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File #: 2021-1409   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: Transportation Commission
On agenda: 10/27/2021
Title: Endorse the City Council's Adoption of the Slow Streets Recommendations (Action Item)
Attachments: 1. Slow Streets Map, 2. Survey Results for Slow Streets, 3. Alameda Slow Streets_Ped Bike Vehicle Counts_2021-09, 4. Alameda Slow Streets Traffic Study_20211012_final, 5. Correspondence Batch #1 (6 total), 6. Correspondence: Birgitt Evans, 7. Correspondence: Jay Garfinkle, 8. Presentation

Title

 

Endorse the City Council’s Adoption of the Slow Streets Recommendations (Action Item)

 

Body

 

Transportation Commission

10/27/2021

Item # 6B

(ACTION)

 

BACKGROUND

 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council endorsed the Slow Streets program in May 2020 to create additional space in the roadway for socially-distanced essential travel and exercise. The Program created more space for safer socially-distanced walking, running, biking and scootering, as well as open space for people to conduct essential travel or be outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic in a physically distant manner. Motor vehicle traffic was allowed on these streets but barricades, signage and cones were used at intersections along the Slow Streets to limit traffic, discourage through vehicle traffic and to slow down overall vehicle speeds. Delivery and emergency vehicles continued to be allowed.

 

Today there are five Slow Streets, comprising 4.7 miles (or 5%) of Alameda’s public roadway network:

1.                     Orion St (West Midway Ave to Pearl Harbor Rd)

2.                     Pacific Ave (Ninth St to Oak St)

3.                     San Jose Ave (Morton St to Oak St) + Morton St (San Jose Ave to San Antonio Ave)

4.                     Santa Clara Ave (Pacific Ave to Sixth St)

5.                     Versailles Ave (Fernside Blvd to Calhoun Dr)

 

The Slow Streets program was implemented in four phases, with four streets added between April and June 2020, and the fifth (Orion Street) added in June 2021, as shown in the map included as Exhibit 1. In each phase after the pilot, flyers were distributed to all residents along the Slow Street informing them that the Slow Street would be installed, and directing them to the program web page (www.slowstreetsalameda.org <http://www.slowstreetsalameda.org>) where they could find FAQs, a survey to share feedback on the program and ideas for additional Slow Streets, a map of the Slow Streets, and a maintenance request form.

 

The five Slow Street segments were selected because they:

                     are lower-traffic, two lane residential streets, so traffic disruption would be minimal;

                     were already a bicycle route and/or are being considered as future bicycle boulevards as part of the Active Transportation Plan effort underway, bicycle boulevards being defined as low speed and volume neighborhood bikeways shared with cars;

                     already had many people walking and biking on them;

                     could be built into a network of Slow Streets;

                     were most frequently requested in the 2020 Slow Streets community survey; and

                     in combination with major trails, provided opportunities for safer walking and biking around the entire main island, providing geographic equity.

 

The Slow Streets were implemented solely using temporary materials including barricades with pedestrian warning and “not a through street” signage, and traffic cones. After the initial months, sandbags were added to keep the barricades from falling over in the wind, and to keep people from moving them around. City staff, aided by volunteers, have maintained the positioning of the barricades and cones.  As the program was rolled out and evaluated, additional barricades were added to some streets to better deter through traffic along the streets, and some changes were made to the barricade placement to improve safety and address site-specific concerns, such as access to schools and businesses.

 

During the early months of the pandemic when schools and gyms were closed and many people were working from home, the Slow Streets were well-used and supported. In 2020, data showed that bicycling and walking increased significantly on the Slow Streets, while auto traffic volumes decreased by more than half. Traffic diversion impacts appeared to be minimal, especially since traffic was low overall in Alameda, and many community members requested that their street, or more streets around the city, be made into Slow Streets, showing the popularity of streets that are calmer, with fewer cars. The 2020 community survey showed over 70% of respondents supported the program and wanted to see it continue

 

In anticipation of the upcoming October program end date, from July through September 2021, staff collected and analyzed data on the impacts of the Slow Streets program and engaged the community and stakeholders to inform the development of the next steps. Sources of information that inform these recommendations include:

 

                     Online Survey and Virtual Open Houses.  Almost 2,000 individuals provided feedback via an online survey, and the City offered four virtual Open Houses and two in-person events where additional input was gathered. Flyers were posted along the Slow Streets, email updates were sent out, and flyers were distributed by volunteers to every residence on each Slow Street. Staff also issued a press release about the program outreach and posted information on social media. A summary of the survey data is included as Exhibit 2 and the full compilation of comments from the survey, along with the input from the Open Houses, is posted on the program web page (www.SlowStreetsAlameda.org <http://www.SlowStreetsAlameda.org>).

 

                     Collision Data.  Staff compared 12 months of collision data on the Slow Streets from July 2018 through June 2019 with data from July 2020 to June 2021, to compare collision numbers from before the shelter-in-place orders (March 2020), with after the Slow Streets were installed.

 

                     Bicycle and Pedestrian Counts.  Counts of everyone walking, bicycling and driving over 12-hour intervals (7am to 7pm) were collected at seven locations in September 2021, along four of the five Slow Streets. (Orion Street was not included since it is a relatively new Slow Street and only two blocks long.) The data collection also included whether people were walking and bicycling on the sidewalk or in the street, and if they were children or adults. This count data is summarized in Exhibit 3.

 

                     Auto Traffic Data.  Auto volumes and speeds were compiled from anonymized GPS and cell phone data for the Slow Streets and for nearby parallel streets where some traffic may have moved. This review examined the data over a two-month period (March and April), between three separate years: pre-pandemic (2019), during pandemic (2020), and this spring, after the commercial streets program was implemented (2021), and focused on percentage changes. A summary of the data is included as Exhibit 4. (Orion Street was not included since it is a relatively new Slow Street and only two blocks long.)

 

                     Stakeholders. Input was solicited from City departments (Fire, Police, Public Works, Recreation and Parks), the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD), and Saint Joseph’s High School. 

 

DISCUSSION

 

Today, Alameda County has lifted the shelter-in-place order, schools have re-opened, some workplaces are partially or fully re-opened, and gyms and recreation centers are open. However, the County now requires everyone, including fully vaccinated people, to wear a mask in indoor public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Almost 83% of eligible Alameda residents, are fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Despite these high vaccination rates, new variants have posed new public health threats, which continue to influence people’s commute and recreation choices.   

 

With these changes in the state of the pandemic, the role of Slow Streets has evolved since the program was initiated. One of the primary reasons for creating Slow Streets - to have spaces for people to socially distance from each other while walking or biking - is longer necessary, and it is apparent these streets are no longer primarily used this way. There is also less of a need for exercising in the street, since gyms and schools have opened. However, the need for safer, traffic-calmed streets, with lower traffic speeds and volumes, and the need for an expanded bicycle network still exists. Today, the Slow Streets are mainly functioning as traffic-calmed residential streets that also provide cross-town corridors with slower traffic and lower traffic volumes that encourage bicycling by people of all ages and abilities, adding to and enhancing the City’s low-stress bicycle network.

 

Staff’s three recommendations, based on its data analysis and input from the community and stakeholders (further described below), are as follows:

 

1.                     Maintain the existing 4.7 miles of Slow Streets for one year (through December 2022), while making select minor enhancements and addressing site specific issues as they arise.

                     The implementation of Slow Streets has been effective in reducing traffic speeds, volumes and collisions on these streets, two of which are identified as High Injury Corridors (HICs) in the City’s Vision Zero Action Plan (VZAP), thereby making Alameda streets safer, an essential goal of Alameda’s Vision Zero policy (2019), which calls for the Transportation Commission and City staff “to consider safety as the highest priority when balancing competing needs and demands for space within the public right of way.” The HIC Slow Streets are Pacific Ave west of Grand Street (Tier 3), and the full length of Versailles Ave (Tier 2).

                     Overall, there is substantial support for the program, as seen in the community survey. Citywide, 60% of respondents support keeping or expanding the program, and two thirds to three quarters of residents living on a Slow Street support the program.

                     The proposed enhancements (including daylighting and restricting turns at select intersections, and piloting neighborhood traffic circles) were previously proposed and initiated but not all were completed. Staff recommend completing these, and responding to site specific issues around schools, businesses and parks as they arise.

2.                     Prioritize finishing the Active Transportation Plan (ATP) in 2022, which will provide direction on the top priorities for walking and bicycling improvements, including Slow Streets.

                     Draft ATP recommendations were completed in mid-2020, and public input was gathered, however, as staff shifted to working on new COVID transportation programs, completion of the Plan was paused.

                     The proposed projects and programs will be ranked with priority to those most needed to create a connected, low-stress bicycle network and safe walking conditions. Streets that are now Slow Streets that rank high would be prioritized for near-term investments, while lower priority streets may be recommended for more minor modifications further in the future. Regardless of their ranking, the Plan will make recommendations for the Slow Streets program beyond December 2022.

                     While 42% of the survey respondents would like to see more Slow Streets added and have them form a network, staff do not recommend expanding the network at this time, as that would distract resources from completing the ATP and making enhancements that are already partially complete to the existing Slow Streets. This community desire for a denser network of safer biking and walking streets is a main goal of the ATP, and completing this plan will help the City to equitably and efficiently implement a network.

3.                     Leverage the repaving program to implement improvements that further the Slow Streets along the street segments scheduled in 2022.

                     Pacific Ave (from Grand to Benton, and Sherman to Webster) and Santa Clara Ave (from Third to Pacific) are scheduled in 2022 for repaving, which provides an opportunity to increase safety along these street segments.

                     On Pacific Avenue, an existing bicycle route that is also a proposed bicycle boulevard in the ATP and a HIC, staff recommend adding up to two simple neighborhood traffic circles, one of which would most likely be at Paru St, and the other at a location to be determined. Signage and striping improvements will be considered at Sherman St and Pacific Ave, which is a High Crash Intersection, per the VZAP.

                     On Santa Clara Ave, which is not proposed to be a bike boulevard in the ATP, but rather to remain as a bicycle route, signage and striping improvements will be considered to encourage slower speeds.

                     Any significant improvements, such as neighborhood traffic circles, will include community and neighborhood engagement.

 

In developing its recommendations, staff evaluated both the program overall and the individual Slow Streets. This evaluation is summarized below, starting first with the benefits of the Slow Streets, and then their challenges with recommendations for addressing them.

 

Benefits of Slow Streets

 

Lower auto speeds and volumes on Slow Streets

All of the Slow Streets saw a reduction in traffic volumes from 2019 to 2021 on weekdays, with an average reduction of 24% (see Exhibit 4). On weekends, the changes were more mixed, with some street segments experiencing lower volumes, and others slightly higher volumes. Volumes on average were 8% lower on weekends in 2021 than 2019. Based on the 12-hour counts (see Exhibit 3), vehicle volumes are very low overall on the Slow Streets. Volumes ranged from 204 to 475, with the average just over 300.

 

Speeds on weekdays averaged 21% lower in 2021 than 2019, with no street having higher speeds. Weekday average speeds decreased from 14 mph (2019) to 11 mph (2021). There was much more variability on the weekends, with some street segments seeing increases in speeds and others seeing reductions. On average, speeds on weekends remained flat at 12 mph.

 

Typically as vehicle volumes decrease, travel speeds increase. That is not the case for most Slow Street segments, showing the effectiveness of the Slow Streets program. The reductions in speeds, especially during weekdays, are making these residential streets safer by reducing the severity of any injuries.

 

Decrease in traffic collisions

Reported collisions decreased between the two one-year periods evaluated (July 2018 to June 2019 and July 2020 to June 2021) for those Slow Streets with a history of collisions: Pacific Avenue and Versailles Avenue. The San Jose/Morton Slow Street only had three collisions total over the two periods and the Santa Clara Slow Street showed no reported collisions during either of the two periods.

 

Of the four streets studied, only Pacific Avenue had injury collisions, and these decreased between the two periods. The majority of collision types on all of the Slow Streets were non-injury, property-damage only, collisions, and for all three streets with collisions, they were reduced.

 

While collisions overall are low on the Pacific and Versailles Slow Streets, compared to higher volume streets, both are designated High Injury Corridors, according to the City’s Vision Zero analysis:

1.                     Portion of Pacific Avenue from just west of Grand to just east of Webster (Tier 3)

2.                     All of Versailles Avenue (Tier 2).

These collision reductions appear to indicate that the Slow Streets are making these streets safer and reducing injuries.

 

Community-wide and resident support

Almost 60% of the 2021 community survey respondents would like the Slow Streets to be retained or expanded into a broader network (Figure 1). Depending on the street, two-thirds to three-quarters of respondents who live on a Slow Street would like to keep their Slow Street, or keep it with some changes (see Exhibit 2).

 

 

Figure 1:

 

High percentage of people walking and biking

Pedestrians made up 38%, and people bicycling made up 17% of all traffic on the Slow Streets, based on the 12-hour September 2021 counts (Exhibit 3). While vehicles made up 45% of all traffic, people walking and biking combined totaled 55% of all traffic, showing that the Slow Streets continue to be well-used for walking and biking.

 

Traffic calming and Community-enhancing

The barricades along the Slow Streets are creating traffic-calmed streets, that allow for neighborhood cohesion and community-building. The top most-liked attributes of the Slow Streets, according the 2021 survey, were:

                     Lower auto speeds and volumes (53%)

                     Feeling safer walking and biking on them (47%)

                     A sense of community on the street (44%)

 

Two survey respondents stated:

“I’ve walked more in my neighborhood, just for pleasure, since they were established. As a result, “my neighborhood” feels much larger than before; they are real community enhancers!”

 

“I biked along Pacific and Santa Clara almost every day for years. The addition of slow streets has made it MUCH safer (far less near misses from inattentive drivers) and has gotten more neighbors out and about, fostering a larger sense of community…”

Expanded network of safe places for people of all ages and abilities to walk and bike

Creating a bicycling network in Alameda that people of all ages and abilities are comfortable using is a key goal of the draft ATP. On average, 15% of the people bicycling on the Slow Streets are children (per the 12-hour count data), showing that they are welcoming for young people. And, in the community survey, 33% of respondents said “I feel safer walking/biking with my children on them.” 46% of the survey respondents over 60 years old would like to see the Slow Streets remain or for the network to be expanded.

 

Two survey respondents stated:

“I am a grandmother who walks my grandchildren home from school and rides bikes around Alameda. I LOVE the Slow Streets as they feel much safer. It is a pleasure to be able to ride close to each other and keep an eye on the children, rather than us being in a long line. The children are 7 and 10.”

“I am wheelchair bound and absolutely love slow streets. Sidewalks even when ADA compliant can still be problematic. This is wonderful.”

Piloting of future bike boulevards

The implementation of five Slow Streets has provided a chance to test the idea of “bicycle boulevards,” which are included in the draft ATP bikeway network recommendations as part of a citywide, low-street, all ages and abilities bikeways network. Slow Streets and bicycle boulevards are both similar and distinct. Both lower traffic speeds and volumes on the streets, but bicycle boulevards do not typically have barricades at every intersection, would use more permanent infrastructure and would prioritize the movement of people biking across intersections. The creation of the five Slow Streets have show that when traffic calming devices are used, auto volumes and speeds decrease, and bicycling increases. People feel safer biking on these streets, although further improvements are needed. They have also revealed some of the challenges of bike boulevard implementation, such as traffic diversion, and have prompted staff to consider alternate parallel streets that might work better overall as bike boulevards than the current Slow Streets. All of this information will inform the development of the final recommendations for the ATP.

 

Expands pedestrian zone beyond the sidewalk

While most people are no longer using the Slow Streets to socially-distance from each other, some Open House attendees expressed how useful and comfortable it was to be able to safely walk or run in the street, since it often has a smoother surface than the sidewalk. The 12-hour count data showed that 13% of all pedestrians using the Slow Streets were traveling in the street, with some segments of Pacific Avenue having as many as 20% in the street.

 

Challenges of Slow Streets and recommendations on addressing them

 

Impacts on Parallel Streets

A top concern expressed at the Open Houses and in the community survey was the impact of the Slow Streets on parallel streets. The evaluation of the data show some increases in speeds on some parallel streets, especially on weekends. Staff will continue to monitor conditions on these streets, as well as Slow Streets, to see how traffic patterns change and evolve as Alameda moves beyond the pandemic, and will propose changes if needed for safety reasons.

 

In the community survey, one third of respondents stated that they don’t like that the Slow Streets divert traffic to other streets. Overall, 37% of people who live within one block of a Slow Street would like to see it removed. However, as seen in Chart 1 below, this varies greatly by the street, from a low of 16% for Pacific Avenue to 50% for Versailles Ave.

Chart 1. Opinions for each Slow Street for all respondents, those who live on that street, and those who live within one block of that street *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Respondents

Live on Street

Live w/in 1 block of Street

 

Keep+Keep with changes

Remove

Keep+Keep with changes

Remove

Keep+Keep with changes

Remove

Pacific

55%

28%

75%

23%

80%

16%

San Jose/Morton

52%

29%

76%

24%

54%

44%

Santa Clara

49%

31%

69%

30%

62%

36%

Versailles

49%

31%

75%

24%

49%

50%

Orion

32%

23%

67%

33%

-

-

 

* Note remaining selected "no strong opinions" when asked about these streets individually

 

One respondent to the survey expressed it this way:

 

“All you are doing is dumping all the traffic on a "Slow Street" to another street, that makes it less safe. If you make the street I live on a "Slow Street", this would be a great plan. Take the cars off mine and make it someone else problem.”

 

Staff evaluated the changes in traffic volumes and speeds on parallel streets which might have received additional traffic diverted from Slow Streets (see Exhibit 4 for full report). The impacts overall appear to be more on vehicle speeds, rather than volumes.

 

Volumes: For all parallel streets on weekdays, the traffic volumes were still lower in 2021 than 2019, with one exception (one block of Taylor Avenue). Weekends, just like for the Slow Streets, traffic patterns are more variable, with the most significant differences on streets parallel to Versailles and Santa Clara Avenues. All of the segments of Broadway, Pearl and Moreland, saw smaller decreases in weekend traffic than Versailles, with Pearl from Santa Clara to Fernside seeing an increase from 2019 to 2021. These changes could be attributed to both the Versailles Slow Street and also to the Park Street reconfigurations, as drivers may be avoiding traveling to Park Street and are instead travelling toward the Miller-Sweeney and High Street Bridges. For the streets parallel to the Santa Clara Slow Street, Haight and Taylor Streets both saw larger percent-changes than Santa Clara Avenue. However, all three of these streets had volume increases on the weekends, which could also be due to the Webster Street reconfigurations and/or the increased commercial activity along Webster Street over the past year.

 

Speeds: As has been seen locally and nationally, speeds are generally higher today than before the pandemic, which also usually correlates with lower volumes. While the Slow Streets effectively lowered weekday speeds, parallel streets saw small increases in speeds on weekdays, averaging 11%, which was an increase from 15 to 16 mph. On the weekends, even the Slow Streets had many segments with higher speeds in 2021 than 2019, and on the parallel streets, weekend speeds increased by an average of 36%, with a high degree of variability. Speeds increased from an average of 13 mph in 2019 to 17 mph in 2021 for parallel streets on weekends.

 

Need for improvements to increase safety and understanding

In the survey, the top three requests for improvements if the Slow Streets were to remain were to:

                     Make the changes more permanent and enhance how the Slow Streets look (44%)

                     Connect the Slow Streets to create a network (42%)

                     Make crossing the busier intersections safer and easier (38%)

Another common complaint from the Open Houses, survey comments and conversations with stakeholders, was confusion about who can use Slow Streets and how they should use them.

 

To begin to address these issues, staff recommend investing in simple, low cost improvements to enhance the safety and usability of the Slow Streets. Further enhancements and upgrades could be made in the future to these streets, depending on the prioritization of projects in the ATP. Many of these recommended improvements were designed, but not constructed, earlier in 2021, due to staffing limitations. The recommendations include:

                     Add daylighting (adding red curbs) at all intersections along the Slow Streets where the cross traffic is not controlled with a stop sign or signal. This will improve safety for all roadway users.

                     Install the planned speed cushions along the Orion Slow Street.

                     Add new Slow Street signage to the barricades, and create other informational materials, to educate people on how to use Slow Streets.

                     Selectively place turn restrictions at the intersections of collectors/arterials, to minimize possible conflicts.

                     Selectively add additional barricade assemblies where higher speeds and volumes still exist.

                     Replace traffic cones with flex posts, attached to the roadway, to prevent these markers from moving around.

                     Regularly maintain the barricade assemblies to ensure they are in the correct position, and in good repair.

                     With the 2022 repaving program, make improvements to Pacific and Santa Clara Avenues, including striping and signage to further slow speeds and improve intersection safety, and installing up to two simple traffic circles along Pacific Avenue.

 

Non-residential destinations along Slow Streets

Staff will continue to monitor and address, as needed, issues that arise at those few locations that attract larger numbers of people along the Slow Streets. To date, staff have worked with the two schools along the Slow Streets (Edison Elementary on Versailles Ave and St Joseph’s along San Jose Ave), and businesses on Versailles Ave and Santa Clara Ave. Staff have also been in dialog with the Parks and Recreation Department regarding the parks along San Jose Ave and Pacific Ave with. In some cases, changes have been made to the barricade locations, in others there have been requests to clarify who is allowed to drive along the Slow Street. In general, staff have agreed to continue to monitor these site-specific situations over time and make changes as needed.

 

FINANCIAL IMPACT

 

The costs for the City to implement the staff recommendations include staffing, new infrastructure needed to maintain the existing barriers over the course of one year, plus consultant time to finalize the Slow Street design plans and then construct the recommended improvements. These costs, which are still being finalized, are anticipated to be low. The revenue to implement these recommendations is anticipated to come from Measures B/BB local streets and roads, and bicycle/pedestrian funds.

 

MUNICIPAL CODE/POLICY DOCUMENT CROSS REFERENCE

 

Actions to preserve the health and safety of Alameda residents are consistent with General Plan Transportation and Safety Element goals and priorities. The Council’s adopted Vision Zero Policy directs that safety be “the highest priority when balancing competing needs and demands for space within the public right of way.” The Street Design Resolution 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 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 CEQA Section 21080.20.5, the proposed reconfiguration of these existing streets to increase space for pedestrians and bicyclists is categorically exempt from further environmental review. 

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

That the Transportation Commission endorse the City Council’s adoption of the Slow Streets recommendations.

                      

Respectfully submitted by,

Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator

 

Exhibits: 

1.                     Map of Slow Streets with implementation phases

2.                     Community Survey Summary

3.                     Bicycle, Pedestrian and Auto Counts

4.                     Traffic Data: Alameda Slow Streets Before and After Study