Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

City Council tackles bike lanes, road repairs

All serious bicyclists are Burkeans. All other bicyclists aren’t. That’s why bicycle lanes are worthless.

This truth was revealed again at a most unusual Fresno City Council meeting on May 23.

Permit me to explain.

An action item came before the council. The city’s Public Works Department wanted approval of a $66,010 expenditure. The money was part of the city’s Measure C funds. The money could be spent only on bicycle lanes.

The plan involved a joint venture between the city and Fresno County. At its core was a two-mile stretch of Fruit Avenue between Shaw Avenue and Herndon Avenue.

This stretch of Fruit currently is four lanes, two headed south, two headed north. This area is in northwest Fresno. Much of the surrounding neighborhood is a county island. But not all of it.

About 75% of this two-mile stretch of Fruit is in the county and about 25% is in the city. John Robertson, a senior engineer with the county’s Department of Public Works and Planning, was kind enough on Tuesday to show me the breakdown of this ownership on a map. It’s the darnedest sight. You start your journey with Fruit on both sides of the center dividing line in the county. Suddenly the two lanes on the west side become city property and the two lanes on the east side remain in the county. Then Fruit goes back to being completely in the county. Then the two lanes on the east side fall into the city and the two lanes on the west side remain in the county.

What a jurisdictional mess of geography.

It only gets more complicated.

This stretch of Fruit has two elected representatives looking out for its interests — Steve Brandau on the City Council and Andreas Borgeas on the county Board of Supervisors. Brandau is Borgeas’ successor.

This stretch of Fruit is in varying states of disrepair. The road-repair folks at City Hall and the county recognize this. These folks decided to repair the entire two-mile stretch of Fruit, cover it with a “slurry seal,” do some curb-ramp upgrades, then top it all off with a “road diet.”

“Road diet” is another name for bicycle lanes.

The plan was to reduce this stretch of Fruit from four lanes to three. There would be one lane going north, one lane going south and a center lane for left turns.

On-street parking would be retained. Between the on-street parking and the traffic lanes would be bicycle lanes. You’d have a bicycle lane going north. You’d have a bicycle lane going south.

Workers would use paint on the new slurry seal to indicate all this reconfiguring of traffic expectations.

All this work was to be done through an alliance of the city and county public works departments.

Four revenue streams would pay for all this.

The city would contribute $66,010 of its Measure C/bicycle lane funds. The county would contribute about $200,000 of its Measure C/bicycle lane funds. The county would contribute about $1.3 million of its road-repair money. The city would contribute some of its road-repair money, but the amount isn’t stated in the staff report.

To review: Two miles of road; two different government jurisdictions; two different public works departments; two different elected officials representing the area; two different legislative bodies responsible for the area; two different pots of Measure C/bicycle lane funds to be used only for bicycle lanes; two different pots of road-repair funds; two strategic goals (1. repairs of existing road, 2. addition of brand new bicycle lanes); all this on just one stretch of Fruit.

Whew!

Oops, I forgot something — two dramatically different ideas about what should happen.

We now return to the May 23 City Council meeting.

Brandau said he had serious doubts about the bicycle lanes. Yes, Brandau said, he’s aware that the city in 2010 approved a master plan to add nearly 600 miles of bicycle lanes to city streets.

But hardly anyone rides a bicycle along this stretch of Fruit, Brandau said. Lots of people drive cars on its four lanes, he said.

There’s lots of room on Fruit as it is for cars and the occasional bicyclist, Brandau said. Let’s stay with the status quo until growing bicycle volume demands a change, he said.

About 10 bicyclists protested. In the end, the council voted 4-3 to reject the $66,010 expenditure.

Here’s where things went haywire.

Scott Mozier, the No. 2 executive at the city’s Public Works Department, and the county’s Robertson sat together in the audience throughout the debate. Mozier on occasion went to the public microphone to answer questions.

Mozier is one of the best at City Hall. I mean best in just about everything. He’s a smart engineer, a smart bureaucrat, a smart public speaker in that minefield called the council chamber.

At one point in the debate, Mozier told the council that to kill the $66,010 expenditure (to be spent on things like plan approvals and permits) would be to kill the entire two-part project. Robertson from the audience nodded in agreement.

In other words, to shelve the bicycle lanes and return the two pots of Measure C/bicycle lane funds to their respective bank accounts would be to automatically kill the independently-funded Fruit Avenue repairs that two Public Works departments had determined to be necessary and beneficial to the taxpayers of the City of Fresno and Fresno County.

All seven council members listened to this. They said nothing. I don’t know why.

I thought to myself:

* Doesn’t anyone care that users of this stretch of Fruit won’t get the road repairs that two Public Works departments deemed necessary?

* Where’s the authorization for Mozier and Robertson to unilaterally make this project-killing decision?

* Didn’t anyone on the council worry that their legislative turf might be at stake?

* Why wasn’t the council given two options — Road repairs on Fruit with bicycle lanes or road repairs on Fruit without bicycle lanes?

* Is the Fruit Avenue model to be the model for all future City of Fresno road repairs — Constituents get the repairs only if they agree to administrative decrees based on aging 500-page master plans?

* Is Measure C money with its complex regulations and complex oversight a boon to municipal self-government in Fresno or is it designed to compromise municipal self-government?

I visited the county’s Robertson on Tuesday at his 7th-floor office in the old Del Webb building.

“It was a high-priority bike lane project — that was the driving force,” he said of the Fruit Avenue project.

Robertson said the road repairs aren’t dead forever. They could still happen. But he doesn’t know when. More planning and engineering and bidding must be done.

In other words, more cost.

I thought: That only confirms my initial suspicion. The bike lanes were paired with the road repairs to make it politically unpleasant, if not impossible, for someone like Brandau to mess things up with something as inconsequential as constituent concern.

Robertson’s comment also confirmed my inkling about Measure C money. In many ways, it’s a tail that wags the dog at city halls across the county. This won’t change. A new era in governance has arrived.

I’ve talked with Brandau and Borgeas since the council meeting. They say the road repairs could still happen.

If so, I’m betting bike lanes will happen at the same time.

I don’t understand the concept of bicycle lanes. I don’t understand why riding in a bicycle lane is better than riding the same stretch of road without a bicycle lane.

I used to do a lot of bicycling. In my 20s (some 40 years ago), I rode to Canada (with old Lindsay friend David Demanty). I rode to Chicago via the Southwest to visit an army friend. I’ve biked through New England and the South. I know what it’s like to ride a hundred miles by yourself, sleep on the side of the road, then do it again the next day.

I learned a lot about bicycle touring. I also came across a lot of men and women (some not so young) doing the same thing on the open road.

Sure, roads with wide shoulders were better than roads without wide shoulders. But in the big scheme of what I wanted to do, this was a minor detail. And what I wanted to do was ride my bicycle from Point A to Point B, a journey constantly full of potential trouble.

Experience taught me how to do it. Edmund Burke described the education that comes from experience as “prejudice.”

“Prejudice,” wrote Burke, “is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through past prejudice, his duty becomes part of his nature.”

All veteran touring bicyclists are blessed with the “prejudice” that Burke describes. Bicycle lanes are irrelevant to such riders.

Bicycle lanes aren’t designed for the cyclist I used to be. They’re designed for the cyclist I’ve become.

Somebody who suddenly gets an idea: “Hey, I think I’d like to bike to work.” Somebody with high enthusiasm who plunks down $100 or $150 on a Saturday afternoon for a new bike. Somebody who rides a couple of evenings after work to get in shape. Somebody who rides to work one morning and rides home that night. Somebody who quickly tires of the idea. Somebody who parks his bike in the garage and leaves it there. Somebody who needs a scapegoat to save face. Somebody who tells his better half: “Darn Fresno bike lanes — not enough of them. Sure wish we lived in Davis.”

Take it from a guy who knows what it’s like to ride a bicycle across a fair portion of the Western Hemisphere: Smooth roads and deep cynicism, not special lanes and soft hearts, are a bicyclist’s best friend.

Responses

Howard K. Watkins says:

Steve Branau sure missed the boat on the plan to redo Fruit Avenue. While he focused on bike lanes, he failed to see the real needs of Fruit Avenue north of Shaw. First and foremost is the need for left turn lanes. The number one lanes going north and south constantly bring the main flow of traffic to a halt when one or more cars stop to make a left turn lane. This is especially a problem at Barstow and Fruit. Second, Fruit Avenue between Shaw and San Jose is like a wash board with a series of two-inch high bumps every 20 feet or so.
Steve is my representative on the City Council, he needs to bring this matter back to the City Council for a second look.
One quick note, the City and County staff worked TOGETHER for a good result and the City Council said NO. Where were the City Manager and the Mayor in asking the Council to hold off denying this?

Dan says:

Thank God for the county Transportation Authority board! It ensures Measure C money is spent appropriately. Otherwise it’d end up like the money for the Bus Rapid Transit project may-diverted to pay for the reopening of Fulton Mall to cars. I personally don’t trust the Mayor or the City Council to do what’s right.

John says:

My experience is that two travel lanes, a continuous left turn lane, bike lanes and parking work far better than four lanes, no left turn lane and parking. Traffic tends to stay withing the speed limit, the number one lane doesn’t back up with left turn traffic and the traffic volume is handled. Most people don’t want to put themselves out there with 40 plus mile and hour traffing in the same lane. Going to the store or just a ride shouldn’t have to be such a life risking experience. We have built many of our roads far beyond what is needed to carry traffic 99% of the day. I don’t want to ride cross country just across my neighborhood or across town.

Gene Richards says:

Boy, did Hostetter miss it in this…what…reflection of a mis-spent youth, perhaps? Anyway, the number one priority of cyclists throughout California, the country, worldwide, is separation from motor vehicles, which is primarily, in the US, bike lanes. These simple tools give cyclists legitimacy in the eyes of motorists and…save…lives. Brandau, being an ideologue, only saw what he wanted to see – a chance to shoot down a government project that, to his eyes, had little support. But bike lanes draw cyclists, and, conversely, bad and narrow roads without them push them away. It isn’t surprising that he didn’t see a cyclist in an hour of watching, if in fact that’s what he was doing.

So, I’m wondering what the Bee’s Hostetter was talking about exactly with this retrospective. Is he advocating for less emphasis on bike lanes, or less cycling in Fresno? More asthma from reliance on autos? Or are we going to be seeing him on the road on his bike soon, riding to work?

Robert Allen says:

The City Councilman who said he would support bike lanes on Fruit Avenue after he sees a lot of bike riders might note that infrastructure facilitates, hence should precede, demand.

I like the signs “Fresno is a bike friendly community”. And I like it that there are bike lanes everywhere. It fits my worldview. But I do not think Fresno will ever be like Amsterdam where everyone bikes everywhere. It is too hot; it is too sprawling; it is too dangerous. But really how much does it cost.

Fruit Avenue is not a thoroughfare, never will be. The only traffic is from people in the neighborhood. They will never need four lanes for cars.
But it could be a more pleasant, safer bike ride. And it could be resurfaced sooner except for four (prejudiced against public transit?) City Councilmembers.

Phil says:

I wish the reporting on this issue would have included the following information: In addition to bicycle lanes, a “road diet” also provides benefits to motorists, pedestrians, and the adjacent neighborhood. Cities across the country have found that center turn lanes reduce the number of rear-end collisions compared with 4-lane roads. Pedestrians find 3-lane roads safer to cross than 4-lane roads. Studies show that 3-lane lane roads also reduce the incidence of speeding, which is why neighborhood residents like them. Engineering guidelines say that road diets should only be used on roads having moderate future traffic volumes, a criterion that Fruit Avenue meets.

When the city council — after much citizen participation and expense — adopts a comprehensive plan calling for bike lanes, the citizens should expect that staff will design projects that implement the plan. Plans should not made to sit on the shelf.

Mark Blum says:

George,

Thank you for the added insight on this puzzling vote, but I think you didn’t look far enough. I don’t know Mr. Mozier or Mr. Robertson, and so have no reason to defend them. But I think you unfairly charge that they have “unilaterally (made) this project-killing decision.” I assume that they were merely following the policy set by the existing master plan and the funding limitations imposed by the voters for Measure C. It appears that the project-killing was done by the Council. Did the Council give instructions to return with a different plan?

This project may have been designed this way because of the restrictions on the funds used, not because of “administrative decrees”, and without the use of these fees, no project may be possible without budget adjustments from the Council.

I am puzzled by your opening assertion that bicycle lanes are worthless. As a “serious cyclist” I don’t need a bicycle lane to go where I want to go. But to get others to even try road cycling, I have to start them somewhere.

On visits to family in Thousand Oaks, I have been impressed that the network of bicycle lanes there has fostered a level of tolerance for bicyclists on the roadway that is missing in Fresno. Drivers in Thousand Oaks are accustomed to seeing cyclists on the roadway, and treat them with respect. In turn, cyclists in Thousand Oaks seem to understand that having a place on the road means that they need to obey the rules of the road. Rather than give Mr. Brandau a pass for the bravery to stand up to “political unpleasantness”, you should be asking what alternative he offers beyond simply voting no.

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