Bicycle use and its role in the urban planning process

bike_lanes_fallAt the risk of this writer being barred from residing within 200 yards of a public school, can we have a sane discussion of bicycles and their future role in the urban planning process? It seems that at virtually every public planning forum, as a “green alternative”, cycling is treated like an entity akin to “holy water”.

This is not to say bicycle transport should be ignored and cast aside. The main use of this type of transport are limited to: (1) School age children under 14, (2) Recreational users including families (3) Those who ride bikes out of necessity because they can not afford a car (4) Environmentally sensitive young adults who are trying to avoid the use of fossil fuels.

All of these groups are important yet at the same time are not a driving force in propelling the economy. It is agreed every effort should be made to encourage safe passage for those who utilize bicycles for their travel. What must be determined is how much importance should be placed in promoting this form of transit in cities as part of their blueprints for the future.

Virtually every community in Contra Costa County is dealing with the bike issue. Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Concord etc., have heavily invested, in conjunction with the East Bay Parks District, in a series of paths connecting cities; the most prominent being the Iron Horse Trail, which connects cities along the 24-680 South corridor. These largely recreational roads have proven to be a major success and quality of life asset that most people want to expand on. The question is what are the next steps that should be taken and how this will effect the traffic flow of the carious communities involved?

At a recent meeting of Concord’s Downtown Ad Hoc Steering Committee, it was proposed by the group’s consultants that major traffic arteries such as Clayton Road and Galindo, give space, currently utilized by motor vehicles, to accommodate more bicycle lanes. This idea was vehemently objected to by many individuals including several members of the Concord Planning and Design Review Boards.

It was pretty much agreed to that it is not a good idea to create more congestion during crowded commute times by taking precious space away from automobile traffic. Instead, it was suggested that alternate routes for bikes and pedestrians be created to encourage people to leave their cars at home and improve public safety.

The Association of Bay Area Cities (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) put particular emphasis on increased bicycle and walking in its Draft Bay Area Report released in March 2013. As part of its voluntary measures to “reduce deaths from exposure to particulate emissions” and course emissions by 30%, they want to increase the use of non-motorized transport. What better way to do this than have people leave their cars at home.

In keeping with this objective, ABAG and the MTC intends to concentrate the construction of infill, “stack and packing” housing near transit hubs. However, even these “green organizations” realize the limitations of bike usage in congested urban settings as my stint as a bicycle messenger on the “Streets of San Francisco” as a teenager will attest.

Instead, in highly populated urban settings, ABAG and the MTC wants automobile use to be limited to 26% trips taken away from residences by encouraging the use of public transportation. With this in mind most of the 57 billion of discretionary funds in the One Bay Area Plan are earmarked to subsidize the construction of infill housing and public transport agencies. Large concentrations of people in the San Francisco -San Jose corridors are the main recipients of these government funds.

Aside for building the light rail extension from Pittsburgh to Brentwood and some high occupancy(HOV) traffic lanes, the residents of Contra Costa County are getting the “short end of the stick” from ABAG and the MTC’s future plans. These agencies have pointed out that the county should be grateful for the tax dollars made available for construction of the 4th bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. However, it should be noted that he money was allocated to this project long before the One Bay Area Plan was concocted.

Contra Costa is being pushed into a corner where our future gas tax dollars are being diverted for use in other communities. We are being asked to put our “pedal to the metal” while our neighbors are receiving subsidies from the Sate of California thru ABAG and the MTC. This is yet another example of the government trying to pick the winners and losers in our society.

Even with this being the case does not mean that improving the access of pedestrians and bike traffic to business districts should not be encouraged. In Concord’s case ideas have surfaced including (1) building bicycle lanes on less congested streets that run parallel to major traffic arteries (2) Constructing a pedestrian/bike strip that runs in close proximity to the BART track thru Concord. (3) Strategically located racks in the downtown to encourage the use of bicycles when shopping and attending functions at Todos Santos.

My point is that two wheeled conveyances should be encouraged in every way possible to promote this form of transportation. At the same time we need to be realistic and understand that only a limited number of people will abandon their cars in favor of more healthy alternatives.

In addition, the use of bicycles, for the most part will take place when weather conditions are favorable. Don’t expect people to be hopping on their two wheelers when it is raining, cold, or the thermometer hovers over 100 degrees. We just cannot count on “Goldie Locks” climatic conditions to determine traffic flow in the city.

During the time when communities plan for their futures, various organizations and special interests lobby hard to have their viewpoints implemented. Whether the groups seek to aid the homeless, build low income housing, raise the tax base with new business development, increase public transport, or promote bike use (to name a few) the overall interests of the residents need to be considered first.

Easier said than done.


~ The views expressed by the author are his own and are not the official opinions of the City of Concord on its Measure Q or Ad Hoc Steering Committees on which he serves.

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8 thoughts on “Bicycle use and its role in the urban planning process”

  1. Considering the epidemic of obesity in this country it would be prudent for all to get on a bike. Let’s give up our dependency on motorized vehicles and create a dependency on healthy lifestyles. Healthy lifestyles means getting off the couch, out of the car, and move. What better way to do it than to get on a bike.

    Open your eyes going around Contra Costa. More and more people are on bikes whether rain, shine, cold or heat. We need more bike lanes!

    In Europe countries like the Netherlands when planning roads incorporate bike lanes as part of their roads. I believe they don’t have an epidemic of obesity in their population.

    Give up the car. Get on a bike. You’ll be healthier and happier!

  2. I’m a 50 year old San Francisco man who bikes to Bart and then takes my bike to work in Oakland. I do it for exercise and convenience, so I don’t have to wait for the bus to Bart, or sit in traffic in my car. At the end of the day I ride my bike around lake Merritt for exercise before heading to west Oakland Bart station. I don’t believe I fall into any of the categories you’ve listed. Unfortunately I don’t feel safe riding in the streets of Oakland, but not because of crime. It’s because there are no bike lanes, except for around the lake. On other streets, drivers honk and cut me off because there are no indications that they should share the road.

  3. I use my bike almost exclusively on a day-to-day basis to get to and from downtown Concord, but getting anywhere else in town is quite a pain because of the lack of bike paths. I love the Canal Trail and the Iron Horse Trail, but to get to each of them I have to travel on roads where cars are pushing me into the curb almost constantly. And even downtown there are no bike racks! It may seem that there are only certain types of people who cycle, but I believe that there would be a lot more in Concord if it were safer and easier. I’d rather not travel on busy roads, but at the moment there are few alternatives. Thanks for the article!

    1. Dear Emily

      I agree with most of your concerns with adding more bike paths in Concord and improving safety for this mode of transportation. Recently, I barely avoided having accidents with cyclists on Clayton Road. It scares me.

      The overriding theme in my article was that bikes play an important role in our community but this role must be tempered by other factors that contribute to overall traffic planning.

  4. At the April 23, 2013 Pleasant Hill Planning Commission meeting (, a presentation was made regarding that city’s recently-completed Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory sponsored by PG&E. Because this inventory shows that 74% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation-related sources – 55% of which are attributable to the presence of the 680 freeway running through the city – residents and the city have negligible control over GHG emissions levels.

    From a big picture perspective, the consultant from Quantum Energy Services and Technologies, Inc. (“QuEST”) stated that new auto manufacturing standards are the long-term “fix” to reduce greenhouse gases. But what can Pleasant Hill residents do in the meantime, to meet the emissions standards mandated by AB 32?

    The consultant’s answer: Have people ride bikes; expand your city’s bus system; and develop housing around mass transit.

    In sum, it’s just Pleasant Hill’s tough luck that it has the 680 freeway crossing through its city, at what one Planning Commissioner described as a “transportation chokepoint” where freeway traffic clogs up before hitting the Hwy 24 interchange. The reality is Pleasant Hill cannot control the traffic on Hwy 680, nor can it change the driving habits of its residents, many of whom are unable to use buses or ride bikes.

    Oh, and the QuEST consultant also noted a drawback of the SB 375’s push to integrate housing development with mass transit: More traffic collisions are expected, due to increased pedestrian and bicycle activity on roadways.

    Guess that’s what you’d call an unintended consequence.

  5. Bike lanes on Clayton Road and Galindo would be a senseless killing field.

    The truth is the evidence for the Global Warning hysteria is falling apart.

    – Green Europe is saying “to hell with” economy killing carbon credit trading schemes.

    – Warming adherents now are backing off climate alarmist psuedo science and useless climate models .

    – Urban planners’ arguments against Suburbia don’t match up to reality.

    Despite the arm twisting by ABAG, the Concord Ad Hoc Steering Committee should check in with reality and realize that all the reasons Californians were given for passage and implementation of economy destroying AB 32 are simply not true, and stop playing along with bad planning and social policy.

    Stop the madness. Cars and bikes do not belong together unless you are in a third world country like China, the world’s sole supplier of bird flu.

    But if we keep on the the path of Climate alarmism and the false, self-righteous vision of government mandated new urbanism, we will be living in a third world nation and need bikes. But by then there will be no cars on the road not used by the police state.

    1. We could compromise by riding scooters and motor cycles causing less pollution per mile per driver and we could make the consequential collisions more dramatic with less of a survival rate so as to reduce long term medical costs. A Win Win.

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