With all the hub-bub about California Street we need to pull back and take a 10,000 foot view of what is and could be going on downtown for people on bikes. Currently, a re-striping plan that has been in the works for months has been hijacked by the local media. Yes, a painted buffered bike lane is a new tool in the street design box for better bikeways, but what will it really do increase safety on California Street for bicycles? What will it really do to increase the numbers of bicycles coming downtown? At what point is there true impact for Downtown to see a tipping point? When and where, and what for, do we spend our limited political and community capital? Do we want a town where we are fighting block by block to get some room to ride next to the fuming cars with nothing but paint between us and the texting driver, or do we want to have a space that we can truly call our own.
I am sure many of you reading this have seen and been watching other cities grow and progress their cycling infrastructure and want to mimic their improvements and benefits, but we here in Redding are at a unique advantage already. We have a vast network of paths connecting many different and wonderful parts of our community and has been growing for years and will continue to grow along the rivers and open spaces. We are lucky because we have plenty of space on many of our streets and greenbelts for the creation of the "Urban Trail."
Now it is time to transition the River Trail into the Urban Trail, rolling from the river side to straight down the middle of the downtown mall. Or a "downtown loop" keeping the bike lane on California and Pine streets on the left/inside creating a loop around the mall, allowing the double right to remain on Pine and so the cyclist won't have to deal with the conflict zone from the right turn onto the freeway. Imagine living in Palo Cedro and being able to ride to the Sundial Bridge physically separated from vehicles just like you can from Old Shasta. Or after riding to the Dam roll to the downtown mall for a nice big burrito and have your bike securely locked at the door. Everyone should all be able to get to and from the Sundial Bridge with our families safely, from any neighborhood, whether we live on Shasta View or College View, Bonnyview or Parkview. Imagine riding your bicycle to dine, see a move or grab a gallon of milk, go to work, school or church, all without having to navigate with cars on our main roads.
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Creating this vision will not be easy or happen this summer, but when we are done it will be the best quality of life we can offer here, not just for spandex clad cyclist but for runners, walkers joggers, the causal commuter, students, grandmothers, and families. This will take time, effort, planning, understanding process and compromise, but in the end we will have the freedom to choose to move around this community without a car safely with the whole family.
This is not to say that bike lanes don't have their place but we have to be careful how much political and community capital we put into gaining anything but the best facility because cycles of rebuilding and maintenance are becoming more scarce. The basic 6' bike lane was originally the plan by Caltrans was going to happen relatively quietly, as a part of a regular maintenance project, without reducing traffic lanes or cost to the project. There are plans in the works to bring the River Trail to Downtown but if we take away a lane now we may get increased push back if we need to take more space later. We don't want to appear like a drug addict to those that don't understand the vision, we need to be clear about what we really want to see ultimately on our street and get it right the first time.
If you feel compelled that California Street could have a better bikeway than a simple painted buffered bicycle lane next to moving traffic and are willing to have a little patience to build something better, consider reading and signing this petition to Caltrans.
Also consider attending Thursdays Caltrans Open House to voice your opinion, even if it is different then the one stated here.
UPDATE: Backlash is a real thing, especially if you don't use the community process or put something permeant in they can take it away.