Seaside’s newest bicycle plan deflates hopes of a bike-friendly future.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
On Feb. 21, world-class cyclists will line up in front of Seaside City Hall for the fourth stage of the AMGEN Tour of California. Suited up in muscle-hugging gear and followed by media cameras, the competitors will loop around some of the city’s busiest streets—Canyon Del Rey Boulevard, Del Monte Boulevard, Broadway Avenue, Fremont Boulevard and Harcourt Avenue—before converging on Highway 1 to pedal south to San Luis Obispo.
But without police escorts to block traffic, those same streets offer no protection to everyday cyclists. As the city unveils its third Bicycle Transportation Plan in 10 years, bike-friendly rhetoric is still out of tandem with actual infrastructure.
The almost-final plan, which the City Council approved Oct. 4, says all the right things. It describes biking as a vehicle for personal health, global cooling and city pride. It plays up the vision of a bicycle network connecting neighborhoods to schools, businesses and community centers. It synchs with the city’s scheme for downtown redevelopment, which is big on getting people out of their cars.
But at this point it’s all on paper. Sitting around a conference table at City Hall, Assistant City Manager Jill Anderson, Associate Civil Engineer Carole Dawson and Associate Planner Clark Larson say they don’t know when, or if, the bike plan will be implemented. The document serves one immediate purpose: to make Seaside eligible for a state grant, which Larson says would fund a bike lane along part of Coe Avenue.
A comparison of the 2002 and 2007 plans shows a net decrease in proposed bikeway miles. The update drops lengthy routes on Kimball Avenue and Fremont Boulevard, adding shorter segments near CSUMB campus, Seaside High School and Laguna Grande Lake.
It’s easier to work bikeways into new roads than to retrofit existing ones, Dawson explains. Most bike lanes and paths are planned for streets around Fort Ord. In denser areas, where traffic volume and existing developments are major constraints, the City isn’t willing to remove car parking or widen roads for bikes. “You can’t just wipe the slate clean,” she says.
Many of the proposed bikeways are designated Class III, which involves nothing more than putting up signs that say “Bike Route.” Such routes are the least helpful to bikers, but they are the cheapest and easiest to install. Yet none of the streets proposed for Class III in the 2002 plan have the signage five years later. “At this point the council has other priorities,” Dawson says.
Currently, Seaside has only 4.5 bikeway miles. Since 2002 the City has completed a segment of bike path along Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard, using Fort Ord Reuse Authority funds, and bike lanes on parts of Coe Avenue and Monterey Road, paid for by the developers of Seaside Highlands.
Bike parking is also slow going. A year-old city code requires one in 10 parking spots to be designated for bikes at new multifamily homes, and one in 20 at commercial developments. The city has fewer than 25 bike racks today, the plan reports.
Then there’s the issue of traffic lights. As is, bikes—which under state law have all the rights and responsibilities on the road as motor vehicles—don’t trigger signals to change. The 2007 plan calls for bike detection devices at signaled intersections on Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard, Broadway Avenue and Hilby Avenue.
The 2002 plan estimates that less that 1 percent of Seaside workers bike to work every day; the update ventures 1-2 percent. But city staffers aren’t clear about where those numbers come from. Larson says they’re consistent with U.S. Census figures for similar communities. Dawson says they’re based on observation, though the city hasn’t done a formal analysis. The City aims to boost the bike commute rate to 5-10 percent by 2015, according to the 2007 plan.
The update fails to mention the California Department of Transportation’s 2000-2001 Statewide Travel Survey, which reports that 86.5 percent of commuters in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties drive alone to work. More people bike (1.2 percent) than take public transportation (1.1 percent); almost 3 percent walk.
Though they tout the public relations value in hosting the AMGEN tour for the second year, city staffers say they don’t see a monetary benefit in pumping biking among residents. Some other cities do. A November New York Times video report describes the economic boon of cycling in Portland, Ore., where the popularity of two-wheeled transport has drawn bike manufacturers, frame builders and retail shops to town. Even the Seaside plan notes that converting more local drivers to bikers would save on road maintenance costs.
But a citywide bike network simply is not among Seaside’s strategic priorities, Anderson says, adding that there’s more “interest and urgency” in cars. Existing road maintenance funds don’t cover bikeways, Dawson says.
Seaside’s bike system is also limited by community support. “We don’t have the strong bike advocacy that other communities enjoy. We’re not Copenhagen,” says Larson, who bikes to work daily from Pacific Grove. “We live in a community where 90 percent or more drive in cars. So you’re dealing with an infrastructure that is not necessarily balanced.”
ONCE FINALIZED, THE 2007 BIKE PLAN WILL BE ONLINE: CI.SEASIDE.CA.US/BTP.HTML
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||3||
The United States’ international rank in pounds of turkey consumed per capita as of 2005. Israel, at 34.6, and Slovakia, at 31.3, eat a lot more of the big bird than do Americans (16.1). Source: National Geographic, Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nations, Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency.