WatchSonoma Watch

A plan for paths

The rules of the trail are laid out along the Joe Rodota Trail, between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/PD


Cyclists and pedestrians will one day be able to make their way between Santa Rosa and Sonoma, or from Petaluma to Sebastopol, or along the waterfront of Bodega Bay without having to contend with auto traffic.

Those routes are part of a nearly 800-mile network of off-street paths, bike lanes and bike and pedestrian-friendly road crossings and parking envisioned in an ambitious new Sonoma County plan.

It calls for more than $250 million in projects designed to improve commuting and recreational routes for non-motorized travelers while also reducing auto trips and greenhouse gases countywide.

Bike advocates have described the 74-page blueprint, which updates an earlier 1997 plan, as “far-reaching” and “forward-thinking,” and it gives the county the weight to seek funding for specific projects.

“It’s showing the (county’s) commitment to really making a change,” said Christine Culver, executive director of Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

The plan was adopted by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week.

About 40 miles of off-street paths, bike lanes and other routes shared by cyclists, pedestrians and autos currently exist in the county.

The Joe Rodota Trail, the county’s first dedicated bike and pedestrian path when it opened in the late 1980s, has become a popular route among families and tourists. It spurred the development of other paths in west Sonoma County and along Hunter, Colgan and Santa Rosa creeks.

The new plan calls for an additional 203 miles of paths, including the county’s 26-mile share of the planned 70-mile path along the planned SMART rail line. The plan also includes 406 miles of bike lanes and 189 additional miles of shared routes without lanes, such as bicycle boulevards that accommodate cyclists and autos.

The plan gets the jump on a state law that goes into effect next year requiring state and local governments to give equal weight to non-motorized travelers in transportation planning.

The document also provides a sort of wish list for the county to use in seeking federal and regional funds to design and build the projects.

“It’s the same with highway projects,” said Gary Helfrich, a county planner who oversaw the plan’s formation. “In order to have a project funded, you have to have it identified in some kind of document.”

In the works since 2007, the plan took shape during about 15 public meetings, financed primarily by the county and the state Coastal Conservancy.

Participants gave projects priority rankings, with those ranked highest slated for design and funding within the next five years.

Those efforts include:

– A 12.6-mile path off Highway 12 linking Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Existing public right-of-ways could make the trail one of the most straightforward to build, officials said.

– An 11.2-mile path linking Petaluma and Sebastopol along an old railroad alignment.

– A four-mile path, including a waterfront boardwalk, along Bodega Bay up to the community of Salmon Creek.

– A five-mile path from Sonoma to the intersection of Highways 12 and 121, linking to the existing Bay Trail. The county’s regional parks department has begun securing land for the path.

– Bike lanes on Highway 116 from Cotati to Sebastopol and from Petaluma to Sonoma. The latter section, envisioned as part of Caltrans’ ongoing work in the area, is a “test case” to see if the state agency follows through with pledges to accommodate cyclists, said Culver, the bicycle coalition director.

Bicycling and walking account for less than 3 percent of all trips in Sonoma County, according to 2005 census data.

The expanded network of bike and walking routes is aimed at increasing that share to 5 percent of all trips, and 10 percent of all trips less than five miles. It also is designed to drop annual greenhouse gas emissions by 82,000 metric tons.

The new plan sets design and maintenance standards for bike and pedestrian routes and facilities, making sure signs are visible, road crossings are safe and pavement is kept clean and free of obstacles.

Such specificity gives the blueprint more teeth than the previous plan, officials said.

“This is a very sharp, focused document that says what we’re going to do,” Helfrich said.

“They’re really changing a lot of the words from ‘should’ to ‘shall,’” Culver agreed. “I’m really encouraged. It’s the best way to make projects happen.”

12 Responses to “A plan for paths”

  1. Rome says:

    It’s been supposedly gonna happen for years and years, just like adding another lane to 101. It might happen 25+ years from now. But not in my life time. Oh by the way Ester, I think there is something called sidewalks for pedestrians. There are trails just for hikers out there. Just a note,riding through santa rosa in just the past year I’ve almost been hit 3 times and 1 time the guy nick my bike.I hike also and never had a close call with any bikers.

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  2. Jason Valez says:

    @bear How will tourism dollars pay for bike trails? They won’t.The article says that the plan will give the county the weight they need to seek funding. That doesn’t sound like sales taxes and bed taxes will be used.

    Also, the plan will establish new easements for some paths, across private property. If this plan is similar to the one in Santa Rosa’s 90 miles of paths, there is a provision that rear fences not be solid but are such that people can see through them.

    I concur that most bicyclists on trails are rude. They don’t slow down when passing walkers from the rear and most of them don’t give advance warning of their approach. They need to slow way down when passing pedestrians.

    Cycling and walking together are not a good fit. They should have separate paths. Most people cycling on paths are not going anywhere but are just recreating and getting exercise. Therefore, riding on paths is not alternative transportation that would otherwise be done in a car and do nothing to cut down on greenhouse gases. The taxpayers are funding trails for people that want to have fun on their bicycles. Bicyclists using these trails should pay a user’s fee to support the construction of all these new trails. And bicycles should have big license plates so they can be reported for breaking the rules. Strict rules along with enforcement should be established for all bicyclists on trails and streets.

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  3. David says:

    Ester, I am sorry you had a bad experience with a rude bicyclist. But as a polite bicyclist (who happens to also be a hiker and 60 years old) I feel very offended by your (and many people’s) eagerness to stereotype and promote prejudice against all bicyclists. Best wishes

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  4. bear says:

    The story left out one critical fact – the $250 million will be spent over decades, and the plan will require new construction to accommodate the planned paths at minimal cost to the developers.

    If you buy property with an easement for trail purposes, it will not prevent you from building a fence – only one that obstructs the trail easement.

    I personally worked on this Plan for 9 years, and it’s taken a total of 14 years for everyone to agree. Having the plan allows the county to snag dollars from many sources. NOT having the plan means opportunities lost forever.

    The tourism dollars alone will pay for it.

    But I don’t appreciate the behavior of bikers who scare seniors on a shared trail. Having rescued bikers who went “SPLAT” face-first on trails, I would ask them to be MORE POLITE. The hiker you run down today may be the person who saves your fallen and seriously injured butt tomorrow! I’m a hiker and once ran over 2 miles to get help for a seriously injured biker.

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  5. Mike says:

    If the county is going to spend $250 million dollars on bike paths, then I think it’s time to spend some millions developing levitatng bikes. That way we can all ride around and not even worry about bike trails and damaging the enviroment. Doesn’t this make as much sense as the county ambitious proposal to spend taypayers money in this economy?

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  6. Ester Winegarden says:

    Did you know that there is going to be a BIKE RACE in Annadel State Park?
    As a senior citizen who hikes those trails I am angry that pedestrians have to share trails with vehicles. Bikes are vehicles. Silent, fast, dangerous vehicles that startle and disrupt the hikers. Those people in full gear are anonymous. Anonymous. They are aggressive, shout back and forth to each other on the trails, ride too fast, and are rude when you ask them to slow down. Why are they given equal rights with walkers when they are vehicles?

    Honestly, where is the relaxation of taking a walk in nature when bikes are whizzing by you and you have to be alert every minute? I was nearly hit by a bicyclist last Saturday in Annadel and I shouted at him. He circled back and was threatening to me. I am a 73 year old woman. He had on a red full body suit and helmet with sunglasses. No identification. This kind of behavior is frightening and is not uncommon.

    Get the bikes off of the trails. If they want to ride a course let them build one in a cyclotron.

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  7. Brian Brown says:

    I absolutely love our trails. ~ but “Son? can we wait til later? ..Mom and dad just don’t have the money right now.”

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  8. Bradley Miller says:

    Rails and trails, stack ‘em and pack ‘em. Smartgrowth. Many of the trails go behind people’s backyards and through natural habitats. Did you know that they aren’t allowing solid rear fencing on properties along these paths? The planned 90 miles of paths along creeks in Santa Rosa will have no police patrols and no lighting.

    People using the trails will be vulnerable to attack, and property owners will lose privacy and security. Use the paths at your own risk, especially at night. Are these our future roads? Did you see that they’re replacing county paved roads with some kind of dirt? These paths will provide access for homeless emcampments along the creeks. The $10 vehicle licensing fee pays for these bicycle paths, and goes to the Sonoma County bicycle coalition for the Safe Routes to school program. Vehicle fees should go for roads, not paths.

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  9. This is a dream come true. Having lived out-of-state for half my life, I feel like a tourist when I return home. I have waited for these trails. My fondest memories of High School are running the trails at Rancho Cotate during PE and in the early morning hours with my best friend Tammy. Yes, I hated those trails then, but living where I do now, I would give anything to return home. California trails and parks are the best in the world, and that is where these trails pay for themselves. Trails bring travelers. Going green doesn’t hurt either.

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  10. Matt Wells says:

    It’s about time! Glad to see the board looking at alternatives to cars… Why no projects for north county though?

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  11. Lyn Cramer says:

    Window shopping sure is fun. I’d be more impressed with these ideas if those promoting them were as enthusiastic about ponying up the money to pay for them.

    So, next year “non-motorized travelers” must receive equal weight in local transportation planning. Could there be a better recipe for more gridlock and poorly-maintained roads?

    Like it or not, 90% of local travel is by automobile. Giving equal weight to the other 10% in planning projects is too goofy not cause one to break out in hilarious laughter. Unfortunately, the consequences will not be funny.

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  12. NOTUTOO says:

    Awesome idea, but the county is broke, right? They could get some funding from State & Federal governments, but it won’t be anywhere near 100% of what they need. Who pays for this?

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