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11.18.09

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Bullhorn

If the city of Santa Cruz is serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions, writes Ecology Action program director Piet Canin, it needs to replace its cautious approach to promoting bikeable roadways with bold action.

By Piet Canin


DURING a recent visit to New York City, I discovered firsthand the considerable advances in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure of that bustling metropolis. I was able to bike along a riverside, car-free bike path with great views of the Hudson and East rivers as I circumnavigated most of Manhattan. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has transformed Time Square into a pedestrian and bike oasis in the heart of one of the busiest parts of the city by blocking off Broadway to car traffic. Bike commuting in New York City has increased by 45 percent since 2006 due to aggressive implementation of bike improvements such as these.

As I took that long ride around Manhattan, I couldn't help but ponder how great it would be to have a bike and pedestrian path like this one alongside our own Monterey Bay. In Santa Cruz County, where 47 percent of greenhouse gases are generated by transportation, improvements have been made to make travel by foot and bike safer and easier. These improvements have contributed to an impressive bike commuter rate of 9.3 percent of all to trips to work in the city of Santa Cruz, but there are still too many gaps. Bold game-changing projects are called for to make Santa Cruz County a top-tier bike- and pedestrian-friendly community.

The issue over what bike and traffic calming modifications should be made to King Street exemplifies the struggle between far-reaching and incremental advances in sustainable transportation improvements. The city, with collaboration from various community shareholders, developed the Master Transportation Study (MTS), a forward-thinking planning document that laid out a road map for increased alternative transportation. The MTS guideline specified that a bike boulevard on King Street would contribute to a more livable community and increase bike travel on the Westside.

The city of Santa Cruz is ready to install an ingredient of most bike boulevards, called a Sharrows (Shared-Lane pavement markings), on King Street to give cyclists and motorists a better idea of the safest placement for bicyclists on this narrow street. This is a step forward, but to really make the street safer and feel safer for cyclists, especially grade school students who use King Street to travel to Mission Hill Middle School, the vehicle traffic volumes need to be turned down. Low traffic counts are a key component to successful bike boulevards.

King Street is a neighborhood street that is serving as a main travel thoroughfare during peak commuter times. A group of neighbors, along with bike advocates, are urging the city to conduct a neighborhood-wide traffic study to determine if cut-through car traffic can be diverted out of neighborhood streets. Unfortunately, city staff appear to view community involvement in this project as a hindrance rather than an asset.

At a time of a dwindling city budget, why not take advantage of free assistance from neighbors and bike/ped advocates who have studied the issue, held community forums and recruited expert planners to help devise a workable plan? King Street is a good example of how the city is cautiously acting to improve bike conditions due to their concerns of impacting automobile traffic flow. But Santa Cruz needs bold and innovative projects to encourage residents and visitors to use healthy, active and greenhouse gas-reducing transportation. Surely Santa Cruz can outpace New York City as a community that alleviates car use, which fosters a sedentary lifestyle and contributes to climate change, while investing in nonpolluting and exercise-inducing transportation.

Piet Canin is program director for the Sustainable Transportation Group at Ecology Action. Read a longer version of this piece at www.news.santacruz.com.


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