Bike Bakersfield Looks to Expand its Efforts in Bakersfield and Kern County

Proposed bicycle improvements in Bakersfield, from the Kern County Bicycle Master Plan
Proposed bicycle improvements in Bakersfield, from the Kern County Bicycle Master Plan

Bike Bakersfield has been the local bike advocacy group in Kern County since 1997. Executive director Jason Cater sat down with Streetsblog to discuss what’s new for the group since it helped expand the Arvin Bike Kitchen last year. At the top of its agenda is adding new bicycle parking in Downtown Bakersfield.

Two sources of funding have brought $17,000 to the Downtown Bicycle Parking and Community Enhancement project, which will put bike racks in and around the downtown area. Cater sees this as an opportunity to grow active transportation by providing a welcoming place for riders to leave their bikes. Safe and secure bike racks are an important component of any plan to increase bike riding.

“That is going to be a huge opportunity to really increase capacity and people’s ability to go downtown and shop or work and have a secure place for their bike,” said Cater.

Jason Cater, Executive Director of Bike Bakersfield. Image: Bike Bakersfield
Jason Cater, Executive Director of Bike Bakersfield. Image: Bike Bakersfield

One of the sources of funds stipulates that the project be completed by spring 2016. That grant, from the Bakersfield Californian Foundation, is a local grant given by the family-owned newspaper of the same name. Bike Bakersfield was awarded $5,000 in May of 2015, and must use it within a year. The other source of funds is the Transportation Development Act, which comes through Caltrans.

Also on Bike Bakersfield’s agenda is the new bike kitchen in Arvin. A growing youth advocacy group has been supporting the bike repair spot by using it and recruiting their friends to use it as well. Bike Bakersfield is also pushing city council leaders to refurbish an old skateboard park in that community.

Arvin is an agrarian town near Bakersfield with a population of about 20,000. It has a small downtown center but most of it is residential housing or farms. Arvin is writing a new bicycle master plan, with input from Bike Bakersfield. “The bike plan looks at the layout of the community, and identifies the best opportunities for infrastructure improvements for bikes,” said Cater. Arvin does not have the same issues as Bakersfield, which is very spread out. In Bakersfield, connecting residential areas to downtown and creating recreational trails along the river are key.

The city of Bakersfield’s bicycle master plan dates from 2012. It includes expansion and construction of new bike lanes, but those are still in early stages. Cater said it is an “exciting endeavor” and “gaining more steam than in years past,” but was hesitant to talk about details at this early phase.

In addition to everything else, Bike Bakersfield also hosted the annual California Bicycle Coalition board meeting this past weekend. The California Bicycle Coalition includes members from advocacy groups throughout the state, and they spent the weekend working on their strategic plan for the next year.  Cater had the opportunity to take bike advocates on a tour of East Bakersfield, which is a disadvantaged community, to show some of the work that had been done there to address equity issues in active transportation.

Cater was excited to have the chance to show CalBike the growing community of bike advocacy groups in the central valley. “It was a positive experience,” he said. Bike Bakersfield has “some of the biggest representation in the state south of Sacramento. We have a very active group. That is not to discount the smaller coalitions in places like Hanford or Lemoore. Fresno has a good bicycle coalition.”

“There is a lot more happening in the valley for bike advocacy, which is awesome,” he said. “I think a lot of people who are involved at the state level, and who are involved in CalBike, are happy to see that.”

Cater did recognize the lack of bikes paths connecting Kern County’s more rural communities. The highways in that area are fast and wide, and have always lacked bicycle access. Cater acknowledged there was not a “high priority” for creating bike paths between places such as Bakersfield and Lamont, which are fourteen miles apart, or Lamont and Arvin, which are nine miles apart.

“There are ideas in the Kern County bicycle master plan to connect Bakersfield to Lamont and Lamont to Arvin but that is about as far as it goes right now,” he said.

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