$190K grant to fund bike path study

Sonomans could be one step closer to being able to bike – or walk – to Santa Rosa and any place along the way.

The possibility of such safe and easy human-powered travel comes after Sonoma County Regional Parks received a grant from the California Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of a bike path from Sonoma to Santa Rosa.

After years of applying for the grant, said Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart, the county was finally awarded the prestigious “Community-Based Transportation Planning Grant,” which totals $190,575, as part of a larger plan to make the county completely – and safely – navigable on bike or foot.

The highly competitive grants are only awarded to projects that Caltrans finds encourage public involvement and partnership.

The study for the inter-city pathway, referred to as Sonoma Valley Trail, will span 13 miles from Agua Caliente Road north of Sonoma to Melita Road south of Santa Rosa.

The key areas of study, which will develop an overall project cost, will be design, engineering and environmental compliance, Hart said.

The trail is part of Sonoma County’s plan to create an additional 800 miles of off-street bike and pedestrians paths and lanes to make the county more user-friendly, said Hart. About 40 miles currently exist, including the Joe Rodota Trail, a Class I paved pathway that links Santa Rosa with Sebastopol.

“Our vision here is to create a world-class park system,” Hart said.

The county hopes to implement a Class I trail, which is completely separated, and protected from the travel on the adjacent roadway – much like Sonoma’s bike path, Hart says.

Hart noted that only a few areas along the busy Highway 12 corridor have sidewalks or bike lanes, and those are not protected from the traffic traveling 50-plus miles per hour. The Sonoma Valley Trail would provide cyclists and pedestrians a safe, much-needed alternative to riding in a car along the congested corridor. “It’s challenging to ride a bike from Santa Rosa to Sonoma right now. … It’s dangerous and most people don’t do it – or, if they do, they take their life into their own hands,” Hart said.

Chris Woodcock, a member of the Sonoma County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and a proponent of the project, says the corridor has been known for danger and fatalities for a long time. He is excited at the safety a Class I trail could provide for both experienced cyclists and novices, adding “this trail could serve to link Sonoma … The Valley bike path is a great example of what the county could do.”

Woodcock frequently commutes through the Highway 12 corridor, since he lives in Sonoma and teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College. “It’s great to think that I could ride my bike to school one day,” he said.

Part of the project, Hart said, includes intensive community outreach to collect surveys and get public feedback. The county will hold community meetings, conduct surveys and have workshops. Before the county presents its final report to the Board of Supervisors, a draft study will be presented to the public for input.

The trail’s benefits extend beyond simply offering a solution to cycling Sonomans, Hart says. The trail would promote exercise and provide a sustainable alternative to driving. It also would attract tourists visiting Sonoma Valley wineries, businesses and parks. “If we are successful in getting this trail, it will connect up all of the parks and all of the wineries,” Hart said, adding there are a number of parks in the area such as Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Annadel and Sugarloaf that would be connected by this trail network.

“The idea is to have a whole trail network where people can get out of their cars,” Hart said. “It’s a long-term idea that (trails) might link from San Pablo Bay and Sears Point,” Hart said, explaining trails would help provide a safer, more secure way to get around and encourage more recreation. She explained how the proposed network is coming to fruition with the central Sonoma bike path, the trail on Eighth Street East and now the Sonoma Valley Trail.

Hart said the county received a lot of support from the Sonoma and Santa Rosa mayors, members of Congress and members of area bike coalitions. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin is passionate about the bike path, as well, said Hart, and has worked to make the project possible.

“Seeing this project move forward has been a dream of mine. This allows us to plan a trail to connect Sonoma Valley with Santa Rosa and western Sonoma County, truly connecting everyone – families, tourists, cyclists – and opening up the beauty of the Sonoma Valley for all to enjoy,” Gorin said in a press release.

Hart said she expects the study to begin on Feb. 1, 2014 and finish in December 2015. The results of the study will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in 2016.

For more information or to give feedback on the Sonoma Valley bike trail or other park projects, visit sonomacountyparks.org.