On December 21st, Alameda City Council voted to extend the City’s Slow Streets program for 18 months or until the City’s Active Transportation Plan (the "Plan") is complete, whichever comes sooner. The City anticipates completing the Plan in about one year's time. The Slow Streets Program comprises sections of Orion Street, and Pacific, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Versailles Avenues.
The City of Alameda created Slow Streets to make space for safer, socially distanced walking, running, biking, scootering, and other ways of spending time outdoors during the pandemic. Barricades, cones, and signage limit traffic on these streets to emergency and delivery vehicles and local residential traffic.
Since their creation, advocates have praised the program as a way for pedestrians and cyclists to traverse the island more safely and for residents to be neighborly outdoors. In contrast, critics have complained that the barricades and cones are a nuisance and create a safety hazard as traffic diverts to other streets.
Anticipating the program’s scheduled end in October 2021, staff analyzed traffic and collision data. They found that vehicle volumes, speeds, and crashes decreased on the Slow Streets, making them safer.
Additionally, staff engaged the public with virtual open houses, in-person events, and a community survey. Almost 2,000 residents responded. While this number is not statistically significant, 59% of respondents supported continuing the program while 35% wanted it to end.
Staff recommended continuing the Slow Streets program based on:
COVID-19 In Alameda County, people must still wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.
Public Safety The Slow Streets program has reduced traffic speeds, volumes, and collisions on its five streets, making them safer.
Parallel Streets Data collected on streets parallel to the Slow Streets indicates that traffic volumes increased slightly and speeds also increased. However, staff notes that evidence shows that speeding is increasing citywide and is not necessarily related to the Slow Streets program.
Active Transportation City policy supports active transportation (walking and bicycling) to help meet its climate action, transportation, and environmental goals.
Staff recommended extending the Slow Streets program with the addition that, over the next year, staff will evaluate Pearl Street as an alternative to Versailles Street. Also, staff will conduct more community outreach before making final recommendations on Slow Streets as part of the Active Transportation Plan.
Council Member John Knox White supported extending the program, mentioning a family who has started playing basketball on the Versailles Slow Street. He saw this as evidence that residents are reclaiming space “for the neighborhood and not just the folks driving through.”
Council Member Trish Herrera-Spencer said she could not support including Versailles Street in the program. She said that cars are diverting to Calhoun and Washington, which are so narrow that drivers pull over to let each other go by.
Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft supported the staff’s recommendation to continue the program. However, she also endorsed Pearl Street as an alternative to Versailles because of its apartment buildings where children don’t have access to backyards. Also, the Versailles Slow Street makes it harder for customers to access Encinal Hardware Store at the corner of Encinal and Versailles.
Council Member Tony Daysog objected to continuing the program, saying that the urgency to provide these spaces no longer exists now that other recreational opportunities have reopened. Instead, he wanted to determine an equitable approach for deciding which streets would be slow. He said that naturally, those living on Slow Streets love them because there is less traffic going by their homes, but that is not necessarily fair to residents of other streets.
Rochelle Wheeler, Senior Transportation Coordinator, responded that the City chose the existing Slow Streets because some are already bicycle routes or considered future bicycle boulevards. Some already had a relatively higher number of people walking and biking. Some have less traffic because they are two-lane residential streets, so there is less traffic disruption, whereas slowing down more prominent streets would disrupt a lot of traffic. Finally, streets with bus routes can not be Slow Streets.
Vice Mayor Malia Vella felt that speeding on other streets is an argument for traffic-calming measures, not getting rid of Slow Streets. She saw Slow Streets as aligned with Alameda’s “vision for equitable mobility opportunities.”
The motion to continue the Slow Streets Program for 18 months or until the City’s Active Transportation Plan is complete, whichever comes sooner, passed 3-2. Mayor Ashcraft, Vice-Mayor Vella, and Council Member John Knox-White voted in favor. Council Members Daysog and Herrera-Spencer voted against it.