Welcome! This publication is dedicated to analyzing the role local governments play in California’s most enduring social issues. It’s written by me, Madeline Frechette, a young millennial renter living in Burlingame. More about all that here.
The Tipping Point
In April 2019, my partner and I showed up to our first Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting in Burlingame. The September leading up to that meeting, my partner was hit by a driver on Airport Blvd and lives with chronic pain from injuries. I had also spent months figuring out how to cope with a bike commute to Caltrain from our apartment that would almost always include a close call, including avoiding a few door-ing incidents on California Drive's new door-zone bike lane: a facility known to kill bike riders. This door-zone section of my commute was also top of mind heading into that BPAC meeting because outrage and mourning in San Francisco had recently erupt when Tess Rothstein was killed while using a door-zone bike lane on Howard.
That first meeting we attended had an agenda: there would be an update from City Staff and Alta Design on Burlingame's Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, specifically looking at how the next open house for community outreach would be organized and what the different activities would be. At some point in this meeting, I broached the topic of California Drive's door zone bike lane. This meeting was the first but not the last where I witnessed a member of Burlingame's staff victim-blame people who get hurt using this type of bike lane, insisting that with the right behavior, bike riders can avoid getting doored. This display was supposed to convince everyone in the room that California Drive is safe, actually.
I've lived in many cities across the Bay Area in the past five years, but I've never struggled more to get by living without a car and riding a bike day to day than I have in Burlingame. So naturally, getting a sense of the regressive opinions held by certain people in charge of Burlingame's streets was infuriating but also kind of validating. I know that old schools of thought in transportation engineering are harmful, and do tend to treat modes other than cars as less-than while blocking truly equitable and safe road design from happening. There’s actually a global initiative called Vision Zero, aiming to eliminate all traffic deaths and severe injuries, by (among other things) changing this old school of thought in transportation engineering and planning. My baby brain at the time just couldn't get over the flagrant, mask-off display of what I witnessed at my first BPAC meeting.
Later on, I wrote the most scathing jumbled email I've ever written in my life entitled "There is no excuse for a door-zone bike lane" and sent it off to City Council. I stupidly assumed there would be some sort of apology and swallowing of pride on behalf of their staff's public behavior at a meeting where community members are volunteering their time to make Burlingame safer for everyone. In the months after, I met with the City manager, the Director of Public Works, and a Council member. Each meeting was filled with more versions of "things are safe, actually" just without the victim-blaming. Everyone I spoke to doubled down on the decision to add parking where it didn't previously exist on CA Drive, which resulted in, obviously, more door-zone hazards. Apparently the number one rule in politics, even at the local level, is to never admit a mistake.
In retrospect, that whole experience was a tipping point for me. I started to follow much more of Burlingame's public discourse on many issues around town. Over the past two years, I've accumulated a growing list of topics to write about, not just transportation, and all inspired by what I'm hearing or not hearing at City Council and commission meetings.
I've always felt there should be an outlet where the workings of local government gets the attention, and occasional torching, it deserves. I have a penchant for picking up on the hypocrisy and unfairness of how the arc of justice in local governments like Burlingame and the greater Bay Area tends to bend towards homeowners and businesses. Two forces that have historically and continue today to shape policies on transportation, housing, wealth inequality, climate action, and everything in between. Since I haven't been able to find an outlet for Burlingame that actually focuses on those issues, I decided to make one.
I know life isn't a West Wing episode where exposing hypocrisy and the brokenness of our current systems will influence elected officials in a meaningful way, but it does matter to voters.
My first piece will be published in December and will cover Burlingame's modest minimum wage increase (an ordinance that Council barely passed in the midst of a global pandemic) and the two painful public deliberations that took place on it back in September.
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