MONTEREY — An award-winning project along North Fremont Street in Monterey has come under fire by the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury, which has dubbed the project “a bike path to nowhere” in the report’s title.
The report’s key complaint is that the city failed to adequately inform the public of design changes relating to a bicycle path incorporated into the overall upgrades of North Fremont Street between Casa Verde Way and Canyon Del Rey, as well as not finishing the project’s vision when funding became scarce.
“The report by the Monterey Civil Grand Jury has been received by the city and we are preparing the required responses,” said Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar in an email Tuesday. “This award-winning project was completed below budget and followed a thorough public process, which kept stakeholders such as businesses and neighborhoods well informed. We are grateful that the report highlights these facts.
“We are looking forward to responding to the findings in order to help the civil grand jury to gain further insights into the success of this project,” Uslar said.
Indeed, Caltrans awarded the city with its “Excellence in Transportation” award last year for “providing safe, sustainable, integrated and sustainable transportation,” the state agency said in a statement.
The project, called the North Fremont Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Project, was launched in 2014 with the idea of connecting the North Fremont bike path with the $31 million Fort Ord Regional Trail and Greenway, a 30-mile loop for walkers and bicyclists that is funded by a combination of state and local funding through the Transportation Agency for Monterey County.
As the North Fremont project design moved along, at some point the city of Monterey changed the bike path design from one where bicyclists share the street with traffic to one where bicyclists are physically protected from traffic. The grand jury believes the city should have better communicated that change with the public.
But as far back as 2017 and then again in 2018, the Monterey Herald reported on these design changes as well as the fact that budget overruns, which happen frequently in public works projects, resulted in the bike path not connecting to Canyon del Rey and instead stopped at Casanova Avenue.
The city is just waiting on a funding source to finish the connection, the grand jury report stated.
There are four types of bike paths recognized by Caltrans. The original design called for a Class 2 bike lane, which is the one where a line is painted on the side of a street. But as the project moved forward the city decided to construct barriers between bicyclists and cars and run the lane between the traffic lanes.
That change drew criticism from some members of the public as voiced through letters to the editor in the Herald. Letters to the editor would indicate the public was aware of and involved in the process. The city held several meetings with neighborhood groups and others updating them on the design, including changes. The report even acknowledged that fact.
“The City of Monterey is to be commended for a comprehensive effort to communicate with local stakeholders, including the business community, neighborhood associations, and nearby residents domiciled near North Fremont throughout the planning and construction project,” the report reads.
The Herald reached out to the Monterey County Council’s Office requesting comment but a call was not immediately returned Tuesday.
The report also aimed at a May 2018 resolution to start construction, “but its language did not include anything stating the fact of that the City had changed the plan for construction of Class 4 bike lanes,” according to the report.
However, even as far back as September 2017, the Herald reported that “the plan itself includes the implementation of Class 4 bike lanes in the median of North Fremont Street and is intended to make the intersections between Casa Verde Way and Canyon Del Rey Boulevard both pedestrian-friendly and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.”
Then again on May 3, 2018, the same month the report said the city failed to notify the broader population of the design change, the Herald reported that the “project, which will include the implementation of Class IV bike lanes in the median of North Fremont Street …”
The report, however, maintained that for there to be adequate communication with the public, designs should go before the city’s Architectural Review Committee so the public would have an opportunity to observe the process before coming before the City Council.
Finally, the report criticized the bike path portion of the project for only being “the tip of the iceberg,” because the project also included other badly needed infrastructure improvements, such as replacing storm drains, pedestrian crosswalks and improved stoplights.
Those improvements were also reported in the Herald in 2018.
At the end of the report, the findings included both compliments and criticisms of the way the project was communicated to the public and recommends:
For all city projects that contain design elements, the city should hold public hearings before the Architectural Review Committee. This process should begin by Aug. 1,
On future city projects, the governing body of record should approve revised resolutions to document changes to a project. This process should begin by Aug. 1.
The city should begin holding public hearings before the Architectural Review Committee for their input on the Gap Project design. This should begin by Aug. 1,
The city should create a maintenance plan addressing routine and long-term maintenance, as recommended by Caltrans.
By DENNIS L. TAYLOR
May 4, 2021