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File #: 2021-1451   
Type: Continued Agenda Item
Body: City Council
On agenda: 12/21/2021
Title: Recommendation to Approve a One-Year Extension of the Slow Streets Program through December 2022. (Planning, Building and Transportation 20962740) [Continued from December 7, 2021]
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - Map of Slow Streets, 2. Exhibit 2 - Community Survey Summary, 3. Exhibit 3 - Bicycle, Pedestrian and Auto Counts, 4. Exhibit 4 - Slow Streets Before and After Study, 5. Presentation, 6. Correspondence - Updated 12/22

Title

 

Recommendation to Approve a One-Year Extension of the Slow Streets Program through December 2022. (Planning, Building and Transportation 20962740)  [Continued from December 7, 2021]

 

Body

 

To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

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. This program included the creation of five street segments, called Slow Streets, which were implemented between April 2020 and June 2021. 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, as well as local residential traffic, continued to be allowed. The City Council established this temporary program to last until through October, 2021. 

 

In anticipation of the scheduled program end date, staff analyzed auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic and collision data, which revealed that vehicle volumes, speeds and collisions decreased on the Slow Streets, making them safer streets for all users. Additionally, staff conducted an extensive public engagement process, with four virtual open houses, two in-person events, and a community survey.

 

Staff recommends a one-year extension of the program, during which time the City of Alameda (City) will continue to make improvements to the existing Slow Streets, continue to monitor the effectiveness and impacts of the Slow Streets, and complete the Active Transportation Plan (ATP) which will make recommendations on the future of Slow Streets beyond 2022 if the City Council approves an extension of the program.

 

The staff recommendation was reviewed and unanimously endorsed by the Transportation Commission at its October 27 meeting, with the addition that, over the next year, staff should evaluate Pearl Street as a possible alternative to Versailles Street, and that more extensive community outreach be completed before the final recommendations are made on Slow Streets next year. 

 

In addition to the staff recommendation to continue the program for one more year, the City Council may also consider two other alternatives: 1) to remove the barriers and signs and terminate the program immediately or 2) to remove the barriers and signs from just one or more of the five slow streets immediately and maintain the remaining streets for one more year. If removal of any streets occurred, Versailles would be a likely candidate based on community concerns expressed in different forums.

 

BACKGROUND

 

The Slow Streets program intent is to create 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.  Today there are five Slow Streets, comprising 4.7 miles (approximately 3% of Alameda’s publicly-maintained 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.) and 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. A program website was also created to provide public information about the program: www.slowstreetsalameda.org <http://www.slowstreetsalameda.org>.

 

The five Slow Street segments were selected based upon the following criteria:

                     They were two-lane streets with lower vehicle traffic volumes and higher pedestrian and bicycle volumes prior to the program; and

                     They are streets that are already designated as a bicycle route in the City’s adopted Bicycle Master Plan and/or are being considered as future bicycle boulevards as part of the Active Transportation Plan effort underway. (Bicycle boulevards are defined as low speed and volume neighborhood bikeways shared with cars).

 

The Slow Streets were implemented quickly using temporary materials including movable barricades, signs, sand bags, and traffic cones. Staff, aided by volunteers, has maintained and improved the positioning of the barricades and cones to improve safety and address site-specific concerns, such as access to schools and businesses.

 

DISCUSSION

 

The staff recommendation to continue the Slow Streets program for one more year is based upon the attached technical exhibits (Exhibits 3 and 4) and the following staff findings:

 

COVID-19.   Today, Alameda County has lifted its 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 still requires that people, including those who are fully vaccinated, wear a mask in some types of indoor public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is still influencing many people’s commute and recreation choices, and the City Council has continued the local State of Emergency.    

 

Public Safety. The implementation of Slow Streets has been effective in reducing traffic speeds, volumes and collisions on these five streets, thereby making these Alameda streets safer, an essential goal of City Council’s adopted 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.” As well, Pacific Avenue west of Paru Street is a Tier 3 High Injury Corridor (HIC) in the City’s Vision Zero Action Plan (VZAP).

 

All of the Slow Streets saw a reduction in traffic volumes from 2019 to 2021 on weekdays, with an average reduction of 24%. On weekends, the changes were more mixed, with some street segments experiencing lower volumes, and others slightly higher volumes, but an overall average reduction of 8%. Based on the 12-hour counts, vehicle volumes are very low overall on the Slow Streets, with the average just over 300 (or 25 cars per hour).

 

Speeds on the Slow Streets 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. Reductions in speeds will make these residential streets safer by reducing the severity of any injuries that occur.

 

Reported collisions decreased between the two one-year periods evaluated (2018/19 and 2020/2021) 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 Slow Street compared to higher volume streets, it is a designated Tier 3 High Injury Corridor west of Paru Street. 

 

Parallel Streets.  Data collected on nearby streets that are parallel to the Slow Streets indicates that volumes increased slightly on parallel streets, possibly as a result of the installation of the Slow Streets, and the data does show evidence of speeding on the adjacent streets. Staff would note that evidence (anecdotal as well as measured) indicates that speeding is an increasing concern citywide, especially since the start of the pandemic, and not necessarily related to the Slow Streets program. 

 

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.

 

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 or maintained weekday speeds, parallel streets saw small increases in speeds on weekdays, averaging 11%, which is 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. 

 

Active Transportation. City Council and City policy support active transportation (walking and bicycling) as modes of transportation that should be encouraged and facilitated to help the City meet its climate action, transportation choices, and environmental goals. The Slow Streets are supporting and facilitating bicycling and walking. 

 

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. 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.

 

It appears that people are using them because the traffic is slower, there are less cars, people feel safer, and they feel a greater sense of community on the street. The top most-liked attributes of the Slow Streets, according the 2021 survey (see Exhibit 2 for the full survey results), were:

                     Lower auto speeds and volumes (53% of respondents)

                     Feeling safer walking and biking on them (47%)

                     A sense of community on the street (44%)

 

Next Steps: Slow Streets.  In summary, staff concluded that the five Slow Streets are safer streets as the result of the Slow Streets program and that they are supporting bicycling and walking in Alameda. Given the City Council’s Vision Zero policy and the importance of public safety, staff is recommending that the Slow Streets be maintained for one more year or until completion of the Active Transportation Plan, which was delayed due to the COVID pandemic and the need to prioritize the implementation of the Commercial Streets and Slow Streets Programs.  

During the upcoming year, staff recommends investing in simple, low cost improvements to enhance the safety and usability of the Slow Streets, such as:

                     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.

 

In addition, several of the Slow Street segments are scheduled for repaving in 2022. The repaving program provides an opportunity to make additional, semi-permanent improvements to further increase safety. Pacific Ave. (from Grand to Benton, and Sherman to Webster) and Santa Clara Ave. (from Third to Pacific) are scheduled for repaving in 2022.  Pacific Avenue is an existing bicycle route, listed a high injury corridor (west of Paru), and a proposed bike boulevard in the draft Active Transportation Plan. For all of these reasons, staff recommends 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 Vision Zero Action Plan. On Santa Clara Ave., which is a designated bicycle route, signage and striping improvements will be considered to encourage slower speeds.

 

Finally, 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 has 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 has also been in dialog with the Recreation and Parks Department regarding the parks along San Jose Ave. and Pacific Ave 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 has agreed to continue to monitor these site-specific situations over time and make changes as needed.

 

Next Steps: Active Transportation Plan.  Over the next year, staff will re-engage on the finalization of the Active Transportation Plan. The next phase of this work is to rank proposed projects and programs with priority to those needed the most 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.

 

Staff does not recommend expanding the Slow Street network at this time, as that would take away 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.

 

ALTERNATIVES

 

In addition to the staff recommendation to continue the program for one more year, the City Council may also consider two other viable alternatives: 1) to remove the barriers and signs and terminate the program immediately or 2) to remove the barriers and signs from just one or more of the five slow streets immediately and maintain the remaining streets for one more year.

Maintaining the Slow Street program will require continued staff time and resources, as noted in the Financial Impact section that could be spent on other community and City Council priorities. In accordance with the draft Vision Zero Action Plan, the City staff will be focusing its time and resources on improving the High Injury Corridors, such as Central Avenue, Encinal Avenue and Lincoln Avenue. From a safety perspective, with a few exceptions described above, the five Slow Streets are not high priority corridors for safety improvements. Investing time and resources on maintaining the Slow Streets program will take some time and resources from higher Vision Zero priorities and other transportation initiatives, such as the West Alameda Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge request for proposal and the completion of the Active Transportation Plan, which were delayed over the last year due to the shifting of staff resources to the Commercial Streets and Slow Streets programs. Continuing the Slow Streets and Commercial Streets program will require continued transportation planning and Public Works traffic engineering time and resources that will also be needed to complete the Active Transportation Plan and other adopted City Council transportation priorities. 

In addition to the issue of resource allocation, the City Council may wish to consider the issue of equity when considering the future of Slow Streets. Staff did not complete corridor demographic studies, but staff believes that such a study may find that with the exception of Orion Street at Alameda Point, the residents along Slow Streets may have higher incomes and a higher percentage of home ownership than those living along the High Injury Corridors, which may include more renters, residents of lower income, and residents of color. In all decision making, the staff and the City Council must be conscious of how resources are being allocated to ensure that resources are being invested to protect the most vulnerable members of the community.

On balance, staff does believe the program is currently benefiting a wide spectrum of Alameda residents (not just the people who live on the Slow Streets) and staff is cautiously optimistic that maintaining the program for one more year can be done with a minimum of staff resources and time, but the City Council may also consider:

                     Directing staff to terminate the Slow Streets program and remove all barricades and cones to enable staff and direct staff to focus all available resources on the High Injury Corridors and other programs previously prioritized by the Transportation Choices Plan, such as the completion of the Active Transportation Plan and the West Alameda Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge.

 

                     Directing staff to terminate the Slow Streets program on one or more of the five Slow Streets. If the City Council considers this option, staff would recommend maintaining the Slow Streets in West Alameda (Orion St and Santa Clara Ave),. 

 

FINANCIAL IMPACT

 

The total cost for the City to implement these staff recommendations include staffing, infrastructure needed to maintain the existing barriers over the course of one year, plus consultant and contractor time to finalize the Slow Street design plans and then construct the recommended improvements is $138,000, and would be charged to Bicycle/Pedestrian Projects CIP # C63100.

 

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 City 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, the proposed reconfiguration of these existing streets to increase space for pedestrians and bicyclists is categorically exempt from further environmental review. 

 

CLIMATE IMPACT

 

Supporting walking and bicycling 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 (still predominantly gasoline-powered vehicles) to their destinations, and help the community develop lifelong habits of walking and bicycling.

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

Approve a one-year extension of the Slow Streets program through December 2022.

 

CITY MANAGER RECOMMENDATION

 

An alternative to approving a one year extension would be to approve a one year extension on two to three of the streets and end the program on one to two of the streets.

One concern is that some of the slow streets may have the unintended impact of relocating motorists to parallel streets which are high-injury corridors.  This would need to be further explored if the program is approved to be extended.

 

Respectfully submitted by,

Andrew Thomas, Planning, Building and Transportation Department Director

 

By,

Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator

 

Financial Impact section reviewed,

Annie To, Finance Director

 

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

 

cc:                     Eric Levitt, City Manager