Bike to Work Day: Spotlight on Modesto

Riders gather at 6 a.m. for the annual Mayor's Bike to Work Day ride. That's Mayor Ted Brandvold in the center, in red. Photos by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog unless noted
Riders gather at 6 a.m. for the annual Mayor's Bike to Work Day ride. That's Mayor Ted Brandvold in the center, in red. Photos by Melanie Curry/Streetsblog unless noted
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California cities celebrated Bike to Work Day yesterday, including Modesto, where a hearty group of riders gathered with Mayor Mayor Ted Brandvold at the crack of dawn under the threat of rain.

But the rain never came–just a short, sweet group ride along the Virginia Corridor, a former rail right-of-way that is now a multi-use trail, to downtown Modesto.

Riders along the Virginia Corridor, the north-south spine of Modesto's unfinished bike network.
The route followed the Virginia Corridor, the north-south spine of Modesto’s unfinished bike network.

In the plaza in front of City Hall, a Bike to Work Day breakfast was laid out. Breakfast burritos, coffee, bananas, muffins, chocolate chip cookies–it was way more than a rider needed, unless they were coming from miles outside of town. Oakland take note: This gives your annual Bike to Work Day Pancake Breakfast, a long and lovely tradition, some serious competition.

Local transit agencies pass out information and free stuff, and enjoy the chocolate chip cookies provided by the Doubletree Hotel.
Local transit agencies pass out information and free stuff, and enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies provided by the Doubletree Hotel.

Riders at the downtown plaza also chatted with representatives from local and regional transit agencies, the city of Modesto, the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club, and local planning agencies, all of whom had free stuff–T-shirts, socks, lights, patch kits, even playing cards–for the taking.

Leonard Zeer and Laurie French were happy to pass out free T-shirts AND SOCKS to participating riders.
Leonard Zeer and Laurie French were happy to pass out free T-shirts and socks to participating riders.

Otto Melara and Ben Frazier from Alta Planning stood at a table covered with a map showing Modesto’s existing bike routes and lanes. They are working on an update to the city’s “Nonmotorized Transportation Plan” (which hopefully will include an updated title). They collected comments and suggestions from everyone who stopped by to look at the map. Riders, and walkers, pointed out particularly difficult spots and talked about ways the city’s bike network needs work.

Ben Frazier and Otto Melara, from left, hear from Modesto city planner Michael Sacuski and a resident about walking in Modesto.
Ben Frazier and Otto Melara of Alta Planning, from left, and Modesto traffic engineer Michael Sacuskie listen to a resident about walking in Modesto.

Modesto has a lot of quiet, tree-lined neighborhood streets, which tend to be wide, and with the even wider arterials, fast driving seems to be the norm. That creates a challenge to encouraging people to lessen car use, because people feel unsafe riding a bike next to fast-moving traffic.

The Mayor's Bike to Work Day ride on a quiet street. Photo by Michael Sacuskie
The Mayor’s Bike to Work Day Ride takes a quiet neighborhood street. Photo by Michael Sacuskie

Planners in Modesto have been working for years to improve conditions for biking in the city. It already has several lovely cross-town off-road routes, including a winding trail past groves of oak and orchards of almond and walnut along Dry Creek and the Virginia Corridor, the north-south spine of the unfinished network. Several years ago, the city also built a two-way cycle track between the two campuses of Modesto City College, and are working on completing some of the pieces of that bike connection.

A part of the bike connection between college campuses includes this well-marked sidewalk piece.
A part of the bike connection between college campuses includes this well-marked sidewalk piece.

They are also slowly and steadily improving connections to the existing off-road network. The most recent addition is a lovely two-way cycle track connecting neighborhoods (and the Amtrak station) in the north over a busy arterial to the winding Dry Creek path. Not only is it protected with cement curbs from fast-moving traffic, it winds behind several bus stop islands and benefits from bike signals and “no turn on red” restrictions at the intersections.

This new two-way cycle track includes cement curb protection, a raised bus stop island, and bike signal heads at an intersection with "no right turn on red" indicators.
This new two-way cycle track includes cement curb protection, a raised bus stop island, and bike signal heads at an intersection with “no right turn on red” indicators.

Associate Traffic Engineer Michael Sacuskie says the bicycle improvements were relatively inexpensive, because they were incorporated into a planned repaving of the road, adding only the curbs, paint, and signal heads. They spent about $400,000 on the bicycle improvements, out of a total project cost of $1.5 million.

In addition to updating the Active Transportation Plan, Modesto city planners got state funding through Caltrans’ Highway Safety Improvement Program to conduct a Systemic Safety Analysis Report for the city. To that end, a group of planners had spent the previous two days gathering with consultants at several intersections in the city to observe traffic, especially at the tricky morning drop-off times at schools. They discussed challenges and potential solutions to the specific dangers at each spot.

On top of all that, Modesto also has several grants Active Transportation Program grants in the works. They will be used to create better connections in two low-income neighborhoods that have a lot of pedestrians and bicyclists, notably many children trying to get to school, but no bike lanes and few pedestrian crossings.

Modesto, like every California city, has a lot of work ahead to undo years of car-centric planning that helped create the dangerous, wide, unpleasant streets Californians seem to accept as inevitable. The city is making progress on creating safe and pleasant alternative infrastructure, which is the first–huge–step. Bike to Work Day is one way to highlight some of the progress, and encourage more people to take advantage of it.

Planners take notes on specific places that need attention in the upcoming Active Transportation Plan
Planners take notes about specific places that need attention in the upcoming Modesto Active Transportation Plan.

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