OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT
It seemed a simple question my brain said I needed to ask.
After being in the middle of San Luis Obispo’s Anholm Bikeway insanity for more than a year, I had the impression the city’s bike planners were … , well, let’s be polite and say “amateurish.”
From the git-go, as they unveiled their “preferred” plans with bike lanes, on-street cycle tracks, two-way cycle tracks, chicanes, wiggles, bulbouts, raised crosswalks, rain gardens, traffic circles, single-lane one-way streets, two-way streets, sharrows, bike boulevards, neighborhood “branding,” and a whole lot of other stuff, it appeared they’d consulted their textbooks and pulled out one of this, two of that, three of something else and tossed it all together like a salad.
It looked like a school-boy project. I’m a teacher, so I should know.
Then, as “plans” advanced with SLO’s bike designers proposing things the world’s best bike planners have denounced as dangerous and unfit for anywhere, the need to ask my brain’s question grew.After the bike tribe, headed by BikeSLO County, the most powerful special interest in town, and their alter ego with the Orwellian name SLO Streets for ALL, whose program would steal half the width of North Broad Street for the exclusive use of a handful of bikers, fell in line with staff’s dangerous designs, repeating, as per their pre-arranged script, that they are “safe,” the question rattled my brain more insistently.
Finally, when SLO’s bike staff publicly dissed critique of a deadly safety problem, by which cars turning left into dozens of driveways – which against the advice of top international planners would cross cycle tracks — requiring what amounts to a “left turn from the right lane of a multi-lane street,” my brain demanded the question be asked. This safety issue is explained below.
What my brain wanted to know: does SLO’s bike staff have any actual experience designing cycle tracks?
So I emailed bike planners Adam Fukushima and his boss, Jake Hudson.
Here’s that e-mail message:
“Adam, I’m curious how many on-street cycle tracks you have designed prior to this one?”
Same message to Hudson.
Fukushima didn’t answer. Hudson did:
“Richard, These are the first cycle tracks that will be designed and installed by the City. The designs will be based on the adopted State guidance, best practices, and standards. Thanks, Jake Hudson”
Hmn. OK. Maybe they’ve had experience elsewhere than in SLO. So I wrote back:
“Thank you Jake. I know that. My question was regarding what is your prior experience with designing tracks. Can you respond to that?”
Soon a reply arrived:
“The City has a variety of types of bike facilities throughout the City. Each one has unique aspects to it but any facility will be based on the adopted State guidance, best practices, and standards. I and my staff’s experience with cycle tracks is through our continued review and research of the State’s development of these standards and guidance since adoption of Assembly Bill 1193 otherwise referred to as the Protected Bikeways Act of 2014. Thanks, Jake Hudson”
OK, I think that means no experience – that “staff’s experience” consists of “review and research,” not design, implementation and post-project performance and safety evaluation. Just to make sure – I wanted to be right about this –, I asked for confirmation:
“Thanks Jake. So it sounds as if you are saying staff, including yourself, have not actually designed cycle tracks before? Is that correct?”
To which I then got a head-spinner copied up the food chain to his boss, Tim Bochum, and Bochum’s boss, Public Works Director Daryl Grigsby, and City Attorney Christine Dietrick:
“Richard, The answer to your last question is no, that is not correct. Given that we have reason to believe that there is a litigation threat related to this project, staff will not be answering any further questions on this matter at this time. Thanks and we look forward to resuming discussion once the threat of litigation has passed or any litigation filed has been resolved. Thanks, Jake Hudson”
Wow! So, if “that is not correct,” what did his previous answer mean?
No matter, we’re apparently never going to get an answer. An attorney who saw this remarked, “Given that some of the potential actions against the city are not affected by any statute of limitation, the refusal to respond to citizen questions could go on for quite some time.” Like forever. Do you suppose that might lead to some litigation?
This new issue, “litigation,” required expansion of my quest for truth. So I addressed attorney Dietrick:
“Dear Ms. Dietrick, Last week I asked Jake Hudson and Adam Fukushima how many cycle tracks they’ve designed, which seems like a perfectly worthy and legitimate question. Hudson answered for the two of them, or rather he refused to answer, seeming to imply that you had told him not to answer.
“Did you do that? If not, fine. If so, why the effort to shut down free flow of legitimate public information? Thanks. Richard”
To which I got another head-spinner:
“Mr. Schmidt, I saw Mr. Hudson’s response, which I believe answered the question you posed completely and directly. As to your question to me, I am not at liberty to share confidential communications with my client or my client’s authorized representatives with parties with whom I do not share attorney-client privilege, so I can’t tell you what I did or did not advise Mr. Hudson. That said, it is never my objective to “shut down the free flow of public information.” My job is to advise and defend the lawful actions of my client, the City. The Council has made a very considered and lawful decision on this matter. Jake is correct that we do have reason to believe there’s a litigation threat. Given that unfortunate reality, I will advise to the best of my ability to support and defend the Council’s decision. That is what I agreed to do when I took my oath as an attorney and accepted my position with the City and it is every attorney’s ethical obligation to his or her clients. Best, Christine”
So there you have it, question answered “completely and directly.” As for the rest, stupid me. I’d imagined someone we citizens pay $290,724.98 (Transparent California) might consider us her clients too.
If you, dear reader, have any idea whether we now know any more about how many on-street cycle tracks staff have designed than before I tried to find out, my brain needs your help.
Now, about that “left turn from the right lane” matter. If you or I tried that, we’d deserve a ticket. But the city’s designing this maneuver into cycle tracks alleged “safe” for 5-year-olds.
Normally when you turn left into your driveway, you watch for oncoming traffic and turn when it’s clear.
Turning left across a two-way cycle track, you must watch for on-coming traffic, on-coming bikes, and also bikes coming up behind you on your left, in your blind spot. Dozens of driveways cross the Anholm cycle tracks, each, in the words of Davis bike planners, a dangerous “unsignalized intersection.”
Experts call this out as a serious safety issue.
At a recent city council meeting, Hudson dismissed the issue as not significant.
It’s stuff like this, over and over again, that makes one ask, “Do these guys have any clue what they’re doing?”
They could have told us what they know, and what they don’t, but they have chosen instead to obfuscate. Does that in itself tell us something important?