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Fresno’s plan to vastly expand walking/biking trails to get public hearing

Dots superimposed on a Fresno city map show where residents have identified needed improvements for sidewalks and other pedestrian facilities. The map is part of a proposed Active Transportation Plan that will be considered Thursday, Feb. 9, by the Fresno City Council.
Dots superimposed on a Fresno city map show where residents have identified needed improvements for sidewalks and other pedestrian facilities. The map is part of a proposed Active Transportation Plan that will be considered Thursday, Feb. 9, by the Fresno City Council.

A citywide plan to develop and improve sidewalks, walking and bike trails and bicycle lanes throughout Fresno is due to be considered Thursday by the Fresno City Council, two weeks after it was put off to allow more study.

The proposed Active Transportation Plan establishes goals and a system for setting budget priorities to enhance safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. That includes investments to expand the geographic equity of access to walking and biking lanes and trails and filling in gaps in the existing system of trails and bikeways across Fresno.

The plan is intended to update the city’s previous Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan, last revised in 2010. A hearing to gather public comments will begin no earlier than 10:15 a.m. in the second-floor council chamber at Fresno City Hall.

In a staff report to the City Council, engineers with the city’s public works department note that the priority for pedestrian improvements “focuses on areas with the greatest need for infrastructure as determined by under-served neighborhoods with large numbers of sidewalk gaps, high levels of pedestrian activity, and a high frequency of pedestrian collisions.”

A series of community meetings collected residents’ ideas for the plan, helping the city identify areas of need. “Planned sidewalks are  shown for missing sidewalks in neighborhoods identified by the public during the community engagement process,” according to the report, “as well as areas that generate more pedestrian activity based on their socioeconomic data and proximity to schools, transportation corridors and key destinations.”

But advocates for low-income areas of the city, particularly in southeast and southwest Fresno, are likely to express concerns over making sure those disadvantaged neighborhoods – where people are less likely to own automobiles and rely on walking or riding bicycles to get where they need to go – don’t get left behind when it comes to how the city spends its money.

“Low-income residents in southeast Fresno have expressed satisfaction with the overall plan but continued to be concerned that the implementation portion did not sufficiently prioritize the need for investments in their disadvantaged neighborhoods,” wrote Genoveva Islas, a program director with Cultiva La Salud, in a letter to Public Works Director Scott Mozier last month. Islas said her organization believes equity should have a higher weight in a scoring formula for future spending within the plan.

Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, which works with Cultiva La Salud as well as with low-income communities, cautioned the city council in a Jan. 25 letter that the organization fears that the priority formula and omissions from the plan “will further entrench and institutionalize neglect for basic infrastructure needs of Fresno’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

LCJA policy advocate Grecia Elenes said the sidewalks, streetlights, storm drainage, bike lanes and sidewalks are sorely lacking in some parts of the city.

“The lack of adequate infrastructure puts children, parents, the elderly, the disabled and other residents who are forced to share the roadway with diesel trucks and other vehicles and walk on unlit, muddy and flooded roadways at risk every day,” Elenes wrote. The city’s plan “thus has the potential to either serve as a critical tool to advance solutions to Fresno’s basic infrastructure deficiencies, or to further entrench historic neighborhood-level disparities.”

Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria asked for the hearing to be put off two weeks ago to allow more time for her and other council members to study the proposed scoring matrix that would steer a priority list for spending on individual pedestrian and bicycle improvement projects.

Fresno now has about 491 miles of bicycle lanes and routes; the plan proposes to expand that to almost 1,440 miles, in addition to filling gaps in sidewalks and other improvements for walkers.

But those improvements won’t come cheap. The long-range costs for the most immediate needs is estimated at nearly $115 million. The total for all high-, medium- and low-priority projects is estimated at more than $1.3 billion.

The city’s hope is to seek grants from a variety of sources to pay for the highest-priority needs.

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