Slow Streets Support

Slow Streets Support

Dear Mayor Ashcraft and Council Members,
We are writing in support of staff’s recommendations to extend and enhance the Slow Streets program. While we may be beyond the worst of the pandemic, and no longer using Slow Streets as much for social distancing, we treasure what they offer in terms of proven safety, community, and livability. We believe that, like commercial streets, Slow Streets will continue to be popular and valuable post-COVID and think that an extension of the program while the Active Transportation Plan is completed is a sound strategy.

Regarding the proposed immediate improvements to the Slow Streets program, we support all of staff’s recommendations, with a few additional suggestions we hope you will consider:

Of the choices offered in the city’s Slow Streets survey regarding what the community wants done with Slow Streets, the most popular response by far was to add more streets, and create a network. Staff recommendations fall short here. We propose better addressing the community’s desire by adding just a few select streets, namely segments of Eighth, Pacific (a high injury corridor), Ninth, and San Antonio, to connect the Cross Alameda Trail in Jean Sweeney Park to the San Jose Slow Street. Adding these segments will connect low stress facilities, improve much-needed north-south connectivity, and serve a nearby school. These streets are also compelling candidates because they’re already candidate low stress streets: they were on earlier maps of proposed Slow Streets, and they are planned as future bike boulevards. Networking safe facilities is incredibly important, and we believe these small, low-cost additions will be well worth the investment.

Incomplete (and disappearing) barricading has detracted from the program. For example, for the five blocks along Pacific between Sherman and 9th, there is only one barricade right now — it doesn’t read like a Slow Street at all. It likely discourages people from enjoying it fully, as they don’t trust that motorists ‘get’ that this is a Slow Street. Staff’s proposal is to selectively add barriers only where speeding persists, but we propose replacing the many missing original barricades and adding more so that all Slow Streets read very clearly as Slow Streets, for all users, whether speeding persists or not. We propose one barricade on each side of every intersection. We think this will improve safety further, and improve perception of safety, which is very important, too, for very little cost and effort.

More broadly, we think it’s important to acknowledge that making even these very small improvements (and successfully maintaining them, which has been an issue to date) will entail more commitment than has been allotted so far. While it’s still clearly a very low-budget program, it will require a little more time and money to minimize frustration and maximize success. Let’s plan for regular, monthly maintenance by Public Works, and leverage community volunteers (BWA is willing to help!).

As to the fate of Slow Streets in the long-term, we look forward to the conversations we’ll be having as part of the Active Transportation Plan. There’s lots to consider. Although it wasn’t the intent, this program has served as a pilot for low-stress streets, and the initial data indicates that, even as a quick-build program of simple barricades and sandbags, it’s been successful in improving safety, and in encouraging active transportation. With real, more effective traffic calming infrastructure, and a more complete network, we’ll see even better results that will dramatically help our city reach its climate and safety goals.

But this incidental pilot did more than that. It also brought to light the many other benefits of Slow Streets. We believe we’d be shortchanging ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge those findings and act on them. We’ve been able to experience how streets can feel as shared, active, social spaces. We’ve found that streets where car traffic is deprioritized can offer us so much more. They are rich, productive recreational spaces that can enhance health and livability for everyone, notably the most vulnerable among us — children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. We recognize that to many, this is a different way of experiencing our streets, although some of us are old enough to remember when playing in neighborhood streets was the norm.

In our minds, this recreational and social aspect distinguishes Slow Streets from the bike boulevards which are their closest cousin. With Slow Streets, there is an expectation for people to recreate in the streets. It’s an important distinction with implications that we look forward to discussing during the ATP process, as proposed by staff.

We hope you will support them.

Editor’s Note: The Alameda Sun received a copy of this op-ed.