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The Walnut Creek City Council has unanimously approved a five-year transportation strategy plan that city officials say will encourage more residents to utilize public transit options in lieu of personal vehicles.
The city’s “Rethinking Mobility” plan places targets for reducing the congestion of vehicle traffic moving into, out of and around Walnut Creek.
In turn, the plan is intended to increase the use of BART, ride booking services like Uber and Lyft, dockless scooters and bicycles and the city’s bus network to reduce superfluous short vehicle trips.
City planning officials began outreach for the plan in 2018 and made the draft Rethinking Mobility plan available to the public in January 2020.
The council was expected to give its final approval of the plan in the spring, according to associate city planner Ozzie Arce. That timeline was ultimately pushed back due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“However, the goals of reducing vehicle miles traveled and managing parking demand are still very much the same, so it’s more a matter of adapting to the times,” Arce told the council at its Oct. 20 meeting.
Incentives for ridership
Among the plan’s 13 goals are working with businesses to offer special discounts for transit riders, adding dedicated bus lanes that will cut down peak travel times, adding more amenities for cyclists like bike lockers and public bike repair stations, modifying parking pricing based on location and demand, and reducing the number of parking spaces required for new housing developments.
Arce framed the pandemic as something of an accelerant for the city’s new transportation plan, citing the several parking spaces in downtown Walnut Creek that have been refashioned into outdoor dining areas since the pandemic began.
City officials indicated over the summer that they would consider implementing a similar outdoor dining program post-pandemic, even on a seasonal basis.
Multiple cities in the Bay Area have also closed sections of some streets to vehicle traffic, allowing residents to safely walk and bike along them, and added dedicated curb space in front of businesses that can accommodate the rise in delivery services wrought by the pandemic.
“In light of this, the proposed strategies in Rethinking Mobility have become more relevant as a way to support economic recovery while also encouraging active transportation and a reduction in vehicles miles traveled,” Arce said.
“Now, the ability of cities to adapt to the constantly changing conditions will be what allows them to thrive moving forward,” he said.
While the council unanimously approved adopting the plan, City Councilwoman Cindy Silva suggested the plan’s effectiveness could be hampered depending on where workers who live outside the city are commuting.
“If I lived in Antioch, I would not ever get on BART to go to downtown Walnut Creek to then have to get on another means of transportation to go out to Shadelands Business Park,” Silva said, adding that “knowing the origin and the specific employment center destination is going to better inform the likelihood of behavior change.”
Reaching out to students
The plan also outlines how the city can encourage local students to choose more sustainable transportation methods when they return to in-person classes.
City and school staff, the plan suggests, could perform walking audits to improve pedestrian infrastructure near school campuses to ensure students are safe if they are walking or biking to school.
While the plan compares a potential school bus program to the bus program serving the cities of Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga, which served nearly 1,500 students during the 2019-20 school year, Silva noted that the circumstances for Walnut Creek are not the same.
“I think we need to understand why they do that and why those kids don’t walk or ride a bike to school in those communities, it’s not because they’re higher-end communities but they have a lot of very narrow and very hilly roads with no infrastructure that would make it safe,” she said.
In approving the plan, the council added a requirement that city staff give an update on the plan’s implementation by June 2021, given the variables that could change as the pandemic continues.