By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The plan to make Santa Rosa more bicycle and pedestrian friendly now includes bike lanes through a retirement community that doesn’t want them and a bicycle boulevard not far from where an existing one is set to be torn out.
The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday signed off on an overhaul to the city’s 2010 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, its wish list outlining where 88 miles of bike lanes and 5 miles of walking paths should be built over time.
The proposed changes encountered opposition chiefly from two neighborhoods, the retirement communities of Oakmont and the Villages at Wild Oaks in eastern Santa Rosa, and the West End, the residential and industrial neighborhood north of Railroad Square.
Oakmont-area residents argued that bike lanes are incompatible with their neighborhood because it will increase the risk of accidents between senior drivers and recreational cyclists.
“We do not see how you can run a proposed Class 3 (bicycle lane) through the residential streets of a retirement community,” said Wally Schilpp, a longtime Oakmont resident.
Schilpp and others have argued that the packs of recreational cyclists that traverse a disputed easement between Villages at Wild Oaks and Annadel State Park go too fast, don’t obey traffic signals, are rude and risk collisions with pedestrians. In addition, Schilpp said, Oakmont has its share of elderly drivers “who shouldn’t but do” drive, suggesting cyclists would be at risk.
But Councilwoman Susan Gorin said the residents’ suggestion that bike paths instead be built along Highway 12 wasn’t viable because of the expense. She noted that Oakmont is a “natural connection” for cyclists heading east.
John Sawyer said Oakmont is unique. Nowhere else, for example, are golf carts allowed on city streets. But approving the plan doesn’t assure individual projects will be constructed, he said.
“It’s a unique environment and one that I hope we’ll watch carefully,” he said.
Residents of the West End neighborhood near downtown had been concerned that dedicated bike lanes on West Sixth Street would eliminate precious on-street parking. The lanes were viewed as an important link for bikes to get to the future SMART rail station.
But following the previous hearing, residents came up with the idea of a bicycle boulevard that would slow traffic, preserve parking, and create a safe environment for cyclists. Details will have to be worked out, but the council welcomed the concept.
Gary Wysocky suggested the plan use another term than “bicycle boulevard,” which he said might be “inflammatory” given the recent controversy over bicycle-friendly improvements to Humboldt Street, most of which are due for removal this spring following neighborhood opposition.
But Scott Bartley said he didn’t mind keeping the term because it “gives us a great deal of flexibility” about what to ultimately design there.
“I think it speak volumes when a problem comes up and the community gets together and solves it and we don’t have to do it,” said Vice Mayor Jake Ours.