What happened is that Fresno County proposed a road diet on Fruit Ave, between Shaw and Herndon. Like all road diets, this was to take a 4 lane road, and make it three lanes, with two bike lanes. It was pretty much a sure thing, so much so that a month ago, I wrote about it saying we could expect to see the new diet, and new bike lanes, by this fall.
Why did I not think there would be a problem?
For one, as I just stated, this was a county project, not a city one. Fresno has holes within its borders from areas that resisted annexation and are governed by the county. The county paid for the environmental impact and engineering reports, and was to pay the majority of the cost. Road diets are dirt cheap, but this project included a complete repaving, which took the budget over one million. All the city had to chip in was a few bucks, because the border abuts two intersection - but that money wasn't even city money. A few years ago, the residents of Fresno approved a sales tax which is to go towards transportation projects. Along with air mitigation funds, the city of Fresno would not pay a dime, just approve the use of the dedicated money.
Another reason this wouldn't be an issue is due to the massive benefits that a road diet brings. While these projects get labeled as bike projects, that's purely so that the government can raid the tiny bike fund and implement a project that mostly benefits motorists. Yes, cyclists get a new lane, but the real benefits are for motorists that no longer have to worry about being plowed into at 50mph while trying to make a left turn.
I detailed road diets in this post.
So a zero cost project, with massive benefits.
But wait, there's more. In 2010, after months and months of community work, the Bike Master Plan was approved, which included bike lanes on Fruit. And in advance of this specific project, the county did outreach work with the neighborhood, sending out flyers and holding a meeting.
Public support for the bike lanes on Fruit was overwhelming, but one voice prevailed. City Council Member Steve Brandau argued there was not enough bicycle traffic to justify a bike lane on Fruit Avenue between Shaw and Herndon.
Brandau cited his own informal traffic study as evidence.
"I went out and parked under a shade tree, it was on a Saturday, a beautiful day and I counted in one hour 374 cars and zero bikes."
That's right, one council member chose to ignore expert traffic engineers, expert planners, and years of community outreach and work because he sat outside in his car and counted cars. And so he torpedoed a project outside his jurisdiction, one which he apparently did not understand.
Did I mention he failed to attend the outreach meeting the county held? The guy has no clue what a road diet actually is, and probably failed to grasp that because of him, the road will not be repaved.
Let's also forget for a second that sitting in your car for an unspecified amount of time is not a traffic study. Let's imagine for a second, that not one cyclists actually did go by. 374 cars on a 4 lane road? Clearly, the REAL traffic engineers were right when they said a road diet would cause no congestion - that's nothing!
There's also the fact that cyclists don't use the road BECAUSE it lacks bike lanes. Nobody drives on the proposed Veteran's Avenue either, and yet the city will spend tens of millions to build it.
Not all politicians in the area are as clueless. The man who last held the seat had the following to say:
But Fresno County Supervisor Andreas Borgeas is challenging Brandau's methods and conclusions.
"I'm not certain exactly what the council member did but normally on these matters I defer to the experts, the traffic experts and based on what I was told traffic congestion would not occur, the narrowing of Fruit would not cause an undue burden on traffic in the area."
"I think of lot of people want to see Fresno more bike friendly, including myself. And I think it's important we do our best to incorporate bike traffic into our normal traffic grid as much as possible. It encourages folks to take up biking. It's good for the health, it's good for the environment, it allows for diversity in transportation."
When asked for justification on why he killed the project, the council member spun some excuse about fiscal responsibility. However, that excuse is as flimsy as his understanding of traffic engineering.
Fresno County spent more than one hundred thousand dollars on planning and designing the bike lanes, as part of the bicycle master plan the city had already approved.
All the councilman did was throw that money away.
He also set a bad precedent. What kind of government can be run properly if the experts are ignored? How can you govern if the safety and needs of your constituents are thrown out the window? How can a city be run where anecdotal information trumps facts?
If there's anything positive that came from this, is that Steve Brandau made it very, very clear he's not fit to sit on the council, and his incompetency has been revealed to all. A thread on his Facebook page on the matter included many talking about running against the candidate in the next election. That thread has since been deleted.