‘Slow and laborious’ Highway 12 bike lanes, Ken Mattson pitches multi-use path to Schellville

“I know he has a checkered reputation from some community members. But he is a cyclist, he is a runner and he would like to see this happen,“ said Supervisor Susan Gorin.|

All the wheels are turning for First District Supervisor Susan Gorin as she works to build a bike lane along Highway 12 before the end of her term in 2024. When some of those plans hit the skids, Sonoma Valley real estate mogul Ken Mattson proposed a multi-use path to connect several of his businesses, from Boyes Food Center to Sonoma’s Best to Cornerstone Sonoma.

The original 13-mile path from downtown Sonoma to Santa Rosa has faced challenges in design and funding, Gorin said, causing county officials to focus in on a stretch of Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs where two cyclists were killed in recent years.

Cyclist safety should be a top priority for county officials, according to Eris Weaver, the executive director of the Sonoma County Cyclist Coalition. The creation of safer bike lanes would help reach county-wide goals to reduce green house gas emissions, she added.

“We need to accelerate all of our building out of more safe and friendly protected bike ways,” Weaver said. “We have to take bolder, bigger action towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions for stopping climate change. And of course, making it easier for people to get around without being in the car is one of those things.”

With 60% of Sonoma County trips less than 5 miles in distance, according to a study by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, and cycling advocates say the county has failed to create infrastructure to make errands accessible and safe for bikes versus minivans.

Highway 12 bike lane

Two cyclists, David Davison and Adrian Albert, died in 2019 and 2020 respectively after they were each struck by cars while riding down Highway 12. County supervisors have made it a priority to improve the traffic conditions where they were killed along the roadway between Madrone Road and BR Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen.

“The number one reason people give for not using their bicycles is they don't feel safe on the roads,” Gorin said, “So my focus has been the Sonoma Valley Trail from Agua Caliente to Lolita. That's where the accidents happen.”

But Caltrans, the state agency that oversees Highway 12, and the county have been unable to agree about the necessary width of a bike lane. The county has argued for “regulation bike lane widths of 5 feet,” Gorin said, while Caltrans has insisted on an 8-foot bike lane.

While the county and Caltrans argue about 36 inches, Weaver and other climate hawks have criticized local leaders for “not putting their money where their mouth is.” Weaver said she has faced contention for demanding more be done all at once instead of one piece at a time.

“They'll be cranky that I’m not more grateful about it,” Weaver said. “An extra one mile a bike lane doesn't help me if it doesn't connect between where I am and where I want to go.”

The cost of the project, estimated between $1.5 and $2 million, is not the issue — it’s the design, Environmental Impact Report and individual negotiations with property owners along Highway 12, Gorin said. Because the proposed bike lane would encroach on to private property, an agreement would need to be signed with each owner to use a sliver of their property for the bike lane.

“I think have met my match. It's really challenging to plan even bicycle lanes, let alone multi-use paths throughout the Valley,” Gorin said. “The city has done a good job of creating a bicycle network in the city, but it doesn't lead very far.”

Path to Schellville

Over on the east side of the Valley, Ken Mattson has proposed a bicycle path that would link his businesses from Boyes Hot Springs to Carneros, according to Gorin. This proposal has come up in conversations between Gorin and Mattson “over the past few years,” as well as with Sonoma County Regional Parks. The path would connect with a Sonoma County Regional Parks’ project that has been in the works since before Gorin became supervisor.

“(Mattson) envisions a network from Cornerstone to Sonoma’s Best to Boyes Hot Springs,” she said. “I know he has a checkered reputation from some community members. But he is a cyclist, he is a runner and he would like to see this happen.”

The bike path would “triangulate” between Mattson’s properties, including the Boyes Food Center in Boyes Hot Springs, creating a network for cyclists. No action has been taken by the county on Mattson’s proposal, but Gorin sees merits in building more bike paths.

The planned path east of Sonoma is complicated by a longstanding dispute between the county and Union Pacific railroad company over rights of way on the land.

“The path and the easements for the railroad and the road... over time those easements and alignments have switched back and forth, making it really complicated to identify who owns the land,” Gorin said.

Creating a bike lane remains a key priority to the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition to ensure the safety and expansion of cycling in Sonoma Valley.

And for Gorin, creating safe bike lanes is just as much a personal issue as it is a political goal — her husband is a “hardcore cyclist” who competed in the 200 mile Sonoma County bike race and Gorin has carried the torch of former Supervisor Valerie Brown, who made it a priority to widen Highway 12 for cyclist.

“I was not happy there were no projects funded for bikes in Sonoma Valley, which is why it's a full court press, on our own, working on this,” Gorin said. “Two and a half years are left of my term. I have to get this done.”

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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