Starting around March 2015, the Road Diet on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen changed a busy four-lane road with no bike lanes into a two-lane road with two bike lanes plus a turning lane in the middle. The San Jose City Council will discuss making this very controversial Road Diet (“Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project”) permanent at their 28 June 2016 meeting. Please join me there if you want your voice to be heard.
This is part of a series in which I use my professional experience in data collection and analysis to clarify our local discussion. See my 17 June 2016 post for the 3 official San Jose Department of Transportation (“SJ-DOT”) project goals, plus the 5 problem categories I have identified through discussion and interviews. In my opinion, the Road Diet has generally failed to meet its goals, particularly because SJ-DOT reported that there were 22 crashes during the last year, compared to 8 the year before.
This post has two sections:
- “Lincoln Avenue Road Diet Evaluation” by Bret Levine, 19 June 2016
- Selected Quotes on the Road Diet from 4 More Local Businesses
Lincoln Avenue Road Diet Evaluation by Bret Levine
Since its inception, the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet has polarized support in both directions. Though perhaps you’ve heard reasons for or against the Road Diet, I’d like to present my evaluation of the Road Diet through the lens of applied research. This began with my inquiry into the methods, measures, data analyses, and data collection processes that I noticed with the Road Diet since 2015.
Ethics as an Experiment
The Road Diet is a “trial” was described as an “experiment”. Therefore if we begin to treat the Road Diet as an experiment, we should hold its merits to similar guidelines in which we hold other experiments. Surely for the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet, a change in commerce that impacts such a wide array of people, we should hold the Road Diet to the strictest standards possible.
For guidelines on conducting ethical research many scientists and researchers nationwide will refer to the US National Institutes of Health (“NIH”), the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. On the NIH website you can find a list of “Ethics in Clinical Research”, which is a set of ethical guidelines for conducting research that involves participants. Again, the Road Diet Trial is by no means a traditional “experiment”, however, this should not deter the use of ethical standards in experimentation given that real people (participants) are affect by the treatment (Road Diet). Additionally, the NIH guidelines are flexible enough to be used as guidance for applied research as well.
It is under the pretenses of these ethical principles that I have concluded that the process of enacting the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet and the measures used for analysis have led to the unethical treatment of those people affected:
- Social and Clinical value – The word “impact” is fitting for the road diet, given that commuters, cyclists, pedestrians, businesses, and Willow Glen residents are all affected by the change in the public space. In terms of research, the impact of the Road Diet might encompass many research questions, such as the five following. These are only a handful of questions that would need to be asked before an experiment is put into action. Each of these questions can then be operationalized for data collection so that there is actual information that can represent the answers to these questions. Few of these questions were answered from any of the methods chosen to analyze the results of the Road Diet.
- How does the Road Diet impact traffic in surrounding neighborhoods?
- How is safety on Lincoln Avenue affected by the Road Diet?
- What is the level of satisfaction for commuters, cyclists, and pedestrians?
- Are businesses better off as a result of the Road Diet?
- Are residence satisfied with the Road Diet?
- Fair subject selection – Those most effected by the Road Diet were not fully taken into consideration. Most importantly (as outlined later) was the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists which was not measured correctly.
- Favorable risk-benefit ratio – Neither the risks nor benefits of the Road Diet were presented with any factual substance during the formation or execution.
- Respect for potential and enrolled subjects – As quoted from the ethical guidelines: “For research to be ethical, most agree that individuals should make their own decision about whether they want to participate or continue participating in research.” This would directly contradict with the Willow Glen Business Association (“WGBA”) 10-4 vote against the Road Diet (“Willow Glen business group says it’s time to end the Lincoln Avenue road diet” June 2015 Mercury News article by Leeta-Rose Ballester), which was agreed upon to be upheld by Hans Larsen of the SJ-DOT via his presentation before the Road Diet would be put in place (“Lincoln Avenue Road Diet Trial” 15 February 2015).
WGNA Survey vs. WG Business Association Survey
The WGNA survey on the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet allowed for multiple entries from the same person(s). The bottom of the results page noted the removal of same-IP-address without significant changes to the results of the survey, however one can change their IP address simply by filling out the survey with their phone or computer on an alternate router or internet provided. Also, the same person can take the survey from alternate devices other than their own.
The Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (“WGNA”) so-called survey is not survey – it’s a bias measure of popular opinion, conjured from repeated button pressing. The fact that redundant IP addresses were controlled for doesn’t mean anything. You can change your IP address by joining another network.
The Department of Transportation (SJ-DOT) Data Collection Report (1 June 2015), provided conflicting results from the Willow Glen Business Association (“WGBA”) Road Diet Survey conducted by business owners, managers, and property owners. Both sets of results can be found here. The SJ-DOT survey described “notable pedestrian volume increases” (anecdotally – no numbers) while 130 business owners, managers, and property owners on the WGBA survey noted a negative change in the number of people coming into their business (m =2.33, n = 130). Other variables that may have explained the notable increase in pedestrian presence “after” the road diet were not accounted for – in particular time of the year was one such variable. The “before” Road Diet pedestrian volume was measured in February 2015 while the “after” Road Diet observation was made in April 2015. Obviously, these are times during the year that we may expect to see changes in pedestrian volume on Lincoln Avenue – either as a symptom of weather or merely change in season fromWinter to Spring.
Additionally, the SJ-DOT final report failed to provide collision data during the trial while the owners, managers, and property owners felt that the Road Diet was between “no change” and “a little less safe” (m = 2.69, n = 130) for drivers. Not only did the SJ-DOT report not include collision data, but emergency vehicle access as well as changes for vehicles and access for the handicapped were not included. Most shocking is that the main focus of the Road Diet was safety, yet those whose safety is most impacted by the Road Diet were not measured at all: customers, commuters, cyclists, pedestrians, and employees.
In addition to conflicting with the SJ-DOT final report, the WGBA survey provided additional results on the impact of business on Lincoln Avenue. In addition to reduction to people entering their business, owners and managers noted negative changes in satisfaction level of their customers (m = 2.24, n = 128) as well as negative changes in their bottom lines i.e. sales and revenue (m = 2.36, n = 128) as a result of the Road Diet.
Final Road Diet Results Presentation
Sections of the results presentation from the WGBA survey were not accurately presented. Arguably, pie charts do not take into account the embodiment of those that have responded to survey results and can arguably be misleading. For example, the pie charts included in the WGBA survey results grouped together positive and negative responses into 2 bulk categories. This does not take into account the sensitivity built into the survey that should be used to psychometrically represent the differences in opinion. Accompanied with averages (means) that I’ve provided at times in this post, help to capture an overall representation of the entire sample. At first blush, safety appears to have improved as a result of the Road Diet according to the pie charts in the WGBA survey (p. 4). Upon closer examination owners, managers, and property owners felt that Lincoln Avenue was between “a little safer” and “no change” for Pedestrians (m = 3.42, n = 131) and “a little safer” for cyclists (m = 3.62, n =131). These opinions are not represented in the analyses (“Willow Glen Business Association Survey of Members Regarding Road Diet Trial” 14 June 2015).
If the central research question is along the lines of, “How does the Road Diet impact residents, businesses, and commerce on Lincoln Avenue” the methods chosen to answer this question are vastly inaccurate. There are additional measures (focus groups, interviews, observations, archival data etc.) that could have been utilized to help answer questions, notwithstanding creating accurate surveys to capture sampled opinions. Additionally there could have been much more research – including actual data – on similar cases where Road Diets were put into place.
Questions that affect such a depth and breadth of people and resources should not be answered by shoddy measures and unscientific research. Cultural changes such as increasing cycling or walking amongst a community or city require a great deal of research and time before changes should be made. The people of Willow Glen are owed due scientific process and inquiry before such hasty decisions negatively affect their lives.
External Consultation and Conclusion
An external report by the Stanford Public Policy Program (“Analysis and Recommendations for Lincoln Ave Road Diet” 12 June 2015, by: Dev Davis, Misa Fujisaki, Miho Tanaka, Lucy Xiao) concluded similar results to my analysis: clarify the goals of the Road Diet, ensure that businesses are not harmed, survey residence, and gather more data on pedestrians and cyclists. The motto of both of our analyses is that more information is needed. However, in regards to this letter, more information comes with a caveat.
Given the feedback from the strongest measures available (WGBA survey), conflict with previous methods (DOT vs. WGBA survey), and new light from NIH guidelines – ethically speaking on behalf of those impacted by the Road Diet – the Road Diet cannot continue until more information in collected and analyzed. The potentially detrimental effects (public safety and the harm on small businesses) on participants of the Road Diet should outweigh the potentially beneficial effects.
As agreed upon with Hans Larsen from the SJ-DOT, on 23 June 2015, the WGBA voted to end the Road Diet (this vote is recorded in a letter “Attachment I” of the SJ-DOT 6 June 2016 report to the San Jose Mayor and City Council), yet the Road Diet has been in place for almost 1 year since the “no” vote. The current existence of the Road Diet is in violation with the original agreement and could be in violation of the ethical guidelines for participants.
There is enough data now to analyze the effects that the Road Diet has had on those that have been impacted, whilst curbing any detrimental effects that have already been caused. The Road Diet was rushed into place without the forethought of research, the opinion of local leaders, the opinion of the Willow Glen residents, nor the opinions of local organizations and businesses. The safety and prosperity of the people of San Jose should be of the upmost importance whenever impactful changes are put in place.
Selected Quotes on the Road Diet from 4 More Local Businesses
Except as indicated, those quoted are either business owners or managers on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen, between Minnesota and Willow. My 17 June 2016 post includes 10 business quotes. Some people I interviewed wanted their opinions to be quoted using their names and others wanted to be anonymous. Several who asked to be anonymous said that Road Diet discussions had become so heated that they feared retribution or loss of customers. I have respected each interviewee’s preferences below.
- Vince (retail store in Lincoln Avenue): “Many store owners have stated that ‘The Road Diet’ has negatively affected their business on Lincoln Ave. The City Council seems immune to their numbers…i.e. sales. The Road diet seems to agree with many nearby neighbors who like to walk and or bike into downtown. Willow Glen needs customers from the surrounding areas to sustain businesses. They simply cannot survive on those who live within walking distance. Restaurant customers do not have time to come sit and eat in downtown Willow Glen. With the Road Diets traffic it simply takes too much of their lunch hour….restaurants have been affected indeed. Our retail store is a destination and our clientele now just deal with the headache of traffic and road rage now associated with the Road Diet. I have seen more accidents in the last six months with this new road design: people just losing it… driving too fast through the middle, cars rear ending each other from the stop and go motions all the way down Lincoln. Everyone thinks parking is a problem. However, many are not familiar with the fact that the Bank of America parking lot is and always has been free parking. I am upset at our local political representives in the way they handled this entire debacle called The Road Diet. We were lied to and mis-lead the entire time from City Council: saying that the Road Diet was a temporary trial; however, it is now permanent. It was basically shoved down our throats and there is really nothing we can do about it. Proof of declining sales within the businesses on Lincoln should have been enough. I’ve seen numerous social media websites where it now seems many local neighbors have mentioned that businesses against The Road Diet do not care about the people’s safety. People have threatened other businesses. Remember there are more accidents now that ever before…..and you want to talk about safety?? It’s a shame that we now have this anomosity of community vs. business owners.”
- Wayne Zhang (Taiwan Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue): “The Road Diet is not good for local business. People are hard to bring here with the Road Diet. There is not enough parking in this area. I have owned Taiwan Restaurant for about a year but the business started in 1982. Our business is impacted because the lunch traffic is not good. People worry about parking at lunch and on weekends too. Bikes are OK so far. Trucks parking in the middle turn lane on Lincoln Avenue is just not right, they block traffic. I don’t agree with the Road Diet.”
- Anonymous #7 (retail store on Lincoln Avenue): “I don’t see bikes using the bike lanes as planned, more people are on foot. Traffic can be heavy but the biggest customer complaint is parking. Solve that and there will be less traffic because fewer cars will be looking for parking. Adding a wider bike lane as a right turn lane on Willow/Lincoln helped traffic flow. Lincoln Avenue needs good signs for public parking – people don’t know where to go. I don’t know if the Road Diet caused it but business has been slower; this could be because of ecommerce. I love Willow Glen. It is a great community: neighborly with people who try to work together. I offer to meet customers at the curb to handoff what they bought so that they can avoid parking. There are not enough handicapped parking spaces for my customers to park on the street. I have senior customers who have to park far away and walk to my store.”
- Craig Gorman (Intero Real Estate – on Meridian Avenue in Willow Glen): “There are pluses and minuses to the Road Diet. The idea behind it was great but implementation and follow through on the plan has been weak. The original plan said there would be lots of parking and enhanced retail sales – more people would be driving past slower. This didn’t happen. The effect of the Road Diet varies on what the business is. I have heard less people talking about going to lunch on Lincoln Avenue, more are going to downtown Campbell instead because it is easier to get in and out. Willow Glen residents are predominantly in an upper income range. For them, it is OK to have a more expensive lunch but their time is limited. You can’t put a price on that – the decision where to eat is often based on time, not cost. I haven’t seen or heard of more traffic accidents. I was shocked to learn that the SJ-DOT reported so many more for last year: 22 accidents compared with 8 the year before.”
Click here to see the entire Willow Glen Road Diet Series.
Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson