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File #: 2021-1354   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: City Council
On agenda: 11/2/2021
Title: Recommendation to Approve a Commercial Streets Two-Year Work Program to Improve the Park Street and Webster Street Striping Plans; Improve the On-street Parklet Program; Maintain the Alameda Avenue Street Closure; Resume Pre-COVID Parking Management, Fee Collection, and Enforcement Activities; Adoption of Resolution Approving Precast Concrete Traffic Control Safety Barricade Standards for Parklets; and Adoption of Resolution Amending the Capital Budget by Transferring $630,350 in American Rescue Plan Act Project Funds from Capital Improvement Project (CIP) C90300 to Commercial/Slow Streets CIP (C12100) and Increasing Appropriations for the Commercial/Slow Streets CIP (C12100) by $630,350. (Planning, Building and Transportation/Public Works 310C1210)
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - Community Survey Summary, 2. Exhibit 2 - Commercial Streets Before and After Study, 3. Resolution - Barricade Standards, 4. Resolution - Budget, 5. Correspondence - Updated 11/2, 6. Presentation

Title

 

Recommendation to Approve a Commercial Streets Two-Year Work Program to Improve the Park Street and Webster Street Striping Plans; Improve the On-street Parklet Program; Maintain the Alameda Avenue Street Closure; Resume Pre-COVID Parking Management, Fee Collection, and Enforcement Activities;

Adoption of Resolution Approving Precast Concrete Traffic Control Safety Barricade Standards for Parklets; and

Adoption of Resolution Amending the Capital Budget by Transferring $630,350 in American Rescue Plan Act Project Funds from Capital Improvement Project (CIP) C90300 to Commercial/Slow Streets CIP (C12100) and Increasing Appropriations for the Commercial/Slow Streets CIP (C12100) by $630,350. (Planning, Building and Transportation/Public Works 310C1210)

 

 

Body

 

To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

In May 2020, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the recommendations of the West Alameda Business Association (WABA) and the Downtown Alameda Business Association (DABA), the City Council authorized staff to proceed with a full slate of efforts, called the Commercial Streets program, to support Alameda’s businesses through the pandemic, to minimize the health risks to public safety, and to enhance the safety of the business employees, owners, and customers.  This program included the restriping of Park Street and Webster Street, permitting on-street “parklets,” changing parking management and fee collection to emphasize the use of on-street parking for short term parking, and a citywide permit allowing use of private commercial land to be used for outdoor commercial activities. The City Council authorized these temporary programs to extend through October 2021. 

 

Staff recommends a work plan for the next two years, beginning in November 2021, to support the economic recovery of the business community from the pandemic and equitable, safe, and efficient movement of people, on Alameda’s two main commercial streets.  

 

An earlier version of the work program proposed in this staff report was reviewed and endorsed by the Transportation Commission (Commission) at its meeting on July 28, 2021.  The Commission emphasized the need to continue to maintain adequate short-term parking along Park and Webster streets, to continue to work with AC Transit to minimize delays in transit travel times, and to consider the addition of significant bicycle parking at Alameda Avenue to support bicycle access to Park Street businesses. Staff also presented its recommendations to the Planning Board’s September 27, 2021 meeting as an informational item, and the Board was generally supportive.

 

Separately, staff has evaluated the residential Slow Streets program and will bring its recommendations to the October 27, 2021 Transportation Commission meeting, and then to City Council on November 16, 2021. This report does not further address the residential Slow Streets program. 

 

BACKGROUND

 

To support the local business community and the health and safety of Alameda residents, employees and visitors during the global pandemic, the City Council approved the Commercial Streets program in May, 2020.  The program objective was to support the business community’s need for additional outdoor space to accommodate temporary changes in operations in response to the public health threats of COVID-19.  Specifically, the program created more space for:

 

                     People to safely walk along the commercial corridors while physically distancing as more stores and businesses opened;

                     Customers to safely stand in lines to shop at businesses or pick up takeout food while also allowing enough space for people to walk along commercial corridors; and

                     Restaurants to provide outdoor seating with adequate space between tables.

 

The program included five primary components, which the City Council authorized to be in place through October 31, 2021.

 

1.                     Park Street and Webster Street Restriping.  Five blocks of Park Street (Santa Clara to San Jose) and three blocks of Webster Street (Lincoln to Taylor) were restriped to reduce the automobile travel lanes from four lanes to two lanes to create more space for pedestrians and outdoor commercial services, including outdoor dining.

 

2.                     Parklets.  Thirty-two (32) parklet permits were issued to allow construction of temporary commercial areas for dining or retail activities within former parking or travel lanes.  Twenty-seven (27) are currently active, with some parklets serving multiple businesses.  In addition, six sidewalk usage permits were issued, including one for all of the businesses within WABA and one for all businesses within DABA, allowing businesses to use a portion of the sidewalk for outdoor dining or retail.

 

3.                     Alameda Avenue Closure.  One half block of Alameda Avenue off of Park Street was closed to automobile traffic to allow space for outdoor dining, at the request of DABA.  Pursuant to a Special Event permit, DABA installed and maintains the street furniture.

 

4.                     Parking Management.  Almost all of the parking along the reconfigured sections of Park Street and Webster Street was converted to 15-minute pick-up/drop to support take-out services.  Outside of the Park Street and Webster Street commercial districts, approximately 30 spaces were dedicated for pick-up/drop-off parking spaces to support local businesses.

 

5.                     Citywide Use Permit.  The Planning Board approved a citywide, temporary conditional use permit in June 2020 to allow businesses to use their outdoor areas and parking lots for commercial purposes and outdoor seating.  Approximately ten businesses are now using their private parking lots for outdoor seating under this permit.

 

In anticipation of the upcoming October 2021 program end date, staff worked with the business community and the larger community to develop a plan for the next two years. The proposed plan would support the business community recovery and ensure safe, efficient, and equitable use of the public right-of-way.  Sources of information that inform this work plan include:

 

                     Online Surveys and Virtual Town Halls.  Over 1,750 individuals provided feedback via an online survey, and the City offered two virtual town halls and two in-person events where additional input was gathered.  A summary of the survey data is included (Exhibit 1) and the full compilation of general comments is posted on the program web page (www.alamedaca.gov/commercialstreets <http://www.alamedaca.gov/commercialstreets>). DABA and WABA also separately surveyed their businesses and jointly held two virtual forums.

 

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

 

                     Auto Traffic Data. Auto volumes, speeds and travel times were compiled from anonymized GPS and cell phone data for Park and Webster Streets and for nearby streets where some traffic may have moved. Staff compared conditions 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).  A summary of the data is included as Exhibit 2.

 

                     Stakeholders. Input was solicited from AC Transit, DABA, and WABA. 

 

DISCUSSION

 

Currently, Alameda County has lifted the shelter-in-place order, and social distancing and capacity limits for indoor retail and restaurants. However, the County requires everyone, including fully vaccinated people, to wear a mask in indoor public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Over 75% of the eligible Alameda County population, and about 80% of eligible Alameda residents, are fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.  Despite these high vaccination rates, new variants are posing new public health threats, which continue to impact and influence business practices and customer activities on Park Street and Webster Street.   

 

Staff is recommending that the City Council, the business community, and staff use the next two years to continue to improve and make changes to the program components to address current issues and problems and to continue to monitor regional and local transportation and health conditions.  As stated by a respondent to one of the online business surveys:

 

 “The city of alameda NEEDS to extend this program to allow for the business to recoup their investments AND losses from the last 16 months. It will take years before we can regain our footing again and have a confident and healthy business district.”

Over the next two years, the public health risks are likely to change and staff and the community will learn more about evolving travel patterns and work schedules resulting from the pandemic.  These changes may result in new vehicle and commute patterns throughout the Bay Area and on Park Street and Webster Street.  AC Transit will develop a new service plan over the next two years, and the City Council will be considering the draft Vision Zero Action Plan later this year, and the draft Active Transportation Plan in 2022.  All of this work and information will and should influence the final decisions about the design and use of commercial streets in Alameda.   

 

During the next two years, staff recommends the following work program for the five program components:  

 

Improve Current Park Street and Webster Street Restriping 

 

Staff recommends that the Park Street and Webster Street restriping be maintained and continue to be improved for at least the next two years.  During the next two years, changes should be made to improve the efficient and effective use of on-street parking, to add loading (yellow) zones, add a limited amount of short term parking (green zones), add parking for people with disabilities (blue zones), and improve transit speeds along Park Street and Webster Street.

 

Sixty-six percent (66%) of the respondents to the DABA business survey stated that they would like to see the street changes continue beyond 2021, with another 16% responding “maybe.”  Forty-eight percent (48%) agreed that “Park Street is now a more enjoyable space and there is less traffic noise.”  The WABA survey had only a limited number of business respondents, but WABA has stated that overall their businesses support the lane reconfiguration on Webster Street.

 

In the community survey, for both streets, a plurality (42-43%) of the 1,759 respondents stated that they support keeping the current reconfiguration; while about one third like the lane reduction, and also want to see safe bicycle facilities added to the street; and another third prefer to have the street returned to four lanes.  (Note that the percentages add up to more than 100% since multiple responses could be selected.) As stated by one respondent:

 

 “As a driver I definitely try to avoid using Park Street now, including parking for pick-up. As a diner and pedestrian I love it!”

 

The program evaluation found that automobile volumes on Park Street and Webster Street continue to be below pre-pandemic levels.  (The traffic study is attached as Exhibit 2.) A comparison of automobile volumes in March and April 2019  (pre-pandemic) to March and April 2021 reveals that morning (6:00 - 10:00 a.m.) volumes on Park Street and Webster Street are 10-55% lower than in 2019, depending on direction.  On both streets, midday (10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.) volumes are 0-15% lower than in 2019, depending on the direction of travel and street. On Park Street, afternoon (3:00 --- 7:00 p.m.) volumes are about 25% lower. In the afternoon on Webster Street, northbound volumes are approximately 10% lower and southbound traffic (the commute direction) is more than 40% lower.  On weekend afternoons, traffic volumes were the same or slightly higher than 2019 on Webster Street and about 10% lower on Park Street than in 2019.

 

A review of volumes on the parallel streets that might be experiencing increases in volumes as the result of diversion from Park and Webster Streets indicates that there may be some diversion, in some directions, at certain times of day, though overall it is not significant. 

 

Traffic speeds are generally lower on Park Street and Webster Street as a result of the restriping. On Park Street, during the week, speeds dropped 14% from an average of 11.9 mph in 2019 to 10.3 mph in 2021.  The biggest reduction in speeds is in the afternoon commute direction (southbound) for the reconfigured section of Park Street (Lincoln to Encinal), with speeds now averaging 8.8 mph.  On Webster Street, average speeds are slower in some directions during some periods, but the average of all speeds (both directions, for all periods), from Central to Buena Vista Avenue, is the same in 2021 as it was in 2019 on weekdays: about 12.5 mph.    

 

A review of collision data for the two commercial streets does not reveal any significant changes in the frequency or severity of collisions since restriping. 

 

About 25% of community survey respondents reported that the streets feel safer since restriping.

 

AC Transit data reveals that during the afternoon peak period on Park Street, bus travel time is getting close to pre-pandemic levels. Work was recently completed to coordinate the traffic signals along both corridors, and transit signal priority technology was recently installed on Park Street which, once implemented, should improve transit speeds.   

 

Based upon the responses from the business community, the larger Alameda community, a review of the existing traffic conditions and the ongoing public health threats, staff recommends that the current striping plans for Park Street and Webster Street be maintained and further enhanced for at least the next two years.  Over the next two years staff will continue to monitor the travel conditions on Park and Webster Streets, and staff believes that post-pandemic travel patterns will become clearer.  The City Council will complete its review of the citywide Vision Zero Action Plan this year, and the Active Transportation Plan next year.  Over the next two years, AC Transit will be undertaking a service planning study for all of their services.  These planning efforts, in addition to a City sponsored planning effort with the business community, will influence a final recommendation for a final striping plan for the commercial streets. 

 

With the information gathered over the next two years, the City’s appointed and elected decision makers will be in an excellent positon to make decisions about the final configuration of Park Street and Webster Street to meet its active transportation, vision zero, economic development, greenhouse gas reduction, transit first, and public health goals.  

 

From a cost perspective, maintaining and improving the existing striping for two more years is less expensive than restriping Park Street and Webster Street back to their prior configurations with four travel lanes.  Some costs will be incurred over the next two years improving and maintaining the existing configurations, such as painting additional yellow zones (for loading), blue zones (for disabled parking), and adjusting parking striping and signage in some areas to improve efficiencies and transit speeds, but many of these parking improvements were already needed, and the costs will be significantly lower than the cost to restripe the two main streets back to their original configuration. 

 

Improve Parklet Program

 

The restriping of Park Street and Webster Street provided the opportunity for the City and the business community to work together to allow for temporary outdoor “parklets” for the use of individual businesses and restaurants.  There are currently 27 parklets on Alameda’s streets, approved through the City’s temporary COVID parklet permit process.  Since staff is recommending continuation of the current striping plans, and due to the continued need for outdoor dining space to allow for business recovery, staff also recommends continuation, with improvements, to the parklet program.  

 

In the community survey, 68% of responses were in favor of maintaining the parklets, while 36% would like to see the parklets removed (as noted above, respondents could select more than one response, therefore totals add up to more than 100%). DABA and WABA support the continuation of the parklet program.

 

Staff recommends that the temporary COVID parklet program be continued for another two years, with modifications made to improve safety, accessibility and aesthetics.  The proposed modifications to the program include:

 

Two-Year Permit and License. Staff is proposing that the City implement a two (2) year encroachment permit and license agreement system for all existing and any new parklets. To ensure that all parklet structures constructed behind new on-street barricades meet basic aesthetic, drainage, access for the disabled, and building code requirements, staff is recommending that the City require all parklet owners to submit for a two-year license agreement and encroachment permit to have a parklet in the street behind the barricades. 

 

To participate in the City’s parklet program, each business which would like to maintain an existing parklet or construct a new parklet must submit a $2,400 deposit and a signed license agreement to the City of Alameda within three (3) months (by February 2, 2022). The $2,400 deposit shall cover the city staff time and cost to review and inspect the parklet design for conformance with basic aesthetic, drainage, access for the disabled, and building code requirements.   

 

In addition, to  more comprehensively address traffic safety risk and liability, staff recommends an increase in the amount of required insurance that each applicant be required to maintain and that the applicant continue to agree to indemnify the City for any damages and costs in the event of a collision or other accident. California Joint Powers Risk Management Authority (“CJPRMA”), the risk retention pool of which the City is a member, recommends coverage at $5 million (M) per occurrence and also aggregate, and further indicates that the minimum appropriate insurance for each parklet is $2M per occurrence and $4M aggregate.  At a minimum, Staff recommends adopting the $2M/$4M standard for most typical parklets and the $5M standard for parklets more at risk of traffic collisions or other accidents, such as those within 50 feet of an intersection. This requirement would result in increased annual insurance costs for businesses.   Of course, adopting the $5M standard across the board would provide better protection for the City but would also further increase costs for businesses.

 

The business community has indicated to staff that these additional insurance costs may be too expensive for individual businesses to absorb and that this requirement may cause some businesses to opt out of the program. From staff’s perspective, the additional insurance and protection for the Alameda tax payers is important, but the Council could consider setting up a program to help businesses in financial need fund these additional insurance expenses.

 

Under all scenarios, staff recommends that the City reserve the right to modify, revoke or deny an encroachment permit and license agreement for any parklet that does not, or is unable to meet the established criteria, or for any parklet that utilizes public on-street space that is necessary to improve safety, transit efficiency, loading, provide parking for the disabled, or to allow for street and utility repairs.

 

Improved Safety Barricades.  To ensure public safety and create more uniform and consistent safety measures along Park Street and Webster Street, staff is recommending that the existing water-filled barriers by replaced by uniform concrete barriers. The concrete barriers will provide more reliable protection for those members of the public sitting in the parklets. Staff is recommending that the barricades be purchased and placed by the City’s Public Works Department at the City’s expense.  Staff considered but rejected an alternative approach whereby the individual business owner would purchase and place the barricades. Based upon feedback from the business community, staff concluded that having the City purchase and place the barricades would result in less cost overall due the economies of scale and would result in less disruption since the City could place all the barricades at one time.   

 

Staff is also recommending that the City Council approve a standard for barrier placement, which will set the standard for how the City places the barriers to protect public safety (see Resolution approving Precast Concrete Traffic Control Safety Barricade Standards for Parklets).

 

On or about February 2, 2022, the City will know exactly how many businesses wish to maintain or construct new parklets. Based upon that information, Public Works will finalize a barricade placement plan for those parklets, consistent with the standard, and will purchase and place the barricades at no cost to the individual businesses.  

 

Any business that approaches the City wishing to construct a new parklet after February 2, 2022 but before the end of the two year recovery program, will be required to pay the $2,400 permit deposit to cover the cost of plan review and inspections, and that business will also be required to pay for the purchase and placement of the concrete barricades by the Public Works Department.  The logic of this approach is that the City is funding the barricades for existing business recovery. If a new business decides to build a parklet after February 2022, they have survived the COVID pandemic and are simply interested in increasing their commercial floor area. 

 

Resume Pre-Pandemic Parking Regulations

 

Staff recommends that the City generally return to the parking regulations that were in effect before the Commercial Streets program was implemented.  Staff recommends that the City re-establish pre-pandemic parking rates and limitations for public parking along Park Street and Webster Street and re-establish parking enforcement as soon as feasible, to ensure an equitable use of available on-street parking and strive to achieve the City Council-adopted policy of 85% occupancy on any given commercial block.

 

At this time, staff is actively working with DABA and WABA to modify and remove some or most of the 15-minute parking along the reconfigured sections of Park and Webster Streets.  Community members and business owners have been vocal about the lack of parking enforcement and regular abuse of the 15-minute time limits.

 

Maintain Half-Block Alameda Avenue Street Closure

 

Staff recommends that the City maintain the half block closure of Alameda Avenue for the next two years or until DABA no longer wishes to manage the space, whichever occurs first. Staff also recommends that the City allow DABA to enhance the street by painting temporary murals on the roadway, subject to City approval.  Sewer repairs and repaving are planned for 2023 and 2024. The repaving project will require a final decision at that time about the final design and use of Alameda Avenue, which staff will bring to Council for its consideration. 

 

Alameda Avenue was closed to through traffic and transformed into a community gathering space for people to walk, bike, eat to-go food and gather informally.  An open, 20-foot wide emergency access lane is maintained through the closed half block.  DABA manages this space, purchased the tables, tents and other amenities, and pays for regular cleanings and patrols of the area.

 

DABA and the businesses overwhelmingly support this use of Alameda Avenue (80% of respondents to the DABA survey support maintaining the closure). The community survey showed that 54% of respondents support the closure, 20% are neutral, and 25% would like to see the street re-opened to cars.  There have been objections from some immediate neighbors on Alameda Avenue to the noise generated by people using this space late at night, and people socializing without masks.  DABA has been working to address these concerns with patrols and closing the space at night.

 

Extend Temporary Citywide Use Permit

 

Staff recommends extending the expiration date by two years for the existing temporary citywide conditional use permit allowing outdoor dining and commercial activities in private parking lots.  During the past year and a half, primarily restaurants have utilized this permit, which has allowed them to continue doing business even with the fluctuating restrictions on indoor dining. Most have operated successfully with few complaints, and those few locations that received high numbers of complaints have been addressed through individual use permits.

 

Staff has scheduled a Zoning Administrator public hearing on November 15, 2021 to extend the permit. That decision is appealable to the Planning Board and ultimately to the City Council.   

 

ALTERNATIVES

 

The City Council may:

 

                     Approve staff recommendations, including the new Parklet Safety Barricade Standards, as described in this report.

 

                     Approve another version of program modifications and/or direct staff to consider an alternative approach.

 

                     Direct staff to terminate the programs described in this report and return Park Street and Webster Street to their former configuration with four travel lanes, and eliminate the parklet program.

 

FINANCIAL IMPACT

 

The recommendation to extend the Commercial Streets program for two more years as described in this report will require a commitment of $630,350

 

The $630,350 is comprised of the following line items: 

 

$323,350 to purchase and place the barricades for approximately 30 parklets. Staff is anticipating that two or three of the 27 existing parklets will drop out of the program due to costs (up to this time there has been no cost to the business to operate a parklet), and two or three businesses will decide to join the program, if it is extended for two more years. 

 

$82,260 for two years of street maintenance including adjusting bollards and roadway striping to improve operations and public safety.

 

$67,800 to re-establish normal parking operations, improve curb management, and add parking spaces for people with disabilities. (Resuming normal parking operations will result in increased revenue to the parking fund.)

 

$150,000 to develop final Webster Street and Park Street concept designs to be adopted by the City Council at the end of the two year Commercial Streets program.  

 

$6,940 to maintain and enhance the half-block Alameda Avenue street closure.

 

Staff is recommending that the $630,350 be allocated to the Commercial Streets program from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) project (C99300), as these changes will support the continued economic recovery of the City’s commercial districts.

 

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 adopted Street Design Resolution (Resolution No. 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 Commercial Streets Two-Year Work Program is exempt from the requirements of CEQA pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b)(3), where it can be shown with certainty that the proposed amendments will not have a significant effect on the environment.  As a separate and independent basis, the program is also exempt from CEQA Guidelines Sections 15301 Existing Facilities, 15304(e) Minor Temporary Use of Land, and 15305 Minor Alterations to Land Use Limitations, and none of the exceptions apply.  No further environmental review is needed.

 

CLIMATE IMPACT

 

Supporting walking, bicycling, and transit use 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.  Creating streets focused on people, rather than cars, encourages these modes of transportation, and can reduce emissions from people driving to their destinations, and help the community develop lifelong habits of walking, bicycling and taking transit.

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

That the City Council:

 

1)                     Approve the Commercial Streets two-year work program to improve the Park Street and Webster Street striping plans; improve the on-street parklet program; maintain the Alameda Avenue street closure; resume pre-COVID parking management, fee collection, and enforcement activities;

2)                     Adopt the Resolution approving a precast concrete traffic control safety barricade standard for parklets; and

3)                     Adopt the Resolution amending the Capital Budget by transferring up to $630,350 in American Rescue Plan Act Project Funds from Capital Improvement Project (CIP) C90300 to Commercial/Slow Streets CIP (C12100) and increasing appropriations for the Commercial/Slow Streets CIP (C12100) by up to $630,350.

 

CITY MANAGER RECOMMENDATION

 

The City Manager concurs with the recommendation.  In addition, I want to express my appreciation for all of the staff work on this policy due to the importance to our two business districts. 

 

Respectfully submitted,

Erin Smith, Public Works Department Director

Andrew Thomas, Planning, Building and Transportation Department Director

 

By,

Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator

 

Financial Impact section reviewed,

Annie To, Finance Director

 

Exhibits: 

1.                     Community Survey Summary

2.                     Traffic Data: Alameda Commercial Streets Before and After Study

 

cc:                     Eric Levitt, City Manager