                     Since program inception, the top problematic issue observed has been “Missing road closures barriers/signage,” which was cited twice as often as the other top issues of speeding cars, drivers disobeying road closure, driver confusion, and people not wearing masks. However, of the 115 responses received since the most recent, third phase of the program was implemented, the “missing road closures barriers/signage” issue has decreased, while speeding cars and driver confusion have increased, with these three issues all cited equally.

 

From the community survey responses and early evaluation of the program, the program appears to be utilized and successful:

                     Traffic counts along the Slow Streets show that bicycling and walking has increased significantly, while auto traffic volumes have decreased by more than half.                      (Traffic speeds were not measured before the program was implemented and have not been measured post-implementation.)

                     There have been no significant safety issues, nor an increase in collisions (although there are reports of near-misses).

                     Any traffic diversion impacts appear to be minimal.

                     Many community members have requested that their street, or more streets around the city, be made into Slow Streets, showing the popularity of streets that are calmer, with less traffic.

 

There are some areas that could use improvement:

                     Requests continue to be made for more barricades and signage, and slowing or stopping cars at busier intersections to make their crossing easier.

                     The network of Slow Streets is not connected, and there are no Slow Streets on Bay Farm Island.

                     The City is running out of barricades to use for future expansion.

                     The barricades and cones sometimes migrate, though local volunteers help to keep them in place. Additionally, some residents install their own unique barriers, which must be removed.

 

All of the current Slow Streets are streets that were recommended to be bicycle boulevards in the draft recommendations for the Active Transportation Plan (ATP).  Staff is still analyzing the input gathered on these recommendations in July and August 2020; however, the bicycle boulevard concept seems to be supported by the community, along with the desire for additional traffic calming treatments throughout the city. Given this, staff see an opportunity to further enhance the Slow Streets, so that they are less temporary for the coming year.

 

At its May 19 meeting, Council approved the staff recommendation to continue the Slow Streets program for the duration of the Shelter-in-Place Order, with its physical distancing requirements. Given that these requirements are likely to continue into late 2021, staff plans to continue the Slow Streets program until October 31, 2021, similar to the Commercial Streets program, as long as the program continues to be successful and safe. Staff will modify and expand the program, using existing resources plus any grant funds, to meet the perceived community desire for an expanded and connected Slow Streets network. Streets being considered for expansion include:

                     8th/9th Streets between Jean Sweeney Open Space Park and San Antonio Ave

                     Haight Avenue or Taylor Avenue between 6th and 9th streets

                     San Antonio Street (Ninth Street to Morton Street)

                     San Jose Avenue (Oak Street to Fernside Boulevard)

                     One or more Bay Farm Island streets, possibly Fontana Drive, Catalina Avenue, Holly Street, Fir Avenue, Melrose Avenue.

 

Also like the Commercial Streets program, by July 2021, staff will conduct an evaluation of the program and bring recommendations to the City Council on the future of the program beyond October 31, 2021.

 

The Slow Streets program costs to date, from May through early September 2020, are nominal in terms of direct costs ($1,200 for flyers, posters and yard signs). The primary costs have been in staff time, particularly for Transportation Planning and Public Works staff, which has not been tracked specific to implementing and maintaining this program.

 

Staff Recommendations for both Programs:

                     Waive permit fees for issued and future encroachment permits for parklets, sidewalk commercial usage, semi-permanent street closures (like Alameda Avenue) and the business improvement areas for outdoor commercial usage, through October 31, 2021. Under the current Master Fee Schedule, each encroachment permit fee is $1,230, resulting in approximately $62,000 in total waived encroachment permit fees, under the assumption that a total of 50 permits will be issued through the end of the program (21 permits have been issued to date).

 

                     Delay short term, temporary, “special event” street closures along major commercial and side streets. Staff does not recommend scheduling any temporary closures of Park Street or side streets at this time, for the below reasons. This recommendation will be monitored, and can be modified in the future, should the COVID-19 pandemic improve.

o                     COVID-19 Safety:  A special event closure of Park Street once a month or once every two weeks would encourage Alameda residents to gather on Park Street on those “special event” days.  Staff is actively working to discourage large groups of people gathering at single locations in Alameda. Staff recommends delaying any decisions to temporarily close a street, until such time that the City is comfortable encouraging residents to congregate in a single area to avoid the risks of spreading COVID-19 in our community. Currently, County Health Orders prohibit Outdoor Events, and a temporary (versus permanent) street closure could be interpreted to be a type of outdoor event, although this is not clear.

o                     Traffic Safety: Diverting the 10,000 plus vehicles a day that currently use Park Street to smaller parallel streets that don’t have the traffic control infrastructure of Park Street could increase the risk of collisions, particularly bicycle and pedestrian collisions, on these side streets. Historically, the City has approved special events of this kind three or four times each year. To increase the occurrences to 12 to 24 times a year raises the question: do the benefits to the community outweigh the potential safety impacts to the community?  At this time, staff does not find the benefits would outweigh the potential impacts. 

o                     Bus Transit Impacts: AC Transit, which is already struggling with reduced ridership and is serving essential workers and lower-income communities, is very concerned about the bus delays from re-routing of their buses. Rerouting buses on a monthly or semi-regular basis would also have cost impacts for AC Transit.

o                     Cost: DABA has expressed that they would hope that the City could waive payment of any Special Event permit costs that are typically required of the applicant. Intermittent closures of a street cost approximately $11,000 in permit fees for the first closure, to design the traffic detour plan, and $6,000 per closure after that. If the City Council elects to waive such fees in the future, weekly closures for one year would total approximately $317,000. Alternatively, the City Council could allocate this amount of funding to direct business grants, or other programs to directly support businesses. (Note that WABA is not currently pursuing any temporary street closures for Webster Street or side streets.)

 

                     Authorize the City’s application for up to $75,000 in grant funds from the ACTC COVID-19 Rapid Response Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program. This non-competitive grant is for quick-build transportation improvement projects that support improved bicycle and pedestrian accessibility to local businesses. The maximum grant award is $75,000, and there is a required 100% match, for a total potential program cost of $150,000. Staff recommend applying for the maximum grant amount to enhance and expand both the Commercial and Slow Streets program by: installing more substantial and, as appropriate, semi-permanent infrastructure that is less likely to be stolen or damaged, and will last for at least another year; to repair, maintain and replace signs and barricades; to expand the Slow Streets program to more streets by purchasing additional barricades and signs; to make striping adjustments to Park and Webster Streets, as needed; and other similar efforts.

 

Additional Recommendation:

That City Council accept the September 2020 Status Report on Transportation, a twice yearly update on transportation projects and programs in Alameda.

 

Transportation Commission Input:

The Transportation Commission considered this item at its September 23, 2020 meeting. The Commission unanimously supported the staff recommendations for Commercial and Slow Streets, and Commissioners provided the following comments:

                     Interest in how traffic speeds and diversions in the Park and Webster Street corridors will be measured over time, and as traffic increases, with a recognition that any impacts and likely traffic diversion to adjacent streets are secondary to the effort help the businesses and provide safe streets.

                     Desire for more aesthetically-pleasing barriers.

                     Support for these quick-build “experimental” projects.

 

Additionally, Commissioners provided the following input on the Status Report on Transportation:

                     Concern about the impacts from reduced AC Transit service particularly on low-income populations and on the east end with the potential elimination of Line O. 

                     Importance of equity, bridging the economic gap and equitable traffic enforcement strategies as part of the Vision Zero process.

                     Request to consider, in a comprehensive way, mini-traffic circles at minor streets and roundabouts to replace traffic signals.

 

ALTERNATIVES

 

City Council may pursue several different alternatives:

 

                     Recommend the three proposed actions and accept the 2020 Status Report on Transportation.

                     Modify one or more of the proposed actions.

                     Take no action.

 

FINANCIAL IMPACT

 

The $62,000 in waived encroachment permit fees represents a loss in potential revenue to Public Works Administration (Fund 310.05). As of September 28, 2020, or near the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year, the encroachment permit fee revenue account has received $25,369, or 46%, of its projected revenue for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-21. Since this account is on track to meet or exceed its revenue expectation for FY 2020-21, staff does not recommend any budget adjustments for approval of the permit fee waiver.

 

If the City receives the ACTC grant funds, it will be required to provide local matching funds of up to $75,000. Staff recommends appropriating Measures B/BB bicycle/pedestrian funds (Funds 215.2 and 215.21) for the required matching funds.

 

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 City Council’s 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

 

The Council’s actions comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to CEQA Guidelines sections 15269(c) (Emergency Projects), 15301(c) (Existing Facilities), Section 15304(h) (Minor Alterations to Land and the creation of bicycle lanes on existing public rights of way), and 15183 (projects consistent with General Plan or Zoning), and Public Resources Code Section 21080.20.5 (the proposed reconfiguration of existing streets to increase space for pedestrians and bicyclists), each as a separate and independent basis. 

 

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 2019 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 safely exercise, and encouraging these alternative 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 the City Council: (1) waive the Encroachment Permit fees through October 31, 2021 for the Commercial Streets program; (2) delay short term, temporary, “special event” street closures along major commercial and side streets; (3) accept the September 2020 Status Report on Transportation; and (4) adopt a Resolution authorizing the City Manager to apply for and receive up to $75,000 in the ACTC COVID-19 Rapid Response Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program Funds to enhance and expand the Commercial and Slow Streets Programs, and allocate $75,000 in required matching funds.

 

CITY MANAGER RECOMMENDATION

 

The City Manager concurs with the staff recommendation.

 

Respectfully submitted,

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

 

By,

Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator

 

Financial Impact section reviewed,

Annie To, Finance Director

 

Exhibit: 

1.                     Status Report on Transportation (September 2020)

 

cc:                     Eric Levitt, City Manager