A number of residents got concerned about the Transportation and Circulation Commission having an item on their “possible topics for future meetings” item which was entitled “Feasibility of Additional Onramp to Interstate 280”. I thought it would be helpful to write about what’s going on with this.
But first, the short version: my understanding is that the item will be pulled from the “possible topics” section.
That means it won’t be appearing on a future Commission agenda, unless and until it gets “nominated” again and approved by a majority vote of the Commission. And even then that “approval” simply means it would be discussed in public, with people having an opportunity to comment on it, not that the Commission would be making a recommendation to the Council about the subject (except for the Planning Commission, no commission has delegated authority to take any action; all they can do is make recommendations to the Council, which is free to do what it wishes with any such).
Before talking about the topic itself it’s worth explaining why we adopted this Texas Two Step approach to discussion topics.
There was a recent court case which set some conditions on how legislative bodies can define their agendas. The court’s reasoning, as I understand it, was that the public ought to be able to oversee what’s being considered for future discussion. That’s separate from a discussion of the item itself. It’s simply a decision about whether or not a given topic is of interest to enough members of the body that it should be put on a future agenda.
I think this is a good idea because it further increases the public’s ability to oversee the public decision-making process.
But it complicates things because something will show up on an agenda — like “Feasibility of Additional Onramp to Interstate 280” — without any supporting detail. That’s the result of the decision under consideration being “do we want to talk about this at some point?” as opposed to “what should we do about this?”. The latter is what people are used to. The former is one step removed/further back from what people have learned to expect.
Which can cause confusion. Even for commissioners and Council members. If you watch our recent meetings you’ll often see us struggling to discuss whether we want to discuss something without actually getting into a discussion of the topic itself.
So there never was going to be a discussion of a new on-ramp at this week’s Commission meeting. At a future meeting, possibly, if enough Commissioners wanted to, after hearing public comment on the possibility.
Now, as to the topic itself, which clearly touched a nerve for some members of our community, a few thoughts based on the emails I’ve gotten.
- On ramps increase crime. I don’t know if that’s the case, although I understand the concern and it’d be something to consider if we were actually going to build any on-ramp to a freeway. San Carlos’ crime rate has been dropping over the last few years, for various reasons. That’s no comfort to someone who’s the victim of a crime but it’s important to keep it in mind. Our increasingly-connected world “enhances” our ability to be aware of more crime in a bigger area more quickly, which can swamp the reality of what’s happening.
- On ramps negatively impact neighborhood traffic. True, and an important consideration (probably the most important one). But they can also positively impact traffic flow elsewhere. That’s a classic example of public choices needing to balance competing interests, which has to be — and is — done through a political process. Everyone gets a chance to weigh in before a decision is made. But the political process breaks down if you’re never willing to talk about anything that can generate opposition…because everything generates opposition.
- Crestview Drive is already a speedway. Sadly, this is true. There are lots of reasons for that. The most important one is that it was poorly-designed, when it was built decades ago, as a residential street. In fact, I suspect it was intended to be more like the Holly Street corridor which is a major arterial roadway that has homes along it (which is a weird but not unheard of pairing; consider Alameda de las Pulgas). Law enforcement spends a good bit of time enforcing speed limits on Crestview…but there are hundreds of streets in San Carlos, all of which also need to be monitored (that’s why that poor design choice I mentioned is so critical). Another example of balancing competing interests.
- It would endanger school children waiting for buses. There aren’t any District-operated school buses in San Carlos, and haven’t been any for years. But there is a SamTrans bus route used by students (Line 61). So the impact on children crossing the street would be something to consider. There are ways to design for that, not in the connector itself but by investing in pedestrian crossing corridors at key locations.
- It would decimate a wildlife corridor. Something to consider, although I suspect what wildlife is in the area has already adapted to crossing streets and such. More importantly, from what I’ve seen elsewhere this is something that could be addressed by good design. That makes it another matter of balance, involving how much the community wants to invest in such considerations versus other potential uses of public funds.
- Neighbors weren’t notified about this item. True. But, remember, the topic was “do we want to talk about this at some point?” not “do we want to do something in this regard?” The notification protocols, which are important, relate to the “do something” phase.
- The city always seems to “pick on” North Crestview Park. The city’s responsibility is to manage all of its assets for the benefit of all its residents. No asset is sacrosanct. In the case of North Crestview it’s also the case that it is more of an “overlooked” park than anything else. Even most Council members didn’t realize the city owned the property, let alone that it was designated as a park, when it was the subject of a potential land-swap with the school district some years ago. Which is a sign of how under-utilized it is by the community at large. What’s the best use of a piece of property like that? It depends on the totality of what the overall community wants to achieve with its resources. Making it another example of a balancing act, and one which spans the entire community, not just the people who live near the property.
One last, for now, thing to keep in mind.
I mentioned earlier that decisions about on-ramps involve balancing traffic impacts within a community. But there’s another “balance dimension” which is of increasing concern to Californians: the ability to evacuate an area safely and quickly in the face of a wildfire (or other localized emergency).
The Crestview Drive area, being on the western border of San Carlos and having a number of undeveloped areas east and south of it, is, I suspect, one of the higher risk areas (and maybe highest risk one) for wildfire in our community. Granted, the overall risk of wildfire is less in San Carlos than it is in places like Paradise. But the risk still exists, and it isn’t spread evenly across the city.
An additional on-ramp would provide an additional evacuation route, at least in some circumstances. That, too, would have to be weighed in the balance if an on-ramp was under consideration. As would alternatives like building a connector but then closing it off except in cases of a public safety emergency (which is essentially what Belmont did when they closed off the connection between Crestview and Hallmark — it’s kept closed except when emergency vehicles need to get through or if an evacuation is likely).
None of which would be considered if we never talked about things that engender opposition. You only strike balances when there competing/conflicting interests — which is, granted, almost always the case when making public decisions — but you can’t weigh the factors if you don’t discuss them. Hopefully as calmly and as rationally as you can, because that’s what leads to better decisions.