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Preview of pedestrian-bicyclist plan a curtain call for Swearengin, throwback to Autry era

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The No. 1 rule for walkers and bicyclists is: Pay attention to your surroundings.

The folks in charge of Fresno’s new Active Transportation Plan should have followed their own advice last Thursday.

The scene was City Hall’s Council Chamber. City officials were poised to deliver their latest plan to get Fresnans out of their cars.

And quite a plan it is – a year in the making, 347 pages in length, chock full of recommendations to make strolling and pedaling through our fair city a guaranteed delight.

The City Council was three-and-a-half hours into what would be a nearly six-hour meeting when the agenda came to the transportation plan.

Council President Paul Caprioglio thanked staff and a city-hired consultant for their patience.

“It’s been one of those days,” Caprioglio said with a sigh.

That was a blunt warning about the council’s strained patience, just in case anyone was listening.

The consultant presenting the plan had barely cleared his throat when Council Member Clint Olivier tactfully interrupted him.

“Point of order, Council President,” Olivier said. “I know there are folks out here (in the audience) waiting to speak to different items (on the agenda). I wonder if it’s possible to put this off.”

The council has seldom moved so fast. Caprioglio asked if Olivier’s request was a motion. “Sure,” Olivier said. Council Member Steve Brandau hurried with a second. Caprioglio asked City Attorney Doug Sloan if a vote was even necessary. Sloan said the council president could postpone the item with a simple command if no one on the dais objected.

Caprioglio made lightening-quick glances to his left and his right. Then he looked at the suddenly stricken consultant: “Seeing none – thank you very much.”

Thursday’s meeting being the last of 2016, staff and consultant have no choice but to give it a second try early next year.

Who could blame Olivier and his council colleagues? I watched all ten minutes of the abbreviated presentation. “Boring” is the best I can say for it.

Which is too bad, because I love to walk in Fresno. There’s got to be a way to jazz up a blueprint designed to help people see what I see.

I’m from Lindsay, and I was fortunate to grow up in the 1950s in a town with a simple but effective active transportation plan. It had four rules: 1.) Open front door; 2.) walk through doorway; 3.) close front door; 4.) go.

Fresno’s new Active Transportation Plan (which will be added to the 2035 general plan once it gets council approval) is much more opulent. To implement everything will cost a mere $1.32 billion.

Yes, that’s billion.

The Active Transportation Plan (ATP), it states on page 1, “is a comprehensive guide outlining the vision for active transportation in the City of Fresno, and a roadmap for achieving that vision. The ATP envisions a complete, safe, and comfortable network of trails, sidewalks, and bikeways that serves all residents of Fresno.”

The plan pursues four goals:

1.) “Equitably improve the safety and perceived safety of walking and bicycling in Fresno.”

2.) “Increase walking and bicycling trips in Fresno by creating user-friendly facilities.”

3.) “Improve the geographic equity of access to walking and bicycling facilities in Fresno.”

4.) “Fill key gaps in Fresno’s walking and bicycling networks.”

The last word in No. 4 – “networks” – is the key. All that opportunity for exercise and travel doesn’t work if it’s not connected. Just as important, those networks will be high-profile, thus stigmatizing sloth.

It’s not clear to me exactly how many miles of bike paths are proposed. Bike paths come in all kinds of shapes. We’re most likely looking at well over 1,000 miles of new bike paths if the plan comes true.

Another 661 miles of sidewalks are recommended.

The plan states: “The recommended network also includes several grade-separated crossings of barriers such as freeways, canals, and railroad tracks. The ATP also makes recommendations for bicycle detection at traffic signals, destination signage, bicycle parking, showers and changing facilities, and bikeway maintenance.”

The new ATP is an update of a bicycle/pedestrian/trails plan written in 2010. The current proposal is so ambitious that city officials acknowledge it will be years – make that decades – before everything is done.

Of course, priorities and needs will be completely different in 20 or 30 years. That means the new ATP strongly recommends what should be done quickly.

In other words, during the four or eight years of the Mayor Lee Brand era.

For example, bikeways priorities were based criteria such as 1.) ”proximity to key destinations, including schools, parks, bus stops, and activity centers; 2.) employee density; 3.) low household income; 4.) low vehicle ownership; 5.) proximity to schools with a high share of students eligible for free or reduced priced meals; 6.) level of traffic stress; 7.) public demand.

The ATP’s pedestrian network faces different challenges. For the most part, we’re talking about sidewalks – either the existing sidewalks aren’t good enough or the neighborhood has none.

That Fresno needs more sidewalks is something Mayor Alan Autry and Council Member Henry T. Perea knew all too well more than a decade ago when they created the No Neighborhood Left Behind infrastructure program (it included considerable long-term bond debt).

The ATP recommends these areas for new/more sidewalks and improved pedestrian safety: 1.) Ashlan/41 neighborhood; 2.) Calimyrna neighborhood; 3.) Chestnut/Belmont neighborhood; 4.) Chestnut/Olive neighborhood; 5.) Church/Elm area; 6.) Del Mar neighborhood; 7.) Florence Avenue to Balderas Elementary School; 8.) Herndon/41 neighborhood; 9.) Hidalgo Elementary School neighborhood; 10.) Jane Addams neighborhood; 11.) Maple/Church area; 12.) Muir Elementary School neighborhood; 13.) Norseman Elementary School neighborhood; 14.) North Avenue neighborhood; 15.) Pinedale; 16.) Roeding Park neighborhood; 17.) Scandinavian neighborhood; 18.) West of Edison area; 19.) Yosemite Middle School neighborhood.

The ATP recommends the following improvements in each of the above areas:

1.) Fill-in sidewalk gaps;

2.) Wide sidewalks;

3.) Landscaping to provide shade for pedestrians;

4.) Narrower travel lanes to calm traffic;

5.) Bulb-outs to reduce crossing distances at intersections and marked crosswalks;

6.) ADA-accessible curb ramps;

7.) Crossing treatments, such as RRFBs, Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons, or traffic signals to assist pedestrians 
crossing the street at more frequent intervals;

8.) Median refuge islands, where applicable, to assist in two-stage crossing;

9.) Traffic calming measures, where applicable, to reduce vehicle travel speeds;

10.) Pedestrian signal and timing improvements, where needed

11.) Lighting improvements, where needed.

“These enhancements,” the ATP states, “will better support pedestrian activity and improve pedestrian safety. Some of these enhancements also encourage slower traffic speeds, which will reduce the likelihood and severity of vehicle-pedestrian collisions.”

What about the $1.32 billion price tag for all this and more? The money would come mostly from the sources we’ve come to rely on – government grants and a big percentage of the profits of greedy developers.

Thursday’s council agenda was jammed with important issues. Council members, staff and consultants would have needed a good hour to do justice to a public review of the new Active Transportation Plan. Why did Council President Caprioglio put the ATP on the agenda anyway?

I’m guessing as a show of respect to Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who is termed out on Jan. 3. The ATP was created on her watch. The plan is important to her bigger vision of a revitalized urban core. It’s only right to give the ATP its first public airing, abbreviated though it was, while she is still Fresno’s chief executive.

I called Olivier earlier this week to get the backstory on why, a mere 10 minutes into a 60-minute hearing, he asked Caprioglio to postpone everything for a month.

Olivier said he knew Council Member Esmeralda Soria, who was absent, would want to be present when the vote came. He said some community members wanted more time to discuss the plan with staff. He said the plan is so important that it deserves an unhurried debate.

I believe Olivier. I also suspect he and Caprioglio got together before the meeting and came up with a way to show the council’s high regard in a small but admirable way for one Fresno’s finest mayors as she heads out the door.

If I’m right, then Olivier and “Cap” obeyed the first rule of survival not only for bicyclists and pedestrians, but politicians as well.

Be aware of your surroundings.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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