FREMONT — Despite “continued speeding” along a winding, sloping section of a Paseo Padre promenade, Fremont City Council on Tuesday rejected a controversial proposal to reduce the number of lanes on the main road from four to two.
The majority of the council said it opposed the narrowing of lanes along the roughly one-mile stretch of the Paseo between Driscoll Road and Washington Boulevard, which is lined with homes, largely because it would concerned about potential traffic congestion that could result from lane removal.
The council sided with many residents who opposed the “road diet”, some who called the city staff’s proposal “crazy” and one that would cause “chaos”.
“It’s just going to be a nightmare if we reduce this to one lane in each direction,” councilman Rick Jones said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
The vast majority of the more than 800 people who responded to a March city survey opposed the road diet, although only 7% of those who responded live on this part of the Paseo, according to city reports.
“I don’t think it serves any purpose other than to cause drivers more stress,” AJ Iyer told the council.
Others who supported the idea of cutting lanes said removing the ability for drivers to weave around each other would make it much safer for people driving, walking or cycling in the area, where 28 accidents have occurred in the last five years.
Satya Kumar said he lived nearby and his daughter was in a car when she was hit as she turned left across Paseo.
“I hope the board realizes that this is not a popularity contest, it’s a safety issue,” Kumar told the board, referring to the investigation.
Council voted 6-1 to keep the Paseo two lanes in each direction, with council member Jenny Kassan casting the only dissenting vote because she supported the road diet.
The decision comes about 7 months after the council rejected a similar road diet idea in September, but voted for slightly narrow traffic lanes and adding four-foot-wide cycle lanes to the road. City staff also floated the idea of a road diet in 2019, but waited until an Interstate 680 widening project could be completed.
As council balked at removing lanes, on Tuesday it approved a series of other changes aimed at slowing traffic on this part of the Paseo, including the addition of a new traffic light at Covington Drive, the placement a red crosswalk signal light at Olive Avenue, and flashing yellow pedestrian beacons at two other intersections.
The council also asked staff to widen the current bike lanes to five feet by narrowing the traffic lanes slightly. The city has also installed speed feedback signs to warn drivers when they exceed the limit.
The council’s decision this week went against the recommendation of public works director Hans Larsen, who said that even after the lanes narrowed, speed is still “excessive” on the road.
“People are driving way too fast,” Larsen told the council.
The speed limit on the road in this area is 35 mph, but in an analysis of speed data from March 2022, Larsen said about 1,400 drivers on the road every day are moving at 45 mph or faster, with around 80 drivers tracked at 55 mph.
The road currently sees about 8,900 cars a day, according to city reports, and before the pandemic it carried about 13,500 a day.
Larsen said a single lane in each direction could accommodate up to 20,000 cars a day, far more than the road saw even before the pandemic. He also noted that the 680 widening project, completed in the fall of 2020, also helped mitigate the backups on Paseo, as it connects to Washington where a popular freeway entrance is located.
City reports also said the road regime would only change the area between Driscoll and Washington, and not alter those intersections, where “overall traffic capacity is most affected.”
Sharad Ramachandran, who lives along the road, said he prefers the road diet as he thinks the design of the road encourages fast driving.
“It’s terrifying to see cars speeding down the road as I try to pull out of my driveway,” he said. Some cyclists also said they were afraid to ride alongside high-speed traffic in the narrow cycle lanes, which have parking on the right.
But others said the city should step up police speed enforcement in the area and see how new crossing signals and beacons affect drivers. Some also said the city was too preoccupied with the needs of cyclists.
“I think we should take it one step at a time and see if it works,” said Ray Storms, who lives down the road and opposed the lane removal.
“No one travels by bike in this area. Those who cannot afford a car cannot afford to live in this area of central and south Fremont along Paseo Padre,” resident Steve Richardson said in an email.
“Please stop pandering to a small progressive bicycle lobby and prioritize our transportation improvements to serve the vast majority who drive their automobiles,” Elizabeth Leong said in an email to the council.
Mayor Lily Mei said she had seen a lot of speeding and rude behavior on many roads in Fremont, and said more “respect and safety” was needed from all drivers.
She said she hopes Fremont can one day have automated ticket enforcement because police cannot cover the entire 92-square-mile city.
Vice Mayor Raj Salwan acknowledged that the road was “overbuilt”, but refrained from supporting the removal of the lanes.
“If we’re going to do a scheme, we want to make sure we have community support,” he said, noting the lack of support for the road diet proposal in the survey.
“We represent the people, and the people are clearly not ready to take this path down,” he said.