In its July issue, Bicycling magazine placed Sacramento right in the middle of its top-50 best bike cities, a ranking that suggests we've come a long way in recent years and can, with a little more effort and foresight, someday elbow our way into the Top 10 with the likes of Portland and San Francisco.
Sacramento already has it good when it comes to riding a bike – the year-round weather, the flat terrain, the easy-to-navigate street grid, as well as the much-lauded 32-mile bike trail that winds along the American River from downtown to Folsom Lake without encountering automobile traffic.
There's a legacy of bike racing and a growing population of bike commuters, as well as the new trend of bike-centric pub crawls and fashionable slow-speed "tweed rides." The "May is Bike Month" and the "Million Miles in May" bike commuting promotions have grown each year. There's a local company that delivers food by bike, a variety of group excursions for everything from farm visits to arrive-by-bike movie events, and a Bicycle Kitchen staffed by volunteers who help folks repair and maintain their bikes.
There's so much going on with bikes these days that many will wonder what more needs to be done.
To get the answers to how we could do better and rank higher, The Bee solicited opinions from bike advocates of all kinds, from the head of the grass-roots Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates to an architect who has railed against sprawl at the expense of urban density.
Some of the ideas are quick fixes. A few improvements are just about to happen, some complement ongoing efforts, and a few wish-list items, like the need for more bridges over our two major rivers, are both costly and fraught with political hurdles.
By most accounts, Sacramento and its growing population of cyclists are heading in the right direction. Most agree that the one thing we don't do well – or often enough – is toot our own horn.
Ed Cox, bike and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Sacramento:
Since taking the job in 2000, Cox has been busy helping the city implement its city-county bikeway master plan. While many of the high-profile efforts were in newly developed North Natomas, Cox has made inroads in less noticeable ways by consistently advocating for something called a "road diet." When it comes time to resurface a city street, Cox and others help determine if the roadway can lose an automobile lane in favor of bike lanes. This is easiest to achieve on three-lane one-way streets simply by re-striping with paint – something called a 3-2 conversion.
For years, those conversions have been well- received in midtown. Now, downtown is about to be much more bike-friendly with seven new miles of bike lanes as early as September, according to Cox. The road diet includes Fifth, Ninth, 10th, G, H and sections of J and I, Cox said.
"I'm real excited about this. I actually have the plans on my desk as we speak," said Cox, noting the city has nearly tripled its bike commuting in the past 15 years.
Cox is also looking toward bicycle education as a way to build a new and broader base of advocates. Noting that the median age for bike-car collisions is 13, Cox said he has received a grant to start a bike and pedestrian education pilot project at one local middle school, with hopes of expanding the effort.
Tricia Hedahl, executive director, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates.
Hedahl has been on the job three years, arriving from Portland, Bicycling's No. 1 ranked city. She praised Cox's re-striping effort and the City Council's pro-bike advocacy but says transportation planners sometimes fail to include the needs of bikes if it means inconveniencing motorists.
"Motorists should understand that when someone is riding a bike, they are improving traffic conditions for you," she said. "As the numbers of cyclists increase, the acceptance of it increases as well."
Hedahl is pushing for a major in-school bike advocacy and education program, something that helped Portland's bike culture thrive. Portland also made efforts to limit sprawl and emphasize urban density, making cycling a more viable option for short and medium-length trips.
"Portland has a 20-year head start on Sacramento," she said. "When we moved here, my husband and I said this reminds us of Portland 15 or 20 years ago. In 15 years, it's going to be one of the most desirable cities in the nation."
Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.
Snyder lives in San Francisco and helped that city achieve bike-friendly greatness through the years through road diets and various infrastructure changes.
"I ride around Sacramento quite a bit," he said. "Sacramento has a lot of potential and a long way to go. You need better and safer connections to key destinations. For example, there is no clear, designated path from downtown to the Amtrak station. It's re-striping (the road lanes), but it means being willing to reallocate a bit of street space. Sacramento has too many high-speed one-way roads in the downtown area. If you compare Sacramento to other cities higher up on the (magazine's) list, those other cities are willing to tolerate more congestion than Sacramento."
Chris Dougherty, SABA board member and associate planner for the city of Sacramento.
Dougherty says Sacramento is already thriving when it comes to being bike-friendly, but he agrees with Snyder that it could improve connections from one area to the next.
"Some of those connections involve riding on streets that are not bike- friendly," he said, referring to high-speed roads like Watt Avenue. "This is something SABA is really working on. The whole idea is that streets are for people, not automobiles. We want to build infrastructure that supports everyone from 8 to 80."
In other words, building bike lanes on Watt Avenue is not as practical as creating a safe alternative connection.
Asked why building a better bike city is important, Dougherty said, "It's going to be a vital way to get around the city, especially as it grows and matures. People complain about parking downtown. To me, that's the sign of a successful city."
He also believes we already are better than people think.
"We have a lot of people who are really passionate about cycling. We have a culture of great bike shops. There's an energy that has been growing for a long time. I have lived here for 15 years and have seen tremendous improvements. I think we are a tremendous bike city already."
David Mogavero, Mogavero Notestine Associates.
As a partner in an architecture and planning firm specializing in sustainable solutions, Mogavero is an advocate for both reversing planning mistakes of the past and creating communities that are easier to navigate on foot and by bike.
"We had the wisdom in Sacramento four decades ago to set aside the American River Parkway, so we have a great legacy of people being thoughtful in the past," he said. "The classic problem today all over America is that traffic engineers tend to be very single- dimensional. They tend to focus on moving as many cars as quickly as possible. Quite frankly, the Achilles heel is we still have transportation engineers controlling the resources."
The way Mogavero sees it, the big challenge is allocating resources: Bike-friendly projects need more consideration and endless road- widening projects are not necessarily the answer. Mogavero has been an advocate for retrofitting the suburbs to make them more user-friendly for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as public transportation.
"We're still building roads to nowhere," the architect said.
WAVES TO WINE RIDE
What: Northern California chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society's 29th annual Bike MS: Waves to Wine Ride. The event takes cyclists from San Francisco via Highway 1 into Sonoma County. More than 2,200 cyclists are expected to ride and raise funds toward the $2.1 million goal for research. A minimum pledge of $350 is required. People can participate individually or as a team.
When: Sept. 22-23
Where: Two start options on Sept. 22: UCSF Mission Bay Campus, 1300 Fourth St., San Francisco (75- and 100-mile options) or Sonoma Mountain Village, 1400 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park (40-mile option); one start option on Sept. 23: Sonoma Mountain Village (50- or 75-mile option)
Information: www.wavestowine.org or (415) 230-6678