City looking at bike projects

02/03/2014 9:48 PM

02/03/2014 9:50 PM

Recommendations for providing more room and safety for bicyclists on Mansfield streets will be outlined at a public meeting Thursday.

Kimley-Horn and Associates, which is winding down a six-month study, wants residents to weigh in on a package of projects that range from installing “Share the Road” signs and striping bike-only lanes on existing roads to more expensive proposals like widening streets and building roadside bicycle paths.

Kimley-Horn, hired by the city for $65,000, will consider residents’ comments in this second and final public meeting before drafting a final On-Street Bicycle Master Plan for the Park Facilities Development Corporation board and the City Council to consider.

The study explores how the city could accommodate residents who want to ride their bikes to work or school or for recreation on or alongside long stretches of streets. The study focused on street routes rather than biking and walking trails being developed as part of the Walnut Creek Linear Park, although the suggested street projects include building paths to connect street routes with trailheads, said James Fish, the city’s senior park planner.

The study recommends scores of improvements totaling $11.1 million that would be implemented over 20 years or more, officials said. It also identified about $1.2 million of those projects, mostly street striping and marking for bike lanes and shared lanes, that could be scheduled over the next half-dozen years.

At a joint meeting last week, members of the City Council and park board appeared to favor the less costly projects. Council members Larry Broseh and Cory Hoffman said they are concerned about any projects that reduce the capacity of the city streets and increase traffic congestion.

“If there’s one thing I’ve heard over the years, it’s complaints about road construction and traffic,” Hoffman said in an interview last week. “I don’t think shutting down lanes of traffic and having bike lanes will do anything for our traffic flow or congestion.”

Street biking advocates argue that riding not only improves health, but it can actually reduce traffic as more people switch from cars to bikes. And it improves safety for bike riders, who have a legal right to share the street, advocates contend.

“It’s a multifaceted benefit to the community,” said Yvonne Armour, a Mansfield resident and avid bicyclist. “The ones who are more leery probably need more education on it. I don’t think they fully grasp what the parks department wants to do.”

Some road sections in the city are recommended for multiple changes, often called “road diets.” One example in the study would address congestion and safety concerns on Pleasant Ridge Drive in front of Alice Ponder Elementary School, particularly during morning and afternoon rush hours when parents park on both sides of the street to drop off and pick up their children. The school was demolished last year to make room for a new school building, but the issues will return with the students late next fall.

The concerns go beyond the safety and convenience of bicyclists. Many students who live too close to the school to ride the buses will have to rely on their bikes. And some students who live in neighborhoods across the street from Ponder will have to bike or walk across Pleasant Ridge Drive. Also across the street is an entrance to Town Park.

The study’s suggestion: Reduce the four-lane road to two lanes separated by continuous left turn on Pleasant Ridge, install a crosswalk raised a few inches above the road surface and stripe a bike lane on each side of the street.

“People say, ‘oh, it’s just for bicycling.’ It’s not,” Armour said. “This is about road improvements for our students for the people who live in the neighborhood. It’s about park access.”

Hoffman said he doesn’t buy the premise that reducing two lanes of traffic, even adding a continuous left turn lane, would improve traffic flow. He suggested closing the two lanes as a test.

“Do that for a week or two, and I guarantee you City Hall would be flooded with complaints,” Hoffman said. But he added that he’s not opposed to street signs. “If they feel the need to put up a dozen signs on some of the busiest streets that say ‘share the road with bicycles,’ then I have no problem with that.”

The park board could vote on the final master plan as soon as its Feb. 13 meeting, followed by a council vote Feb. 24.

Mayor David Cook said he’s still studying the report and has asked that the park staff to prepare detailed cost-benefit analysis for the park board and council. He said priority should go to bike routes that connect to the city’s growing trail system.

“At a minimum, at a very low cost,” Cook said, “we can provide signage and striping that will make it easier and safer for bikers to traverse around Mansfield.”

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