Local News

Wednesday, Dec 12 2012 10:53 PM

City planners seek input on revamping bike lanes

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield city planners are undertaking an effort to revamp the city's 170 miles of bike lanes and bike paths to make them safer and more convenient for riders and would-be riders. As part of that effort, on Wednesday night they and a team of hired consultants held a public workshop at the Rabobank Convention Center to gather input on needed improvements.

One of the main goals of the workshop was to see what bike riders already know about existing bike routes, such as where lanes are broken up and how to make riders feel safer, especially near moving cars, according to Jennifer Donlon Wyant of Alta Planning + Design.

The city hired Alta Planning + Design, a Portland, Ore.-based firm, and Bakersfield-based Ruettgers and Schuler Civil Engineers to come up with a new bicycle transportation plan for the city. Once the plan is complete and certified by the Kern Council of Governments, Bakersfield can use it to apply for Caltrans' funding for projects to improve safety and convenience for bicycle commuters.

"We have a lot of bikeways, but there's room to grow," Donlon Wyant said. "We will take everybody's comments and see what is feasible."

Along with Wednesday night's workshop and another last month, the city and Alta Planning + Design have been conducting a survey of Bakersfield residents' riding habits. City staff will still be collecting survey responses until Dec. 19, so the results so far aren't final. But the preliminary numbers reveal some interesting data.

So far, there's been about 380 responses to the survey, about two-thirds of them from men. Of the surveys turned in so far, 40 percent of people said they drive alone for trips shorter than a mile, while about 28 percent said they walk and another 28 percent said they bike.

That's one of the things the bike plan would be aimed at changing. By making bike routes safer, more visible and eliminating gaps, for example, the idea is to get more people to bike, especially for short distances.

The survey also asked why people don't bike, and the No. 1 reason cited was that there are too many cars, moving at high speed, for riders to feel comfortable.

Using data from the California Highway Patrol, Alta Planning + Design totaled up 256 collisions between 2006 and 2010. These included bike riders being hit by cars but also collisions with other bikes, pedestrians and objects. Most accidents happened in the downtown area and between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Several accidents happened at the intersection of Ming Avenue and New Stine Road and along Union Avenue north of California Avenue in that time.

"Survey respondents (said) they don't like biking near high volumes (of cars) and high speeds," Donlon Wyant said. "That tells us we should look at where we're placing the bike lanes. Maybe we should include other bike lanes ... on local streets or parallel streets."

Cindy Parra, who works for Bike Bakersfield and a local civil engineering firm, said she bikes to work several times a week but understands that less experienced riders feel intimidated on busy streets. The city should look at other places to make bike paths separated from streets, she said.

"The city should look at putting more bike lanes on the canals. People love the Kern River Parkway because it's a separated path," she said. "If you could get some separated paths along the canals that criss-cross Bakersfield, you could have an interconnected bicycle highway."

The easiest thing to do for starters, were the city to get funding from Caltrans, would be to add bike route signs and striping on streets with slower traffic speeds, said Bob Smith, who founded the organization Bike Bakersfield to encourage bike riding.

Donlon Wyant said the consultants aim to have a draft plan out by spring, take in comments on that plan and issue a final plan.

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