Cycling as the Ultimate Clean Air Commute

On September 23, the Local Government Commission held a workshop designed to advance bicycling in the Capital Region as a serious form of transportation, beneficial to health, air quality and congestion relief. Elected officials, city managers, transportation and community planners, bicycle enthusiasts, transit authorities, and public health specialists, among others, gathered in Sacramento to discuss the many benefits and a few challenges related to bicycling as a form of transportation.

The morning plenary session included a conversation with local, regional, and state leaders about current opportunities and obstacles for bicycling. Executive director of the Sacramento Council of Governments (SACOG), Mike McKeever, noted that bicycling is a serious form of transportation that provides benefits to health, air quality and congestion relief. Every four years, SACOG develops the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP). An MTP is a long-range (at least 20-year) regional plan for transportation projects, such as bikeways, roads, sidewalks, and transit. In the 2016 draft MTP, which is currently available for public comment, McKeever called out that there is a 60% increase in funds dedicated to active transportation such as adding bike lanes and walkways for pedestrians. Increasingly, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways are becoming part of an integrated transportation plan. Malcolm Dougherty, director of the California Department of Transportation, referenced that Caltrans’ strategic plan for 2015 – 2020 includes a goal to triple bike trips by 2020. This is a particularly noteworthy goal for Caltrans, according to Dougherty, given that Caltrans is an organization that has been solely dedicated to managing highways in the past.

From a local government perspective, a panel discussion featured Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, City of West Sacramento; Council Member Steve Hansen, City of Sacramento; and Vice Mayor David Sander, City of Rancho Cordova. Throughout the panel, moderated by Mike McKeever, these local elected officials shared their perspective on the infrastructure improvements that would support cycling in their jurisdictions and some of the challenges they see.

In the Capital Region, some of the challenges sited include geographic barriers such as rivers that can only be crossed in locations not-always convenient for bike trips and a transportation system designed and built specifically for the mono-culture of the automobile. The top 2 barriers to bicycling, identified in a Community & Transportation Preferences Survey of U.S. Metro Areas by the National Association of REALTORS and the University of Portland in July 2015, are reflective of this car-centric culture. When asked what keeps people from biking more, 51% stated the need for a vehicle to get to work, school or other destination; and 49% stated the places they need to go are too far to bike. The third highest barrier noted in the survey was lack of access to a bike (47%), followed by not feeling safe while biking due to traffic (41%) and too few bike lanes or trails (38%).

As the Capital Region continues to advance toward a bike-friendly culture, these challenges will need to be addressed through strategic investments in active transportation and in thoughtful, integrated plans for land-use, transportation and housing in order to unleash the health and environmental benefits of cycling as a form of transportation.

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