On Tuesday April 19, the majority of Fremont’s City Council overturned every plan it has made for safe multimodal transportation in the city over the last 5 years and decided to forego a road diet on a residential, high-speed 1-mile stretch of Paseo Padre Parkway. They did this despite data that overwhelmingly shows NO impact on traffic congestion. But enough drivers complained to council about street safety improvements elsewhere in the city, especially protected intersections, that council felt the need to take action to protect motorists ability to speed.
While it is not surprising to see elected officials ignore safety for vulnerable road users and instead cater to motorists, it was still jarring to see how quickly council members turned from re-approving Vision Zero a year ago, to undermining it now. Yang Shao’s rant against protected intersections was only interrupted by network issues in the Zoom meeting. While not openly hostile, other Councilmembers nevertheless revealed that they don’t understand that reducing vehicle speeds is crucial to Vision Zero and road safety. That, or that they just don’t care enough to defend the program against ill-informed popular opinion that is entirely refuted by data collected by the city’s own traffic engineers. And even after her own scathing commentary on how dangerous some drivers are, Mayor Lily Mei still voted to exclude the road diet, the one component of the project that had the potential for significant vehicle speed reductions in this corridor. The sole defender of road safety for everybody was Councilmember Jenny Kassan, demonstrating what it means to be a civic leader, even in an election year.
Unfortunately, this outcome does not portend well for future road safety projects in general and bike infrastructure in particular. With 2 Councilmembers (Rick Jones & Yang Shao) openly opposing bike improvements and 4 others (Raj Salwan, Teresa Cox, Teresa Keng and Mayor Lily Mei) following popular opinion rather than leading with data-driven decision, it will take a major push from road safety advocates to make further progress. We will need to show up in numbers for future projects and we need to educate elected representatives on road safety for all ages and abilities.
Two upcoming events where you can probably meet some representatives are the Niles Canyon Stroll & Roll on May 1st and a community celebration at the Warm Springs BART station on May 12.