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Perplexing priorities – Roundabout or bike route

bike lane

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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.

  • Randy Cook

    There is no safe bike ride from Sonoma to Kenwood, and many of us who ride north probably choose Arnold Drive over Hwy 12 because of reduced traffic. The creation of bike lanes on that particular stretch will cost money. However, several years ago when Hwy 12 was repaved from Glen Ellen through Kenwood, the shoulder was graded to well over 3 ft. on either side of the highway. Readers traveling this stretch of Hwy 12 may want to take note of the 8 – 10″ shoulders between Warm Springs and Dunbar Rd. while a gravel shoulder accommodates safe passage.

    Since Cal Trans is responsible for this, it is unclear why there wasn’t enough allowance in these projects to pave the graded shoulders. Tourists are commonly seen on Hwy 12 riding in compromised conditions, as drivers have little option but to pass closely with oncoming traffic.

    We need community input on these projects, but more importantly, the entities funding these road projects should also be aware of the public safety elements in heavily touristed areas where bicycle riding is ubiquitous. I consider it poor judgement on the State’s part to ignore these transportation elements, many of which exist in the County’s General Plan.

  • ScottRAB

    Three feet is not a bike lane, its a shoulder, not even a standard shoulder, jus the bare minimum.