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Level 4 Horton Bicycle Boulevard Traffic Calming moves forward. Tattler Editor tactics questioned

9 mins read

The city held a series of community meetings back in September (at the hardly convenient times of Saturday & Tuesday at 9am) to gather community feedback about taking measures to calm traffic along our Horton Bicycle Boulevard. The car counts at most points had eclipsed the 3,000 threshold denoted in Emeryville’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan triggering steps to implement measures to reduce speed and discourage vehicle traffic. This data & subsequent recommendation was presented to Council on November 18th by Environmental Programs Analyst Nancy Humphrey.


The Emeryville BPAC (Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee) had made the recommendation to the Transportation Committee that the current Level 3 traffic calming measures be elevated two steps to Level 5. The proposed Level 5 measures would create diverters along Horton at 45th & Sherwin. Diverters that would arguably draw even more traffic onto the more pedestrian traveled & tranquil Park Avenue (The street the city recently spent 5 million dollars renovating). A street already log-jammed by a constant flow of double-parked delivery drivers and moving vans.


Level 3, 4 or 5?

According to the traffic calming implementation treatment guidelines mapped out in our Bike Boulevard Plan:

LEVEL 3 (Limited Traffic Calming):

  • Vertical speed control (speed humps/ cushions/ tables)
  • Horizontal speed control (chicanes, traffic circles, curb extensions)

LEVEL 4 (Significant Traffic Calming):

  • Vertical speed control (speed humps/ cushions/ tables)
  • Horizontal speed control (chicanes, traffic circles, curb extensions)
  • Narrowings (chokers, neckdowns, pinchpoints, center island narrowing)

LEVEL 5 (Traffic Diversion):

  • Vertical speed control (speed humps/ cushions/ tables)
  • Horizontal speed control (chicanes, traffic circles, curb extensions)
  • Narrowings (chokers, neckdowns, pinchpoints, center island narrowing)
  • Full and partial closures, diagonal diverters


What are the factors leading to more traffic?

We’ve talked many times about how our city swells from its 10,000 residents to 40,000 during the day. Emeryville seems to be doing a pretty good job of attracting people into the city, just not managing how people get here and through it. I’m no traffic engineer, but I think the first step I’d take to solve this is ask some questions about where these 40,000 are coming from and what we can do to better encourage them to use transit. Only factoring in the 3,000 vehicle trip threshold (an in fact universally applied and seemingly arbitrary figure) is not painting a complete picture to make the best decisions here. Bike-friendly cities like Seattle, Portland and our neighbors in Berkeley eschew a universal volume metric and instead factor the unique circumstances of each road.

Emeryville’s Bike-Ped Plan Traffic Volume Guideline comparison:

Here are a few other working theories that may be compounding the problems on Horton:

  • The Emery Go-Round is at capacity, often forcing riders to wait for the next shuttle or stand precariously cramped between the aisles during peak commute. This discourages some from using the free shuttle.
  • Drivers being directed to side streets by traffic apps like Waze to avoid the regularly bottlenecked MacArthur Maze (you can’t hide shortcuts from smartphones).
  • Avoiding Hollis which has become the main thoroughfare across town and is bookended by some horribly inefficiently timed traffic lights at Ashby & 40th.
  • The double-parking of moving vans & delivery drivers and lack of available loading zone areas for the businesses that use them.

Solve these problems first and you might make a dent in things without pitting neighborhoods.

The Donahue Brothers “Drive for Level 5”

Artist Co-op resident, Tattler Editor and BPAC member Brian Donahue (who parks his work truck on Horton but whom I’ve never actually seen on a bike), along with his brother, newly elected Councilmember Scott Donahue, both argued in favor of level five. The youngest Donahue (Brian) also contends that the level 5 recommendation was “unanimous” by the BPAC. Something refuted by committee member Ken Bukowski. “I was there and I said ‘No’. I ride that road all the time and I’ve never had a problem.” noted Ken via phone call. Then candidate Scott Donahue quietly relented his level 5 recommendation once he saw the community response and the impact it could have on his candidacy. Brian, on the other hand, persisted vehemently with his latest “cause célèbre”.

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“The community members want level 5 and we know this because a vote was taken” the Tattler editor stated in the above November 18th Public Comment period. The “Vote” by “Community Members” that Mr. Donahue refers to validate his claim was actually an unscheduled and informal show of hands posed by councilmember Nora Davis at the Saturday meeting in an effort to read the room (in fact chaotic and awkwardly framed). The “Community” that Mr. Donahue refers to were 24 people, many of whom identified themselves as residents of other cities & BPAC members and was hardly reflective of how the entire community feels as Mr. Donahue implies. After a subsequent clarification of the question and the choices, a stronger preference to try level 4 first before resorting to level 5 was expressed here and at the Tuesday meeting. These manipulations of the truth seem to further damage Donahue’s credibility on the matter (this exchange can been viewed below at 51:15).


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The Tattler editor painted a dramatic & grim scenario that a level 4 approach would spell doom for the bike boulevard and anyone that supported level 4 was somehow opposed to its presence and encouraging its immediate demolition via an Asphalt Grinder (Hmmm, “Shocking”). Anyone who wanted to give level 4 a try first as mapped out in the bike-ped plan was somehow Anti-Bike. It shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with The Tattler’s methods (or as one clever commenter coined “The EUSD Enquirer” 😉 that those that dare oppose Mr. Donahue will bear the brunt of his vile (Something I personally learned the hard way). Mr. Donahue goes on to request that the level 4 community preference indicated by Public Works Director Maurice Kaufman in the city packet “be expunged from the record” (huh?).

What History Can Tell Us

The BPAC has stated they wanted to move directly to level 5 for “efficiency” purposes. They want to save the community the expense of having to ultimately go to level 5 which they anticipate will eventually be needed anyway. Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them, right? Diverters were in fact installed on 43rd in the Triangle neighborhood several years ago after complaints of cars speeding through endangering playing children (sadly, a child fatality was involved). The implementation of course succeeded in reducing traffic on the street it was installed on  … but at the expense of adjacent streets and were ultimately removed after community backlash. The cost of installing the diverter cost the city $80,000. It cost an additional $20,000 to remove it. Our own Bicycle plan estimates a full diversion on Horton would result in a 50-90% diversion of the 3,000+ vpd (vehicles per day) volume to neighboring streets. That’s an additional 1,500-2,700 car trips on adjacent streets like Park Avenue, right? Not understanding the impact of diverters can come with unintended consequences.

The Impact of the Sherwin Williams Project

The forthcoming Sherwin Williams project will bring in over 500 units to the Park Avenue Neighborhoods and as many as a 1000 new residents. These new residents will undoubtedly be commuting into San Francisco where the bulk of the tech jobs currently are (and probably the only people who will be able to afford these units when they reach the market). Any measures taken to reduce traffic flow will undoubtedly be impacted by this development. Until the developers present their EIR (Environmental Impact Report) that will include a traffic study, these measures will merely serve as a band-aid. It is imperative that this massive development and the Bike Boulevard somehow work in tandem.


Is this really addressing the heart of the problem?

Bicycle safety should be driving this … but is it? No one in their right mind is going to argue that we shouldn’t make a Bicycle Boulevard safer for bicyclists, but measures that make the biggest impact on the overall bicycle safety of the entire boulevard should be number one. After inquiring with EPD Analyst Adrienne Robinson, she verified there wasn’t a single documented bicycle incident on the stretch of Horton where the diverters were proposed in the last 5 years that she pulled. In fact Zero (0) collisions occurred along Horton between 45th and 53rd Streets during this span.




As expected, all of the combined bicycle/pedestrian accidents along Horton occurred between 39th & 40th where Target, Best Buy, Toys”R”Us & Home Depot empty out. Now again, I’m no traffic engineer, but if you really wanted to protect pedestrian and bicyclists, wouldn’t this be the likely area you’d want to address?


I’ve been not so quietly advocating that the city address the bikeability (and overall unpleasantness) of Halleck at Beach which many of us riders (and drivers) use as a shortcut to Mandela Parkway en route to the West Oakland BART station, the Bay Bridge and the major highways. If you’re looking for the most efficient route (as most bicyclists are), savvy riders are opting for the better connecting route to Mandela underneath the 40th/Shellmound bridge and avoiding the Horton/Mandela nightmare altogether.


Unfortunately “Camp Caltrans” is bleeding into Emeryville and the area has become the most neglected, dire area in the city (if any staff or Councilmembers disagree with this notion, I challenge them to drive, are preferably bike, by there). To dismiss the area as a “lost cause” or give up because of the challenge of having to work with Oakland is weak (Our City Manager in fact came from the City of Oakland, can she not help grease the wheels here?). Improved bikeability here in tandem with the forthcoming Halleck-Beach dog park could really give this area the attention it needs.


Next Steps

The Bikeability of our city is an important feature and one that deserves to be done right. Making decisions without having the right data is akin to crossing your fingers and hoping things work out (They rarely do). There are a lot of questions that aren’t being asked about this project and it’s disappointing. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed and a combination of level 3 & 4 testing was approved by Council (Asher, West & Atkin – Yes, Brinkman & Davis – No, citing the desire for incoming Councilmembers Martinez and Donahue to “take a fresh look at it”). Councilmember West cited her main reason for initially supporting level 5 was the implementation of a choker might actually endanger cars.

The door is still open for level 5 if these measures prove inadequate to reducing the vehicle trips closer to the 3,000 threshold. Once the level 4 measures are implemented, they will be in place for at least a year to allow traffic to adjust to the new conditions. Data on vehicle volumes and speeds will be collected before and during the implementation of the recommended measures, and will be monitored by staff on an ongoing basis. At the end of the experimental period, conditions and options will be reviewed to determine if changes or further steps are necessary. $20,000 of City General Capital Funds as well as a $36,800 ACTC grant will fund this experiment.


Is it time for the City to get more creative?

It seems shortsighted and even disappointing to me that they only solution the city can drum up is to discourage drivers by making things more difficult to navigate … instead of attacking the root of the problem. Here are some other considerations for improving Horton (some that were, and some that weren’t part of the discussion):

  1. We’ve previously pointed out “The 5 worst traffic Bottlenecks in Emeryville“, let’s address them and give drivers fewer reasons to resort to Horton.
  2. Should they consider blocking off Horton to northbound traffic at 40th to prevent shoppers from Target, Best Buy and Home Depot from using Horton as an expressway to Berkeley?
  3. How about no-parking areas on the corners of blind intersection like Sherwin at Horton to improve sight-lines?
  4. Have they looked into eliminating any of the parking on Horton that would widen the streets for bicycles and expand the sightlines?
  5. If speeding is a problem, how about occasional police presence on Horton to deter the offenders (I’ve somehow never seen a cop on this road?).

Think Big. Think Longterm. Be Honest.

The recent EBOT study has wet our appetite for a streetcar that would connect us to BART, but this could be decades away. The city seems to be ignoring the data we’ve provided them that 73% of Emery Go-Round users would be more likely to use it if it went to West Oakland BART. This could be implemented much sooner if the city was more motivated. How about the long-term idea of a ferry terminal at the Marina?


If affordable housing is the number one issue in the city, traffic might rank a close second and we need a more holistic plan for dealing with it. As a daily bike commuter, I’m clearly all for bike safety and traffic reduction for our city … but please give us the facts and give residents the truth about any consequences. If one neighborhood needs to bear the brunt of the traffic to preserve the bikeability of our town (including Park Avenue where I personally reside), I’m fine with it, but don’t portray a rosy picture of how you expect things to work … without considering how they might not.

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Further Reading & Resources:

Horton St. Bike Boulevard thoughts | Councilmember Jennifer West’s Blog

Emeryville’s Complete Bike Boulevard plan

Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center Case Study


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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

1 Comment

  1. Rob, Thanks you for keeping our “Eville-eyes” on the big picture! We all should continue to lobby the Council to look at the larger picture of how our dense city can effectively serve cars, bikes, and pedestrians. The upcoming Sherwin Williams project will change traffic patterns in ways we do not know yet. Hopefully the EIR for that project will include thorough analysis of this and spur the city officials to find creative solutions. We live in a dense, wonderful city, which is about to get even more dense. You outline the issues and path forward so clearly. Thanks again.

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