Thursday, May 13, 1999
The city of Salinas has a two-wheel goal. Within the next 10 years, city officials want to see at least 10 percent of all trips made within the city to be made on bicycle. That means somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 more commuters need to be seduced into donning proper riding gear, flinging their leg over the seat and pedaling their way to work rather than sliding into the family gas guzzler.
But right now, even as dedicated cyclists prepare for Bike to Work Week, the city is unsure of how many people are actually two-wheeling around town, what the most seductive projects might be, or how much it''s going to cost to build those projects. Even so, officials see hopeful signs coming from a growing number of riders.
"The numbers are not huge but we''re seeing that people are starting to recognize there are other things out there [than cars]," says Kevin Callahan, the city''s traffic engineer.
According to the city''s 1998 Bikeways Plan, "it is now assumed that about 2 percent of all commute trips are made by bicycle each day." On the other hand, as Callahan explains, "I couldn''t tell you how many employed people there are in the city." The estimates are based on census information and bicycle counts taken by observers every two years at specific intersections in the city.
"From 1995 to 1997, we saw a 60 percent increase," Callahan continues. "It could have been a fluke, but we did the same locations and had uniformly higher counts at all locations." Volunteers will be going out again to count bicycles at the same 12 intersections before school is out and will also monitor six new locations along commute corridors where the city is doing "before" counts before upgrading the roadway for cyclists.
Callahan says he believes the top priority in making bicycling more attractive lies in making the roadways safer.
"We have to look at both sides of the equation, to provide facilities and encourage people to use them," says Callahan. "We have to make it safer."
To do that, Callahan is looking for ways to fund two bike bridges, one connecting the Rossi-Rico bike path to Davis Road and another at Highway 101 near Airport Boulevard. He estimates the cost for each bridge at close to $1 million. "It''s hard to get grants for this," he comments.
The Airport Boulevard bike and pedestrian bridge is considered an especially critical connection because the freeway separates residential areas from the industrial area where jobs are located and there is no easy, safe way to get there. "A few brave souls do cycle across," comments Callahan.
Because nearly 70 percent of Salinas residents work in the city and generally have commutes of five miles or less, they are considered prime candidates for alternative transportation modes like bicycles.
"There is a growing awareness for [bicycle] facilities," notes Callahan. "But it''s a matter of competing demands. There are more motorists than cyclists so they get more priority unless," he adds, "you can integrate both into plans for roadways. Very few communities can fund bicycle facilities out of their own pocket."
Salinas, like other cities, has relied on grant funds for much of its bicycle facility expansion. According to Callahan, in the last three years, about $800,000 has been spent to develop routes, provide signs, paving, etc. "The city provides maybe 10 percent," Callahan says. The rest comes from various state and local sources of transportation funds.
As a result, Salinas has increased its bike facilities from 25 miles in 1990 to 55 miles, with another 30 miles planned. Only about four miles, however, are grade separated from traffic. Less than seven miles are restricted lanes for bicycle traffic. "Most of it," says Callahan, "is simply signage [bike routes] on residential streets done in the last couple of years."
At the same time, reported accidents involving bicycles in the city have decreased, adds Callahan, from 81 in 1990 to 30 in 1997, the latest year for which data are available.
"The city has made significant commitments to [bicycles]. We''ve tried to mitigate growth through provision of adequate facilities, but it''s difficult to find road space if you''re going to have people driving around by themselves," says Callahan.
To help reduce the number of people driving alone and the resulting traffic congestion, the city has joined with the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce in forming the Salinas Valley Commuter Club, funded by a two-year $65,000 grant from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District.
"Think before you use your car," reminds Marlys Maher, longtime bicycle proponent and member of both the Salinas and county bicycle advisory committees. "There''s a really simple test; ask yourself, can you do it by bike or walk? Do you need to use your car?" she continues. "It''s a mind-set. I''d like to see people thinking more before they use their cars."
But at the same time Salinas looks for new ways to reduce car trips by increasing bicycle trips, it is also looking at eliminating the bike lanes on Davis Road north of Market Street to make way for two more lanes of automobiles. This new alternative plan, reports Callahan, is scheduled to go to the Traffic and Transportation Commission in a few weeks and to the City Council for a study session in June. cw