The City must make safe, convenient options out of transportation modes which are less costly and harmful than the automobile.
Maintaining the quality of road surfaces and optimizing signal timing to minimize wasted green-light time are examples of appropriate and necessary work by the City that serves automobile travel. But it’s important to understand that the total revenue of fuel taxes, tolls, and driver fees is less than the cost of roads. Driving is heavily subsidized by general taxation: property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes. A Concord-specific example is our Measure Q sales tax, a portion of which goes to repair damage to roads from motor traffic.
Making less costly forms of transportation attractive is an important form of frugality with the limited financial resources of a local government. And this is before we consider the massive indirect costs to the public of reliance on the automobile as the primary form of transportation: long-term harm to health from lack of exercise, degradation of quality of life from noise and physical danger, and facilitation of crime due to a lack of eyes on the street.
There are lots of trips that are going to require cars for the foreseeable future. Long commutes to destinations not served by transit are a major example. But a very large proportion of trips happen within Central Contra Costa and Concord, and most of these could easily be served by the bicycle – if our streets made bicycling a very safe option. The potential benefit to the livability of our community and the health and happiness of our residents from bicycling is not small.
And even a driver who has no intention of bicycling for any portion of their travel will benefit when other people shift some of their local trips from driving to bicycling. Because congestion scales logarithmically rather than linearly, even a modest reduction in cars on the road will significantly decrease motor traffic congestion.
To achieve these benefits, Concord must start building a network of bikeways which are continuous, which serve high-frequency destinations, and which physically protect bicyclists from adjacent motor traffic – to a standard sufficient for the safety of children and seniors. Bike lanes consisting of paint only, such as you can see on a few streets here and there already, do not meet that standard. What does meet the standard is a bikeway separated from motor traffic not by paint, but by “vertical separation elements” such as posts, curbs, or planter boxes. Serious infrastructure like this has yielded remarkable increases in bicycling in other places where it has been tried – not just among the young, fit, and daring, but among people of all ages and physical conditions.
In spite of the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Safe Routes to Transit Plan adopted in September 2016, which expresses something close to this vision, the City’s practical interest in bicycle infrastructure so far has been limited to a few paint-only lanes on low-priority streets. These do not form a continuous network, do not serve high-frequency destinations, and do not protect bicyclists from motor traffic. It is little surprise that they are not much used. We must do better.
I am in favor of moving gradually towards this vision. Work takes time to complete; grant funding takes time to obtain; people need time to adjust. But we should not start with bicycle facilities that are of little use by themselves. The best way to start a useful, functional bicycle network is a physically protected bikeway that serves schools. This has the greatest immediate potential to relieve traffic congestion, by relieving many parents of the necessity of driving their children to school out of concern for their safety from other drivers.
Once a protected school bikeway is completed, it can serve as a spine from which more protected facilities can branch to shops and workplaces, rendering the bikeway useful to adults as well as schoolchildren.