There’s just not much of a reason to own a car in the greater metropolitan Portland area. Can we say the same about our own community?
If bicycling is so culturally central to Portland, even when it’s truly cold (not “California cold”) and raining nonstop, why is it so difficult to get around by pedal or by foot in San Lorenzo Valley? The steep elevation changes in the Santa Cruz Mountains make it challenging, true, but that in itself is no excuse.
Portland’s obvious advantage is its impressive network of trails and rights-of-way for bikers, while the Max helps shorten the longer distances. But I’d argue that the most important ingredient of the city’s bicycle infrastructure is the bicycle culture itself, which empowers bikers to travel safely and efficiently without fear.
Ever try biking along Highway 9? It’s not advised, though some brave souls do traverse its narrow shoulders and hairpin turns with white knuckles and — some might say — a death wish.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ll never be like Portland, but a local movement known as Safe SLV Streets (Yahoo group: safeslvstreets) is working to add more bicycle and pedestrian access to SLV’s public schools and other high-traffic areas near the Highway. 9 corridor.
Safe SLV Streets member Bryan Largay discussed the group’s goals, its status and what needs to happen to build a safe network of biking and walking trails in SLV at a recent Transition SLV meeting. It’s definitely a possibility, and the county actually completed an SLV trails feasibility study not too long ago.
Largay and his fellow group members looked at the study and tried to determine which routes would have the least community opposition and cost the least to implement. They believe they have a reasonable plan and even were able to identify a federal grant program specifically to pay for safe access to schools.
So, what are we waiting for? Largay said it’s just a matter of political will and, of course, money.
A network of bike and foot paths (beginning in Felton) comprising the Caltrans corridor, neighborhood streets, wooded areas and some spots along Highway 9 could cost anywhere from $500,000 to a few million, which is quite modest for an infrastructure project.
“Everyone I’ve mentioned it to said they thought it was a pretty good idea,” Largay said. “What’s needed now is getting a committee together to champion this, build political will, foster community support and to work on the grant proposal.”
County Supervisor Mark Stone is known to support such initiatives, so it might just come down to his ability to prove to his fellow supervisors that the community indeed wants a network of biking and pedestrian trails.
The benefits of greater access are self-explanatory. But there also are the intangibles, including increased neighborly interactions and greater community cohesion in general.
Portland’s emergence as a bike-friendly city didn’t happen overnight. I’m confident we can cultivate a similarly bike-friendly culture here at home.
If you think a network of bike and foot paths in SLV is a good idea, call your supervisor or otherwise get involved, even just a vocal show of support. It won’t happen without us.
Steve Tanner is a writer and journalist living in Ben Lomond with his wife, young daughter, dog and four hens. He is on the steering committee for Transition San Lorenzo Valley, a local nonprofit committed to creating a more sustainable and resilient community. For information: www.transitionslv.org.