Local News

Monday, Oct 22 2012 05:36 PM

New bicycle master plan makes Kern eligible for state grants

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Kern County's new "Bicycle Master Plan" -- its first since 1974 -- could give local transportation planners access to a source of state money that has been off limits to local agencies.

A year in the making, the document distills input from community members across the county. It prioritizes future work on bike route striping and other proposed projects in unincorporated county land from Oildale to Lake Isabella to Mojave.

Peter Smith, a senior planner with the Kern Council of Governments, which commissioned the report at a cost of $100,000, said the document would be helpful even if all it did was prioritize and provide an inventory of Kern's bicycle transportation infrastructure.

But it does more than that, he said. It also makes the county eligible for state Bicycle Transportation Account grants, which total about $7 million a year.

There are no guarantees Kern will ever see any of that money, but at least now it has a shot at it.

"We'll see if we get any" BTA grants, he said. "It's a highly competitive process."

All told, the master plan proposes 751 miles of improvements -- a ten-fold increase over the county's 67 miles of existing infrastructure. If fully built, the projects listed in the document would cost more than $26 million.

Some of those projects are fairly minor, such as the gap-filling measures at the top of the priorities list. The document's top priority, for example, is a $57,704 completion of a "neighborhood green street" bike project connecting Roberts Lane and North Chester Avenue.

Other projects are much more expensive, involving new paving and signage in areas well outside metropolitan Bakersfield. Some of these would also require the cooperation of different governmental agencies.

Bob Smith, president of Bike Bakersfield, said the document was valuable because it represents a big change of thinking since the last master plan was done.

He noted that the area's existing infrastructure includes bike lane striping on major arterial thoroughfares. Those projects are of limited use, he said, because as the master plan reflects, most bike riders prefer to stay off busy streets.

"The engineering of bicycle traffic interaction has changed drastically in the last 20 years," he said. "So, yeah, I think (the master plan) is important and a good start."

The plan was approved Thursday by Kern COG's board of directors.

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