Parking or bike lanes? City puts off decision

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMay 21, 2013 

— City officials looked to the City Council for direction Monday night as they continue to fine tune a plan to make about 10 miles of roads in south and central Merced more bike friendly.

At a council meeting in April, several council members voiced concerns with the proposed use of "sharrows" on Childs Avenue because of the heavy traffic in the area.

Sharrows, typically painted arrows, signal drivers that they must share the road with bicyclists. They're used when a road is too narrow for a bike lane.

The city suggested that bike lanes be used instead of sharrows on Childs Avenue. However, this would require eliminating parking on both sides of the street, affecting roughly 33 residences, and possibly visitors to the county fairgrounds. All the homes on Childs Avenue have parking on the lots.

After some debate and little consensus, the City Council instructed staff on Monday to hold off on doing anything on Childs.

"Childs still scares me," said Mayor Stan Thurston. "Anything on Childs scares me."

Bike lanes and sharrows are designed to increase safety, but the law already requires drivers to share the road with bicyclists, said Councilman Bill Blake.

"I think they're using Childs anyway," he said. "I think they're more at risk without the benefit of sharrows. It will make the drivers more aware."

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling called for removing the parking spaces.

"I think this is really important in terms of improving our (bicycle) infrastructure in the city," she said. "Major routes like Childs Avenue are used. I think that personally the safest thing we can do is to create a safe space for them, which is a lane."

Councilman Josh Pedrozo argued that removing the parking could be disruptive to families in the area and for those visiting the fairgrounds.

"I think there's more at stake with not allowing the parking in front of those homes," he said. "I don't think that's a good idea to stop the flow and not allow people to park in front of their homes."

The council agreed to put off the decision on Childs until 30 days after the striping project had been completed on other roadways around the city.

The city has slowly improved its bicycle infrastructure over recent months, but this project would be the biggest to date. Officials said there are more bike-friendly projects scheduled over the next four years.

Bike lanes and markings are planned for M, G, R, Eighth and 11th streets, as well as West and Childs avenues.

The striping project is a part of the 2013 Bicycle Transportation Plan update, which is being prepared by the Merced Planning Department and the Bicycle Advisory Commission. The plan is to serve as a template for all cities in the area.

The bike-lane project will be ready for bids next week. Construction could start by summer and be completed by the end of the year. The city received a Caltrans grant of about $247,000 to create the bike plan. The city is required to put about $32,000 toward the project.


New bike lanes

Locations of proposed bicycle marking, according to city planning officials:

• Grogan Avenue between the Merced Airport and West Avenue would be striped for bike lanes.

• West Avenue between Childs Avenue and 11th Street would be marked for bike lanes and sharrows.

• R Street between Childs Avenue and 19th Street would be striped for bike lanes.

• M Street between Childs Avenue and 21st Street would be marked for bike lanes and sharrows.

• G Street between Childs Avenue and 21st Street would be marked for bike lanes and sharrows.

• 11th Street between West Avenue and D Street would be marked for bike lanes and sharrows.

• Eighth Street between West Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way would be marked for sharrows.

Bike lanes are designated by painted lines that separate bicycles from motor vehicle traffic. Sharrows are painted arrows that signal the shared use of a lane by bicycles and motor vehicles.

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

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