Perplexing priorities – Roundabout or bike route

For about a mile, along the asphalt alley that is Arnold Drive, from just north of Loma Vista Drive to just beyond Country Club Drive, a perfectly safe and serviceable bike lane (in most places at least 3-feet wide on either side of the road) dissolves into the sharply sloping shoulders and disappears.

Along each side of the road, for most of that mile, there is a deep ditch into which no one on a bicycle would logically want to descend.

As a result, safe bicycle passage from Glen Ellen to the western edge of Sonoma is interrupted and riders must contend with the perilously intimate passage of large trucks, fast cars and people texting and dialing while they drive.

A handful of heart-in-throat excursions along that route revealed the following uncomfortable encounters to at least one rider:

A cement truck, weighing between 30,000 and 70,000 pounds, bearing down on the rider from behind while oncoming traffic eliminated any opportunity for the massive machine to edge into the opposing line to give the cyclist the 3-foot birth required by a new law that will take effect next September. Did the truck slow down, as the new law will require, until the bicycle was safe to pass with the mandated cushion?

No. It slowed slightly, but thundered past the bicycle close enough to invoke prayers, obscenities and sheer terror.

A courteous and/or overly-timid driver slowed to bicycle speed behind the cyclist and refused to pass even when the rider motioned him around. This angered drivers in an ever-increasing line of traffic who began sounding horns until the motorist surrendered to the cacophony, zoomed around the bicycle but cut back into the lane so suddenly he almost ran the cyclist off the road.

On at least two occasions the rider surrendered to the simple physics of the situation and rode just to the right of the white lane line when there was no shoulder on which to take refuge, just the yawning ditch. It was, he later reported, like riding a bicycle along a three-inch cable stretched across the Grand Canyon.

We don’t know the cost of upgrading that one-mile of road because right-of-way issues could inflate the probable re-engineering and paving cost of between $2 million and $4 million.

But we do know that the roughly $2 million purportedly spent on the Arnold Drive roundabout – which was erected at roughly the mid-way point in that treacherous mile – could have taken us a long way toward finally achieving safe bike passage the full length of Arnold Drive between Glen Ellen and Sonoma.

The roundabout – controversial as its centerpiece boulder mound may be – is a marvelous piece of highway engineering that speeds traffic through the intersection in front of Hanna Boys Center with reduced production of C02.

But we have to wonder how much smaller the carbon footprint of Valley travelers would be if they could bike safely up and down Arnold Drive. The hoped-for Class I, completely separated bike lane paralleling Highway 12 through the Valley is a worthy dream, but it’s many millions of dollars and years away at best.

We can’t help thinking that, instead of a roundabout, and with a little more citizen input, a better sense of transit priorities and, perhaps, a little more money, a safe route for bikes along one of the Valley’s most heavily-traveled routes, could have been achieved.