By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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.”