Don’t Look Now But Fresno is Sprouting Bike Lanes

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Editor’s note: Matthew Ridgway is a principal at Fehr and Peers, a transportation design and engineering firm that routinely consults on bicycle and pedestrian projects throughout California. His firm was hired to help develop Fresno’s Bicycle Master Plan. Bryan Jones, the city of Fresno’s traffic engineer, contributed to this report.

A collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout San Francisco this past August when a judge finally lifted the a four-year Bicycle Plan injunction, freeing the city to move ahead with striping miles of bike lanes. News outlets in the city depicted the denouement of one of the more confounding dramas in transportation planning, as the curtain on Rob Anderson’s quixotic mission to thwart clean transportation came to a final close.

But the biggest story in expanding bicycle networks in California has been quietly unfolding two hundred miles away from the City by the Bay in Fresno.

Yes, Fresno.

Even with an astounding 15.2 percent unemployment rate and home prices down by 48.6 percent over the last five years, Fresno has managed to add more bike lanes than most cities outside of New York, which has completed construction of 200 miles of bike lanes in three years. Given Fresno’s size, the per capita addition of lanes makes it competitive with the accomplishments of Janette Sadik-Khan, though with much less fanfare.

Take the numbers: over the past 12 months Fresno has built 30 miles of new on-street bike lanes and three miles of new trails, with an additional 30 miles of bikeways in the works (compare that to San Francisco’s plan to add 31 miles). And that’s before its City Council unanimously approved its first comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan, which focuses on the Five E’s of Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation.

These were not necessarily easy wins. Most of the on-street bikeways were built through road diets, which meant removing auto lanes to add bike lanes. Most of the 30 bikeway miles were installed on roadways with excess capacity within the core and downtown of the city.  The city even developed a website to educate both bicyclists and motorists on the reasons for – and benefits of – road diets.

Transforming the city into a Bicycle Friendly Community has been no small feat and there are tremendous hurdles to surmount before you can call the city a bicycle paradise. The Fresno region has spent approximately $2 billion in the past decade on new six-lane freeways such as State Routes 168 and 180. Fresno leads the State of California in freeway lane miles per capita, as well as local major street lane miles per capita, both of which create economic impacts and maintenance challenges for the city and state. Freeways also create considerable barriers for every other mode of transportation. Fresno is the fifth largest city in the State, and yet during the busiest time of day, drivers can get from one side of the metro area to the other in less than 20 minutes. The Fresno region also leads the state (and, in most categories, the nation) in air quality non-compliance, poverty and public health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and asthma.

Facing these land use and socioeconomic challenges, city staff realized that a citywide bike network could support a cost-effective transportation system while also revitalizing Fresno’s downtown and neighboring communities. Ultimately, Fresno’s goal is to become the “Bicycle Capital of the Central Valley” and be a leading example for the smaller rural Central Valley jurisdictions on how to develop more sustainably.

This year, the region launched the 2010 Bike Fresno Campaign, which focused on encouragement and the Joy of Biking. The campaign featured some terrific social media that would make even the most hardened souls shed a tear. Upcoming events will keep the spotlight on Fresno: next May the city will host the Eye-Q California Classic Weekend, a weekend-long festival focused on health and physical activity. As part of the festivities, the organizers will close 10 miles of SR 168 to cars and open it to bicycles for the day.

It will likely be some time before the city would ever be mentioned in the same breath as some of the European cycling capitols, but with the exciting pace of change, bicycle advocates and planners should officially take notice.

Check out the Fresno’s ambitious plans here: City of Fresno Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Master Plan. This news reporter did a great job covering the new bikes lanes and road diets. View videos here.

  • Nick

    Interesting. Perhaps the value of land in SF (streetspace specifically) is why our Bike Plan required so much of a fight from our side.

    What does bike advocacy look like in Fresno? Is there an organized coalition or are the changes coming from within without any outside prodding required?

  • From Fresno, thanks for blogging on this issue. I commute through the streets of Fresno daily, and it is good to see the bike lanes and trails be extended.

    To answer Nick’s question. It has been a really partnership between the City, the Fresno Bicycle County Coalition, and other advocates. The City’s Chief Traffic Engineer, Brian Jones, has been a real champion for the new master plan.

  • Fresno has a good amount of bike lanes, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

    The streets are ENORMOUSlY wide. 14 foot lanes. A parking lane, even though there’s nothing to park for (the street fronts a wall). 13 foot turning lanes. 5 foot bike lanes. Tiny sidewalks, but large grassy strips.

    So for the past decade, all the new bike lanes have been “when we build a new road, we’ll make it even wider! wheeeee!”

    if you look at the google bike map of fresno, you can spot the newer developments by the bike lanes.

    Only in the past year have they gone into older neighborhoods and added lanes. Downtown got their first lanes in August.

    Nick, bike advocacy, in Fresno? There’s as much advocacy here as there is snow. That is, an inch every 30 years.

  • jass do we live in the same city?

    There are many bike advocates in Fresno. Here is a link to the Bicycle Coalition’s website: http://www.ibikefresno.org
    They have done a great job on the master plan and the recent I BIKE FRESNO campaign.

  • leah

    This is great news, and a great story to share — thanks Matthew & Streetsblog. San Francisco, in particular, could learn an important lesson from Fresno, which is smartly sharing the positive potential of road diets. SF has conducted dozens of successful road diets but is pained to talk about that, for some reason. We’ve asked them many times to publish and promote these successes, in order to better educate for future road diet possibilities. I hope the SF MTA will take a tip from Fresno’s road diet promotion.

  • kiel, that website appears to have last been updated on 17 March 2010. So as far as bike advocacy goes, it’s pretty bad. It’s not just bikes, it’s urban planning in general. With the exception of the save the fulton mall folks, there’s nothing.

    And bike master plans mean nothing when there is no commitment to actually implementing them. That fact that shaw and blackstone were both repaved and re striped this year with 12 foot lanes, and no bike lanes (and a parking area that almost never gets used) says a lot.

  • jass, as one of the leaders of the Save the Fulton Mall movement, thank you for following that effort.

    There is much work to still be done and some passionate Fresnans are working hard on those issues.

    If you aren’t involved already, I would encourage you to get involved and make the change you want to see. Let me know if you want to meet up and make things happen.

  • David Lighthall

    Jass is like a lot of progressives in Fresno, especially those who have been here a long time. Their ability to discern real change has atrophied from years of disappointment. So they focus on whatever vestiges of the old order that they can still point to, and ignore the overwhelming evidence of real change. As a bike advocate (past chair of the FCBC) I can speak for all of my colleagues–we do in fact exist and we are, with help from folks like Bryan Jones in the Swearingen city hall, making real change happen, street by street. The key to all of this was a significant biking and trail earmark in Measure C, a local transportation assessment passed several years ago. A concerted, coordinated effort by a coalition of green organizations, including the FCBC, made that earmark possible. These Measure C funds made the bike master plan possible. So I would invite Jass to get off his ass and stop whinging.

  • Daniel

    I’m skeptical of the bike master plan mainly because the way it’s been talked about is a little fantastical. Biking in fresno can be improved, especially in targeted neighborhoods, but on a city wide scale I don’t see having bike lanes, for instance on blackstone or shaw, being of much utility. I think that the supporters of this need to be EXTREMELY careful on how they spend the earmarked money and talk about the plan or it could really hurt the credibility of people trying to improve QOL.

    Also, it’s not a very good to compare the amount of miles of bike lanes built in Fresno to most other cities considering Fresno is probably 20 times less dense then cities like SF.

    The truth of the matter is that trying to make fresno into a “biking city” is probably not ever going to happen, that doesn’t mean neighborhoods or certain streets can’t be improved, but it’s important to have reasonable goals.

  • Thanks for covering this! As a resident and bike rider in Fresno I’m pretty proud and appreciative of all the work on the bike master plan by our city officials.

  • kiel, the thing is, I travel a lot, so I compare the advocacy in a city the size of Fresno with cities of similar population elsewhere, and the difference is enormous.

    David, I look down the street and I see bulldozers getting ready for yet another subdivision and I wonder what you mean by “old order”. It appears that the same kind of development from yesterday is what Fresno is building for tomorrow.

    I’ve yet to hear of a single group who has protested the widening of the 180 from nowhere to nowhere, and yet people line up to protest the HSR plan for the same reason. As for bikes, the new 180 off ramps (and the newly widened 41 off ramps) manage to make pedestrian and bike access even worse. And it seemed almost impossible to make it worse.

    It seems like measure c money is all being spent on highways, not bike trails. And the little money that is spent on bike trails appears to be of the kind that gets bikes away from cars. The fresno-clovis rail trail for example has a bunch of million-dollar underpasses. A great way to keep bikes out of sight and out of mind. I have family that have lived here for 15+ years and they didn’t know the trail existed even though they drive over it every day.

    Also the fact that Fresno has a new master plan means nothing. Load up the old master plan from a couple of decades ago and tell me how much of that happened.

    I’m not saying that nothing is happening (like the new bike lanes downtown) but in comparison to other cities, and to how Fresno is spending money elsewhere, it’s absolutely nothing.

    Note: I include clovis with the use of the word fresno.

  • Wow, I’m impressed. Despite the comments above from the locals – we in Oakland have miles of over capacity roadways and we are moving at a snails pace to make any change there – thou the council just approved 2 miles of bike lanes on Webster/Franklin this week.

    And to have the city’s traffic engineer be on board, or be a champion? Kudos, we have a long, long way to go.