Downtown Merced is home to 52 new bike racks this week after city workers finished installing them Wednesday, and two of those racks replaced car parking stalls on Main Street.
In recent years, air quality grants have made it increasingly easier to get around Merced on a bicycle. This week, thanks to about $37,000 in state Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality cash, the city added racks on Main, Canal and 18th streets, according to city staff.
Some people downtown were left scratching their heads as to why two bike racks would take up parking stalls on Main Street, but others were happy to see the convenience for cyclists.
Dan Verechia, 35, locked his bike to one of the new inverted U-shaped racks at Main and Canal streets on Wednesday. He said the racks convinced him that cycling will be his preferred transportation in the future. “I was just thinking that next time I’m downtown – for Art Hop or something – I’ll just ride my bike,” he said.
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John Sagin, the city’s senior architect, said the grant allowed the city to replace existing racks and add new ones in several places. The bike racks come in a few shapes.
The two bike racks in the former parking stalls sit in front of J&R Tacos and Coffee Bandits. Those two are larger than the other racks, and barriers will be added to attempt to keep cars from hitting the racks or bikes there.
Kurt Winbigler, co-owner of Coffee Bandits, said his business sees a fair amount of cyclists stop in, and he’d hoped the city could accommodate those riders. On the other hand, he said, he already gets complaints about a lack of places to park cars.
“I guess I’m kind of torn, because I like bike parking,” he said. “I question putting it in the street.”
The decision to take up the parking stalls was necessary because those bike racks are so large, said City Manager John Bramble. Putting the larger rack on the sidewalk could affect compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said, adding that there are large parking lots on either side of Main Street that are not often full.
The city has made an effort in recent years to get people to ride bikes around town, in an attempt to get them to be healthier and to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Claudia Corchado, a Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program manager, applauded the city’s effort to give people more opportunities and incentives for being active. “We’d really like the city of Merced to have a culture of walking more and riding their bikes,” she said.
She noted that Merced has a network of bike lanes that makes riding a bike a legitimate option in a city that’s “not that big.” She said the next step is for drivers to be aware of riders and walkers, making it safe to get around outside a car.
According to the Merced County Public Health Department, 40.9 percent of the children in Merced are overweight, and 3 out of 4 adults in the county are obese.
Lisa Kayser-Grant, a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Commission, said the commission was involved in picking the types of racks installed downtown. She said the right kind of racks let a bike stand up on its own and allow a rider to lock up all parts of the bike.
She said the new racks should allow people to secure bikes out of the way of pedestrians, and she hopes the corrals in the street will encourage riders to stay off the sidewalks.
Also a member of the Merced Bicycle Coalition, Kayser-Grant said regular cyclists in Merced are made up of those who are committed to living without a car, as well as those who can’t afford a car. The racks make everyday transportation more convenient.
“There are lots of people for whom a bicycle is going to be the only transportation option,” she said.