Not Another Make-Believe Traffic Remedy

The chant coming from City Hall is a familiar one: "What do we want? Another consultant! When do we want it? Now!"

Hiring consultants help 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 Councilman 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.

Alameda already has a transportation element in its general plan, which spells out its 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 plan (TDM) 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 City 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.

While councilmembers 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 Councilwoman 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.

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Jon Spangler
Jon Spangler's picture

As an inaugural member of the Transportation Commission and a frequent observer and commenter at their meetings, I could not disagree more with your post. It reveals an unfortunate lack of familiarity with how the TC and the Alameda’s Public Works Department function. This is not, as you claim, just another study of what the transportation “problem” is. Instead, Councilmember Daysog's goal is to design implementation strategies that can be applied throughout Alameda–not just in one development area–that will 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 2009-2010, 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. To ask the existing TC to accomplish a similar feat is asking more than their advisory role under the City Charter.

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.

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 such a big project on top of what they already do, thanks to years of staff reductions, so hiring an outside consultant to develop a new community-based plan is the only way to accomplish this new and laudable goal.