Recently partnering with a planning and design firm to develop a Bicycle Master Plan, the City of Turlock has been making strides in various efforts to improve the safety of bicycle and pedestrian pathways throughout the City.
In doing so, City staff have been meeting regularly with members of the Turlock community to find where problem areas currently lie in town, such as identifying roadways that either lack a safe bicycle lane or see connectivity problems.
Earlier this month, a public workshop was held at City Hall with staff members from the Planning Department, in addition to Turlock citizens of all ages. During the workshop, participants went throughout the City to help identify any unsafe areas or routes and lanes that are in need of improvements. The interactive workshop saw several community members participate, including adults, college students and young children who all share a passion for biking. Additionally, the City has been meeting with the citizens’ advisory team, which currently has about 15 members representing all areas of life.
“We have members from the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, health care providers, a bike team member, one car-free family, representatives from the school district, a police department representative, and even a 12-year-old student,” said Rose Stillo of the Planning Department during the recent Planning Commission meeting. “They expressed their concerns, identified areas in need of improvement, and shared their vision for the future.”
According to Stillo, some of the visions included similarities to the City of Davis — the first city in the nation to build a citywide system of bike paths, in addition to being deemed the “Most Bicycle-Friendly Town in the United States” by the League of American Bicyclists in 2011. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Davis had the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the U.S., with an estimated 22.1 percent of the working population commuting to their job using a bicycle in place of a vehicle.
In Turlock, only 1 to 2 percent of the general population heavily relies on bicycles as a main source of transportation — many of whom are college students, where 15 percent of a 600-person sample says they bike to school each day.
At California State University, Stanislaus, a group of students advocating for improved bike lines formed the “Stanislaus Bike Advocacy Club,” and has been helping the City identify where improvements are needed. Entering discussions with the City last summer, the group of students first began their efforts as part of an assignment for a Planning Issues class. Since then, they have continually met on a regular basis, even conducting a bike survey on the campus asking students why they do not ride bikes in Turlock. This survey, along with their own input at a recent City Council meeting, was then provided to City staff, who expressed gratitude for the students’ efforts.
“Through all the different things we’ve heard from the community, it seems that there needs to be better connectivity and more public education,” said Stillo. “There are many people in Turlock that want to be like Davis, but to do that, we need a new culture.”
It’s not only the City of Turlock that is stepping up active transportation efforts. The Stanislaus Council of Governments has been planning their own improvements as they get ready to approve the 2014 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy during a public hearing on Wednesday evening. Additionally, the StanCOG Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee will soon review the 2015 Federal Transportation Improvement Program, which includes multiple projects for Fiscal Year 2014/2015 through 2017/2018, and is expected to be adopted by the StanCOG Policy Board during their June 18 meeting.
“Improving bicycle pathways and encouraging active transportation throughout our communities is important for the county for safety and health reasons. The better the infrastructure and the more we make drivers aware of bicyclists and pedestrians, the safer everyone is,” said Jeff Montgomery, a local representative on the StanCOG Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “We cannot wait for an accident to occur, as local government agencies must protect the citizens they serve. The benefits of an improved active transportation system include not only increased public safety, but an increase in recreation in the county. The more people that choose to bike or walk, the healthier their lifestyles will be. Also, they will be helping reduce congestion on our roadways which in turn helps the environment. The rewards of having a bicycle plan are simply too important to ignore.”
As part of the Turlock Bicycle Master Plan, the City might also seek adding additional bike paths in or around the CSU Stanislaus campus, however, will be primarily focusing on main City streets currently lacking adequate bike paths such as Golden State Boulevard or Geer Road. Additionally, the City will be working closely with the Turlock Unified School District to develop safe routes to school for students walking or biking to and from their homes.
The StanCOG Policy Board and Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors recently declared May 12 through 16 as Stanislaus “Bike to Work Week,” encouraging community members to give up driving to work, and instead bike, for one week. To learn more about the Stanislaus “Bike to Work Week,” and other efforts being made by Central Valley communities, visit www.valleybikecommute.com.