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Cyclists’ detour dilemma in Healdsburg



Doug McKenzie commutes on his bicycle from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg, a 27-mile roundtrip he typically makes several times a week

With a good tailwind, he can make it one way in less than 40 minutes, cruising up Old Redwood Highway and across the vintage Healdsburg Memorial Bridge into town.

Dou McKenzie of Santa Rosa commutes to Healdsburg over the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

But with the planned closure of the 91-year-old bridge late next year for major rehabilitation work lasting 18 to 24 months, McKenzie and other cyclists are facing a major dilemma, if not a significant detour.

City officials said the bridge will be closed during the work to all traffic, including cars, bikes and pedestrians.

For cars and trucks, it’s no big deal: They have Highway 101 to use as an alternative.

But unless the city comes up with a plan, cyclists potentially would have no other way to cross the river than riding 10 miles out Westside Road to Wohler Bridge near Forestville.

“It will definitely affect me,” said McKenzie who works part time as a mechanic at Spoke Folk Cyclery in Healdsburg. “That would add probably a half-hour at least in each direction. I work out of my house too. That would cut into my other job.”

More is at stake than the ride of a committed bike commuter. Healdsburg, with its surrounding vineyards, trees, hills and country roads, is a hub for cycling tourists and recreational riders.

A number of organized rides and cycling tours incorporate a trip across the Healdsburg bridge, with its leisurely 15 mph speed limit.

“It’s a pretty significant connector for all of us,” said John Mastrianni, owner of Wine Country Bike on Front Street. “We send hundreds of people across that bridge.”

And pedestrians use the bridge to cross over to Healdsburg Memorial Beach, especially on crowded days when the parking lot there overflows and cars are diverted to the other side of the river.

With the bridge out of commission, “there’s no good detour. There’s not a good shortcut,” said Councilman Tom Chambers, an avid recreational cyclist. “It’s not acceptable to not have an alternative.:

Healdsburg is a national cycling mecca, said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, but “it will be a disincentive for bicycle tourism to have no other way to cross the Russian River.”

“The city needs to recognize bicycle tourism is second only to wine in terms of putting heads into beds,” he said of the effect on hotel occupancy.

McKenzie and others are confident some solution will be found.

On Monday night after hearing from cyclists, the City Council agreed that the most viable option appeared to be to obtain approval to use the old railroad bridge just upstream for bikes and pedestrians.

But using the rail bridge assumes there will be no resumption of freight or passenger train service in the next two to three years. It could involve environmental reviews and would require approval from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency that owns the bridge, along with the North Coast Railroad Authority and state Public Utilities Commission.

Modifications also would be needed for an all-weather deck to accommodate foot and bike traffic, said city officials, because of gaps and hazardous spots on the tracks now. And a property easement would be needed to connect to Healdsburg Avenue.

“It’s amazing the hoops you have to jump through to get people across a body of water,” said Councilman Jim Wood.

Chambers noted that during the recent water carnival, probably 200 people walked across the railroad bridge.

Councilwoman Susan Jones said it makes sense to pursue legal use of the bridge because people will use it anyway.

But Mayor Gary Plass said there are still unanswered questions about cost — perhaps $100,000, public works officials said — and where the money will come from.

He suggested it may take a public-private partnership to raise the money.

There were other potential options identified by the public works department, ranging from obtaining permission to use the Highway 101 shoulder for cyclists and pedestrians.

Using Highway 101 also is no sure thing. It would require approval from Caltrans and could involve protective barriers separating cyclists and pedestrians from traffic, which alone could cost $200,000, Public Works Director Mike Kirn said.

While bicycles are allowed in some stretches of Highway 101, including between Petaluma and Novato and a segment near Hopland, many cyclists are leery of being that close to fast-moving traffic.

And it could take away the shoulder for vehicles that break down.

Another idea — a shuttle bus to take cyclists across the Highway 101 bridge — is considered inconvenient for cyclists who would have to wait for the bus.

Plass said there is still time to come up with a solution.

“No one needs to panic,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

12 Responses to “Cyclists’ detour dilemma in Healdsburg”

  1. connie george says:

    OMG…Our Bridge is fine, tender loving care is all it needs and they proved that! So are we the people going to let our city officals get away with doing this with our money? II don’t think they know what there doing,nor how to make money for our town to pay there bills etc. Theres no place to shop for us locals so we don’t spend our money here. They only want to cater to the tourists,and keep them happy on weekends and then week days this town is empty.Have you noticed how many shops are empty? Who can pay the rent? I don’t get! Our City Officals need to STOP spending our money on stupid stuff and pay off the loans that they have recieved firt and then start another project. Leave our bridge alone…and stop buying property, and wasting money for new buildings like the new ANIMAL SHELTER..what a waste, and its because nobody was on there job. And there p-assing the buck again. TAKE RESPONSIBLITY CITY OFFICIALS AND QUIT MAKING THE PEOPLE PAY FOR YOUR MISTAKES AND YOUR DEBTS THAT YOU HAVE ACCRUED. I sure hope we the people have the will to PREVAILS because its time we all get togeter and do something about the laws that they are breaking.

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  2. Big Jim says:

    @John Morton

    You get a road to drive on. Imagine your concern if they removed the US101 and did not plan an alternative for you? Think about it!

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  3. John Morton says:

    Hey, I have to commute from Healdsburg to Santa Rosa and back every day in my old Toyota. If the bikers get a bridge to cross, it is only fair that I get my gas paid for by the city of Healdsburg for putting up with the inconvenience of the commute.

    Winter is coming and the highway is going to be wet and dangerous to drive on.

    It is only fair that because I have to drive to get to work I get some consideration too.

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  4. KneeJerk says:

    These are the same people that want to push everyone on to bikes or public transportation. Last time i looked Sonoma County Transit had bike racks on the front of their buses. No need for special buses use what we already have. I know it’s to simple and won’t cost us nasty car driving people enough

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  5. PDBlogger69 says:

    Walk your bike over the railroad bridge! A no brainer. Or reroute your bike ride so you can accommodate your schedule, whining about it makes you look really ignorant

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  6. Skippy says:

    “we got a new bridge in cloverdale”

    Wrong, Al.
    Check those bifocals.
    We got a new foundation and some substantial guardrails, but our bridge is as old, rusty, unsafe and obsolete as the treasured relic in Well-heeledsburg.
    I grow weary of the pandering to the groovy bicycle minority as our rural roads revert to goat paths.
    Speaking of attitude, does loud spandex elevate a persons’ sense of entitlement or were cyclists arrogant before thay donned their costumes?
    Just asking….

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  7. Grapevines says:

    Take the $200,000 that the city of Santa Rosa is willing to spend on a useless waste of funds to “study” a SMART/DUMB choo-choo crossing 2 blocks away from an existing one, and apply it to something useful. Such as upgrading the railroad bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists.

    But that would be doing something useful for the citizens and not paying back political favors and we all know the Politicians won’t do anything even remotely similar to that don’t we?

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  8. Bill Sullivan says:

    How much tax money can we spend to keep the small minority of bikeoffs happy? Special buses, millions refurbishing an old rusty bridge that should have been taken down?

    This sure is a great country that has so much surplus money to spend on such nonsense so a few spandex covered adults can exercise their right to ride at our expense. What a priority!

    Meanwhile the roads that we all use continue to disintegrate.

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  9. R.B. Fish says:

    Not one dime including staff time should come from Healdsburg taxpayers. Charge the business owners who use the bridge for their customers and charge the out of town bicyclists. We have no money so it’s not free. Gary Plass will keep taxing the locals so his business friends can benefit and profit. Hard to imagine a public leader with nearly a $ million is the hole say there is no need to panic to pay for services that don’t benefit the local people.

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  10. al himer says:

    wow skipper…one wonders if you have a pot or window to go with the ‘tude dude. What? You didn’t see that coming?Not surprising since ignorance and poverty are mutually inclusive.

    But to my point; we got a new bridge in cloverdale…county install with no thought of pedestrian or cycling access. At least healdsburg is thinking about keeping the welcome mat out!

    Al himer

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  11. Over Easy says:

    Throw it on your back and wade the river. That’s what they did in the old days.

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  12. Skippy says:

    Oh, the inconvenience!
    If the elites in Hip-burg had allowed Caltrans to erect a replacement span, they could have kept the old rusty deathtrap for a bike path.
    Now they can $$$pend on the other creaking relic; the never-to-be-used-again railroad bridge to nowhere.
    Didn’t see this coming? Not surprising.
    Entitled and intelligent are generally mutually exclusive.

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