About half of the 25 cyclists gathered just before noontime on Thursday at the Garden Highway entrance to Discovery Park had used the Jibboom Street bridge to get to the spot where they start a weekly ride to the Sacramento International Airport.
The group’s unofficial leader, Kenny Kwong, said the group has been talking a lot about the county’s plan to close the historic green bridge for repairs, the impact that closure will have on their safety and their desire to have a safe alternative to crossing the American River between downtown Sacramento and Natomas.
“I’ve been riding for about 25 years,” Kwong said. “I probably use it about 20 times a month…. I live out in the south area, so all of us who live out in Land Park and that area, the Jibboom Street bridge is our main way into the Discovery Park and the bike trail.”
Kwong said that, even as an experienced cyclist, he still has safety concerns about using alternate routes, which include downtown streets that take cyclists past the Blue Diamond plant and onto the bike trail or the narrow sidewalk on Highway 160 where cyclists crossing in opposite directions can inadvertently end up jousting with their handlebars.
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Like Discovery Park, those routes can end up underwater after heavy rains. Some of the cyclists said they had used Interstate 5, the only alternate route during flooding, to get across the river and had discovered that car traffic isn’t the only hazard. Debris hits bodies like missiles, and glass and metal shards on the shoulder puncture tires, they said.
As The Bee reported earlier this month, the Jibboom Street bridge is scheduled to close Jan. 2 and will not reopen until the end of May, a month when cyclists traditionally celebrate Bike Month. Originally, the closure was to begin Dec. 10.
By working in winter, county park officials say they hope to minimize the impact on drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who use the bridge to get to the park, rivers and recreational trail. An inspection determined the bridge deck needed to be replaced, and the county sought funds from the federal Highway Bridge Program to do the work.
Kwong said he and his fellow cyclists talk all the time about the need for an alternative bicycle-pedestrian bridge crossing. About an hour before Kwong’s group departed for their noontime ride, Sacramento City Council Member Steve Hansen held a press briefing on the Jibboom Street bridge with Jim Brown, the executive director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, and Mellissa Meng, North Natomas Transportation Management Association.
Hansen, whose district includes the slice of parkway where the bridge stands, said the City Council had asked city staff to evaluate routes for an alternative American River crossing in 2013. Three of the eight alternatives were all-weather routes: an improved Highway 160 bridge, a pedestrian-bike bridge to Interstate 5 and a new crossing between Truxel Road and the River District.
The difficulty, Hansen said, is finding the funding for the project because the city’s transportation budget has been slim. Money from SB1, the new state gas tax, could help to build the bridges, but Sacramento will have to compete with other municipalities for that money. City leaders tried but failed to get approval for Measure B last year, he said, and that could have funded a project like this one.
“Caltrans, though, has been a partner, and their thinking has really evolved a lot,” Hansen said. “If you look at what they’re going to do for the causeway as they redo those lanes, they’re going to build a separated bike lane, brand new, because right now… it feels very dangerous.”