Orinda struggles to meet competing interests of pedestrian safety and safe access for firefighters
|Posted on February 16, 2022|
|Orinda struggles to meet competing interests of pedestrian safety and safe access for firefighters|
|By Sora O’Doherty|
|Speed Cushion Courtesy Staff Report|
The City of Orinda was forced into a dilemma at its Feb. 1 city council meeting when Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Dave Winnacker told council he wouldn’t had not received enough information to approve the installation of speed pads on Dalewood Drive. The fire chief said he could approve the projects if the community agrees to stagger the speed pads 20 feet on either side of the road. However, Orinda’s Road Safety Advisory Committee opposed the idea, fearing it would cause vehicles to swerve from side to side of the road to avoid speed bumps.
At issue was whether or not the city should appeal the denial of approval to MOFD. The Dalewood Drive traffic calming proposal has been ongoing for over three years.
In the staff report, Acting Director of Public Works Scott Christie said MOFD had not objected to speed pads in the past. TSAC had unanimously recommended that the City Council direct staff to appeal MOFD’s rejection of the 20-foot no-offset speed pads. Other suggested alternatives were to accept the MOFD review and move forward with the installation of the speed cushions with an offset of at least 20 feet or to inform TSAC that other measures of Traffic control should be considered for the location.
In public comments, TSAC Chairman Travis Miller said he fully supports an appeal. “It’s been a long and arduous process,” he said, and it’s not a technical issue.
Dana Wentworth talked about working on speed pads on Sleepy Hollow. “We want to put traffic calming measures in place in our neighborhood. There are 100 pedestrians walking out of school from November to May,” she said, adding, “If you decide not to don’t install speed cushions, you might as well dissolve the TSAC”.
New TSAC member Brandon Hedu recommended appealing MOFD’s decision. “We should not allow MOFD to override a well-considered decision,” he said. In his view, speed cushions are more important than ever as many people work from home, which means more pedestrians are on the streets.
During the council discussion, council member Nick Kosla, while agreeing with council member Amy Worth’s comments on the need for better access for pedestrians and bicycles, concluded that if the city chose to appeal the fire chief’s decision, it would lose.
Christy told council that in the past the city has not submitted an official document. Winnacker submitted both written correspondence prior to the meeting and attended the meeting to explain his position that the data required by the city itself was not presented to him, leaving him without a basis to endorse the installation. Winnacker said, “Approval of an obstruction of the only escape route from a Wilderness Urban Interface Fire Zone requires special diligence in order to ensure public safety.” He also debunked the idea that fire engines could use nearby private roads. They can’t, he said.
Worth felt there had been “a huge national push for pedestrians and cyclists. We have to plan for traffic calming in a big way”. She suggested that, rather than pursuing a formal appeal, the city “find a way to figure out how to adjust or change our policies to take what we have and put it in place in a form that meets MOFD’s needs.”
Kosla agreed. “Why not take the hands-on approach and provide the chief with information to convince him that the neighborhood will be safe?” he suggested. Council member Darlene Gee agreed with her colleagues. “We demonstrated to Chief Winnacker how much we care about fire safety,” she noted, but added that “hiring a consultant to provide the quantitative study the Chief is requesting would be a waste of money. extraordinary. We don’t have the money to conduct a study that doesn’t provide the required numbers.”
Although Winnacker pointed out that he was simply asking for things explicitly provided for in the city’s own policy, Worth said things have changed and the policy needs to be reconsidered. “We have to do everything we can,” she said, “to slow down traffic, especially where people are walking.”
Vice Mayor Inga Miller spoke about increased traffic speeds during the pandemic, coupled with more people wanting to get out and walk. “It’s a terrible combination,” she concluded. Mayor Dennis Fay agrees the policy needs to be reviewed. “It’s a complicated balancing act between security concerns,” he said. He does not believe that a full traffic study is necessary on a residential road.
In the end, council decided not to formally appeal MOFD’s decision yet, but to have staff draft a document explaining the city’s decision that speed pads are the right choice for Dalewood Drive. . Winnacker agreed that MOFD could be flexible on appeal timelines to allow the city to submit its documentation. This approach received the unanimous approval of the board.