Not long ago, I rode my bicycle with my best friend (my wife) along the Kern River Parkway and bike path for an evening out. The air was cool, and the willows and cottonwoods were beginning their turn to beautiful fall colors of yellow. We saw squirrels on the way to our restaurant destination and cottontail rabbits and a kit fox on the way home. We also noticed what we always see on the bike path -- children bicycling with their parents with big grins on their faces.
On Wednesday, the Bakersfield City Council will consider adopting a new Bicycle Transportation Plan. If adopted and implemented, the plan has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life in Bakersfield. It complements the Bicycle Master Plan which was adopted by Kern Council of Governments for the unincorporated areas of metropolitan Bakersfield last year. Together, these two plans provide a 21st century approach to bicycling and traffic -- and a needed update to the current bicycle plan that dates back to the 1970s. The plan will expand our existing bikeway network of 143 miles to just over 400 miles of bikeways. It's not just about having more bikeways, though it is about the experience generated by the type of bikeway.
Our current bicycle plan directs bicycles to high speed, six lane roadways on minimum width bicycle lanes. The new plan recommends over 100 miles of "family friendly bikeways." Many are designed on local residential streets, and some are separated from the street completely, similar to the Kern River bike path. These bikeways connect to schools, parks and commercial areas so that families can travel by bicycle and enjoy the ride. Another 100 miles of what I call "pleasant bikeways" are situated on lower speed connector streets, with wider than minimum bikeways creating low-stress access to more of our city. The Bicycle Transportation Plan also makes recommendations for end-of-trip facilities such as bicycle parking so that every destination will have safe and adequate bicycle parking. The plan tabulates the collisions between automobiles and bicycles and recommends youth and adult bicycle education. Bicycle safety campaigns are also recommended.
The implementation of this plan has the ability to address in a very positive manner many of the chronic problems that plague our community. This family-friendly bicycle transportation system can help reduce our ever-growing obesity problem by providing a safe and convenient transportation system that promotes exercise while moving through our daily trips. Whether it be to school, work, store or a date, we can enjoy the trip in comfort while increasing our physical health.
It also builds on many of Bakersfield's strengths, such as being an affordable place to raise a family. A community that provides a realistic, affordable transportation option such as bicycling becomes a place where more disposable income is available for family activities and education.
Studies increasingly show that younger people are attracted to communities that offer walkable, bikeable systems and destinations. With the implementation of this plan we can create a community that attracts and keeps the best and brightest for the well-being of our community.
As I look to the future I envision a Bakersfield that is healthy, active, affordable and, above all, fun. Using bicycling for everyday trips and Saturday night dates can put fun into the everyday. Ask the kids of all ages on their bikes, and they'll tell you what we all know and like about bicycling. We can feel the coolness in the morning. We feel the freedom and power of independent movement. We can see trees, flowers and wildlife at a speed that allows us to enjoy them. We feel our bodies become stronger and healthier. We can even smell what's for dinner as we float through the neighborhood.
Time for a bike ride.
Bob Smith, a civil engineering and land planning consultant, is a member of the Bakersfield City Council, serving Ward 4. He is the chairman of the council's Planning and Development Committee. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.