Merced City Council approves bike-friendly road plan

jsmith@mercedsun-star.comApril 1, 2013 

Merced's push for a more bike-friendly city continues to pick up momentum, as officials roll out a plan to paint bike lanes on about 10 miles roads.

The City Council voted unanimously on Monday to accept a $247,884 Caltrans grant to create bike paths throughout south and central Merced. The city's required matching funds total $32,116.

While the city has been slowly improving its bicycle infrastructure, this project could mark a prominent shift towards promoting the use of bikes in town. "This happens to be many, many, many streets at one time," said John Sagin, principal architect for the city. “It’s fairly significant project. This is one of many projects that’s going to be coming over the next three to four years."

The project will put stripes or shared-road markings, known as "sharrows," on several major streets in south and central Merced. Sharrows are typically painted markings on pavement in the shape of arrows and bicyclist.

Bike lanes and markings are planned for M, G, R, Eighth and 11th streets, as well as West and Childs avenues. "We're stripping and providing better pathways for the bikers to use," Sagin said.

The use of painted sharrows, used when a road is too narrow for a bike lane, would be something new in the city and help connect bike routes. "I think this is really great,” said Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling. "And I think it's important that we spend this type of infrastructure money on this older part of the city."

While the council showed wide support for the project, a few expressed concern about the danger of promoting bike riding on more heavily trafficked roads. "Childs (Avenue) concerns me a little bit," said Councilman Josh Pedrozo. "You're lucky if you’re going to see people only going 35 miles an hour. I have a little concern about the sharrows on that."

It would be better to stripe all of Childs Avenue rather than to have to rely on sharrows, said Councilman Tony Dossetti. "I wouldn’t object to making the whole thing no parking and putting a bike lane in there," he said.

At the same time, the markings will make many streets safer, Rawling said. "Really this doesn't change the law. The bike already has the right to ride on any street. The sharrow just gets the driver's attention."

The project is part of the on-going 2013 Bicycle Transportation Plan update, which is being prepared by the Merced Planning Department and the Bicycle Advisory Commission. The plan, which will serve as a template for all cities in the area, focuses on making bicycle transportation more accessible. "The city's always looking to improve the bike routes and bike ways,” said City Engineer Ken Elwin "It's a quality of life project."

This most recent project will likely go out to bid by mid-May. Construction could start by summer and completed by end of the year. The plan took about three months, costing roughly $50,000, according to city officials.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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