Floyd Passes Commission w/ Changes

16 Sep
Bike boulevard with traffic diverters in San Luis Obispo, CA.  From labikas.com.

Bike boulevard with traffic diverters in San Luis Obispo, CA. From labikas.com.

The RTD reports today that the Floyd Avenue bike/walk street (bike boulevard) project has passed the city Planning Commission with changes recommended by the Urban Design Commission.

Those recommendations include reducing the speed limit to 20 mph, reconsidering speed bumps, and taking another look at the intersections east of Boulevard (which I assume means take another look at the possibility of traffic diverters like the one pictured above).  Commissioner Doug Cole was the sole dissenting vote, but voted this way because, as he put it, the plan had been “watered down.”

It is true, from what I understand, that the plan that received majority approval from the Fan District Association no longer included speed bumps or the equivalent, and no diverters, which at select intersections would direct cars onto adjacent streets.  What remained was traffic circles in place of stops signs for east-west traffic, and some curb bump-outs that would narrow the roadway at some intersections (this slows traffic, creates a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross, and helps keep people from parking too close to the corner).

I was not privy to the discussions that led to these changes, but I have to admit that my first reaction was the same as Cole’s.  It’s not hard to imagine that, lacking diverters and other measures to slow traffic, Floyd might become more attractive to automobile through traffic.  That’s why the recommendations of the Planning Commission are really important.

The Politics of Bike Infrastructure

There’s little doubt that the diverters and speed bumps were removed to reduce opposition from area residents.  And some of the meetings about this project revealed some rather vehement opposition.  I know from some meetings on the north side how intense feelings can get about these things, even when the change looks like a win-win.  In a meeting about reducing Brookland Parkway it was clear, for example, that residents would never give up a rarely-used parking lane to make way for a bike lane.  When the alternative of removing a travel lane in each direction was proposed as an alternative, even residents who said they wanted traffic calming came up with all sorts of reasons why it would supposedly lead to disaster.

Which is to say: we are far from bicycle infrastructure enjoying wide enough popular support that politicians don’t worry about blacklash.  That was and continues to be the case in other cities as well, although the lack of disasters tends to dampen opposition over time once you actually get some lanes on the ground.

But to get those lanes or whatever on the ground initially you need decision-makers who are really behind the effort and willing to confront some grumpy voters.  Although the relevant council members for the Floyd project have generally expressed support, it’s not clear to me that all of them would have supported a robust version of the plan in the face of major opposition, especially from the civic associations.  It’s easy to support bike infrastructure as a general idea; it’s another thing to push for a project in the face of vocal opposition.  And although the mayor deserves credit for getting the ball rolling with bike infrastructure in the first place, he has focused his attention and political capital elsewhere.  So bicycle advocates are left with few fully committed allies in powerful positions, and some fairly powerful enemies.

Good or Bad Compromise?

So what does one do?  My first inclination is to push for the best infrastructure possible — the kind that will make it easy and comfortable for, say, families to use bikes to get around the city.  Then there are the political realities of the city that make the ideal very hard to achieve, especially in the sort term.  The cliché is that politics is about the art of compromise, so the question becomes what compromises are acceptable, especially if you’re thinking long-term?

I really hope that city council passes a robust Floyd Avenue plan.  It will probably not be an ideal bike boulevard.  But it will be a first for the city — a start that could be made better over time.  Taking a strategic and long-term view, I think that is better than waiting, who knows how long, for everything to align in favor of the ideal.



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