Sidewalks and Bike Lanes on Somerset, At Last!

After years of public advocacy and grantwriting, sidewalks are finally coming to Somerset Avenue. As part of the design process, Public Works is presenting multiple options for bike lanes on Somerset at a virtual public meeting on April 26, 6:00pm as part of the Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan. There are several options, each with tradeoffs for bike lanes and parking.

Why Bike Lanes?

California vehicle code allows bikes to use the full lane in the absence of a bicycle lane. So why bother building bike lanes at all, if bikes can already use any road that’s not a highway?

  • Bike lanes increase cycling. Many people want to cycle in Castro Valley, to get to school or work or BART or the Village or a friend’s house. But many people are (rightfully!) nervous to cycle on a main road that doesn’t have a dedicated bike lane. Creating a network of dedicated bike lanes will increase cycling in Castro Valley.
  • Bike lanes increase the safety of cyclists. Bike lanes reduce the conflict between cyclists and cars. Many Castro Valley residents have tales of collisions or close calls that they’ve been involved in while riding their bike on a road without a bike lane.
  • Bike lanes reduce congestion.  Alameda County’s Complete Street policy creates equity amongst all road users, including the old and young who choose to cycle or scoot. Without separate space, cyclists are forced to ride in front of drivers, blocking and congesting cars, especially as the new sidewalks will push cars further into the street on Somerset. Not only is “taking the lane” legal, but it is recommended by bike safety organizations as a way to reduce dangerous passes, where drivers try to share a lane that is too narrow. So people who never plan to use the bike lanes, benefit from them in the form of reduced congestion.
  • Bike lanes connect our community. The downtown flat core of Castro Valley is the perfect size for cycling for errands or to grab dinner. Somerset Avenue is a key east-west corridor in Castro Valley, connecting schools, markets, churches, and key north-south corridors. Somerset bike lanes will improve safety for students crossing town to our middle and high schools. This constituency is important since many students live within ridable distances and most of the traffic along Somerset comes from school drop off and pick up. Congestion along Somerset can dramatically be reduced if parents and students feel comfortable to cycle. This would free up parent schedules while improving student’s confidence and life skills.
  • Bike lanes make projects more competitive for funding. Much of the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Castro Valley has come through grants from the state Active Transportation Program (ATP). To score highly, a project must demonstrate that it is aligned with local planning documents, such as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and the Climate Action Plan. A project that does not include bike lanes will not get funded.

Bike Lane Options

There are several options for bike lanes on Somerset, each with its own pros and cons

  • Protected Bike Lanes: The safest option for cyclists on busy roads – especially for a road that connects schools — is for bike lanes that are protected by a curb or other barrier. East 14th St. has installed protected bike lanes with a curb barrier. This would require removing parking on both sides of Somerset.
  • Dedicated (Class II) Bike Lanes: The second best option for cyclists is dedicated bike lanes in both directions. This would require removing parking on one side of Somerset.
  • Commute Hour Bike Lanes: Pleasant Hill, Santa Cruz, and other communities have tried commute hour bike lanes, which still allows for overnight parking on both sides of the street.

Bike Lanes and Climate Change

The Climate Crisis is the most existential threat to modern humanity and a safe and comfortable bike/pedestrian network is critical to the Alameda County Climate Action Plan, with a 2020 mode share target of 2.5% for walking and 1.5% for biking. Sixty percent of unincorporated Alameda County greenhouse gases come from cars so we need to reduce driving. E-cars are not a complete solution as their adoption will take decades as will a clean electrical grid, not to mention emissions from manufacturing. Bicycles, including e-bikes, reduce manufacturing emissions and congestion while improve health thru exercise.

Since Somerset is a public right of way, a key consideration is to maximize the public good rather than private good. Roads were invented to transport people and things. Movement should always be the priority. Notice that Public Works is not exploring the removal of travel lanes for bike lanes. Bicycles, e-bikes, e-scooters are part of that movement along with cars.

Please keep in mind that Public Works routinely removes parking for the safety and convenience of drivers without any public process. For example, loads of parking was removed along Redwood to create left turn lanes to avoid rear end collisions. Same for the right turn lane at Al’s Market. Street parking was removed near the Post Office to reduce congestion. All removal serves the greater public good over the private. Cyclists deserve similar safety considerations.

Finally, a safe and comfortable bicycle and pedestrian network creates community and livability. Cyclists and pedestrians are less anonymous and more likely to interact with others on the street. They are visible and recognizable ears and eyes of the community, improving overall personal safety. Please join the public meeting to voice your support for bike lanes along Somerset.

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