The city's contractors are now implementing the next phase of the "Commercial Street" program, with protected parklets on Park Street and unprotected bike lanes on Webster Street.

Unprotected bike lanes on 4 blocks of Webster Street

Here's Alameda resident (and professionally trained engineer/planner) Ken Der cycling in the new bike lanes striped on four blocks of Webster Street:

For a more thorough review of the changes on Webster, see also Der's article in the Alameda Post.

In May of 2023, I pre-judged this project by writing:

This blog post has been almost entirely about Park Street because the plans for Webster Street are... well... pretty sad.
The good news is that the proposal retains the road diet of auto "thru" lanes for this handful of blocks at the very core of Webster.
The bad news is that the proposed Class II unprotected bike lanes look like they will be almost useless. For much of their length, cyclists will be mixing with auto traffic. Unfortunately, this is probably a firm constraint of the ways that AC Transit buses need access to their current boarding islands.
But even worse is that these bike lanes cover so few blocks of Webster and connect so few adjoining low-stress cycling routes. Santa Clara Avenue, to the east, is the only adjoining street with bike lanes.
Let's be real: To be successful, bike lanes on Webster Street should probably extend from Central Ave up to Atlantic Ave (to connect to the Cross Alameda Trail). Could that happen as part of this re-striping plan? I have no idea. But if city staff are not seriously studying this now, I hope they can start right away for the next phase of improvements to the Commercial Streets program.

Der's ride on video looks better than I feared. No doubled parked cars visible — that's good!

Still, this doesn't pass the test for me of "would you let your kids bike here?" There are enough cars turning right at intersections, enough AC Transit buses pulled into their boarding platforms, and nowhere to go once you reach the northern end of the bike lane at Lincoln Ave.

And zooming out, even with the addition of these 4 blocks of bike lanes on Webster, the West End still lacks a north/south connection for cyclists that is safe, comfortable, and complete.

Protected parklets on Park Street

Over on the East End of Alameda, this afternoon I watched city contractors begin to place decorative concrete barricades around an initial parklet:

This one isn't actually on Park Street — it's on the side street of Pacific Ave, serving the Preacher's Daughter restaurant:

aerial image (C) Google

Each one of the barricades weights 1,225 pounds and is reinforced with welded steel rebar. They are being placed around the entire perimeter of each parklet. That is, they are being placed assuming motor vehicles could ram the parklet at speed from any direction.

This strong, effective protection — with its tasteful green color — will help reduce Alameda's annual rate of people injured or killed in parklets from zero down to... zero!

Please excuse my sarcasm. To the best of my knowledge, two to three parklets have been somewhat structurally damaged by motorists over the entire multi-year time of the Commercial Streets program, but no actual people have been injured.

Concrete for parklets, paint for cyclists

What a striking contrast between the extreme protection afforded to these Park Street parklets— concrete — and the level of protection afforded to cyclists on Webster Street — paint.

I previously wrote about Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer's strategy of drilling down into safety concerns about parklets and insisting on these barricades, likely as a way to sabotage the entire Commercial Streets endeavor.

But this is a challenge more broadly for Alameda's City Council and when engaging the broader public in transportation safety.

Just as we may fear the plane flight more than the drive to the airport — when the statistics strongly suggest that the latter is significantly more dangerous on average in America — we also seem to collectively operate with a strange mix of emotions, assumptions, and implicit priorities around traffic safety.

Somehow the parklets as a novel addition to the local landscape demand safety improvements — new forms of crashes could happen to unsuspecting diners, I guess. In contrast, unprotected bike lanes are seen as "traditional" — a cyclist who gets injured by a car already knew what they were getting themselves into, I guess.

Now it's time to measure performance, to prepare to make the next round of decisions

Instead of stories about transportation safety, we need more statistics. Numbers can't tell us fully what to do. What they can do is point us toward the streets, the intersections, the situations, and the subsets of our population who would benefit the most from transportation safety improvements. Numbers can help us to best allocate limited time and budget. And numbers can motivate us to collectively make decisions that may feel more politically challenging but are actually more precisely targeted at the overall goals we can agree on.

At its June 21, 2023 meeting, the city Transportation Commission momentarily debated whether to ask staff to start studying extending the unprotected bike lanes on Webster Street as far north as Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway. They (I wasn't on the TC at that time) eventually agreed that staff were likely already at capacity (which is all too true!), so that request didn't make it into the final motion. In their final motion, TC members did pass up to City Council a request that staff prepare an "evaluation plan that included qualitative and quantitative data and public outreach."

Even if I'm critiquing this phase of the Commercial Streets program, I'm also eager to see what real evaluation results looks like. Statistics on auto speeds, cyclist and pedestrian counts, parking occupancy, and (likely) injuries (but hopefully not deaths) will all be useful to understand how that medium-sized portion of Park Street and how that small-sized portion of Webster Street are actually performing in the everyday mess of reality.

These stats can help to inform the next round of decisions: Should bike facilities be extended further up Webster Street? Should Park Street and/or Oak Street have more permanent bike facilities on the East End? How can these bike facilities be designed to be comfortable for children on bikes — rather than as loading zones for DoorDash drivers? Do Alameda's businesses and commercial-property owners want to attract more customers with rebuilt sidewalks and permanent outdoor dining areas, like many other Bay Area business districts have done? Where should we put what time and money is available to most effectively increase transportation safety on and around Alameda's streets?

The future of walking, biking, and dining on Alameda's two main drags: Part II