A new driver advocacy group in Alameda has mobilized to preserve the status quo on one of the City’s most dangerous corridors. “I Drive Alameda” has distributed flyers across the City’s West End for a petition against a proposed road diet on Central Avenue, accompanied by a six-page manifesto against the project. The group argues that proposed road diets will “cause our traffic network to implode” and “businesses will suffer” as a result. However, a basic understanding of traffic operations on Central Avenue indicates that the claims of I Drive Alameda are inaccurate, unfounded, and deceptive, with the intent of preserving an unsafe status quo. The group has misconstrued the road diet proposal as an attack on drivers, when in reality the City seeks to make the street safer for all users.
For drivers, Central Avenue is a great street. With four lanes and less than 10,000 vehicles a day, it’s easy to race down Central with little obstruction: average speeds are 30-33 mph, exceeding the posted speed limit of 25 mph. If you need to race from one side of the island to the other, Central Avenue is usually a good bet (as long as you can avoid police radar guns).
But Central Avenue is not a great street; it is one of Alameda’s most dangerous. Between 2008 and 2012, 21 people biking and nine people walking were hit by vehicles between Encinal Avenue and Main Street – accounting for 63 percent of the 48 total collisions on the corridor. Because crash severity increases exponentially with speed, collisions on Central Avenue are typically more dangerous than other streets in Alameda. For students walking or biking to the corridor’s multiple schools, or for families accessing Washington Park, navigating Central can be a frightening experience. The City of Alameda recently launched the Central Avenue Complete Streets Study to address these key safety issues.
Road diets offer several benefits:
• Reduced speeding – road diets reduce speeding by eliminating passing lanes and letting the most prudent driver dictate travel speeds.
• Improved traffic flow – road diets eliminate left turn blockages and lane changes, resulting in smoother vehicle flow.
• Reduced conflicts and crashes: road diets in suburban areas reduce crashes by 19-29 percent for all modes. The number of crashes decreases due to fewer conflicts between people driving, biking, and walking – including the elimination of multiple threat crashes.
• Improved environment for walking and biking: by reducing vehicle speeds, improving visibility, and providing bike lanes, road diets make streets more walkable and bikeable.
Fallacy #1: A Road Diet Will Exacerbate Existing and Future Traffic Congestion
I Drive Alameda claims that a road diet will create “absurd” traffic congestion, citing the City’s Level of Service estimates for the corridor after the planned redevelopment of Alameda Point. Level of Service (LOS) is a fundamentally flawed, car-centric metric of estimating congestion that disregards other road users and community priorities (like safety); the State of California recently eliminated LOS standards for these reasons. While traffic congestion is a valid concern, we don’t know if and when these trips will materialize, what routes they’ll take, and how much of a reduction in trips the project’s aggressive transportation demand management (TDM) program will achieve. In essence, I Drive Alameda’s stance is that traffic congestion that does not presently exist should take priority over the safety of present-day Alameda residents, and any additional delay – even a few seconds – is unacceptable. In the unlikely scenario that traffic congestion becomes unbearable, road diets are not necessarily permanent and could always be reassessed in the future. Waiting for future traffic to arrive should not preclude safety improvements today.
Fallacy #2: Alamedans Will Drive Regardless and Central Avenue Should Support Driving
I Drive Alameda argues “Alamedans will drive regardless, and the infrastructure should properly support this mode.” Central Avenue is presently designed in accordance with this automobile-oriented view; however, this claim is not totally accurate. According to the 2012 California Household Travel Survey, 75 percent of all trips to/from/within Alameda were by car, while 25 percent were by walking, biking, and transit. A road diet would still dedicate a majority of street space to driving with three lanes of traffic and two lanes of parking, but would also better serve the one quarter of trips made by other modes.
Fallacy #3: A Road Diet Will Increase Head-On and Broadside Collisions
Contrary to decades of research, I Drive Alameda asserts that a road diet will increase head-on and broadside collisions. Head on collisions will increase, they claim, because drivers will pull around buses stopped at bulb outs. This argument is nonsensical for a number of reasons: first, there is only one bus stop on Central Avenue; second, bus bulb outs have not been proposed; third, there is no evidence of road diets increasing head-on collisions elsewhere in Alameda or in the hundreds of national examples.
Similarly, I Drive Alameda claims that broadside collisions will increase due to decreased visibility from a road diet. Again, these claims are false: there is no evidence that road diets increase broadside collisions; in fact, road diets have been found to reduce broadside collisions because they increase visibility and decrease speeding.
Fallacy #4: A Road Diet Will Eliminate Parking
I Drive Alameda states that a road diet will inevitably remove parking. There is no evidence that this is the case: a road diet is a reconfiguration of lanes of travel, and the city’s design concept would maintain parking on both sides of the street. The only circumstance in which a parking spot could be removed is if there are locations in which parked cars result in dangerously low visibility for pedestrians crossing the street; however, these instances are likely to be limited, and a road diet would already improve visibility of pedestrians relative to the existing design.
Fallacy #5: A Road Diet is Bad for Business
I Drive Alameda claims that a road diet will hurt businesses on Central Avenue because of loss of parking and “absurd” traffic. As shown previously, neither traffic congestion nor loss of parking are certain. Again, these claims also go against the latest research: studies have shown that road diets have little economic impact on local businesses. In some cases like San Francisco’s Valencia Street, improving safety for people walking and biking resulted in more foot traffic and actually increased sales.
Fallacy #6: A Road Diet is Not a Compromise
I Drive Alameda claims that “motorists are being robbed in every aspect” in the road diet design. They point to the conceptual sketch configuration as proof that Central Avenue will be a substandard street. For example, regarding the proposed 11-foot lanes, they write: “For streets that serve [trucks and buses], it is common to provide a minimum of 11-12 feet for travel lanes, if not wider.” This is not true: the AASHTO Green Book defines the standard lane width for an arterial as 11-12 feet, not the minimum; the proposed design is perfectly acceptable. Similarly, I Drive Alameda criticizes the combined width of the bike lane and parking lane and bike lane buffer for exceeding the City’s minimum standards; however, this configuration follows national best practices and benefits both people driving and bicycling because it allows for a greater margin of error and fewer conflicts. I Drive Alameda’s misunderstanding of basic street design principles fuels its belief in a conspiracy against drivers; in reality, all users would benefit from a safer, better organized street with a greater margin for error, fewer conflicts, and less speeding.
Instead of the proposed design, I Drive Alameda argues for sharrows as an “actual compromise.” Sharrows offer little safety benefit to anyone – they do not address the underlying issues of speeding, multiple threat crashes, and conflicts resulting from the differential in speeds between people driving and bicycling. A true compromise includes a comprehensive approach to safety and mobility for all modes based on best practices rather than a perpetuation of the existing unsafe design.
Conclusion: I Drive Alameda Misses the Point
It is clear that I Drive Alameda’s arguments against a road diet on Central Avenue are based on blindly protecting the unsafe status quo without any consideration of facts and data. By asserting “we do not want to be taken advantage of any longer,” I Drive Alameda has sadly taken an ‘us against them’ approach to a road diet, pitting themselves and their ability to drive fast against the safety of their own neighbors walking, biking, and driving on Central Avenue, including children and seniors. Cooler heads and a more reasonable approach are warranted to achieve an outcome that works for everyone.