Editorial: An improved biking network is essential for Sacramento

Getting people out of their cars and onto their feet and on bicycles is a laudable goal for any urban center, but not if they end up in emergency rooms.

In Sacramento, the number of bicyclists is reaching critical mass, but many of them are choosing to ride on sidewalks, creating a contentious mix of cyclists and pedestrians.

Writer Hilary Abramson pointed out how dangerous that combination can be when she described her injury in last Sunday’s Forum. In May, a cyclist plowed into her on a 15th Street sidewalk, fracturing her left leg in three places.

A city ordinance prohibits bicycles on most sidewalks, but the law is not enforced. Cracking down on cyclists on sidewalks is one solution. But there are alternatives. Creating bike lanes that make bike riders feel safe pedaling on the streets has reduced cyclists cruising on sidewalks in Portland, Denver, Austin, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Sacramento should take notice and increase the number of bike lanes and upgrade others by creating more space between cyclists and automobiles.

With increasing numbers of cycling commuters and many residents showing a preference for bikes over cars, the need for an improved and continuous network of safe bike routes is obvious.

But for bike riders, the choice often comes down to dodging cars on the street or people on sidewalks.

“Why are there only two choices?” Jim Brown, executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, asked in an interview.

What would make cyclists feel safer?

Bike lanes that are physically separated from cars and trucks, either through more defined buffer space or physical barriers, or elevating the bike lane from the street, according to an urban bikeway design guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Sacramento created a buffered bike lane at Carlson Drive and H and J streets, where two bicyclists have been killed in the past four years. The city also has painted bike lanes on Capitol Mall bright green, a good step.

The city of Davis has done the same on one of the main routes used by students heading to the college campus through downtown. Brown called West Sacramento’s plan for a bike network cutting edge, though the city has much work to do protecting cyclists who brave West Capitol Avenue.

Bike lane design depends on how much traffic a street handles and speed limits. Roads with more traffic and higher speeds would require bike lanes with more space and physical barriers. A residential street may need only a striped lane.

In Washington, D.C., after a protected bike lane was installed on 15th Street N.W., bicycle traffic increased 47 percent and the number of bikes on the sidewalk dropped 70 percent. On Pennsylvania Avenue, the number of cyclists increased 47 percent in the protected lane, with 52 percent fewer riders on the sidewalk.

Sacramento plans to install bike lanes on part of Freeport Boulevard next year near McClatchy High School, and is considering elevated lanes on North 12th Street and on Franklin Boulevard between Cosumnes River Boulevard and Calvine Road.

Gov. Jerry Brown should sign Senate Bill 1183, which would allow voters in cities, counties and regional park districts to impose a fee of up to $5 on motor vehicle registration to help finance biking infrastructure. A two-thirds vote would be required for approval.

Sacramento has a bicycle master plan, but while it is slowly being updated, more cyclists must choose disconnected bike routes or sidewalks. Anyone who has walked through downtown or ridden a bike in midtown sees the chaos.

Sacramento’s urban core will become even more vibrant as the downtown arena becomes a reality, and as city leaders embark on plans to build streetcar lines. It also needs to remain livable. For that, the city urgently needs a complete network of bike lanes, for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.

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