An ambitious plan to improve and expand Fresno’s network of sidewalks, trails and bicycle lanes and paths was unanimously approved Thursday by the Fresno City Council.
Now the trick is figuring out how to pay for it.
The new Active Transportation Plan establishes priorities for improving the safety of pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented infrastructure across the city. That includes investments to expand the geographic equity of access to those improvements.
It envisions the eventual expansion of the city’s 491 miles of bicycle lanes and paths to nearly 1,440 miles through a combination of lanes along the edges of streets and bike paths that are separate from roadways. It also sets forth a plan to identify areas that have no sidewalks, and other improvements for pedestrians.
Jill Gormley, a city traffic engineer, said the plan is divided into a set of near-term priorities to be built over the coming five to 10 years at a cost of as much as $125 million, and long-term needs that carry an estimated price of about $1.4 billion over the next 30 to 50 years.
Having an adopted plan is a requirement for the city to qualify for transportation grants from the state of California as well as from Fresno County’s Measure C half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements, Gormley added. Such grants are expected to form the backbone, if not the entirety, of funds to make the plan’s vision a reality.
Thursday’s vote came after a stream of residents, including representatives of community advocacy organization Cultiva La Salud, addressed the council to ask that priorities for grant applications allow for the geographic and economic disparities that have historically left disadvantaged neighborhoods – especially in south Fresno – lagging behind more affluent areas of the city when it comes to investments in improvements. Residents in low-income neighborhoods are less likely to own automobiles and more likely to rely on walking or riding bicycles to get where they need to go.
The City Council adopted a scoring formula advocated by Cultiva La Salud, the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, and other advocates that took those historic inequities into account, providing a slight advantage for low-income neighborhoods compared to the formula that had been recommended by consultants and the city’s planning and engineering staffs.
“We want to ensure that we are creating an equitable and just plan that prioritizes areas that have had the least investments over time,” said Genoveva Islas, a program manager for Cultiva La Salud.
In a letter to the council, Leadership Counsel policy advocate Grecia Elenes noted that basic pedestrian amenities such as sidewalks, storm drains, streetlights and bicycle lanes that are taken for granted in some parts of the city are missing entirely in other areas. “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,” she wrote.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said that no matter what scoring formula the city uses to prioritize projects for funding applications, “at the end of the day, it will be the state that dictates what gets funded, not us.”
Nicholas Paladino, a northeast Fresno resident who served on a bicycle-pedestrian advisory committee that worked on the plan, agreed with the community advocates that “there is a glaring need in southeast and southwest Fresno.” He said he supported a plan that concentrates more of the short-term investments in those areas of the city.
Retired physician Anthony Molina of Fresno, another member of the bicycle-pedestrian committee, praised the city’s staff, consultants and community advocates for their work on the plan over about 18 months. “This really advances a tremendous vision for our health and our future,” Molina told the council.