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Cyclists Frustrated with Temporary Bike Path on Masonic

Here's Part II of our report on changes to the Ohlone Greenway due to BART construction. Concerned about this issue? Consider voicing your opinions at Thursday's Traffic & Safety Commission meeting.

[Editor's Note: This is Part II of a two-part series on BART seismic work and its impact on the Ohlone Greenway. Tuesday's installment covered the area north of Portland Avenue, into El Cerrito, as well as construction in North Berkeley, near Gilman. The second installment covers work in central Albany, and issues that arose with the temporary path on Masonic Avenue.]

When BART retrofitting in Albany began in October and closed parts of the Ohlone Greenway and its two paths, the city provided a temporary path for cyclists and pedestrians to share. But the lane has proven frustrating and, at times, dangerous, leading some in Albany to ask for changes.

Although part of the greenway will re-open next month—eliminating the need for the temporary path from Brighton to Portland avenues—the long Solano-to-Dartmouth section of the greenway is expected to remain closed until sometime between June and September, said Jason McLean, a community relations liaison for BART. And another temporary path will be needed when the Solano-to-Portland section of the greenway closes this summer.

The existing temporary path is in the former parking lane on the east side of Masonic Avenue, and is separated from traffic by a 4-foot-high chain-link fence. It is just under seven feet wide, narrower than the old 8-foot path on the greenway.

Some local cyclists have said they find the Masonic path too narrow for two-way traffic. With a fence to steer clear of on one side of the lane, and an uneven surface on the other side, where the street pavement meets the gutter, cyclists have only a 2- to 3-foot section down the middle that is safe to ride, said Preston Jordan, a member of Albany Strollers & Rollers. The group advocates for bicycle and pedestrian safety issues around town.

Another problem has been near Marin Avenue and Dartmouth Street, where the Canary Island pines dropped a thick layer of slippery needles, and created hazardous cycling conditions for several months. (The pine needles were recently swept up.)

Jordan said last year he took a count of cyclists along Masonic and found more than 80 percent using the greenway path. Now, he estimates the reverse: that more than 80 percent of cyclists are using the street, rather than the temporary path.

With so many cyclists avoiding the fenced path, the Strollers & Rollers began asking the city in mid-October to install “share the road” signs along Masonic as well as “sharrows.” Sharrows, the white pictures of bikes and arrows painted directly on the street, are meant to remind drivers and cyclists to share the road and can be seen around Berkeley and El Cerrito.

Sharrows are a state-approved traffic device. Jordan said that a study prepared for the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, by Alta Planning + Design, shows a quantitative change in the behavior of both cyclists and drivers on a street with sharrows: the cyclists leave more space between themselves and car doors that could open, and the drivers give cyclists wider berth.

In late October, a cyclist and his 3-year-old in a trailer were hit on Masonic when a driver opened his car door into them, sending both to the hospital. The accident intensified complaints about the temporary path, with about a dozen Albany Patch readers posting their frustrations online, and at least seven members of the Strollers & Rollers writing to the city and its Traffic & Safety Commission, requesting more safety measures.

At its Dec. 1 meeting, the commission heard a report on the temporary bike path, but was not scheduled to take any action. After the meeting, members of the Strollers & Rollers said, a city staff member assured them signs and sharrows would be in place by the end of the month.

Some signs went up in December, but fewer than were agreed on, said Amy Smolens, a member of the advocacy group. And some are poorly placed, or at odd angles. She’d said she'd still like to see more signs.

City representatives have said more signs will go up.

“We’ll put as many signs up as we can, within reason,” said Greg Jacobs, a civil engineering consultant to the city.

But the sharrows seem to have hit a snag. Although they’re a familiar sight in neighboring cities, they’ve never been used in Albany. Jacobs said the city needs to consult an outside traffic engineer to approve the use of sharrows in town. And the city needs to create a policy on what situations merit sharrows, so they’re not overused.

“It’s not just a question of sending a guy down there with a can of paint,” Jacobs said.

Although some sections of the greenway are due to reopen soon, Jordan and Smolens say they’d still like the entire length of Masonic in Albany to be marked with signs and sharrows, because other sections will soon be closed. Many cyclists, they said, choose to stay on the street all the way through town, rather than crisscross back and forth between the street and the open parts of the greenway.

“In the long run,” Jordan said, “we’re going to end up with something much better (the new greenway path). But sometimes it can be hard to see past the discomfort of the project.”

Rethinking the Next Temporary Path

Construction on the Solano-to-Portland section of the greenway is due to begin this summer, said McLean of BART.

Two weeks ago, the city seemed set to install a similar temporary path along Masonic, closing the eastern parking lane and fencing the area in. The plan was to make the path 18 inches wider, moving the fence further into the street. 

Now, that’s under further consideration, Jacobs said, with other alternatives on the table.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out a solution that works safely for the cars, the bikes and the pedestrians,” Jacobs said.

Smolens and Jordan said they were unsure, when they first heard about the 18-inch widening proposal, whether it would make the pathway more attractive to cyclists.

“We would have to talk to membership and see if they feel like that would be helpful,” Smolens said.

Jacobs said anyone interested in weighing in should attend a Traffic & Safety Commission meeting, which are the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers.

Thursday, Feb. 23, is the next meeting. See a full schedule here.

Residents can write the Public Works Department at 548 Cleveland Ave., Albany, CA 94706, or e-mail cityhall@albanyca.org, "Attention Traffic & Safety Commission."

Anyone with questions about the construction project can contact BART’s Jason McLean at 510-464-6197 or jmclean@BART.gov

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for updates about BART path construction. 

If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email albany@patch.com.

Ira Sharenow February 22, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Excellent article. In large measure just the experiences I have had. Why is there a fence? Why not just have a bikes only lane? I think that pedestrians should use the crosswalk. I also do not think that skateboarders and people on roller blades in dark clothing and no lights should be using the lane, especially after dark. Finally, it would be nice if the street were better lit. Bicyclists are supposed to obey laws similar to cars, but pedestrians do not view bicycles and bicycle lanes in the same way as they view cars. For example on the bike path, parents sometimes let their children walk and possibly wander without holding their hands. I have never seen parents let their small children wander on the streets of San Pablo Avenue or Solano Avenue. Hopefully, Albany can start to do more for bicyclists. --- http://www.albanyca.org/?page=16&recordid=4910&returnURL=%2findex.aspx Traffic & Safety Commission Meeting Date: 2/23/2012 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM Location: Albany City Hall - Council Chambers 1000 San Pablo Avenue Albany, California 94706 4. PUBLIC COMMENT 8. FUTURE AGENDA ITEMS Tentative Agenda for March Meeting (subject to change) • Comprehensive review of Municipal Code for parking, bicycles, and other traffic and safety considerations
Gary Tang February 22, 2012 at 04:21 PM
If construction activities does not need to extend all the way to the curbs, They can give about 2 to 3 feet above the curb for pedestrian traffic to alleviate the situation.
JW February 22, 2012 at 05:21 PM
When biking along Masonic, or along the Bart path, you must wait a long time for the green light at Marin, and again at Solano. The wait at Marin seems especially long. If you happen to find yourself in the street, with no cars waiting, it seems like the light never changes. In the old days you could hit the pedestrian button on the path, but with the construction I think it may be unreachable. Is that intersection on a magnetic sensor system?
Letitia Berlin February 22, 2012 at 06:16 PM
I wonder if Albany is typical of other cities. It seems that whenever something needs to be done for pedestrians and/or cyclists, the response is "we have to do a traffic engineering study". The next response is "we don't have the funds for the traffic engineering study which must be done before we can change anything". When the issue comes up again, the response is still "we have to do a traffic engineering study". Re: the temporary fenced-in path by the Ohlone path, that fenced-in lane is a joke. No reasonable cyclist is going to use it because it's clearly too narrow for two-way traffic.
dgies February 22, 2012 at 06:55 PM
The point of doing a traffic study is to prevent the city from doing something stupid or dangerous. Since they already created those conditions (without a study?), it seems a bit silly to say we need a study before we take some common sense steps to rectify the situation.
Preston Jordan February 22, 2012 at 10:50 PM
You are absolutely right. There is no provision for detecting people cycling on Masonic at either Solano or Marin. The latter is particularly frustrating because loop detectors were put in for motorists a few years ago to better optimize the flow of motorists on Marin by reducing the amount of green time on Masonic. I was all for this as it was important to keeping support for the Marin reconfiguration, and by extension those cycling lanes, as high as possible. However the city did not follow its own policy in the Albany Bicycle Master Plan in force at the time regarding installation of signal detection for people cycling. At the time I somewhat wrote off the problem because most people cycling this corridor use the greenway path and so can call the signal with the button (although this didn't help me because I ride on Masonic). It had not occurred to me that this past mistake by the City is now much more important because many more people are cycling in the street where they will not be detected. Thank you for pointing this out.
JW February 22, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I also suspect the the magnetic sensors at Marin and San Pablo, and at Solano and San Pablo do not detect cyclists at all. When I make the left turn from west bound Marin onto south bound San Pablo, I only get a green light if there is a car waiting with me. Given the extremely long cycle at Marin and San Pablo, it is quite frustrating to sit there while it cycles around a second time. Early in the morning, the traffic light at Marin and San Pablo is programmed to do a "quick change", in which the green cycle comes on for about 3 seconds. Trying to cross in a 3 second green could cause a cyclist to be set up for a fatal side blow.
John Doh! February 23, 2012 at 12:03 AM
I'm glad the newer sections of the temporary path will be wider and I'd really like to see it be for bikes only, as Ira mentioned. The sidewalk is adequate, and safer, for pedestrians during the construction. A question - are cyclists supposed to dismount and walk their bikes when using crosswalks on paths that go across streets? I have seen some close calls when cyclists enter the crosswalk at fairly high speed. Personally, I slow down and ride across, but I yield to cars.
Jim Morris February 23, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Try this: Narrower path for pedestrians ONLY + 1-way bike path. Southbound bikes use opposite side of street as usual; chairs use the pedestrian path. The 1-way bike path should be delineated by many reflectors glued onto a typical white stripe; drivers don't like hitting them and if so, the noise alerts cyclists to take maximum evasive action. I pedal this route 4x/week, NEVER inside the fence as I immediately recognized the danger.
Preston Jordan February 23, 2012 at 07:44 AM
Yeah, I this is my experience too at Solano and San Pablo. I head east bound across San Pablo a few nights a month late after city meetings. The light never triggers for me alone, even though there are pavement cuts that indicate there are loops for detecting bicycles, and I position myself on those loops.
Mary Flaherty February 23, 2012 at 04:06 PM
An update on installing sharrows from city engineer Randy Leptien, via e-mail: "The City obtained a proposal from a traffic engineering firm to design and prepare a plan for the location of Sharrows and accompanying signage. The City is in the process of entering into an agreement with the Consultant to perform this work."
Ira Sharenow February 23, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Now we are discussing the somewhat unsatisfactory set up for dealing with the BART construction. Just recently the discussion was about the fact that the pool committee forgot to plan for bike racks and although now in the plans have not yet arrived. Not too long ago the issue was the Whole Foods bike situation. There have been issues relating to bike lanes to the Bulb. The Albany streets received a low rating and have many potholes. From a big picture point of view, what seems to be the problem?
JW February 23, 2012 at 06:12 PM
At the intersection of Peralta and Marin, there are magnetic loops on Peralta. They do not seem to detect bicycles. If you want to cross Marin, or turn left onto Marin there, you seem to have to wait for a car, or dismount, walk to the side walk, and hit the button. If you are northbound, and waiting behind a car, and get a green light, the green light is very short. The Marin traffic gets a green before you complete your crossing of Marin. It is especially dangerous to a slower cyclist, such as a child, who would be left half way across Marin with cars coming from the side.
JW February 23, 2012 at 07:31 PM
There is a nice summary of the exact requirements for detecting bicycles at traffic lights here http://www.marinbike.org/Legislation/AB_1581.pdf
Amy Smolens April 26, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Any update two months later, Mary? Thanks.

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