The Ruckus Over Alameda’s Shore Line Cycle Track
In a surprising twist, not everybody is happy about the Shore Line cycle track, pitting bike people against car people.
The under-construction cycle track on Shore Line has bike and car people at odds.
Photo by Megan Small
When construction delineators went up on Shore Line Drive in October, cordoning off a former traffic lane for the new two-way cycle track, some Alamedans expressed confusion and dismay. Facebook conversations about the project garnered hundreds of comments, many of them sharply critical.
Pete Grosser started one online thread on an upbeat note, expecting neighbors to share his anticipation of biking on a “complete road” starting in February.
“I was very surprised by the comments that continued to stream in over the next several days. ‘Waste of money; it doesn’t go anywhere; no one will use it; it’s just a showpiece; a reduction of lanes will create traffic congestion; local residents will lose street parking,’ etc.,” Grosser said.
Perhaps Alameda rushed into the project. After all, it’s only been in the works for 40 years.
A dedicated bike space along Shore Line Drive was listed as a priority in “Bikeway Proposal — City of Alameda,” a document the city issued in 1974.
Of the project’s million-dollar budget, more than $400,000 comes from a federal grant. The new bikeway will be separated from the existing beachside pedestrian/bike path by the curb, and protected from car traffic by low, intermittent barriers called wheel stops.
The city’s goal here goes beyond easing congestion on the popular path. By eliminating two lanes of car traffic—a change planners call a “road diet”—it also aims to discourage speeding, decrease crashes, and make Shore Line safer for pedestrians to cross. Finally, the physical separation between people and vehicles moving at different speeds should make everyone safer, both in reality and perception.
Parking is the issue causing the most confusion among residents. The plan reduces on-street parking spots along Shore Line and West Line drives to 431 from 617. But Alameda transportation coordinator Gail Payne points out that just 272 of the old parking spots allowed daytime parking; the new road has 377 spaces available 24/7.
Although the changes are meant to improve safety, some critics worry that the new road will be more dangerous than before. The tighter curves might lead to accidents, and moving cars could hit the open doors of parked cars, online commenters fretted.
Others complain that the project will make life miserable for drivers on an island where low speed limits already make getting around tedious.
“Shore Line is the only safe way to get from the East End to the West End during the morning commute without running into school drop-off snags. Every other east-west artery has a school on it,” said Ani Dimusheva, a West End resident who enjoys cycling but is not enthused about the new bikeway.
But Payne says the project won’t cause congestion. “Other jurisdictions have used the same type of road diet for streets that are much busier than this one,” Payne said.
Meghan Weir, a planner with transportation firm Nelson/Nygaard in San Francisco, said that backlash from drivers is not uncommon when cities put in new protected bike lanes.
“That often fizzles out, because the reality is that they make the streets safer—and if cars slow down a little bit, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, even for the drivers,” Weir said.
The argument largely boils down to bike people versus car people, with the former salivating to get on the new path while the latter shake their heads. Many Alameda cyclists are sick of calling out “on your left” every few seconds while trying to bike along the shore.
“Bikers, walkers, runners, joggers, scooters, rollerbladers, and dogs of all sizes all share the narrow existing path, going different speeds and frequently causing narrow misses. Losing a lane for automobile traffic seems well worth the trade off,” said Jeremy Schmitz, an avid cyclist who logs 26-mile rides every Sunday.
Yet, there is a vocal segment of bike riders who wish that city funds had been directed elsewhere.
Art Medlar, who cycles as his primary mode of transportation, said Alameda should be spending its money creating safe routes on and off the island and directly to the commercial districts. Existing infrastructure makes it challenging to safely bike onto the bridges, and bike lanes stop short of business districts, he said.
“Shore Line does not address either of these issues,” Medlar griped. “It is not between anywhere anyone is and anywhere they might want to go. And even more importantly, there is no safe way to get to the bike path on a bicycle! But it cost a million dollars.”