Free money for Concord bicycle study comes with a cost

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Hooray! Concord got a free bicycle study. What’s it cost?

On July 22, Concord City Council passed Resolution No. 14-53. The action allows Concord to receive a $ 320,000 from the State to fund a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and Safe Routes to Transit Project. At first glance, it all looks pretty innocent. But…

bicycle studyFor a municipality like Concord that, like other cities in the Diablo Valley, is struggling to balance budgets, the prospect of getting something for nothing look a no brainer.  So of course City Council stood up at the free-money, Texas Hold-em table and went all-in and organized an Ad Hoc Committee. This ad hoc bicycle study committee seems to be similar to Concord’s Downtown Plan process used to comply with guidelines and insure public input to receive grants for that study.

In the end about two-thirds of the bicycle study grant money will go to an outside consultant to report how bicycle and pedestrian traffic can be made safer with new road improvements, traffic routes, and special lanes for non-motorized vehicles.

If things are run in a similar way to what was done in hiring Perkins & Will with the Downtown Plan, the list of prospective contractors will be limited to those who are favored by those issuing the grants.

The questionable part about the Downtown Plan freebie is, though Concord may not have had to pay for the consultant, the “free” consultant did not work for the interests of Concord, but for the agenda of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)and The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which recommended Perkins & Will in the first place.

As a result, many people who worked on the project felt the Concord was getting short changed. The reports issued by Perkins & Will (whom I recommend be replaced during the study) presented more of a re-write of a freshman level term paper than present an independent vision of what could transpire in Concord’s downtown over the next 30 years.

It was obvious that Perkins & Will didn’t care much about Concord with its “Just another town along the road” approach that antagonized many committee members.

This attitude was very much in evidence during several meetings when Perkins & Will’s input was discreetly missing during discussions to gloss over its advocacy of building high density multi-income housing projects in the Todos Santos area that are favored by the State of California’s Housing Element.

In compiling its plans Perkins & Will expressed limited concern for new congestion that would come from building mega housing projects, or how it would affect the area as a popular, central gathering place for the community.

After attending the recent Thursday night Farmers Market, that featured a concert by a Michael Jackson cover band several thousand people attended. It makes me cringe to think that this pleasant atmosphere might be endangered in the future by central planners willy-nilly neglect.

The disconnect between the proposed consultant and people who live in Concord was brought up by Concord Vice-Mayor Ron Leone during the discussion period on approving the more recent Bike Plan resolution 14-53.

Leone stressed Concord make sure its bicycle study include diverse public input rather than merely become a self-fulfilling prophecy of the agenda of the consultant to be named later.

Another point brought up during the comment period was the high cost of doing this bicycle study discussed by Councilwomen Laura Hoffmeister.  She wondered even though the City is not paying for any of the services provided covered by the grant, why there was such a lofty price tag for performing this task?

Hoffmeister, who during her 16 year stint on the City Council has a reputation for being a penny pincher in spending taxpayer dollars, raises  a good point.

When one considers that bicycle use, which will be the major recipient of funds for the study, comprise at the most 1% of traffic flow in the city, the $320,000 for the study seems to be a pretty hefty piece of change.

In contrast, if the same amount of money were allocated on a proportional basis for studying car and truck traffic, the tab would come to $25,953.000 million.  While such a high figure for a study seems patently absurd, it puts things into context of the priority level given for a pedestrian and bike study.

It should also be noted that all of the funds allocated by governmental agencies for various studies may be free to cities for which these services are performed, but also represent tax dollars that local communities might prefer to allocate performing basic functions from fixing pot holes to senior programs, and providing more law enforcement coverage.

Folks, it’s not “free money.”

This is where there is such a growing split between local governments and the State of California. It has been well documented that 10 years ago when the economy was in the tank, tax revenues were taken away from the cities to balance the budget and take care of other priorities.  Now that the economy has improved, when doling out  funding to the cities the State prefers the money be for specific purposes rather than in the form of block grants to spend at discretion of the City’s on needs.

Such a state of affairs is why the ABAG’s and MTC’s of the world are holding most of the cards while local governments are left holding the bag because they have little say on how their constituent needs are to met.  This is reflected by the actions of the State Legislature that continues to play the role of “big brother” with the folks back home.

A third of a million dollars for Concord to perform a bicycle study that is not exactly a high priority. These micro-management projects are the poster child for what is wrong with how Sacramento allocates funds for local governments.

With its revenue streams so limited, most of communities in the Diablo Valley find themselves needing to impose additional sales taxes to provide minimum service levels for residents. Measure Q in Concord is a prime time example of this.  With so many governmental functions now mandated by higher authorities, city governments are put in an almost impossible position of trying to stretch dwindling tax receipts to meet basic needs.

So the $320,000 question is would it be better to turn down free money for a bicycle study knowing both its up front and downstream costs are and will be too expensive?

A practical answer is probably not. The City Council should likely proceed taking whatever revenues they can extract and try to do the most they can do to see that the funds are well spent.

Something to be considered when hiring the consultants for the new pedestrian and bicycle study.  Even though the choice of acceptable vendors are limited, great care should be given to hiring a vendor who is willing to understand local needs rather than one trying to suck up to those who are playing Santa Claus with public funds.

At the same time the City Council should be careful when it appoints an Ad Hoc Committee. It should provide diversity between two wheel enthusiasts, local businesses, residents, and other parties who make up the entire community.

In situations like this where the general public is not materially affected until traffic conditions worsen, little input can be expected from the “silent majority” that resides in Concord.  As they say in the DMV Driver Handbook when entering an orange cone construction area, “proceed with caution.”

 

 


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Comments

  1. says

    Actually, I believe Edi Birsan brought up the point of having locals participating – and not just any locals but actual bicycle commuters/users. I believe Leone seconded that emotion.

    And Birsan has a very good point. Having bicycle commuted for a few years back in my twenties, you know and see things that outside people, even those that are in favor of bicycle, will never see or know.

    For this to work we must include actual users in our area. But as the city’s usual response to any pedestrian/bicycle vs car conflict has been to simply remove bicycles and crosswalks, I doubt they are serious about moving forward with any plan, and it is simply an appeasement ploy in an election year.