How does Sonoma rate for bicyclists?
The long-debated re-striping of Broadway more than a year ago reduced four traffic lanes to three to create protected bike lanes for a safer and more pleasant cycling experience.
But the cycling community says more needs to be done if people are going to make significant changes to their transportation habits, and leave the car in the driveway for quick jaunts around town.
“The city got handed this great opportunity. To really make an even bigger change on that street,” Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said. “Making one street better isn't going to get more people on the road if it isn't between them and where they want to go.”
A study found that approximately 29% of trips in Sonoma County are under 2 miles. That number rises to 60% for trips less than 5 miles, according to the National Household Travel Survey, and the city of Sonoma sees the shortest average trips (4.2 miles) in the county.
Hypothetically, the city could be poised for bike travel.
The $41,000 dollar re-striping of Broadway sought to encourage more residents to use pedal-power to maneuver through Sonoma’s downtown and reduce their carbon footprint.
“But Broadway, it's hardly ever used,” said Broadway property owner Jim Karabochos, who vocally opposed the bike lanes. “We go to Peet’s twice a week, a group of us. You can be sitting there for a couple hours... You're lucky if you see a bike go by.”
Bikes are a key component of the county’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2030, replacing the greenhouse gas emissions from cars in those short trips with other forms of transportation, like bicycles, buses and trains. At its May 17 meeting, the Sonoma City Council declared May as Bike to Work month.
“We really support biking and alternate forms of transportation and are working very hard to put some bike racks so that our Plaza can actually have places to bike to,” Mayor Sandra Lowe said at the council meeting.
Cycling advocates say local governments first must create infrastructure to protect amateur cyclists, who can be cautious of riding on regular streets. Then there must be education and encouragement from groups like Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and Operation Bicycle. There also must be enforcement to prevent the infrastructure from being misused, such as the drivers who double park in bike lanes.
“There's always more desire for protected bike space,” Brenna Sahs said, the store manager of Wine Country Cyclist. “Around here, the largest complaint we get is that people don't feel safe on the roads. More bike lanes like (Broadway) would be great. As many as they can do.”
Not all the shortfalls of bike use in Sonoma Valley can be attributed to its civic leaders, however, Weaver said. Biking is a two-way street between local governments and the residents they serve.
“There are our folks in the city trying to push the change,” Weaver said. “But so much of it — I mean, there is the money part — but a lot of it is political will and a lot of it is getting people in with a new paradigm.”
Up on Highway 12, First District Supervisor Susan Gorin continues to push for bike lanes that would connect northern and southern Sonoma Valley. The county needs the support of dozens of landowners on the route, however, so her team is working to get approval for the space needed to make the lanes.