Marek Warszawski

Plan will make Fresno a better, safer place to ride a bike and walk

A lone cyclist pedals along the Eaton Trail below a gathering of clouds in February 2015. The Eaton Trail is one of Fresno’s few Class I bike trails and unquestionably the most popular.
A lone cyclist pedals along the Eaton Trail below a gathering of clouds in February 2015. The Eaton Trail is one of Fresno’s few Class I bike trails and unquestionably the most popular. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

With a little more foresight and a little less kowtowing, Fresno could’ve been a great place to ride bikes and walk.

More streets designed with bike lanes and sidewalks. More space set aside for parks and greenbelts, and more resources devoted to them. Developers required to design neighborhoods for people to get around using something other than their cars.

We all know that didn’t happen. It’s why most of Fresno looks the way it does: a piecemeal grid of traffic lights and strip malls.

Inside your little pocket, it might be fairly safe. But venture onto one of the main arteries with cars whizzing past at 45 mph, and you better be clutching your rosary beads, a four-leaf clover or both.

Thankfully it’s 2017, and our civic leaders have caught up to the fact that the health and quality of life of a city’s residents supersede other interests.

Thankfully it’s 2017, and our civic leaders have caught up to the fact that the health and quality of life of a city’s residents supersedes other interests. Not to mention the millions of dollars available to cities that invest in infrastructure designed to promote safe biking and walking.

Which is why the city of Fresno brought in Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants to develop what’s called an Active Transportation Plan. A 341-page draft of the document was released for public consumption in October.

Yes, Fresno has produced similar plans in the not-too-distant past. But this one is comprehensive, The One Plan to Rule Them All.

I shouldn’t make fun, because the process was sound and comprehensive. Several public workshops were held, giving citizens the chance to point out dangerous intersections and gaps in sidewalks. And they did.

If fully implemented, the Active Transportation Plan would nearly triple Fresno’s network of bike lanes and paths (from 491 miles to 1,438) while making things safer for pedestrians.

Of course, a full build-out would also be prohibitively expensive: $1.3 billion. Much more palatable, and doable, is the $115 million needed for the highest-priority improvements.

$115 million Cost of the Active Transportation Plan’s highest-priority improvements

How were those priorities determined? The plan’s authors weighed a variety of factors including proximity to key destinations (schools, parks, bus stops, shopping); collision, employee and population densities; low household income and low vehicle ownership rates; and traffic stress levels.

Hours can be spent reading the findings and perusing all the maps and charts. Believe me.

In December, the city’s Planning Commission recommended that the City Council adopt the Active Transportation Plan. But so far, that has yet to happen. Discussion has been tabled multiple times; it is now scheduled for Thursday’s meeting.

There’s no magic wand that can reverse decades of slipshod planning and substandard infrastructure. In order to give people in certain parts of Fresno more access to parks and trails, you’d need a fleet of bulldozers.

In order to give people in certain parts of Fresno more access to parks and trails, you’d need a fleet of bulldozers.

The best we can do, after the fact, is identify which projects can do the most good for the largest number of residents with the funding available. This plan gives the city the framework to do that, which is why it should be adopted without further delay.

Better biking and walking infrastructure is something Fresno residents want. Keep in mind that the extension to Measure C didn’t pass until it included stipulations for bikes, pedestrians and mass transit.

Readers know I’m an advocate of what’s known as Class I trails, pathways where bikes and pedestrians are separated from vehicular traffic and give everyone an added measure of safety.

Of course, these are also the hardest and most expensive to construct.

Which is why the Class I trails Fresno does have are along river bluffs (Eaton Trail), abandoned railway lines (Sugar Pine Trail) and busy thoroughfares where the costs have been passed on to developers (Herndon Trail).

The only real linear “space” left in Fresno is the nearly 200-mile network of canals that crisscross the city. When I lived in the Figarden Loop, I often rode the canal banks and was glad to see part of my route included in the priority build-out.

Think what this community would be like if we had 200 miles of landscaped linear parks linking areas in Fresno and Clovis. It would be a completely different place to live.

Mark Keppler, local trails advocate

However, no project is more vital than the Midtown Trail, a planned 7.1-mile segment that would connect Blackstone Avenue with the Clovis Old Town Trail via the canals along Shields, Millbrook and McKinley. Residents of central and southeast Fresno who have been long denied Class I trails would suddenly have access to 17 miles of them.

Trails were a big priority for Ashley Swearengin during her eight years as mayor, and let’s hope they are for Lee Brand as well. This requires not only finding creative measures to secure funding (such as the Midtown Trail’s $9.5 million price tag) but negotiating with entities such as the Fresno Irrigation District and San Joaquin Railroad that probably aren’t thrilled about a paved pathway running through their property.

After decades of ignoring the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, Fresno has a plan that could encourage more residents not to put the key in the ignition every time they leave the house.

Which, if enough people did it, would decrease traffic congestion and improve our air quality. Even these days we can all agree those are good things, right?

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

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