Passion for the Pedal

Thomas Einspahr, left, and Kyle Wilhelm work on their bicycles at the SLO Bike Kitchen at the SLO County Bicycle Coalition in San Luis Obispo. 
Photo by Joe Johnston 10-31-10
Thomas Einspahr, left, and Kyle Wilhelm work on their bicycles at the SLO Bike Kitchen at the SLO County Bicycle Coalition in San Luis Obispo. Photo by Joe Johnston 10-31-10 Tribune

As bicycle riding for commuting and pleasure gains popularity locally, advocates say that steps must be taken to improve a scattered and piecemeal system of bike paths and bike lanes.

In response, cities and counties have formed bicycle advisory committees to develop bicycle master plans, which set clear bike infrastructure priorities and enable applications for state and federal grants to create a better network.

“We have an amazing bike culture here across all demographics and age groupsand it’s not just SLO-centric,” said Morgen Marshall, program manager for San Luis Obispo Regional Rideshare, which promotes sustainable transportation options.

The countywide San Luis Obispo Bicycle club is one of the largest in California with 560 members, according to Dale Sutliff, one of 10 San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Advisory Committee members appointed by county supervisors.

And during the county’s annual Bike Month this past May, there were 60 community-driven events — such a success that Santa Barbara County asked Rideshare, which oversees the event, to share its model.

In the city of San Luis Obispo, which has about four miles of bike paths and 25 miles of bike lanes, biannual traffic counts showed that bicycling volume increased 44 percent from October 2006 to October 2008. Preliminary data from 2010 counts suggest another rise, according to Peggy Mandeville, principal transportation planner.

She attributes the increase to “environmental sensitivity, the economy and the cost of operating a vehicle, and the community’s culture, which supports bicycling and bicyclists.”

To encourage more bicycle commuting, however, bike paths and lanes must be improved in the “three-to-five-mile region around urban cores where it is reasonable for the average person to choose their bike instead of their car,’’ according to San Luis Obispo County Air Quality Specialist Andy Mutziger.

Toward accomplishing this, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and SLO County have bike plans approved by the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments and eligible for state Bicycle Transportation Account funds. Atascadero and Grover Beach are preparing plans that are likely to be approved this year, and Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande are developing plans that should be ready by the end of 2011, according to SLOCOG Transportation Planner Jessica Berry.

The 2010 revision of the San Luis Obispo County Bikeways Plan prioritizes links between communities, commuter routes, and routes that may serve multiple purposes.

“A safe route to school might also be a great commuter and recreation route,” Sutliff said.

In addition to bike infrastructure achievements like the Bob Jones Trail in Avila Beach and the Bill Roalman bicycle boulevard on Morro Street in San Luis Obispo, several key bike infrastructure projects are underway:

An environmental impact report has been approved for a Class 1 bike trail linking Morro Bay and Cayucos.

The Madonna Inn Bike Path paralleling Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo from Marsh Street to the entrance of Madonna Inn is nearing completion. Missing links of the Railroad Safety Trail connecting Cal Poly and California Boulevard in San Luis Obispo are under construction. The city is in talks with Union Pacific Railroad to identify an acceptable location for a possible bike bridge to cross over Highway 101 or a bike path on the existing California Boulevard bridge.

Plans are in place to eventually extend the Railroad Safety trail from Cal Poly to the Marigold Shopping Center area and the Bob Jones Trail at Avila to create a City to the Sea bikeway.

The county recently secured nearly $570,000 in state funds to create Class II bike lanes in a critical two-third-mile gap on Vineyard Drive in Templeton between Bethel Road and Bennett Way, a highly trafficked area with two schools.

Also key to bike infrastructure is the maintenance of existing roads and bike lanes.

In San Luis Obispo, more than 40 percent of the current half-cent sales tax known as Measure Y has been allocated for neighborhood paving and traffic congestion relief, which includes bikeway improvements.

But countywide, Sutliff said that the long-term goal is to create “a network that actually works It may take several years, but we keep plugging along.”