Mixing with Motorists: Bicycles as Transportation on Shasta County Streets

The irony is rich: Anne Wallach Thomas was planning for the next day’s monthly meeting of the Shasta Cascade Bicycle Coalition and, once again, confronting the fact that she would have to drive to the Redding meeting from her Palo Cedro home.

“I can’t ride my bike into Redding — I could get killed,” she said. “It drives me crazy, but I see things changing.”

Her optimism stems from the fact that there is a Shasta Cascade Bicycling Coalition, and from the progress its members and partnering agencies are making. Formed a year ago, the coalition is a collection of cyclists, cycling club members and others working to improve bicycling opportunities in the greater Redding area.

“We believe that this area is a mecca for bicycling,” Thomas said. “It’s very close to being a community that has tremendous livability and community energy that comes from being a place for fantastic recreational biking and transportation. But we’re not quite there yet.”

The Redding area’s extensive recreational trail system offers many miles for serious mountain bikers and road cyclists, as well as hobbyists looking for a pleasant Sunday outing. But relying on a bicycle for basic transportation in the Redding area can be risky, as can riding to recreational trailheads.

Change will require bicycle advocates banding together to speak as one, Thomas said. By incorporating strategies that have worked in bike-friendly communities and bringing together the various components — the Redding Mountain Biking club, the Shasta Wheelmen, Healthy Shasta, the city of Redding and others — Thomas said the coalition can distill those elements into a single, coherent voice.

“We’re trying to bring these groups together,” Thomas said. “We want to show our leaders that we have 150 messages from the last event that say ‘yes, we want safe bike riding.’ People don’t realize how much power there is when you bring it all together. We don’t want to be the crazy, angry people. It is a transportation choice; bicyclists have a right to be on the road.”

Getting Heard

That message is getting through, according to Zach Bonnin, a transportation planner with the city of Redding who reviews city projects and commercial developments to ensure the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians are considered.

For proof, he pointed to the Redding Bikeway Action Plan, a sweeping five-year blueprint that details current bicycling amenities and lays out goals and priorities needed to add an additional 38 miles to the city’s bikeway network and upgrade another 57 miles of bike routes to Class 2 status (where bicyclists have dedicated lanes).

The plan is the product of 18 months of meetings by the 19-member Bikeway Action Plan Advisory Committee, which early on established three guiding principles to support all of the plan’s recommendations:

1. Residents can conveniently use bicycles as transportation for their recreational, occupational and educational needs, and to complete other daily errands.

2. Every bicycle trip improves the quality of life for all.

3. Bicycles can be used safely.

“It’s the biggest plan the city ever put out for that sort of thing directly,” Bonnin said. “It covers the next five years—everything the city hopes to do, build, construct and work on.”

Adopted in 2010, the plan has already shown benefits, according to Bonnin. Examples include clearly marked bike lanes on the resurfaced South Bonnyview Road; bike lanes on College View Drive between Churn Creek Road and Old Oregon Trail, Browning Street and North Bechelli Lane; and 5-foot-wide bike lanes on a portion of Cypress Avenue.

Next up is a “road diet” for Parkview Avenue that will convert it from four to three traffic lanes, plus bike lanes and some bulb outs at intersections that shorten pedestrian road-crossing distances. To implement the fairly simple project, though, the city had to piece together money from four different, local, state and federal sources.

“I think we’re on the right path. We’ve come a long way from where we’ve been. I can see the sea change that’s occurring. It’s got a long ways to go but we definitely have taken positive steps to get there,” Bonnin said.

A Mixed Bag

Cypress Avenue provides a perfect example of the progress Redding has made, and distance that remains to true bike-ability. The refurbished stretch of Cypress from Market Street to Hartnell Avenue, including the new bridge over the Sacramento River, offers wide, well-marked bike lanes. But the roadway gets tight and congested for motorists and cyclists east of Hartnell.

“Cypress is terrible from the bridge to the hotels (around Hilltop Drive),” observed Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition. “It needs to be safer for the workers over there.” City officials are aware of the shortcoming and have plans to improve the situation, including widening the narrow corridor under the Interstate 5 overpass to make room for bicycle riders.

Assistant Public Works Director Chuck Aukland said the city is implementing the bike plan as money becomes available. The city recently lined up a state grant to build a bike lane on Old Alturas Road from the new roundabout at Shasta View Drive nearly to Churn Creek. However, that’s precisely the sort of project that frustrates cyclists, because it leads riders right to a narrow bridge over Churn Creek, which is not scheduled for improvements, forcing cyclists into the same lane with traffic moving at 40 mph.

“They need to have a separate trail if they could,” said Jack Yerkes, a daily cyclist who lives in the area and served on the bike plan advisory committee. A path would also serve pedestrians’ needs. However, such a path, or a wider bridge, would cost real money the city does not have.

“The bike plan was very successful because we were able to get a matching grant for the Old Alturas project,” Yerkes said. “But we sure could use more.”

Other cyclists expressed frustration with the city’s plans for Placer Drive, from Airport Drive to the western city limits. Placer is a busy bike route because it connects to the Blue Gravel Trail parallel to Buenaventura Boulevard, helps get mountain bikers to the Westside and Swasey trails, and leads to popular rides on country roads in the Centerville, Igo and Happy Valley areas. The city plans to convert the roadway from three lanes to five, plus bike lanes. Cyclists say there is no need for five lanes of traffic (two in each direction, plus a center turn lane) and the city should dedicate more of the right-of-way to cyclists and pedestrians. Rather than moving traffic at 50 mph, Placer could be a beautiful boulevard with landscaped buffers between cars and people on foot or bicycle.

Aukland conceded the project “is more of a classic road-widening job,” but he contended the city’s options are limited because much of the curb line is already in place. The project does involve a new signal at Wisconsin Avenue, and a new pedestrian crossing at the Holiday Market, both of which should serve walkers and cyclists, he said.

Shasta County also updated its bike plan in 2010, and its next big project will be construction of bike lanes on Old Alturas Road from the city limits to Old Oregon Trail, and then continuing from Old Oregon Trail south to Highway 44 and north to College View Drive. When finished in 2012, the project will tie with existing bike lanes to provide a nearly complete, seven-mile loop, as well as improved bicycle access to Shasta College and Simpson University.

However, other big bike projects in the county are a ways off because money is not available. The bike lane projects on Old Alturas, Old Oregon Trail and College View, for example, will cost about $3 million.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges for us – the limited amount of money that is available,” said Sean Tiedgen, the Shasta County public works department’s point man for the bicycle plan. “We’ll keep an eye out for various grants and apply for them when they are available.”

Redding Mayor Missy McArthur. Photo: city of Redding.

Redding Mayor Missy McArthur said she would love to see the city’s bike plan fully implemented immediately.

“But government doesn’t work as instantaneously as we’d like in most cases,” McArthur said. “It’s really a matter of money, of course. We don’t have the money for potholes or to maintain our pavement. We don’t have any money to fix anything.”

McArthur, who rides a bike for exercise, noted that the City Council placed “complete streets” at the top of its priority list earlier this year. That’s a significant commitment, and it forces staff planners and engineers to consider the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and all means of transportation when they consider development and public works projects, she said. “It goes back to quality of life and making our town accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians,” she said.

Making Connections

The pace of the county’s bike plan implementation clearly frustrates advocates like Thomas, who recalls riding her bike from Palo Cedro to Redding via Boyle and Old Alturas roads while growing up during the 1970s and ’80s. No one rides that route now, she said, because of the increase in automobiles and lack of improvements for bikes. “It’s purely a safety and infrastructure issue,” she said.

In fact, getting from town to town (or activity node to activity node, as planners say) is one of the biggest challenges for area cyclists. Officials at Caltrans are sensitive to the need, said Mark Miller, the Redding office’s advance planning chief, but, again, money is a problem. One of the agency’s top cycling priorities is building safe bike lanes on Highway 273 from south Redding to Anderson.

“We have a vision for that,” Miller said. “What we don’t have is a (funding) program to get us there.” Because of the close proximity of railroad tracks, frontage roads and utility lines, and the differing heights of the northbound and southbound lanes, “it’s not inexpensive to build things out there,” Miller said.

Redding’s biggest connectivity problem is also one of the shortest – one mile from Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the Sundial Bridge and the Sacramento River Trail to downtown Redding. During a recent visit to Redding, the California Bicycle Coalition’s Snyder said this bike and pedestrian link should be a top priority. On a recent weeknight, Snyder noted, the Sundial Bridge area was packed with people on foot and bicycle. Meanwhile, downtown streets were virtually empty. Connecting the two would be great for downtown merchants, said Snyder. The Viva Downtown Redding organization has known this for years.

It’s not an easy nut to crack, though. The most obvious route is up Butte, Continental and Yuba streets to downtown. But getting cyclists and pedestrians safety from Turtle Bay to Butte Street would require a reworking of the Highway 44 interchange with Sundial Bridge and Park Marina drives, an interchange that Caltrans rebuilt only last year.

Renewed Interest in Bicycling

Keith Ritter, a member of the Shasta Wheelmen, said he likes what he sees when he’s on his bike. In particular, he’s heartened by the increasing number of families bicycling together on the Sacramento River Trail and the enthusiastic response to the recently completed Dana-to-Downtown bike and pedestrian path paralleling the Highway 44 bridge over the Sacramento River.

It was not always thus, said Ritter, who first got into cycling during the late 1960s (“I was very into 10-speeds when everybody else was into cars”) and then returned to serious cycling in 2003.

“Cycling has gone through ups and downs through the decades in Redding. It was very popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and we had a lot of competitive people coming out here,” he said, recalling a national championship race in 2001 that had sprinters circling the Redding Convention Center.

“All of that kind of faded out, and the Wheelmen kind of ebbed and flowed. It used to be young people and families, and then it became kind of an old people’s club with a lot of retirees. Cycling six or seven years ago was kind of dead, but there’s been kind of a resurgence in the last three or four years.

“You’re seeing a lot more families on the river trail, bike stores are having banner years. Cruisers and commuter bikers are flying off the shelves. People are riding everywhere, and it’s kind of exciting to see,” Ritter said.

Redding City Councilwoman Francie Sullivan. Photo: city of Redding.

That kind of enthusiasm brings a smile to Francie Sullivan. A member of the Redding City Council, Sullivan is a self-described “biker wannabe” with a renewed interest in bicycling, thanks in part to encouragement by her former neighbor Tamy Quigley (a Caltrans planner) that led her to join the Shasta Cascade Bicycle Coalition.

Sullivan said she was happy to lend her support to the council’s adoption of a “complete streets” policy that requires the city to consider all modes of transportation when reviewing projects.

Bicycling is more important than ever, she said, as gas prices continue to climb, and study after study illustrates the growing costs when people do not get enough exercise. “There are all sorts of good reasons we should support making the city as accessible as possible to other forms of transportation,” she said.

Redding already has a solid footing with the well-traveled Sacramento River Trail, she said, and the Dana-to-Downtown connection across the river has opened a lot of eyes to the value of interconnected bikeways. “People are walking out to the shopping mall. It’s just a great luxury to be able to do that for exercise. Also, for a lot of people, that is their only option.

“I just smile when I’m on that (Dana-to-Downtown trail). You see little guys on training wheels, babies in strollers … it’s a community melting pot. There is no downside. If you look at major cities, where there are far more traffic challenges — like San Francisco and Portland — they’re making walking and riding a priority.”

Sullivan said a large share of the credit for Redding’s progress belongs to a hardworking and shorthanded public works crew. “I’m so impressed at how heartfelt they are in doing everything they can to make streets as safe as they can for as many forms of transportation. I look at how few staff members are left, and they can only work nine days out of 10, and they’re still incredibly willing to take on new challenges.”

When she first joined the coalition, Sullivan said she was “pretty snarky” about the state of Redding’s bike paths. “Some of the people there, who ride bikes everywhere and are much more experienced, were very appreciative about what was being done in the city. It opened my eyes.”

Opening eyes to the value of bicycling is a big part of Healthy Shasta, a countywide partnership that promotes healthy, active living to combat childhood obesity and other lifestyle-related illnesses like Type II diabetes, according to Shasta County Public Health’s Amy Pendergast. Healthy Shasta co-sponsors the annual Bike Commute Challenge each May to encourage bicycling as a daily mode of transportation and works with local engineers and planners on bike path development and funding, including money from the state’s Bicycle Transportation Account.

As an example, Pendergast said the city of Anderson was able to use BTA funds to develop a bike path connecting its downtown with the Anderson Marketplace shopping center that’s anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Healthy Shasta also was successful in securing a two-year grant from the national Safe Routes to School program to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to Anderson Middle, Burney Elementary, Mistletoe and Shasta Lake schools.

Healthy Shasta works closely with the bicycle coalition, Pendergast said. A variety of resources, including a city bike map and a bimonthly biking newsletter, is available at www.healthyshasta.org.

The coalition’s Thomas endorses Healthy Shasta’s efforts and appreciates the positive advancements. Still…

“I hate to always be the bitchy one,” Thomas said during a recent meeting, right before she lodged a complaint.

A disproportionate number of people are injured on their bikes, Thomas said, “and even more shameful is the number of people who don’t leave their house because it’s not safe. Most people are here because they enjoy this beautiful place, but most people can’t bike in their community. They can’t ride to get a burrito, and their kids can’t ride to school. That’s what to me is most shameful: there are a whole lot of people with bikes in their garage.”

Pam Gluck, who heads the Redding-based American Trails Council, can understand.

“It’s really frustrating if somebody has to load up their mountain bike on a bike rack to go ride the river trail because they don’t feel safe riding to the trail,” Gluck said.

Besides the facilities, the other hindrance to cycling is the attitude of motorists. Ritter said a share-the-road mentality among motorists is lacking.

“The one thing Redding lacks is an attitude from drivers. Cities like Seattle, Portland and Folsom have less-friendly infrastructure but drivers are more aware and more willing to adapt. Redding and Shasta County are kind of lagging behind that. I still see a lot of attitudes that indicate drivers are not willing to yield the right-of-way,” Ritter said. “That has to come from the culture of the community, not Caltrans.”

-Photographs by Michael Burke.

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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

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