OPINION by T. KEITH GURNEE
Open letter to Mayor Heidi Harmon and members of the San Luis Obispo City Council:
As long-time residents of what has been one of the nicest neighborhoods in our community—the Anholm neighborhood—we are beseeching you to spare our neighborhood from an action that will diminish the livability and character of where we have lived for 45 years. Transforming Broad and Chorro streets–our local residential streets–into bike highways would be nothing more than an affront to our neighborhood.
Because what my wife and I have to say about the so-called Anholm Bikeway can’t be done within a three-minute snippet of time at the Feb. 6 hearing to be held on this item, we have resorted to writing this letter in the hopes of getting this council to “see the light” in protecting rather than abusing our neighborhood.
Simply stated, our points are these:
1. It’s not needed: Broad and Chorro streets have been shared streets for years that have worked well for both cars and bikes. Drivers and cyclists are well aware that both use our streets and look out for the presence of both. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
2. Please listen to our neighborhood: The Anholm neighborhood overwhelmingly opposed the “preferred alternative.” The city’s own polling showed that the neighborhood favored the Lincoln alignment by nearly two to one. But if you throw in the 19 percent of neighborhood respondents who wanted neither of the two options, 74 percent of the neighbors polled opposed the “preferred alternative” by nearly a three to one margin. Further, the neighborhood as a whole had 363 respondents as opposed to the 292 citywide responses, the latter no doubt bolstered by the bike lobby.
3. It’s not about public safety: A Public Records Act request to the SLOPD recently revealed that there have been no car-on-bike accidents on our local residential streets in the last five years. By contrast, the accidents, including car-bike fatalities, have been occurring on our arterial streets framing our community’s neighborhoods.
Shouldn’t that be where the city should invest in improving public safety? And what about cyclists improving their own safety by actually obeying the traffic laws, stopping at stop signs, wearing helmets, and using lights at night?
4. The “preferred alternative” will exacerbate public safety problems: As presently designed, the “preferred alternative” will almost certainly create rather than eliminate public safety issues. The double cycle track on Chorro Street will introduce tortured wrong way traffic movements to what has been a peaceful and safe residential neighborhood.
5. We can’t afford to lose on-street parking: After approving two major under-parked development projects that have yet to be constructed at Chorro Street and Foothill Boulevard and on Luneta Drive in an area already heavily impacted by student parking, is eliminating seven blocks of on-street parking totaling 70 spaces the answer? Asking my disabled wife to haul groceries home from two blocks away isn’t the answer either.
6. It will negatively impact the serviceability of our neighborhood: Removing parking on one side of the street will dramatically impact the already scarce parking on the other side of the street (we will bring photos to the council meeting to verify this). Where will our mail carriers park? What about where delivery, landscape maintenance, or contractor’s vehicles would park? And where will my daughter and our three grandchildren park when they visit us?
7. It is a misplaced priority for cyclists: If the city truly wants to facilitate bicycle travel and safety, it should focus its energies and dollars on completing the railroad bike trail that would connect Cal Poly with the Edna Valley and serve as a true north-south bicycle highway while minimizing potential conflicts with other vehicles.
8. Don’t follow the mistakes of others: Other cities like Los Angeles and Baltimore have spent considerable funds on installing traffic calming and bike boulevard projects, only to turn around and spend more money undoing those projects in response to overwhelming public opposition. Save yourself, the neighborhood residents, and the taxpayers from this misbegotten project.
9. Emulate those communities that have done the right things with bike boulevards: Consider the Humboldt Avenue Bike Boulevard in the city of Santa Rosa that functions just like Broad Street does today. It has speed tables, contains painted bike symbols on the surface of the street, allows on-street parking on both sides of the street, has boldly painted crosswalks at intersections to remind street users that pedestrians may be nearby, and has stop signs that cyclists actually obey. The neighborhood containing Humboldt Avenue was more than happy to accommodate such improvements, just as the residents of Broad Street are today.
10. It will trash our neighborhood: Our council’s action against using plastic straws is one thing. But why would our SLO City Council want to infuse our neighborhood with bright school-bus yellow plastic “speed pillows” bolted into our streets? Why would the council want to clutter our streets with a continuous line of shiny white plastic pylons marching down our streets? And should our streets become a canvas for the proliferation of fluorescent plastic painted graffiti bristling with public signage? Finally, why would our council want to “uglify” our beautiful neighborhood?
11. This project deliberately bypassed the SLO Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Commission: Why is this? Why empower the Bicycle Advisory Committee– an activist organ of the bike lobby– to be the sole public body in charge of the planning and design of this project? Shouldn’t the SLO Planning Commission be required to review a project that will fundamentally change the functionality of our neighborhood’s circulation system? And shouldn’t the ARC be asked to weigh-in on changing the aesthetics of our public realm improvements? What is this city afraid of? A more balanced assessment of this project?
12: It Represents an imposition of one ideology upon an historic neighborhood: Having lived on Broad Street for as many years as we have, we have welcomed the site of families safely cycling along our street. But retrofitting our historic neighborhoods with a “bikes uber alleys and the neighbors-be-damned” mentality is an act of arrogance that has gone way too far.
13: It is a clear “win-lose” debacle: The all-powerful bike lobby is manipulating your council into furthering its one-sided agenda, regardless of the sentiments of the long-standing residents of this historic neighborhood. If the “preferred alternative” is selected, a powerful special interest group will be the winner and our neighborhood will be the bullied loser at the hands of the SLO City Council. In the process, the bike lobby is alienating neighborhoods in a way that could translate into frustrating the achievement of more reasoned improvements in support of cycling.
14. It represents over-the-top social engineering: That city staff has contrived such a number of alternative concepts based on fallacious assumptions and stiff advocacy by the bike lobby is unfortunate. In the process, city staff has done its contorted backflips to put lipstick on this pig of a project. But one thing hasn’t changed: this project remains a pig.
15. It is a waste of taxpayer’s money: With the city facing the financial crisis portended by the public pension tsunami, why would it spend up to $3 million of valuable public funds on such goofy “improvements” to the detriment of one of the best neighborhoods in the city?
16. Get ready for more street sweeping: At present, that section of Broad Street between Murray and Mission suffers from significant leaf and needle drop in the areas adjacent to the curbs where bikes would be expected to ride. Yet our streets are swept only once per month. Aside from the expense of acquiring special equipment to sweep narrow protected bike lanes, the city will need to pay more personnel to sweep the areas adjacent to curbs on a far more frequent basis. If Broad Street is left the way it is today, cyclists could use the street to avoid the debris of leaf drop, and the city could avoid the additional expense of maintaining protected bike lanes.
So What Should Be Done? The City Council should consider an action that would improve rather than harm public safety and our neighborhood. If limited to only two choices– the “Preferred Alternative” or the “Lincoln Street” option–we would clearly choose the latter. We would prefer that the Council consider the Lincoln St. option, but amended to include the following stratagems:
Improve the safety, functionality, accessibility, and aesthetics of the Chorro Street underpass at Highway 101. This would go a long way towards eliminating a dark and foreboding part of the public realm on Chorro Street.
Consider closing the southbound Highway 101 on and off ramps at Broad Street. While Caltrans might be reluctant to do so, this would dramatically change the amount and speed of traffic on Broad Street while also serving to eliminate the illegal use of Broad Street as a truck route. This would improve the safety of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians who use Broad Street.
Should Caltrans be reluctant to permanently close these on and off ramps, work with Assemblyman Cunningham and State Sen. Monning to temporarily close them to gauge the effects of the closure on traffic patterns in the community. Bicycle advocate Eric Meyer strongly believes in doing this over ramming bike boulevards down our local streets.
Consider providing a curb protected bike lane from the pending new crosswalk at Foothill and Ferrini extending along the south side of Foothill Boulevard in front of the Foothill Shopping Center to Broad Street. This would provide a protected bike lane where a recent car-on-bike fatality occurred while obviating the expense of purchasing right-of-way from the church to build a class I bike path and obviate the need to remove parking from the heavily parking-impacted section of Ramona Street.
Provide painted crosswalks at cross-street intersections on Broad and Chorro streets. This would help serve as a reminder to motorists and cyclists that pedestrians could be nearby, thereby improving pedestrian safety.
Keep Broad Street as it is today. With the exception of possibly closing the on and off ramps to Highway 101, providing painted crosswalks at intersections, and placing the painted letters “BLVD” next to the bicycle symbols on the street, leave Broad Street alone. No plastic speed pillows, no plastic polyps, and no elimination of on-street parking. This is precisely the way the city of Santa Rosa has treated its Humboldt Avenue Bike Boulevard.
Retain all on-street parking on Ramona, Broad, Chorro, Mission, and Lincoln streets. This is essential to the livability and serviceability of our Anholm neighborhood.
Install increased streetlights at key points along Broad and Chorro streets. Elimination of dark spots along Broad, Chorro, and Mission would improve nighttime public safety for all modes of travel.
Install ADA accessible transitions at intersection corners where necessary. This will help the aging population of the Anholm neighborhood immensely.
Concentrate on implementing what should be higher priorities for improving bicycle safety. This would include focusing on completing the rail road bike trail that should be the highest bicycle priority in the community while improving the safety of bike lanes on arterial streets rather than jamming them through local neighborhood streets.
In closing, we appreciate the opportunity to weigh-in on this issue that is of such importance to our neighborhood, to us personally, and to our children and grandchildren who visit us regularly. This is where we have lived and enjoyed most of our lives. Please let us and our fellow residents of the Anholm Tract live out the remainder of our lives in peace rather than in aggravation.