San Luis Obispo’s streets and walkways are becoming more hazardous

January 18, 2022

Opinion by KEN HERRMANN

Simple and safe? Not in San Luis Obispo.

Have you noticed changes as you move around in SLO lately? There are a lot of them! The city has done some repaving and realigning of roadways, and parking changes that, from what I have seen and heard, are making near everyone shake their heads, and not in a nod of approval.

We must first acknowledge the construction of these “improvements.” It was, and is being, done very well. Over the years I have worked with a few of the contractors involved and they continue to demonstrate a diligence to the job, which is a credit to the industry. After that, there are issues.

Below is a collection of some of the issues on the street (I probably missed a few).

At the intersections of Hutton, High and Nipomo streets, children are not taught the cycling “rules of the road” but are guided to and “protected” in wrong-way lanes that collect and dump them in road centers away from safe intersection crossings, and all other traffic is pinched into narrowed roadways.

Suburban Road has lost both a vehicle left turn lane into Food 4 Less shopping center, and a clear through-lane east, in favor of traffic congestion and an extremely overlong left-turn bike lane to Higuera Street.

The Froom Ranch at Los Osos Valley Road (Costco / Home Depot) intersection now has narrowed roadway approaches and squared corners (that minivans hit, let alone trucks) which force adjacent lane intrusions. Additionally, bikes are now directed into narrow turns through pedestrian areas and into vehicle blind spots. The road surface traffic lane bike accommodations have been removed.

On Higuera Street below Nipomo Street, cyclists are now being directed to confined spaces that are: uncleaned by street equipment, beset by pedestrians from both sides, threatened by car doors and passenger off-loading and deliveries, and where side-slopes are reverse superelevations (the opposite of normal banked curves) of an 8% plus grade – far exceeding the standard recommended maximum of 2% for bikeways.

To move left to a store, or turn, bikes must “pop” into unsuspecting car traffic from a blind spot (like bicycle whack-a-mole). Motor vehicle driveway entrances place bicycles in vehicle blind spots, and exits place vehicles crossing, or standing, in bike paths. This design disallows safe “on-the-move” traffic merges by bicycles.

Prior to the Higuera, Marsh street highway on-ramp, lane restrictions and an overlong bike merge lane from a “blind” confined space produce unneeded vehicle congestion and conflicts.

On Orcutt Road at the tracks, a bicycle rider using the “shared” sidewalk, which contradicts good design, can receive a Municipal Code Violation ticket from the city.

The Main Post Office corner now combines pedestrians, a two-way bike path, a through bike path, a vehicle turn lane, a parking lot exit and multiple designated street crossing zones. This intersection once had one corner sidewalk, two crosswalks, a vehicle turn lane, and a lot entry. Congestion and interactions here have been increased dramatically – nearly doubling – and include a property exit at a corner that is seldom an advised situation.

The entire Madonna Road at Dalidio intersection has become more complicated for all traffic with no right turn lane to the park, corner monuments of concrete constricting travel, mixing of pedestrians and bicycles, and increased crossings of the park entrance.

Throughout the new Dalidio development, street level bike accommodations are poor, while conflicts with future pedestrians on “shared” ways will be high.

On Marsh Street, below Nipomo Street and above Santa Rosa Street, parking has been shifted into the road, while bikeways are moved to curbside. These realignments, not unlike Higuera Street below Nipomo Street, increase unsafe bicycle, pedestrian, delivery, and motor vehicle interactions through a mixing of uses in spaces once clearly separate.

Traffic lane widths have also been reduced at many “improvements” throughout the city causing congestion through conflicts. Drivers exiting vehicles also have less space to do so safely.

There are now railroad tracks on Foothill Boulevard at Ferrini Street and on Broad Street at Woodbridge Street (two horizontal flashing red lights). Have you heard or seen the trains? Me neither. Non-standard signaling suddenly turning on, has and will continue to confuse people. This could easily have been a standard green to red configuration with warning lamps to the side streets.

Roundabouts (Tank Farm Road) do not support bicycles in the lanes, as allowed by the California Vehicle Code. The “shared path” roundabout at the Laguna Lake Park, Lakeside Trail connection to Madonna Road serves little purpose and demonstrates a ridiculous waste of time and concrete.

While the “shared” path along Madonna Roads ‘Hotel Row’ does not meet minimum design criteria by actually ignoring strong design suggestions and guidance in numerous transportation agency documents, it also presents an unusual, and potentially litigious, situation for the city. A ticket for a Municipal Code Violation may be issued to those riding a bike on this new “shared path” (SLO MC 10.72.100, “No person shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk.”). The road surface bike lane has been removed in this area.

A similar ticket, for a Vehicle Code violation, may also be issued while walking on the new “shared path” along the front of Laguna Lake Park (CVC 21966, “No pedestrian shall proceed along a bicycle path or lane where there is an adjacent adequate pedestrian facility.”).

Note: the preexisting paved park trail had no use, nor user, designation, it was just a park trail. The use of the road surface bicycle lane has been compromised in this area, and the street-side pedestrian sidewalk is compromised by the entry of bicycles at both ends.

Whew! That’s enough for now.

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Each design point listed above violates safe design principals described by at least one of the following: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the California Department of Transportation – Highway Design Manual (CalTrans), the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CAMUTCO), and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

Whether from a federal, state or organizational planning document, while pointing out suggestions, considerations or guidance, the only consistent rule of these documents is the promotion of comfort and a reduction of conflicts for all users. Most also note the unreliability of bicycle collision statistics if not based entirely on local conditions and interactions for, nation-wide, reporting systems are largely lacking in localized contextual data.

The keep it simple – stupid  method (KISS), is used as an admonition to emphasize that the simpler a project or design is, the easier it is to implement, physically maintain, and with less opportunity to mess it all up. Are these designs KIS, or KISS?

These new designs add at least two physical elements, and maintenance issues, to every location. Cyclists routinely are now being forced to travel in confined spaces with minimal escape routes and three or more new potential conflicts.

One clear point is that, throughout the myriad of traffic guidance documents, conventional bike lanes sharing the road surface with motor vehicles is a highly utilized and often the preferred design.

Conventional bike lanes: “Increase bicycle comfort and confidence on busy streets, create separation (non confined) between bicyclists and automobiles, increase predictability of bicyclist and motorist positioning and interaction, increase total capacities of streets carrying mixed bicycle and motor vehicle traffic, and visually reminds motorists of bicyclists ‘right to the street,’ ” according to the NACTO urban bikeway design guide.

All of these new designs remove bicycles from traffic, and out of the view of motor vehicles, and then inject them back into traffic at inopportune times. This is called “weaving-in-and-out-of-traffic” and can be a ticketable offense.

With apologies to CCN, the (I’ll type it quietly) Tribune, ran a very well timed piece by Barry Rands on Dec. 21 that covered the danger of “right hooks” and how all road users can help to reduce them. He pointed out that roadway behavior may be a contributing factor in preventing accidents involving bicycles.

A point from a Texas study supports this as, though it is commonly agreed, for numerous reasons, that statistics on bicycle collisions are largely inadequate, the trend in those numbers showed that the cyclists were more often responsible for collisions, while motorists were, by half, less often responsible. But, again, this may be from a point of perspective.

The Texas study also analyzed extensive field observations finding that the existence of well designed roadway bike lanes was a major contributing factor to improve bicycle and motorist comfort and behavior.

A key point in SLOs’ major bikeway changes is that conventional traffic adjacent bike lanes are supported for use, by law, in all states and from rural roads to most highways and have been successful in SLO since bikes came to town (older than all of us). Yet the City of SLO is removing them to isolate bikes in concrete alleys and promoting more conflicts, and at the expense (both financial and practical) of the entire transportation community, to correct what are primarily road etiquette issues. Is this KIS, or KISS?

A related operational principle is that “there is no benefit to doing well that which has no practical, nor economic reason, to be done at all.”  These designs should be removed.

For you NCIS watchers, these designs deserve a well placed Leroy Jethro Gibbs ‘slap-upside -the-head’.

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Moving away from traffic (in a conventional bike lane), the new kiosk parking system in the SLO downtown area also has a series of issues.

First, nearly all of the bikeway changes in town have reduced the number of parking spaces, and increased safety issues for all during passenger off-loading and delivery activities. You might have heard of a coming parking structure at Nipomo and Monterey streets, but I’ve heard of that for decades. I would not hold my breath waiting.

Next, the technology that supports the Kiosk parking system is “5G” cell-phone technology which requires “mini” cell-towers on many blocks (five installed so far) of downtown, thereby increasing the electromagnetic radiation blanket over the area. As a potential community health issue the installation of cell towers is often not supported by the community in neighborhoods, parks or schools but the city deems that many of them downtown is okay.

There are also questions as to 5G interference in aviation navigation, weather data collection and the predominance of Chinese technology in 5G that can be a national security issue.

But, overall, will anyone actually notice any changes in function between 4G, or older, and 5G? Or is this another example of the cell industry preying on techie one-upmanship mentalities, and laughing all the way to the bank?

Consider next the fact that individual parking space metering has worked well for decades.

The city parking administrator has said, “The technology is here, so we need to use it.”

An entirely valid counter to that is, “No, we do not.”

This Kiosk System collects personal data in the form of license number, banking information (how you pay), phone numbers – if you access that part of the system – and potentially other invasive data. While this data may not be accessible to staff, the kiosk computer network has it, and can spread or lose it. Do not believe that it cannot? If your phone can be hacked…

While I have been told that staff has no access to the collected data, the parking administrator has implied the systems use for social engineering to force a “rollover” of parking to keep citizens from “feeding the meter” all day long, and to gain compliance.  Pay for parking – park. Don’t pay for parking – get a ticket and/or get towed. That is compliance, it’s nothing new.

So if your data is not needed, why the upgrade to 5G? The social engineering. This can be done by third party or programmed system action utilizing access to parking user data (see? no staff). Example on screen: “We’re sorry, that number is invalid.” If you cannot pay you cannot park.

Yes, in the past you could use your credit card to pay, but did you park your car or a friends, a mini cooper or a twelve passenger van, did you use coin to extend time, or did someone else?

If there is no ‘red flag” you are legally parked (considering no other issues) on public property, no matter who you are. Period. The City has no reason to know who/where you are, but…

The city can also now “double dip” our collective pockets as time can no longer be transferred from person to person at the space, but must be restarted for each user (identified by data input), whether “time remains” or not, in non-designated, non-tangible parking spots. This is a designed, deliberate, and profitable, overbooking – a “double dipping.” This in addition to the hours of operation and higher parking fees which have increased by up to 25%.

Due to the loss of individual space metering, walkway traffic has also been increased as people must backtrack more to access the kiosks, and travel distances have increased often adversely effecting  seniors and the mobility challenged.

The rise of “butts in space” also restrict traffic flows as the kiosks force users to stand in sidewalk traffic to activate parking sessions (the old meters were sideways at the curb).

If/when the system goes down, then what? It’s no longer just one meter or space.

This system was installed, “to provide customers the ability to increase their parking sessions remotely to avoid parking citation,” according to SLO Engineering.

Okay, without kiosk metering you may have to run to feed the meter, or get a ticket, that’s nothing new. Being upset about not being able to update your parking session with your phone, just exhibits bad time-management and laziness. That’s a personal problem.

This Kiosk system demonstrates the insidious nature of technological intrusions proffered by what are apparently noble objectives but may be, in fact, half (or less) truths, when the negatives grossly outweigh the benefits. This system should be removed.

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Overall, the new SLO roadway designs ignore the California Vehicle Code declaration of bicycles rights and responsibilities to occupy roadway traffic surfaces, restricts or removes bicycles previous accommodations to do so, directs bicycles to unsafe locations and interactions with pedestrians, deliveries and motor vehicles, reduces roadway spaces for motor vehicles, including parking, and promotes congestion on roadways.

The kiosk parking system while increasing the electromagnetic radiation blanket on the city, also gathers private data into a computer system that can be utilized or misused for social reasons, increases costs to consumers (some likely just to pay for the system), contributes to sidewalk congestion, adversely impacts those mobility challenged and can fail entirely.

Ultimately, these new “improvements” to SLO have no redeeming features for the general public and specifically none for those cycling, moving or parking in town. They should be removed.

New is not, by definition, good. New is just new, and may be bad. New designs may also be made by bored people with a finite view of real world circumstances and with access to more dollars than common sense – neither, possibly, being their own.

A number of years ago, I sat in a first year Architecture and Environmental Design lecture hall at Cal Poly where representatives from industry leaders were speaking. One speaker compared hiring graduates of Cal Poly with those of Berkeley, and how the design philosophies differed. He said if he wanted a design that, off the drawing board, was new and creative, and felt at one with itself, he would hire a Berkeley grad. But if he wanted a design that was simple, practically based and met the needs of all users and the community, he would pick the Cal Poly designer.

These new designs and directions are Berkeley philosophies, pretty, but work poorly by not meeting real life issues.

There are times that we plea for our government to do something, which it should. There are often more times that we should demand that our government do nothing,
or at least expect that it has the competence to not act unwisely. An expectation too often unrealized.

I strongly encourage everyone that has any objections or concerns about these changes in the city to speak up. We are coming out of a time when we were not heard and things changed (on purpose?), and possibly promoted by only a few with a personal agenda, to attach pretty pictures to a resume, or by those having more “authority” than they should be responsible for.

Email or write to the SLO City Council to give them a piece of your mind – they have already received my more technical expansion of these points. (don’t worry about giving pieces of your mind, a sound mind will grow back any parts given up during logical discussion.)

Remember, everyone should drive defensively, and work together to share the road, it’s the law, and it keeps us safe.

Ken Herrmann has been a pedestrian, bicyclist and a commercial driver around SLO for over 40 years and has spent 35 years in boots-on-the-ground public service, which he left in disgust.


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boogiebrew

Sure am glad that I ALWAYS elect to ride the paths less pedaled, even in an incredibly bike-friendly city like SLO. I could show this author how to get around your town in a FUN and safe manner. There are so many “cutties” to ride and walk in and around SLO, (creek paths, field detours and tons of proper off-road singletrack trails).

For example: Has he ever considered taking the gravel along the railroad tracks from CalPoly to downtown? Sure, some of it may be a little intimidating to pedal for folks who aren’t comfortable with cycling on technical and rough surfaces, but isn’t that what “hike-a-bike” is for? (A little “walkies” is also great for maintaining some bone-density in our bodies). So much more meaningful and safe than taking city streets, after all! Btw, the city’s plan is to create a proper bike path along this very route.

Of course, my options take more time, but they are infinitely safer, (and a whole lot more fun!). Where are we all rushing to, anyway? (To the grave, it seems).

Until society divorces itself from the automobile, these problems will continue. SLO’s forward-thinking mayor and city council are certainly looking long-range to a driverless future, (which I applaud them for). These transportation initiatives, along with the resultant backlash and road-user conflicts, are now the result of such noble efforts by your city.

The sad fact is: There are simply no easy ways to wean folks out of their bloody cars….If it can’t happen in such a “cycling-paradise” town like SLO, (with its associated pleasant climate and forward-thinking city leaders), then it simply can’t happen anywhere. America’s pathetic amd selfish car culture has doomed us all.


Gramelin

In my industry we have a saying, ” Engineer, Engineer why’s your brain so out of gear?” Just because it looks pretty on paper, doesn’t always make it practical.


cfk420

Agreed, the new bike lanes are horrible. No way to turn left from bed bath and beyond or tahoe joes, sprouts, rei, etc onto the new part of dalidio dr is another complaint and my personal biggest issue is on south higuera and tank farm where the addition of a 2nd turn lane onto tank farm pushed the northbound lanes over to the right just before the intersection. I’m so used to it just going straight through the intersection without a jog in the road that when they changed it without any notice to the public that I found myself driving on the wrong side of the double yellow in the new oncoming 2nd left turn lane onto tank farm. Fortunately their was no oncoming traffic. They are lucky that nobody has been killed because of this new change


SLORick

Thank you for this complete story. I agree with you.

Yes, the construction is high class.

As a driver, I am surprised by both drivers and bicycle riders who do not know what to do at these intersections. I have seen now on 2 separate occasions, a bicycle rider go around the complex at the Los Osos Valley Road intersection with Home Depot. On another, as I was driving into the round-a-bout on tank farm road, a bicycle rider rode in the center of the road, going straight through, rather than the very clear path outside the car path.

I do not expect this uneducated use of our road changes to happen soon.

It is clear the city has spent a large amount of funds on the physical changes. Are there funds – and a method – to teach the users of these intersections how to be safe and follow these new paths?


George Dunn

Bicycles are great for transportation. Just look at how popular they are in third (and second) world countries!


Jorge Estrada

In other parts of the world it is ok to stink.


Rambunctious

Who designed the corner of LOVR and Froom Ranch Way ?…what a mess!…


Freethebud

So many angry people in the comments section. Just makes me sad that there is so much anger out there.


isoslo

So you prefer that the citizens accept idiocracy from their government?