Sacramento student’s pitch pays off with bike lanes on Freeport Boulevard

McClatchy High School student Faith Bernstein, 18, rides home from school on Freeport Boulevard in 2009. Bernstein led a student group that urged the city to make Freeport safer for bicyclists.
McClatchy High School student Faith Bernstein, 18, rides home from school on Freeport Boulevard in 2009. Bernstein led a student group that urged the city to make Freeport safer for bicyclists. Sacramento Bee file

When C.K. McClatchy High School senior Faith Bernstein set out to improve the safety of students getting to the school by bike, she didn’t really believe she would see results.

In 2010, she and some other students put together a video talking about their experiences and showing the dangers of riding down a milelong stretch of Freeport Boulevard. They showed it to members of their community and their city councilman.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council awarded a contract to put in the bike lanes, new safety lighting and other features along Freeport Boulevard between Sutterville Road and Vallejo Way. The four-lane road will be narrowed to two lanes to allow for the bike lanes and a center turning lane.

“I am so excited and grateful that it happened,” Bernstein said. “I didn’t think anything would come of it.”

Bernstein is now 24 and works for Shearwater Films, a small documentary company in New York City. She said she’s excited to come home to Sacramento and ride safely along Freeport.

There are bike lanes on Freeport north of Vallejo and south of Sutterville, but bicyclists trying to access parts of William Land Park, the high school and Sacramento City College have to mix in with other vehicles or ride on the sidewalks.

“The traffic is fast, there’s really no place for the bikes, so it’s very tight,” said Jim Brown, executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates. He said Freeport Boulevard is the only continuous north-south route between the main railroad line to the east and Land Park Drive.

“Even if I can pick my way through the Land Park neighborhood, I will, at some point, have to ride out to Freeport to do part of my trip,” he said.

Roughly 17,000 vehicles travel the road each day and some residents are concerned that narrowing the road will cause more congestion.

Steve Winlock, president of the Land Park Community Association, said the group supports adding bike lanes and the turning lane, but he’s worried that drivers frustrated with congestion will move over to Land Park Drive, which runs parallel to Freeport Boulevard and cuts through the park.

The community association asked city engineers to review and address the potential impact on Land Park Drive after the Freeport Boulevard project is completed, he said.

Councilman Steve Hansen, whose district includes the Land Park neighborhood, said the community has largely embraced the project as an important safety measure. In some areas, Freeport’s vehicle lanes are narrower than the standard width for lanes.

“There are a lot of folks who see the merit, who believe the street is unsafe,” he said. “A lot of students can’t ride their bikes in the street and be safe.”

Adam Randolph, senior civil engineer with the city Department of Public Works, said the Department of Utilities had to rip up the street to install new water mains before the project could begin. The bike lane project will include resurfacing the street, so it makes sense to wait.

Construction on Freeport Boulevard is expected to begin this month, which is national bike month, and finish in September. Total cost for the project is $2.2 million, according to a city staff report. Some of the money will come from state and federal matching funds.

Coordinating projects such as this will soon be the responsibility of a new hire in the Department of Public Works – a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. The coordinator, who starts Monday, will be in charge of bicycle- and pedestrian-related projects, pursuing grants and working on regional efforts to increase bike ridership.

Freeport’s new mile of bike lanes will join the 255 miles of bike lanes and 78 miles of paved paths that Sacramento already has, according to a report from the national Alliance for Biking and Walking. There were four bicyclist fatalities from 2011 to 2013, which accounted for 5 percent of all traffic fatalities, the alliance reported. The region’s “May Is Bike Month” organization had 8,439 registered participants as of Tuesday.

City planner Fedolia Harris said Sacramento’s 2016 Bicycle Master Plan and the Broadway Complete Streets Plan are almost done and should come before council in the next month or so.

Brown said the existing bike lane network mainly serves the central city and that for people in the outlying areas, bike riding is for “the strong and the fearless.” In other words, people who are willing to bike in heavy, fast traffic. He said he would like to see the city focus on continuous, safe routes for people riding in the north and south areas.

“There are good reasons why the central city is well-suited to bike infrastructure,” Brown said, “But those are not the only people whose safety matters and they’re not the only people who ride bikes.”

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison