Merge Lane

NEWS2 GT1516City brings bike and pedestrian planning together

Cycling and transportation activists have long been partners, but in Santa Cruz they could soon be walking down a new path to closer collaboration than ever before.

The Santa Cruz City Council voted on April 14 to begin work on a new Active Transportation Plan that will consolidate the process by which the city applies for funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. It will also let city staff plan for the future of both pedestrian and cyclist projects together, all at the same time.

“There are some specific needs of the bicycle and pedestrian community. There are many common and shared experiences they have,” says Claire Fliesler, a transportation planner who’s been with the city’s public works department for about three months now. “They want a shared network. They want to get from point A to point B.”

The notion that pedestrians and cyclists have a lot in common isn’t a particularly novel one, but it does have some momentum right now. Just earlier this month, People Power, the iconic Santa Cruz organization that promotes alternatives to driving, changed its name to Bike Santa Cruz County.

When some people raised concerns about pedestrian issues being left by the wayside, the nonprofit’s director, Amelia Conlen, pointed out that infrastructure for safer walking and better biking are often one and the same: trails, paths and small bridges—such as the one planned to go over the Branciforte Creek and complete the levee system. Fliesler is in the process of applying for a grant to close the gap with that new bridge right now. “We’re really working to complete that feature, to provide one more gem in our active transportation community,” says Fliesler.

More to the point, this shift to lump bike and pedestrian grant applications together mirrors funding at the state level. In 2013, the state legislature combined bicycle and pedestrian grant programs—including State Safe Routes to School and Bicycle Transportation Account—into one umbrella-funding program called the Active Transportation Program.

By getting on board, the city can streamline much of its grant application process, making it easier to apply for grants that would benefit both pedestrians and cyclists. Santa Cruz County Public Works Director John Presleigh says that in the future, the county will probably consider doing something similar to the city’s new Active Transportation Plan.

It’s an approach that could help a wide array of people. “At different times of the week, you might be a walker, or a cyclist, or a driver, or a transit user, but we want to have those facilities really benefit everyone in our community,” Fliesler says.

For the plan’s drafts, Fliesler will be reaching out to pedestrian and bicycle groups, including nonprofits like Bike Santa Cruz County, as well as Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Elderly and Disabled Transportation Committee, both part of the Regional Transportation Commission.

The city’s plan, which is expected to appear before the City Council in summer 2016, will go through two rounds of community input, says Fliesler, to assess the community’s wants and needs. The first round will allow community members to share their vision and highlight parts of the city’s “non-motorized transportation network.” After collecting that data into a cohesive strategy, Fliesler and company will report back to the community with its findings to see if there’s anything that needs fine-tuning.

Fliesler expects the process to be “very interactive,” with lots of maps. Possible priorities may include green bike lanes, safe routes to schools, multi-use trails, and improvements to West Cliff Drive. The City Council is expected to see the final Active Transportation Plan in August 2016. And if all goes according to plan, city residents will see a more foot-friendly transportation network—for cyclists and pedestrians alike—not too long after that.

Says Fliesler: “It’s a good time to start thinking about these things and start planning for them together.”

PHOTO: The Arana Gulch Multi-Use Trail, seen here at its grand opening ceremony, is a new link in the city’s transportation network for cyclists and pedestrians. BRAD KAVA

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