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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.

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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