On May 4, Bike Davis hosted a Candidates Forum to address transportation issues at the US Bicycling Hall of Fame. The Bike Davis Board prepared four questions, two of which were provided to the candidates in advance of the forum. The Candidates were informed that their responses to these two questions would be posted to the Bike Davis website. The transcript of the candidates’ responses follows.
Question 1. Ten foot lanes
Representatives of the League of American Bicyclists have noted in public comment at the Council meeting two years ago on April 15 that many cities have found that the optimum automobile lane width for streets that work for everyone is ten feet. Most travel lanes in Davis are 11 or 12 feet, and these encourage faster driving. City staff has now begun to stripe with ten foot lanes on some of the newly paved, re-striped streets. How would you support continued use of ten foot automobile travel lanes in Davis in order to make cycling safer and more comfortable for its more vulnerable users?
Lucas Frerichs: There’s a variety of parts to this. First of all, in order to achieve Diamond level status from the League of American Bicyclists, we’re going to need to do a much better job implementing our Beyond Platinum Plan, which in part deals with lane widths, among many other issues as well. We are starting to, on East 8th Street, we did incorporate the ten foot width lanes and that’s something that we need to, as we’re doing all this road work around town and continually doing that, we need to make sure we are following these types of street standards and making sure it’s uniform across the city. The other item that was part of our Transportation Element update a few years ago is the streets standards issue, an item which is currently on our ‘to be scheduled’ long range calendar. It even came up last night as well; Robb brought it up near the end of the Council meeting, and we’re going to make sure that we prioritize it coming up in the next couple of months and have a major discussion on it. But also I think there’s probably support, at least the current members of the council, and we’ll see about a future council, about making the standard practice of ten foot lanes across the city. Another part of this, of course, has to do with the issue of green waste containerization, which is coming this summer, thankfully citywide. And, of course, then the enforcement of the green waste containerization is also going to be another issue. But, then the last part is resources, dollars. The city, thankfully, is in a position right now where we have a little extra wiggle room, money wise, particularly for some of the infrastructure needs that we’ve been working on. We’ve been putting a lot of money into roads, but we’re going to also see the council double down on putting money into bike lane infrastructure and re-striping.
Brett Lee: I’m going to take a slightly different take on this – that’s the advantage of being an incumbent, you actually have a record. What strikes me about this question is that it’s even being asked. For those of you who have been advocating for this, there are several of you in the room, it’s not that big a deal. But, for whatever reason, for city staff it is a big deal, right? I mean the reality is, council support this. There seems to be a misunderstanding within our city, and this is a realization that’s come to me probably in the past couple of months as I’ve reflected about my time on the city council. So something like this has been brought up, and it’s been fought over. It was fought over regarding the 5th Street re-design, you know you’re fighting over ten and half, ten and three quarters. City staff doesn’t really get it, and this might be controversial, but it’s statement of fact. The city council sets policy, the city manager is there to implement it and see that staff carries that out. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to happen in our city, staff does their own thing. Not long ago I was on the other side, trying to get some of these things done, and you hit these brick walls with staff members. The first year on this job, you try to give them the benefit of the doubt and just try to find your way. But I’ve reached the point now where this consumes our time, your time and ten and half-ten feet, let’s just say what it is and on any street that’s either re-paved or re-striped, that’s what it is unless there’s an exception that rises to the Bicycle Transportation Street Safety (Commission) or some other higher entity, but the default is ten feet or ten and a half and we don’t have this question. This is not controversial. And that’s where I come down on this – the fact that we’re having this conversation is not so much about street widths, it’s about dysfunctional city government.
Will Arnold: I’d simply echo what Lucas and Brett have said about this issue. Certainly, it’s something I’m in favor of seeing implemented in Davis. In fact, I’m in favor of moving beyond Platinum and doing what we have to do to do so. Getting the debris out of bike lanes is probably the harder lift, though, no pun intended, folks. That’s seen a lot of controversy and complaint about it. People seem to have some emotional attachment to the claw that picks up your leaves; that I don’t quite get. I’m actually looking forward to being able to use it (the compost bins) for kitchen scraps along with yard waste. And, the fact that it gets that debris out of the bike lanes, thus making them effectively bigger, but a lot safer is something that I’m a big proponent of and that’s how I’d explain to folks who do have qualms about it. But, with regard to ten foot lanes, I think, like Brett said, that ought to be an easy one. Granted, we don’t have the funds to go ahead and re-stripe all our streets at once, but we are doing some major road repairs now and going forward, and that should be a piece of that, as we’re re-paving them and re-striping them, making them the ten foot. The one question I’ve heard about that is worth exploring is that the Unitrans buses are ten feet wide, meaning their big old mirror is going to be jutting out into the other lane of traffic and into the bike lane. I’m not sure what can be done about that, but we ought to pay attention to it because I would hate to see somebody on a bike get hit by one of those Unitrans mirrors being driven by a student. Long story short, this one, like Brett said, ought to be an easy one for the council.
Matt Williams: I feel the same way Brett does. There’s isn’t any reason why this should be happening in the city. The staff doesn’t get it. I’m not a bicycle rider, that’s a personal choice, but I understand exactly why ten feet lanes make sense, you’re slowing traffic down, you’re contributing to the overall safety of everybody who’s on the road, you’re contributing to the safety of the bicyclists, you’re contributing to the safety of the car drivers. Part of what we need to do, as Brett said, the policy coming down from the council that says to the City manager, to whom all staff report, ten is the standard, and it’s for good reason. We’re not ad hoc creating this, it’s the standard, we’re building on the industry standards to create the best possible environment. It may be that we do education with staff, but it also means that some due diligence needs to be done when new projects are happening that human nature doesn’t revert back to what, for one reason or another, with their car-centric approach, they think that ten doesn’t make sense, that you need more for the cars. The reality is that ten creates the safest environment for all Davis citizens.
Question 2 – Green waste piles
Last year Council passed a modified green waste ordinance (32.01.090.a.3) that states, in part, “No yard refuse piles shall be placed or maintained in any part of a bicycle lane.” In order for the Davis Police Department to enforce this part of the law, all bike lanes must be clearly delineated with a painted line not only on the left side, but also on the right side. There are roughly 18 miles of bike lanes on arterials and collector streets in Davis. How would you support funding this important transportation project?
Brett Lee: We’re fortunate this year in that we do have some extra funds, tax revenues were higher than previously planned for. So, there’s a fair amount of extra funds. I think what we want to make sure we do, going back to the last question and tying into this one, the goal is not necessarily to narrow the car lanes, but to better design our streets. The default should be, and we need staff to be responsive to this, not just to nod their heads, but to truly be responsive. When we have the opportunity to have a protected bike lane, let’s take it. The default should be how do we get connected by bike lane on this section. And, if we can, we should move forward. It’s not just the width of the car lane, it’s what we do with the streets in general. The most current thinking is that protected bike lanes are the way to go, encouraging increased ridership. Going back to the Beyond Platinum, the Diamond, certification, where we’re going to struggle is really ramping up the ridership. I don’t remember the exact number, but DK talked about it, it’s a very ambitious goal. So, we need to different things than what we’ve been doing. Let’s look at the street segments where we already have the opportunities. For other areas, yeah, it’s a simple striping question, but there are funds. It’s just a question of how we prioritize them. I think ultimately, though, we should really focus on the arterials and collectors and see what we can in terms of protected bike lanes. As far as some of the other, smaller, streets, probably a lower priority. But, I think we could see some really big changes in terms of the pleasantness and the overall increases in ridership with some reasonable, but actually very meaningful, changes.
Will Arnold: The implementation of this change to containerization is going to require, I think very importantly, communication and education among the citizenry at large. Folks in this room, I imagine, are very familiar with the issue, and likely have been advocates of it, not just supporters, once they found out about it. But, we don’t make up the majority of folks in town. Most folks probably don’t know what’s going to happen until they get the new container, or really don’t know what it’s all about. And that piece is going to be key. They’re going to get the new container, whether they like it or not. So, it’s going to show up, and they’re going to have to figure out what goes into the container, but past that the onus is going to be on us. I don’t just mean us up here, but you folks as well, who are familiar with the issues, who are familiar with the benefits of moving away from having debris in our streets, and communicating to them why this move was taken in the first place and how best to use it to keep our bike lanes for their intended purpose, which is for folks to travel. It’s been a long time coming, by the way. I remember when we would have family come and visit us, and they would see the piles of stuff in the yard, and they would say, “What is that? What’s that about?” They hadn’t had that in their entire lifetime, and we’re just moving to it in 2016, which is kind of odd. But, the education/communication piece is key not just for the four of us up here, no matter who gets elected, we’re still going to be key communicators of these policies to the citizenry at large, but for all of us who are advocates.
Matt Williams: This problem exists now – green cans are coming in the future. I happen to have been, when I moved here in 1998, in one of the neighborhoods that had green cans, so I have more than 16 years of experience using green cans. But, the reality is, that this problem can’t just sit on the back burner until we get green cans. How do we know we have 18 miles of striping? Well, we have a police volunteer who goes out, gathers data, and communicates with the citizens and sees where the places where the existing behavior by the residents is not being considerate, that the piles are encroaching on the bike lane. Where we’re failing is that we’re failing in terms of two things. One, the education of those people who repeatedly make the same mistakes. It’s okay to make a mistake once, but try not to make the same mistake again and again. The reality is that some of the people who are encroaching, encroach on a very regular basis. What we need to do is to create some sort of incentive for them to stop that anti-social behavior. The best way to do that is to have the police enforce, but the reality is that the police are uncomfortable enforcing, so we’ve ended up with a police volunteer identifying the 18 miles where stripes would help. I don’t think that spending $100,000 to stripe 18 miles of road, and then probably re-striping them every two years, re-painting them, so let’s say it’s $50,000 every other year – I’m on Finance and Budget (Commission), and I think there are better ways to use that. So, what I think we should do is say to the police, “The striping cost is your cost. Either enforce it, and don’t have to stripe the streets, or pay for that $100,000 out of the police budget.”
Lucas Frerichs: We’ve had some amount of green waste containerization taking place over the past year and, in some cases, over the past several years. I live on B Street, and we’ve had both no parking on B Street for around six months and also green waste containerization in the entirety of B Street. So, I’ve been getting, sort of, to be one of the guinea pigs across the city in the implementation as the green waste containerization program rolls out. But, 5th Street and 8th Street, 8th Street for many, many years has had containerization. Overall, it’s been really great. There have been a couple of issues, though. The green waste containerization coupled with no parking along the length of B Street has resulted in increased speeds. That’s anecdotal, but city staff are getting ready to put in, further up toward 12th and that area, some speed markers or devices to try to gauge the speeds. So, that’s one issue. The other item is we’ve had some issues with the containers not necessarily getting picked up by DWR because they are not green containers – they’re gray with brown lids. There may ultimately be green containers, but I think the plan is for gray containers with brown lids, so ultimately they are mistaken for garbage cans, and they’ve not been picked up. We’ve had to call and try to get them traded out, and so on. The other issue is that enforcement is key, and we’ve got to get the police department to feel more comfortable in doing the enforcement on some of the piles out there. Re-striping can certainly happen now. We have a city budget reserve currently of 27%, instead of our traditional 15% reserve, so we currently have a little bit of flexibility and I’d be willing to put some of that money into re-striping now. We’ll have those conversations in the coming months as part of the process.
(This article was submitted by a reader)