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The growing importance of bike infrastructure

Last month, I wrote about the benefits of bike riding, and how attitudes about cycling differ between the U.S. and Europe (and other places). Now I want to examine why that might be and how that could change. One big difference is the investment in safe, convenient bike infrastructure. Bike infrastructure often appears to have a high price tag, but in comparison to the costs to build and maintain roadways for vehicles, the cost is relatively low. A study was conducted in the Portland, Oregon area (a mecca for cycling and bike commuting) in 2013 and found that the city’s entire bicycle network (over 300 miles of bikeways) “would cost $60 million to replace (in 2008 dollars), whereas the same investment would yield just one mile of a four-lane urban freeway.”

So where are we at in Sonoma County? We have really a very small and fragmented network of dedicated bike infrastructure with the main trails (e.g., Joe Rodota, creek trail, SMART path) making up maybe 50 miles at most. It is pretty tough to commute or even take the kids out for much of a spin without having to face less safe road conditions just to get from one trail segment to the other or utilize roadways with bike lanes. In comparison, there are over 600 miles of bike trails in the Denver Metro area. However, even places like the Denver area continue to have challenges. Denver is looking to the future with a plan to institute “Vision Zero,” a transportation planning philosophy about making streets safe for all users, “no matter their choice to walk, bike, drive or take transit.” Several California cities have adopted Vision Zero plans. Los Angeles has committed to end traffic deaths by 2025 in their ambitious Vision Zero Plan.

In Europe, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, including trail networks, provide not only safe commuting routes, but also generate tourism dollars, with these networks designed to bring visitors to a myriad of small towns. Some examples include the Loire-a-velo route, a 560 mile portion of the Eurovelo 6, which spans over 2000 miles, and the Danube Cycle Path that runs from Germany all the way to the Black Sea, about 2300 miles.

Some efforts to build such long trail networks are being undertaken in the U.S. like the Great American Rail-Trail. In California, the Great Redwood Trail (from Humboldt to Marin County) is envisioned, but such projects will take decades to complete and rely on public support and available funding. If local communities could envision the benefit of this infrastructure, the “road” to completion would be much easier.

There is also a growing movement in the U.S. called “Complete Streets” – streets designed to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, enhance walkability, and increase transit efficiency. Already proven successful in London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Copenhagen with encouraging bike commuting and actually revitalizing downtown areas by bringing more people to these safe spaces, features include: protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, accessible public transportation stops, safe crosswalks, and ADA compliant walkways, curbs, signals and more.

So how do we get there here in our local communities? We need to promote features like protected bike lanes, neighborhood bikeways, shared-use paths, and safer intersections, and ensure connectivity. There are opportunities to get involved with local bicycle-pedestrian planning efforts, volunteer for or attend meetings of the, or support advocacy organizations like the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

The coalition also has a new initiative: “Within 2 miles – Bike2it!” which encourages residents to bicycle rather than drive to everyday destinations within two miles, and provides mapping tools, safety education, short guided rides, gear tips and monthly prizes

Want to get into cycling or find out about cycling events? Contact me at

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