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Santa Rosa bike path plan has big ideas, fewer funding guarantees

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A Highway 101 overcrossing connecting Coddingtown Mall to Santa Rosa Junior College and a contentious railroad crossing with an uncertain future are among the bicycle and pedestrian projects proposed in an aspirational city plan that would more than double the number of bikeways in the city.

“It is an ambitious list,” said Nancy Adams, a city transportation planner. “Once you get the road map, now we have to start talking and having the hard conversations on how do you start and get something accomplished.”

The updated bicycle and pedestrian master plan, which contains dozens of projects meant to make it easier to travel around Santa Rosa without a car, won unanimous approval from the Planning Commission on Thursday. It is set to go before the City Council in March.

The plan is inherently optimistic about the city’s ability to pay for future expansions of its walking and biking network. But cash-strapped Santa Rosa’s leaders have devoted recent budget discussions to cutting spending and replenishing reserves depleted by the October 2017 wildfires to pay down pension liabilities.

The city doesn’t have funding for all of the plan’s projects at this time, Adams acknowledged. The proposed Highway 101 crossing connecting the mall and college campus in north Santa Rosa has funding for its design, but the city hasn’t identified how to pay for its construction, she said.

In all, the city has proposed adding 129 miles of bikeways throughout Santa Rosa, increasing its network of bike paths to 242 miles. Alongside the expansive list of potential projects comes data showing that bikes and feet are far from the most popular ways to get to work in Santa Rosa.

From 2012 to 2016, the rate of people biking to work rose by a mere tenth of a percent to 1.3 percent, and the proportion of residents who walk to work has decreased from 3.3 percent to 2.6 percent, according to data in the plan.

These far-from-heartening figures were highlighted in a recent letter to the commission from Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. Weaver called for the construction of additional bike paths separate from streets used by cars to encourage cycling among people who are “interested but concerned” about riding bikes in Santa Rosa.

Weaver also urged “short-term quick fixes” to immediately address safety in high-injury areas where the plan calls for studies to be completed by 2040.

“Transportation projects understandably take time: studies must be done, interventions designed, and funding sought before construction can begin,” Weaver wrote. “But people are dying there now, and it’s not quite good enough to say that all we will do in the next twenty years in those areas is do studies.”

Santa Rosa currently has a “bronze” rating from the League of American Bicyclists. The city’s rating could rise if the frequency of fatalities and crashes decreases and the level of ridership rises, according to a city consultant.

A lack of funding isn’t the major roadblock for one particular project: a path crossing the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit tracks at Jennings Avenue.

This pedestrian project is bottled up due to ongoing disagreement between the SMART board and the Santa Rosa City Council.

Adams noted that “we have money in that project” and that its design was about 75 percent complete, but acknowledged the logistics were not the most pressing consideration for the Jennings Avenue crossing.

“We’re ready to deliver that project, but it still has to reach a political litmus test,” she said.

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