Alameda’s Invisible Non-Smoking Ordinance: Walking on Park, Webster Sidewalks Still Toxic

Nine months after Alameda’s Secondhand Smoke Ordinance took effect on January 2, 2012, nonsmokers (90% of the population) and people with asthma or lung disease should find the Park and Webster Street commercial districts and our shopping centers smoke-free and safe for working lungs, right?

Not yet.

The ordinance—still functionally unimplemented— is almost invisible. 

With no official city signs posted and very few in businesses, smokers still light up every day on commercial district sidewalks, at bus stops, and at street fairs—completely unaware of Alameda’s no-smoking ordinance–violating a law they do not even know exists.

Linda Hudson, my wife and business partner since 1988, has chronic asthma and serious allergies, including tobacco. The presence or absence of tobacco smoke determines where we can safely dine and shop without compromising her health—or mine. For Linda, going out is safer now: At least now I can watch a baseball game at a sports bar and not have to worry about tobacco smoke.”

Since January, Linda and I have encountered smokers most of the times we have been on the Park Street business district sidewalks. Many are visitors who are completely unaware of Alameda’s “invisible” ordinance. Some are local employees.

A few smokers are deliberately violating the ordinance. (They say they do not care about people with compromised breathing when I ask.) Last week I encountered 5 smokers in three blocks on Park inside of 20 minutes: three were “protesting” the law.

Clearly, the ordinance has not yet been adequately implemented–by either business district association or by the city. Only a few individual businesses display “No Smoking” signs and there are no city signs on any of Alameda’s business district streets or sidewalks. Amazingly enough, none were required–except in outdoor areas where firms like Peet’s or Starbuck’s serve food or drinks.

Despite overwhelming public support before and after the ordinance passed–no one is promoting our (supposedly) smoke-free commercial areas to the 90% of customers who do not smoke. Why?

Terri Wright, Senior Management Analyst with the City of Alameda, and co-author of the ordinance, said, “Public signs were not part of the ordinance…the city was hoping to implement it ‘organically’ by building a consensus for implementing social change.” The business associations have declined or not responded to city offers to install public signs—even when funded by grant money. (Wright has heard a lot from “vocal non-smoking libertarians,” as well as smokers.)

A few signs-“prototypes”-went up Monday.

But Wright and the city are also responding to complaints from nonsmokers. On Monday, September 24, the city posted a  few “prototypye” signs on Park to see what looked acceptable. It’s a start…Police Chief Mike Noonan told me his officers are enforcing the smoking ordinance when violations are reported but they cannot always respond in time to catch violators, given reduced patrol resources and other priorities.

Installing prominent no-smoking public and business signage in our “C-designated”commercial districts is long overdue. Smoking is illegal on all commercial district and shopping center sidewalks and within “20 feet of doors, windows, and other openings into enclosed areas” of businesses. Puffing is illegal in ticket lines; also at bus stops, street fairs, and concerts, and in any “public walkway or hall areas that connect retail or professional establishments” in shopping centers.

Here are the key link if you want to take action:

Look for more signage—it’s available for free to the business associations from the city— at Alameda’s upcoming Webster Street’s Neptune Beach  Community Celebration October 6-7 and the Classic Car Show on Park October 13.  City-approved signs and informational flyers are here. 

If you see violators, let them know about the ordinance. If they do not stop smoking, call the Alameda Police Department at 510-337-8340 — from a safe place.

Or contact Serena Chen of the local American Lung Association:

Serena Chen | Regional Advocacy Director
American Lung Association in California
424 Pendleton Way
Oakland, CA 94621
Phone: 510.982.3191
Fax: 510.638.8984 |

Prominent public signage and enforcement of the no-smoking ban are long overdue. Lungs should be safe in Alameda’s commercial districts—something Mayor Gilmore and our City Council promised us in 2011. Park Street, Webster Street, and our shopping centers should not be toxic zones for walkers, shoppers, diners, people with asthma or lung disease, and children.

Don’t make us hold our breath.

BART Ridership Up, Staff Digesting Bike Pilot Results, Draft Survey Results Out

BART’s historic Bike Pilot Project ended on August 31 after a successful trial.

Bicyclists loved it, of course.

But what has happened since August?

Many cyclists have been wondering….

 Here’s an update.                                                          
BART is still processing the wealth of information and feedback it received last month. The  DRAFT survey results BART released Friday–which show that 90% of BART passengers did not experience problems during the bike pilot–are just one example. In August and September BART’s ridership has also jumped considerably(BART averaged 345, 256 riders per weekday in FY 11, which ended June 30, 2011. In FY 12, ending June 30, 2012, 366,565  weekday riders rode BART. So far in September, daily weekday ridership has topped 400,000  four days in a row and 9 times overall. And ridership at Oakland’s 19th Street station–with no auto parking lot and no bike station–is up almost 10% over 2011.) The increased passenger load makes adding more bikes on trains more challenging–for now–with BART’s limited rolling stock.



For the first time since BART began carrying passengers 40 years ago, BART ended its bike blackouts entirely for all five Fridays in August. For a limited trial period bicyclists were able to take their bikes on any BART train going in any direction, to or from any BART station, at any hour. 

Cyclists could board BART trains as long as there was sufficient room (just as at all other times) and all other bike-related rules  applied during the pilot: there was  no other special treatment for cyclists and bikes were not allowed on escalators. 

According to the June 8 memo from  BART’s impressive General Manager, Grace Crunican, the first BART GM to come from a transit background:

“The goal of the pilot program is to test the impact on passengers and train operations of having bikes in the stations and on the trains during peak periods. Allowing bikes on board at all times can make BART more convenient for people and potentially increase ridership. (Emphasis added.)

The pilot will be evaluated from an operational perspective, from the perspective of bike riders, and from the perspective of non-bike riding passengers…If the pilot demonstrates…potential to ease the restrictions…we will…bring suggested changes to the Board for discussion.” 


The bike pilot yielded lots of information to the BART staff and to activists–just what they wanted. It also revealed several areas in which BART needs to improve bike access–whether or not the current BART policy  banning bicycles during peak commute periods is ended or modified.

The bike pilot will be discussed  at Monday’s meeting of the BART BIcycle Advisory Task Force (BBATF), 6-8 PM on October 1,  in Room 171 of  the Joseph P. Bort Metro Center at 101 Eighth Street in Oakland. It’s across the street from Lake Merritt BART(Bike parking is available inside.)

BART is already modifying its older cars, removing “wind screens” to make them more accessible for all passengers. The staff is also exploring changes in signage, new passenger courtesy campaigns (to reduce rider conflicts), improved station access, better bike security, and possibly modifying the bike blackout periods themselves. Until BART staff is certain that changes can be implemented safely and successfully, they are unwilling to recommend new policies or procedures to the board.

Look for a full report to the BART Board on the August Bike Pilot in November or December, with implementation of the board’s decisions to follow,perhaps in 2013. 

BART’s improved welcome to cyclists has been decades in coming. The August pilot project joins BART’s new 2012 bike planimproved bike security efforts, new bike stations, and reduced blackout hours, among other progress. Some BART staffers still resist or oppose increased bike access on BART trains, but the agency has bike advocates on the inside, too.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have represented Alameda County on the BART Bicycle Advisory Task Force (BBATF) since 2011. My comments here are solely my own: they do not represent the official or unofficial views of BART, the BBATF, or any of its members.

Look for more about Bikes on BART in this space soon.

If you have any local transportation news, questions, tips, or comments, please contact us or leave a comment.

First-Ever Parklet on Park Street: International PARK(ing) Day 2012 in Alameda

Did you see Alameda’s first-ever “parklet”  in front of Tucker’s Ice Cream on Park Street Friday?

 The parklet–the first one in an Alameda business district–was designed to  reclaim and repurpose some asphalt for the 12 hours of International PARK(ing) Day(IPD) on Friday, September 21.

And it worked.

You can see more photos here of the two-parking-space project, which BikeAlameda board member, new media instructor, and mom Donna Eyestone initiated last year. Alameda parent, Planning Board Vice-president, and architect David Burton, designed the parklet. Burton is also the Chair of  Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA).

Planning Board member, dad, and former Transportation Commission Chair John Knox White  and many others helped out. Local materials were donated by BikeAlameda, CASA, The Reuse People, Urban Island Home Furnishings, and  Ploughshares Nursery at Alameda Point,

 The biggest star of the show, however, was Ruby, one of  Donna Eyestone’s Rhode Island Reds, proudly representing the famous Alameda Backyard Chickens. (They were featured in   BikeAlameda’s May 6 Alameda Backyard Chicken Coops Tour.) 

 While I was there Friday afternoon most of the pedestrians walking past the parklet stopped, asked about it, sat on the bench, enjoyed coffee or ice cream, admired the plants–or discussed Ruby, Donna’s “best-behaved” chicken-in-residence.

The parklet literally enlivened Park Street, adding something pleasant and unexpected that created connections–a community. Prominent and active Alamedans and city staffers stopped by, a family watched the goings-on from the open-air window seating at Tucker’s, and John Knox White shared the photo he took  from the parklet at about 10:15 Friday morning of the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s flyover,

International PARK(ing) Day (IPD) began in San Francisco in 2005, when Rebar,an interdisciplinary studio working at the intersection of art, design and ecology,” took over a downtown parking space for just two hours–the limit on the parking meter. Photos of the event went viral across the web and International PARK(ing) Day was born. Rebar creates projects that inspire people to reimagine the environment and our place in it,“and  is a major player and resource for the Park(ing) Day movement, even publishing a PARK(ing) Day Manual, in which Rebar asks:

“What is the range of possibilities for creativity in a space usually dedicated to the storage of a private vehicle?”

Rebar provides a bit of an answer:

“Motivated by the desire to activate the metered parking space as a site for creative experimentation, political and cultural expression, and unscripted social interaction, Rebar offers PARK(ing) Day as a prototype for open-source urban design, accessible to all… thousands of people around the globe—working independently of Rebar but guided by common core principles—have created hundreds of “PARK” installations and formed an annual international event.

Urban inhabitants worldwide recognize the need for new approaches to making the urban landscape, and realize that converting small segments of the automobile infrastructure—even temporarily—can alter the character of the city.”

Take a look across the bay at this year’s San Francisco PARK(ing) Day. Check out “Our Favorites from Today’s PARK(ing) Day Extravaganza,” from Or check out Brisbane, Australia’s wildly successful five-year history with PARK(ing) Day. You can also see how transformed Howard Street into a block-long parklet during Dreamforce X all week long at San Francsco’s Moscone Center. too. 

 In 2011, 975 parks were created to celebrate PARK(ing) Day in 162 cities spanning 35 countries on 6 continents. (The  City of Alameda could not approve Donna Eyestone’s last-minute permit application quickly enough for an Alameda IPD event last year.)

This year was better: the City of Alameda approved Donna Eyestone’s permit to create something different in two parking spaces in front of Tucker’s Ice Cream, Alameda’s iconic ice cream parlor and social hub.

Donna, her chicken, and a host of supporters challenged the auto-dominated uses of Park Street Friday, re-imagining what can be done with a basic asphalt-covered urban space.

How can we re-imagine Alameda’s urban spaces and ways of moving?

What creative changes have you helped bring about?

(Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.)

Look for more about bicycling, walking,  BART, AC Transit, driving, and transportation issues in this space, coming soon.

If you have news, questions, tips, or comments about any aspect of local transportation, contact us or leave a comment.

Read more about Alameda Street Smarts here.

NBCfail Retrospective – Abysmal Olympic Road Cycling Coverage

Long after the 2012 London Olympics have ended, my anger over NBC’s awful-miserable-amateurish Olympic coverage–especially the live streaming of the road cycling events–has subsided only a little. Here are some thoughts:

NBCfail’s online Olympic road cycling event coverage <insert verb beginning with “s” related to vacuum cleaners here>, was substandard, underpowered, poorly directed, and worse. In honor of the infamous Twitter hashtag #NBCfail dedicated to NBC’s Olympic failings, I refer to the network as  #NBCfail below.

1. #NBCfail interrupted live streaming of the road cycling events–during critical time splits–with ads for VISA, Coke, and some car company–products in which I have zero interest at that hour. (My wife and I had arisen as early as 4 AM PDT to watch these races live and uninterrupted, thinking–foolishly–that #NBCfail  would do as well with the Olympics as they had with the Tour de France (TDF).
2. #NBCfail  provided NO commentary on the first–and the most important to roadies like us–cycling events: the women’s and men’s Olympic road races and time trials. Where were Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen?
3. #NBCfail ‘s camera crews and camera work were much worse than the Tour de France (TDF) coverage we had just watched during July–especially from the motorcycle (“moto”) crews. And the director’s choices of  “newsworthy” or significant instant replays were really amateurish and sub-par.
4. #NBCfail  clearly did not have sufficient clear bandwidth to provide uninterrupted streaming of its various (poor) live camera feeds from the cycling events. Interruptions were frequent.
  • Why did #NBCfail  go to such great lengths to avoid using so many readily-available “best practices,” — even its own?
  • WHAT IF #NBCfail Had Been Smart–or Not So Greedy….????
 #NBCfail could have used “crawler” ads that do not interrupt live coverage–like professional soccer broadcasts–but they were either too dumb or too greedy (guess which?) to use them. 
(Why are we bothering to pay for this, anyway?
3. #NBCfail could have covered the Olympic cycling events well–like they themselves cover the  Tour de France every year. We pay #NBCfail (formerly Versus, formerly Outdoor Life Network) good money  every year to watch the live, online TDF coverage and hear the superb commentary by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. (Despite beginning at 4-6 AM PDT almost daily for three weeks straight, it’s worth every penny of cash and hour of missed sleep.)
As far as #NBCfail was concerned–especially on prime time– a) cycling was not an Olympic event, and b) only USA athletes were competing at the Olympics.
Especially with all the prime-time “Olympic fluff,” we were never even tempted to watch #NBCfail‘s TV coverage at any time, prime or otherwise. (We remember watching many previous Olympics, predigested according to  jingoistic NBCfail’s greedy censor-editors… d
We soon tired of  the invasive, repetitive ads and the poor quality of the coverage, giving up on the ‘live” coverage after tiring of  the invasive, repetitive, and interrupting ads, not to mention the poor quality of the coverage itself. (see above, or #NBCfail on Twitter.) We passed on the chance to see the Olympic track cycling, gymnastics, water polo, and other events that were important to us. (We caught up on them through online news sources rather than watching them live. At least we got more sleep.)
We would have GLADLY watched BBC’s live streaming but the BBC’s live stream was blocked in the USA and we had no access to an alternate feed, being on Apple computers. (I almost committed heresy and bought a PC just to gain access to the PC-only app and feed…)
After this awful  2012 Olympics experience I will do anything possible to avoid watching #NBCfail for any reason, especially for sports coverage. 
NBC  must have wanted to produce this end result: they sure did a great job of convincing us to avoid #NBCfail ‘s Olympic coverage–and NBCfail in general– like the plague. 

Bikes on BART: Pilot Project Launches This Friday

This is Part III in a continuing series on cyclists’ efforts to gain full access to BART.

BART’s historic Bike Pilot Project starts this Friday and continues on all five Fridays in August.

For the first time since BART began carrying passengers 40 years ago, bicyclists will be able to take their bikes on any BART train and to or from any BART station–at any hour. 

BART will end its bike blackouts entirely for a limited trial period–just on the five Fridays in August. 

The no-bike-blackouts pilot will look like this:

1.  There will be no bike blackouts on Fridays: August 3, 10. 17, 24. and 31.

2. Cyclists can board any BART train in any directionas long as there is sufficient room. (Just as at any other time.)

3. Cyclists will be allowed on all station platformsincluding San Francisco’s Embarcadero station plus the 12th Street and 19th Street stations in Oakland—during the trial Fridays.

4. All other bike-related rules will apply during the pilot: there will be no other special treatment for cyclists and no bikes allowed on escalators. 

Renee Rivera, Executive Director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, lists several great suggestions for cyclists in her July 27 blog post.

Usurping wheelchair spaces is always illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act and against BART rules.

This Bikes-on-BART rule is always in effect, with or without a pilot project:

“Regardless of any other rule, bikes are never allowed on crowded cars. Use your good judgment and only board cars that can comfortably accommodate you and your bicycle. Hold your bike while on the trains.” 

It may seem obvious that everyone is helped by “good judgment” and common courtesy when sharing crowded BART stairways, elevators, platforms, and trains. According to the June 8 memo from the General Manager to BART’s Directors:

“The goal of the pilot program is to test the impact on passengers and train operations of having bikes in the stations and on the trains during peak periods. Allowing bikes on board at all times can make BART more convenient for people and potentially increase ridership. (Emphasis added.)

The pilot will be evaluated from an operational perspective, from the perspective of bike riders, and from the perspective of non-bike riding passengers…If the pilot demonstrates…potential to ease the restrictions…we will begin the process with… our bicycle and access committees and bring suggested changes to the Board for discussion.” 

Under current BART policy,  only bicyclists are banned during peak commute periods. Passengers with luggage, baby strollers, or wheelchairs are never excluded as user groups from rush hour BART trains.

BART’s turnaround on bike policy has been a long time in coming.  The August pilot project is one of several initiatives by  BART’s impressive General Manager, Grace Crunican. As the first BART GM to come from a transit background and not from heavy-rail transportation, she has a very different perspective on bikes–and many other issues–than her predecessors, which explains why the pilot is taking place now.

BART’s bike pilot is historic–take your bike on BART on Fridays next month and tell BART about your experienceMembers of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition will be at many BART stations to monitor the pilot during the no-blackout/trial days.

Or attend next Monday’s meeting of the BART BIcycle Advisory Task Force (BBATF) 6-8 PM on August 6, in Room 171 of  the Joseph P. Bort Metro Center, 101 Eighth Street in Oakland. It’s across the street from Lake Merritt BART. (Bike parking is available inside.)

The pilot project is great news for Bay Area bicyclists and for those who want BART to be more responsive to rider needs. And many BART staffers support these changes, too.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have represented Alameda County on the BART Bicycle Advisory Task Force (BBATF) for about a year. My comments here are solely my own: they do not represent the official or unofficial views of BART, the BBATF, or any of its members.

Look for more about Bikes on BART in this space, coming soon.

If you have news, questions, tips, or comments about any aspect of local transportation, contact us or leave a comment.

The Farmer’s Market-Shopping by Bicycle

For almost 15 years I have been shopping by bicycle at the Alameda Farmer’s Market almost every Tuesday, rain or shine.

Home with produce: strawberries, scones, flowers, and more, July 17, 2012.

I discovered Alameda’s weekly farmer’s market just after we moved to Alameda in 1997. It was smaller then and  at the Taylor and Webster parking lot, but it soon became our primary food source, especially for fresh produce.

Here’s how I do it. (You can, too.)

I shop the Tuesday Farmer’s Market by bicycle, using canvas shopping bags, recycling food containers (plastic berry trays, half-flat strawberry boxes), and washing and reusing plastic produce bags, too. Riding my bike is easier than driving (no parking hassles) and makes shopping simpler: my bike is centrally located inside the market.

After locking my bike with a Kryptonite New York U-lock, I often stop in at Wescafe first with my travel mug for a cup of tasty (and necessary) caffeine first–a tip for the household’s designated shopper. Then I load up on tasty fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, canvas shopping bag and Timbuk2 Messenger Bag (size L) on my shoulder.

Beckmann’s Bakery: resistance is futile, especially to their pies.

I make several rounds of the market–on foot–to see what’s good and decide on the menus. I  load heavier, denser items (oranges, celery, potatoes, scones) in the Jandd grocery bag panniers up front first, balancing the weight evenly side-to-side. I usually buy and load more delicate and/or cold items (berries, stone fruits, tomatoes, flowers, fish, frozen enchiladas) after later  passes around the market, stopping occasionally to unload my shoulder bag into the panniers. (Frequent consultation via mobile phone ensures domestic satisfaction with my results.:-)

Depending on Linda’s preferences, what we need, and how the produce-based menu develops, I make my purchases, socialize, and enjoy the live music: I always see friends, neighbors, colleagues, great bikes, and wonderful kids.

If I fill up both front and rear panniers (some call them saddle bags) on my 1970s Peugeot  UO-18 “mixte” town bike, we eat really well for a week. The 1.8-mile trip from our mid-island apartment takes about 12 minutes each way. (It’s almost easier coming home loaded with food: there’s always a tailwind.)

My “shopping rig” (front and rear racks with panniers) is decked out with brightly colored and reflective gear. I always wear my high-visibility helmet, gloves, and safety vest, of course. And I always take the lane when necessary (on Encinal, Central, Eighth) and “ride the paint” at the left-hand edge of bike lanes to avoid the 5-foot-wide door zone next to all parked cars.

Taking the left lane after a left turn, ready to turn into our driveway. Lots of hi-viz gear ensures I can be seen day, night, or fog.

The year-round Alameda Farmer’s Markets are on Tuesdays and Saturdays, rain or shine, 9 AM to 1 PM, at Webster and Haight.


BART’S Bike Pilot Project begins next Friday, August 3. For the 5 Fridays in August there will be no bike blackouts: bikes will be allowed on all BART trains and on all BART station platforms. (I wrote about it here.)

Here’s more from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition on the BART pilot in August.

How AC Transit Stepped Up During the June 14 Fire and BART Outage

The AC Transit District quickly stepped into the breach on Thursday, June 14,  to fill the void left when BART’s transbay service was shut down due to the arson-caused  fire in West Oakland. (KGO-TV’s story that night runs 9:21. Or read this from the Pleasanton Weekly.)

BART crews work to repair fire-damaged tracks and wiring June 14 in West Oakland. Photo courtesy of KGO-TV.

“We first got word…at around 3 o’clock in the morning. AC Transit responded almost immediately…we eventually placed 108 extra buses into transbay service and made 150 additional transbay trips during the course of the day,” according to AC Transit Media Affairs Manager Clarence Johnson.

AC Transit carried 23,410 transbay passengers on June 14—despite heavy traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge. (Compare this to their normal weekday transbay ridership of 10,750  passengers on 500 trips. Not bad for a fire drill.)

“We were constantly changing our response to the crisis throughout the day. Planners were redeploying buses on the fly, constantly changing our responses based on where the headaches were occurring,” Johnson told me recently. “AC Transit was gratified that we were able to respond the way we did.” 

AC Transit had help from other agencies during the BART outage, too. “For the first time in my memory, we were able to pull in extra buses from…VTA, Solano Transit, Tri-Delta, and one other transit agency,”  AC Transit Director-At-Large H. E. Christian “Chris” Peeples told me. “The problem is that there’s no way you can replace (BART’s transbay capacity) with just bus service…AC Transit doesn’t have (2,000) extra buses just sitting around…Overall, I’m quite pleased with how quickly we reacted, getting at least some additional service out there,” Peeples added.

AC Transit spokesperson Johnson called it “a very good training exercise for a number of our systems…we were continually updating what was going on with 511 and NextBus, but any of those systems will experience a time lag.”

Could AC Transit have done more during the one-day transportation crisis?

According to Director Chris Peeples,With our own dedicated lane on the bridge we could have doubled our throughput (of 150 round-trips), but to do that we’d have to get help from Caltrans and the CHP.”

Information about transit options was hard to come by during BART’s outage, denying web users access to up-to-date information on transit alternatives and bus redeployments. When I headed for downtown Oakland that Thursday morning—to the BART Board meetingNextBus information about the 51A was off by almost 10 minutes and local buses were packed. The system was also slowed by the sudden crush of users.

AC Transit is already working to improve its ability to provide timely information during a transit crisis, according to an email I received Sunday from Elsa Ortiz, President of the AC Transit District Board of Directors:

”AC Transit’s website…operated much slower than expected due to the heavy traffic. When the CPU utilization nears 100 percent (as it did for much of that Thursday morning) it is as good as downthe number of calls overburdened the system, preventing many riders from connecting to our website.

”We are working on improving the website…we need to accelerate our efforts to review log files and configurations. We will be replacing maps and schedules and buying parts for the website which have the oldest and most troublesome code.

”Rest assured that fixing our response system is a priority and we’ll keep on top of it until the results are what our riders expect.”

How was your transbay commute June 14? Take our poll or share your stories in the comments. 

If you have news, questions, gripes, tips, or comments about any aspect of local transportation, we’re all ears. Contact us.

Read Jon Spangler’s bio here.