Finding Traction for the Redding Area’s Bicyclists

Cycling in the Redding area appears to have reached a potential coming of age.

About 150 miles of paved and unpaved recreational trails invite bicyclists in the Redding area, thanks to the efforts of the Bureau of Land Management, the City of Redding, the National Park Service, the Western Shasta County Resources Conservation District, the McConnell Foundation, the Redding Foundation and a handful of committed activists.

The Sacramento River Trail is at the heart of the system, and recent extensions have only increased the trail’s popularity and practical usefulness. Several new routes – including the Dana-to-Downtown bike path, bike lanes on the new Cypress Avenue Bridge, and new bike lanes on College View Drive – provide real possibilities for those seeking an alternative to the car. Earlier this year, the Redding City Council declared “Complete Streets,” in which cars, bicycles and pedestrians receive equal treatment, a top priority, and Redding’s first “living street” event this past spring – during which Park Marina Drive was closed to motor vehicles for several hours – attracted about 600 people, even though it was raining.

By capitalizing on the new trails, bike lanes and related facilities, and on the interest of bike riders, cycling could continue to grow as a recreational pursuit, a legitimate form of transportation and as a basis for economic growth.

Pitfalls on the Path

Yet there are obvious deficiencies in the local system, which at this point is weighted heavily toward recreational trails on the west and north sides of Redding. Most residents of Redding and surrounding communities do not ride their bikes to the Sacramento River Trail because there are few good access routes, especially from the Enterprise area. Most mountain bikers load their rugged two-wheelers onto racks and drive to trailheads at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area or just outside of town because there are few good cycling options to those trailheads.

And riding for transportation, whether from east Redding to downtown Redding or between the area’s towns, is mostly left to the truly dedicated, the unduly brave and people who have no other choice. Few of these deficiencies will be remedied anytime soon, as funding for new bike lanes and bike paths has largely dried up.

During a recent meeting organized by Shasta Cascade Bicycle Coalition and Turtle Bay Exploration Park to discuss bicycle issues, there was wide agreement that the local trail system is first-rate.

However, when avid cyclist Nick Webb proclaimed, “The bike-ability of our community still sucks,” nearly every head in the room nodded in agreement.

Thus, rather than marking the beginning of a major renaissance, this moment in time for bicycling in the Redding area could be more of a conclusion.

End of the Road?

Anne Wallach Thomas, who co-chairs the one-year-old Shasta Cascade Bicycle Coalition, said she tries to remain optimistic but admits to being frustrated with the slow rate of change. Some advocates have “feel-good ideas” about the bike-ability of the area that do not match the current reality, she said.

“We need more people at higher levels to get on board,” said Thomas, who recently led a bike tour of town for Redding Mayor Missy McArthur, Councilwoman Francie Sullivan and Public Works Department leaders.

The lack of progress is not the result of a lack of planning. The Redding, Anderson, Shasta Lake and Shasta County leaders have all adopted updated bicycle master plans in the last few years, and the county updated a Shasta County parks, trails and open space plan in 2009. However, there has been no obvious rush to implement the plans. Some activists – who declined to speak for attribution – question the dedication of elected and appointed officials to the plans.

Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition and who also went on the bike tour with Redding officials, said the city’s road officials seem to understand the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

“I think your staff is going to be good if you put the right pressure on them, and give them the freedom,” Snyder said.

Those staff members insist the issue is not their dedication. Rather, the issue is money.

Funding Roads Over Rides

Impact fees paid by developers helped fund, for example, the new Cypress Avenue Bridge, which contains both wide sidewalks and bike lanes, and the revamped South Bonnyview Drive, which also now offers bike lanes in both directions. However, there has been little private development in Redding or anywhere in the county for the past four years, so many potential projects will have to wait until construction activity resumes and the city starts collecting fees again, said Chuck Aukland, the city’s assistant public works director. In addition, gas tax revenues that could fund bike projects are also declining.

“We try to work as much as possible with the community. We work with the bicycle coalition. We try to listen to people,” said Aukland. Yet the city also hears from motorists who argue the city and other government agencies should not spend money on new bike lanes when roads are in such poor condition.

“Our roads are falling apart,” Aukland conceded. “We spend $1 million to $1.5 million a year to maintain our pavement, but our need is a lot greater than that.”

The transportation funding bill that Congress is scheduled to pass this month (September 2011) will likely contain major cuts to the transportation enhancement fund, the recreational trails program, and Safe Routes to School – the three primary sources of money for multi-use recreational trails and bicycle lanes during the past two decades.

Paying for Each Mile

The Dana-to-Downtown bikeway that Caltrans completed last year was among the first projects of its kind that Caltrans itself has ever built, and agency officials consider it a big success. But it is not a success the agency is likely to repeat anytime soon.

“Certainly, in the last five, 10 years, there is a heightened interest in bicycles that didn’t exist before,” said Mark Miller, advance planning chief for Caltrans’ Redding district office. “If somebody came up with a program to fund (facilities for) bicycles, we’d be all over it. But in these lean times, it’s hard to do anything.”

Hard, but not impossible. The system of recreational trails – most of which is open to bicycles, walkers and horses – that has developed in the Redding area is a tribute to the financial creativity and dedication of a few people. The Bureau of Land Management, which owns 85,000 acres in Shasta County, is more responsible for recent trail development than any other entity. Although the Redding BLM office received substantial grants from the federal economic stimulus program (the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) to pave the Sacramento Rail Trail and Middle Creek Trail, the agency has built many miles of trail with scraps from its own budget, grants from the McConnell and Redding foundations, and inexpensive labor provided by the California Conservation Corps.

“If you have the land, you can do the projects,” summed up Steve Anderson, manager of the Redding BLM office. “In recent years, we’ve averaged right at 10 miles (of trail) a year.”

Unpaved recreational trails, though, are far cheaper to build than paved bike paths like the Sacramento River Trail or bike lanes, such as those on Cypress Avenue. Shasta County officials estimate construction of a bike lane costs about $500,000 per mile. If the road crosses a bridge, that figure can rise dramatically.

Riding to be Had, Regardless

Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, there is still a whole lot of bicycling going on in western Shasta County. To wit:

• Shasta Wheelmen, Redding Mountain Biking, Redding Velo, We Ski II and Cyclopedia bike shop organized a combined 15 to 20 group bike rides every week during the peak season this year.

• Shasta County Public Health Department tallied 781 bicycle riders during a bike count conducted over the course of three-and-a-half hours at 22 locations around Redding in September 2010. The 2010 count was about 80 percent more than the 2009 bike count, which took place during hotter weather.

• The area continues to host the Lemurian mountain bike race at Whiskeytown, which earlier this year drew more than 350 riders; a three-year-old Blazing Saddles mountain bike race series at Swasey Recreation Area, and two 100-mile road bike rides, the Jamboree Century and the Anderson River Century. Whiskeytown is also the location of several other mountain bike races, like the Whiskeytown Classic and a duathlon that combines running and riding.

• When the Great Recession struck four years ago, Redding had five bicycle shops (The Bike Shop, Bikes Etc., Chain Gang, Sports Ltd., and Village Cycle). Amazingly, the city now has six – those five, plus Cyclopedia (formerly ESP Outdoor).

There’s no reason to believe this level of activity, both physical and economic, is going to wane. In “Taken By Two Wheels,” A New Café will examine all aspects of the Redding area’s bicycling scene, from recreational mountain and road biking, to cycling for transportation. You’ll hear from public officials, bicycling advocates, bicycle commuters and those who have been chiefly responsible for the development of multi-use recreational trails. You’ll also learn the best places to go riding, whether your rig has knobby tires or skinny ones.

Click here to read more from Day 1 of A News Cafe’s “Taken By Two Wheels.”

-Photography by Michael Burke

shigley-mugshotPaul Shigley is a freelance journalist based in Western Shasta County, CA. He may be reached at pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

Paul Shigley

has been a professional journalist since 1987. For 12 years, he served as editor or senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a statewide trade publication for land use planners, real estate development professionals and attorneys. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter or editor at newspapers in Redding, Grass Valley, Napa and Calistoga. Shigley's work also has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Planning magazine, Governing magazine, California Law Week, National Speed Sport News and elsewhere. In addition, he is co-author of Guide to California Planning, a college text and reference book, and is currently working on a book for the American Planning Association about the Bay Delta and California water resources. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Shigley has contributed to A News Cafe since 2009. He and his wife, Dana, live in western Shasta County.

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