Bike Frame

County works on ‘framework’ for safer streets

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A bicyclist looks out from the Marin Headlands across the Bay. Credit: Aaron Thomas/Unspalsh

On Saturday, Nov. 16, hundreds of bicyclists pedaled onto the San Rafael–Richmond Bridge to try out a brand-new bicycle path across the 4-mile span. Although completed in 1956, the bridge connecting Marin and Contra Costa counties never allowed cyclists access—until now.

Marin County bicyclists consider the bike path a big win, yet Marin County’s roads are among the most dangerous for cyclists in the state, according to a December 2018 transportation safety report commissioned by the county.

The report, known as the 2018 Marin County Travel Safety Plan, presents statistics about the rates of dangerous driving habits—including drunk driving and speeding—and lists the county’s most dangerous roads and intersections.

The county ranked among the safest in the state in a broad range of categories. Overall, it ranks 48th out of 58 California counties for total fatal and injury collisions. However, it also scored very poorly in two categories. Between 2012 and 2016, the 5-year period covered by the report, Marin County had the second-highest collision rate for cyclists and third-highest collision rate for pedestrians over the age of 65 among all California counties.

There were 2,756 reported crashes and 219 fatalities or serious injuries during the study period, according to the report, which was largely funded by a state grant.

The 2018 report was the latest step in the county’s efforts to improve transportation safety and to encourage walking and biking. These methods of transportation—known as active transportation—are seen as both healthy for community members and a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The county’s report does more than diagnose the problem; it also suggests 51 high-priority engineering solutions for the most dangerous stretches of road throughout unincorporated Marin County and the cities within the county.

At the time of the report, three of the projects were funded and underway last December. County staff and politicians hope the report will help the county qualify for additional transportation funding from the state but, so far, the county hasn’t received funding for any of the suggested projects just yet.

Still, traffic safety efforts require more than just engineering projects, in part because the projects are expensive and time-consuming.

Thus, county staff spent much of the past year partnering with Marin’s cities to create a “framework to reduce collisions countywide,” according to Craig Tackabery, the chief assistant director of the Department of Public Works.

“This framework is aimed at actions to best advocate for safe streets, safe speeds, safe people and safe vehicles,” Tackabery told the Pacific Sun in an email.

The county hopes to release the document in early 2020. Tackabery says staff see the document as “a guide that advances actions collectively to reach desired outcomes.” He adds, “It is possible that individual agencies may implement policies.”

Vision Zero

At a Dec. 18 Board of Supervisors meeting last year, Supervisor Damon Connolly mentioned the prospect of implementing an increasingly popular method of reducing traffic injuries and fatalities in Marin County.

The strategy, known as Vision Zero, is an all-encompassing approach for reducing traffic fatalities and injuries.

Rather than referring to traffic deaths as “accidents,” the Vision Zero approach stresses that “traffic fatalities are preventable.” As the thinking goes, these deaths—about 40,000 across the country every year—should not be accepted as a natural, unavoidable cost of car culture.

Over the past decade, major cities across the United States, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, have passed Vision Zero policies. San Mateo, San Jose, Santa Barbara and San Diego have also passed Vision Zero legislation in California.

Jurisdictions that join Vision Zero must set a goal for zero traffic deaths and serious injuries. They then attempt to reach the goal through a combination of collaborative strategies including, but not limited to, education, enforcement and engineering projects.

In San Francisco, which set a goal for zero traffic deaths by 2024, transportation planners teamed up with public health and law enforcement officials to accurately track deaths and injuries and then enacted joint efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries. Five years after setting the goal, the annual fatality rate in San Francisco during the past two years has been lower than the historic average of about 30 deaths per year.

The framework that Marin County officials are working on is not branded as a Vision Zero policy—it doesn’t have a name at all yet—but it may share some similarities with a Vision Zero approach to reducing fatalities, including collaborative approaches between county and city departments.

Connolly, who raised the issue at last year’s Board of Supervisors meeting, says he supports Vision Zero, adding that Marin County “can learn a lot from Vision Zero’s implantation in other jurisdictions.”

“There are some things like speeding, aggressive driving and distracted driving that are beyond engineering solutions,” Connolly told the Pacific Sun via email. “But coupling the work our engineers do in improving intersections and roadways with more education of road users and tactical law enforcement, we can make our roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Bjorn Griepenburg, policy and planning director at the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, said that some of Marin’s cities have made early efforts to pass Vision Zero policies but, so far, none of them the policies have passed.

Jurisdictional Lines

In addition to requiring participation between local agencies, traffic safety often involves input from state agencies. For instance, CalTrans, the state transportation agency, controls and maintains the freeways and some other streets throughout the state. That can lead to differences of opinion or delays in roadway improvements.

In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the Complete Streets for Active Living Bill, a piece of legislation which would have required CalTrans to consider implementing safety improvements every time it repairs or repaves state-maintained roadways which serve as local streets.

In Marin County, the legislation would have impacted Tiburon Boulevard (Route 131) and Shoreline Highway (Route 1), according to an analysis by the California Bicycle Coalition. Marin County’s 2018 report lists both CalTrans-maintained roadways as candidates for priority safety projects in .

In a statement explaining his decision, Newsom stated that, while he valued the bill’s intent, the legislation used “a prescriptive and costly approach” to improving transportation safety.

In compliance with an earlier executive order “CalTrans is increasing and accelerating its investments in active transportation where appropriate and feasible,” Newsom stated.

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