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September 18, 2013

Council approves plan to increase Merced bike lanes

The Merced City Council approved the city’s 2013 Bicycle Transportation Plan this week. It calls for more than 100 projects and is supposed to nearly double the miles of paved bike paths.

With more than 100 projects – bicycle lanes, sharrows, paved paths and more – the Merced City Council unanimously approved the 2013 Bicycle Transportation Plan this week.

“Currently, we have 22 miles of existing Class I bike paths,” Councilman Mike Murphy said, referring to paved paths not shared with cars. “The plan calls for 16 additional miles of Class I bike paths. That’s exciting.”

Since 2004, the city has completed 27 bike-related projects. The 2013 plan calls for $2.4 million in funds for the next three years, and 106 projects in five years.

About 47 miles of new Class II bike lanes are written into the plan; the city has almost 30 miles of lanes now. Class II lanes are the most common and recognizable bikeway, the kind that run along a street and are separated by a white line.

Funding for the project will come from many sources, including local (bicycle registration and licensing fees, city of Merced public facilities impact fees), regional (the motor vehicle emission reduction program and Transportation Development Act), state and federal.

The bike plan is updated every five years. Principal planner Bill King said the plan’s most important function is to make the city eligible for California Department of Transportation funding.

Other benefits could include fewer drivers on the road, improved air quality, an increase in exercise and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The city also is counting on improved transportation projects, such as the bike plan, to account for 22 percent of the forecasted reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the city’s 2012 Climate Action Plan.

The bike plan lays out several improvements around Merced College and UC Merced, as well as upgrades in south Merced, downtown and near Golden Valley High.

The plan identified G Street as the best thoroughfare for bikes traveling north or south. Finding such a route was one of the top ten priorities of the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

“G Street not only provides the best current quality of a bike lane, but it provides the most extent (of) connection,” King said, adding that it stretches from Mission Avenue to north of Bellevue Road.

The plan notes that Parsons Avenue eventually could serve a similar purpose as G Street.

The advisory committee’s other top goals in the plan include providing ramps between streets and sidewalks, installing bike parking and signs, as well as educating cyclists and drivers about the bikeways.

For example, sharrows, or shared-lane markings, could be used on low-speed-limit roads too narrow for a bike lane, such as Main Street. The streets, which would get sharrows, would be used equally by cyclists and drivers.

According to the last census, an estimated 373 people in Merced cycle to work. That’s a little more than 1 percent of the work force. That number does not include students riding to school.

Changes to bikeways in Merced could increase daily bike riders by as mush as 699, according to estimates in the plan.

Lisa Kayser-Grant, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Commission and the Merced Bicycle Coalition, said she and the coalition support the plan. She said it lays out achievable goals.

“I think it’s very appropriate to our city,” she said. “It’s not asking for more than we can do.”

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