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Merced bike path future uncertain

Ruben Cisneros, 63, of Merced walks along the Rascal Bike Path on a chilly Monday, like he does many days. The city might have to abandon plans to lengthen a portion of the path, because it has failed to get environmental clearance.
Ruben Cisneros, 63, of Merced walks along the Rascal Bike Path on a chilly Monday, like he does many days. The city might have to abandon plans to lengthen a portion of the path, because it has failed to get environmental clearance. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Merced may have to abandon plans to lengthen a portion of a bike path because it infringes on the environment of raptors along Bear Creek, according to city staff.

The recommendation comes as difficult news for a city that prides itself on its biking options. So, Merced City Council has decided to “put some pressure” on local representatives in Sacramento, according to Councilman Mike Murphy.

“This would be a real treasure for this part of the city,” he said last week. “This is something that’s solvable.”

The city has a $205,000 grant for planning to lengthen and connect its bike paths. The idea is to connect the Rascal Bike Path, which is near Buena Vista Drive, with the Michael O. Sullivan Bike Path behind Walmart. But, the plan to stretch the path down to 16th Street hasn’t won the necessary environmental clearance to cross Bear Creak.

This would be a real treasure for this part of the city. This is something that’s solvable.

Councilman Mike Murphy

John Sagin, the city’s senior architect, said the grant for the early portion of the work will expire in June. The money comes from the state Department of Transportation as part of funds to improve air quality.

Sagin recommended the city give up on adding the path south of the creek, saying staff could try to add the southern section in the future. “If not, the grants will lapse and we’ll lose all the funding,” he said.

To put in the bike path, crews would remove vegetation and trees that are considered habitat for birds. Sagin said the city has done five studies in attempts to win approval, and he has his doubts about persuading Caltrans to change its mind.

“This has been four years and we haven’t gotten them to move an inch,” he said. “I’m not optimistic. Let’s put it that way.”

The city has a $205,000 grant aimed at the planning stage of lengthening and connecting the bike paths.

The council voted unanimously to hold off on abandoning the southern section of the plans. The members are set to discuss it again at the Dec. 21 meeting.

In 2013, the city approved its Bicycle Transportation Plan, which includes more than 100 projects and the addition of dozens of miles of bike paths and lanes.

The city is counting on improved transportation projects, such as the bike plan, to account for about 22 percent of the forecast 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.

Along with air quality, increasing bike lanes and paths promotes fitness in Merced, experts have said.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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