Make-Believe Traffic Remedy

stacks of plansThe chant coming from city hall is a familiar one: “What do we want? Another consultant! When do we want it? Now!”

Hiring consultants can be helpful at times, but when an issue has been studied to death, it’s make-believe to think that anything is being accomplished.

Following the lead of Councilmember Tony Daysog, the city council recently voted 4-1 to spend up to $400,000 to hire a consultant to draft a city-wide transportation plan on how to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips. Mayor Trish Spencer voted no.

My question is whether the city will learn anything it doesn’t already know. It could take up to two years to receive a report, and the consultant will not implement anything.

OverviewAlameda already has a transportation element in the city’s general plan, which spells out the city’s goals, objectives and policies. The city also has a bicycle master plan, a pedestrian plan, a transit plan, a west-end shuttle plan, a transportation systems management ordinance, and a transportation capacity management program resolution. Added to this tool chest are transit strategies, transit demand management plans, and numerous parking studies.

The consultant the city plans to hire will produce “two inter-related documents” that will result in a city-wide transit demand management (TDM) plan and an updated transit plan, which “would allow the city to integrate the city’s private TDM plans being provided by individual development projects and service planning efforts being implemented by public transit agencies,” stated the staff report.

It’s unclear why the council didn’t turn first to its existing resources to address their concerns.

It’s the city’s transportation engineer’s job to plan and implement “a comprehensive city-wide traffic planning and control program,” according to the city’s website. The city’s transportation coordinator “collects and coordinates the collection of data” and prepares grant applications for transportation-related projects. Let them do the job they are paid to do.

In addition, Alameda’s Transportation Commission is tasked with advising the city council on city transportation policies and monitoring the implementation of approved plans. They are quite capable of suggesting updates to our transportation element, without the help of a consultant. The planning board, transit agencies and local transportation groups provide guidance too.

Staff RecommendationsWhile council members all agree the city needs to implement and enforce the strategies that are currently on the books, and receive data on current travel choices, it’s hard to see how hiring a consultant is going to achieve this.

“You have to start somewhere,” said Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft. “You have to have an awareness of what options there are.”

The city council would be better off asking the Transportation Commission to address specific issues, rather than spending $400,000 on yet another “plan.” Now that would be a good place to start.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

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4 Responses to Make-Believe Traffic Remedy

  1. Mike says:

    What a waste of money! The city can compile the documents without outside help.

  2. Jon Spangler says:

    As an inaugural member of the Transportation Commission and a frequent observer and commenter at their current meetings, I could not disagree more with your post, which reveals an unfortunate lack of familiarity with how the TC and the Alameda’s Public Works Department function. You do not even seem to understand that this is not just a study of what the transportation “problem” is, either. Instead, the goal here is to design implementation strategies that can be applied throughout Alameda–not just in one development area–in order to decrease auto traffic and make non-automobile options safer, easier, and more convenient. (This has never been done on a citywide scale.)

    Your suggestion that “…They (the TC members) are quite capable of suggesting updates to our transportation element without the help of a consultant,” severely overestimates the capabilities and resources of the voluntary and advisory TC, which is still re-establishing itself after the years when Mayor Johnson decimated its ranks by withholding appointments when vacancies occurred. (Yes, her actions HAVE had long-term consequences: in 2008-2010, the TC lost its institutional memory, its continuity, and its culture of pushing the staff to “think outside the box.”)

    It *might* have been conceivable for the original TC members–a once-in-a-generation group, IMHO–to do what you propose: they served 8 years and developed a new Transportation Master Plan thanks to a unified and assertive approach to transportation planning that I have rarely seen in 40 years of advocacy work. But to ask the existing TC to accomplish a similar feat is asking them to far exceed their advisory role.

    The city staff will manage the consultant’s contract and work closely on the new plan(s), and the TC will most certainly be heavily involved–as it should be–in scoping the goals of the contract and plan as well as modifying its draft results.

    But the amount of time and effort need to develop sound strategies and implementation plans for citywide reductions in single-occupancy car trips is huge: this will take many hours of community meetings, worldwide research into alternatives, and lots of creative thinking to develop options that will work for Alameda. The already-stretched city staff cannot manage more than they already are because of years of staff reductions, so hiring an outside consultant to develop a new community-based plan is the only way to accomplish this goal.

    • Irene says:

      Thanks for your input Jon. Perhaps I didn’t convey that the Transportation Commission is simply a good place to start. As with all our ever-changing boards, commissions, and city council members, city staff provides the institutional memory to build upon. I applaud the work that has already given us sound strategies and implementation plans that can be applied citywide.

  3. No amount of studying is going to bring more public transit. And no amount of studying is going to undo 50 years of social reorganization that disconnected housing from employment centers, made possible with the construction of roadways and easy time payment plans for purchasing automobiles. When I was a kid, Chevy’s TV car commercial said, “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” The use of automobiles has become as deeply ingrained in the American psyche as mobile phones have now become. This consultant study cannot even begin to address that issue.

    People will use alternatives to driving alone to their jobs when reasonably convenient alternatives are available. The people who have already opted to use public transit have done so because it is more convenient and less expensive (factoring in car expenses) than driving all the way to work. But even a significant number of those public transit riders of BART and the ferries use their cars for the first few miles. They’ve already done their part, and still they are portrayed as rubes driving the evil automobile.

    Mr. Spangler suggests that we need “worldwide research into alternatives.” Casting the transportation debate as being akin to combing the jungles of the world looking for non-toxic cures for cancer only serves to undermine the real effort that is needed – lobbying for more money for all of the existing alternatives that would work much better if they were adequately funded. We’ve just witnessed $6 billion spent on a shrine to the automobile – the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. A few years prior, a new Caldecott Tunnel was added to make it even more convenient for car drivers to continue driving to and from far flung locales. The leaders who appropriate and dole out money hold the keys to more transit and less single-occupany commuting. A pile of data about Alameda is not going to get the funding authorities to join this battle.

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