Visalia council OKs cross-town bike path on Tulare Avenue

City plans to remove parking along Tulare Avenue to create a 4-mile bike lane separated from traffic between Roeben and Santa Fe streets

VISALIA – Children at six schools, families living along a busy roadway and those without cars wanting to commute to work may look at Tulare Avenue as their preferred path through town in the coming years.

At its April 5 meeting, the Visalia City Council authorized staff to move forward on a project to building a protected bike lane, separate from the street, on Tulare Avenue from Roeben Street to Santa Fe Street. Civil engineer Chantha Chap said the $5.2 million project wouldn’t cost the city anything as most of it will be paid for with $2.3 million in Gas Tax funds and $2.9 million in federal surface transportation program (STP) funding. No local revenue sources will be used to fund the project which will convert on-street parking stalls to a Class IV bike lane along the 4-mile stretch of Tulare Avenue.

“It’s just moving the bike lane closer to the curb,” Chap said. “This bike concept has proven to improve safety and increase ridership.”

Engineer Diego Corvera said the bike path has several benefits for the city. The most immediate benefit is repairing sidewalks and filling in the gaps for sidewalks in the area. The project also provides an east-west corridor for the city’s network of bike paths and ties in with the city’s primary north-south bike corridor on Santa Fe, which will eventually extend through downtown and connect with the St. John’s Trail. There are six schools on Tulare Avenue so the putting a bike path there would likely qualify the city for a variety of Safe Routes to Schools projects for future crosswalks and pedestrian improvements. And buffering the bike lane from traffic increases its safety rating and improves the city’s chances of getting Active Transportation Program funding from CalTrans for future projects.

“I think this has a lot of positives,” Councilmember Greg Collins said. “I was somewhat amazed at the number of schools along this route. Six is fairly substantial. And Tulare is sort of right down the middle of the community in east-west fashion.”

The bike lane will be five feet wide with a three-foot buffer from Roeben to Woodland. Tulare Avenue narrows at Woodland through Santa Fe so on-street parking will have to be removed from the south side of roadway. A parking study conducted by the city showed on average there were only between 42 to 82 parking stalls in use throughout the day out of a possible 794 stalls, or about 10.3%. The improved bike lane will reduce the number of stalls by 177, or about 22.3% of the nearly 800 stalls. If only 10% of stalls are being used, staff predicts the reality will feel like there are only 18 fewer parking stalls on the roadway. There will be some issues at the intersections of Central, Giddings and Encina streets.

Vice mayor Phil Cox asked if Tulare would be too narrow from Woodland to Santa Fe.

Public works director Nick Mascia said traffic lanes along that stretch of Tulare Avenue are 12 feet wide and would only lose one foot of space. He said this will have the added benefit of slowing traffic as parked cars are closer to lanes of traffic.

“Really, you’re taking that one step further to making it a complete street,” Mascia said.

Councilmember Brett Taylor said this was a good opportunity to improve bicycle safety near schools but questioned if there were enough students riding their bikes to school and if enough community members would ride their bikes down Tulare Avenue. If bicycling trends continue to decline, Taylor asked if the project could be undone. Chap said most of the project is just striping, so all the city would have to do is grind off the paint, put a seal over roadway and then restripe it for parking.

Taylor then seconded a motion by Councilmember Brian Poochigian to move forward with the project. The motion passed unanimously.

“Nowadays, you just don’t see [people riding bikes] a whole lot, but maybe it is because of safety,” Taylor said. “So this could definitely open up the opportunity to allow more people to ride their bikes to school and to work.”

A public survey was mailed out to people living in the area on April 8 and will be returned in 10 days. The city will then hold a workshop on May 12 before the plan returns to the council for final approval on June 7.

“I’m anxious to hear with the citizens along Tulare Avenue have to say about it as far as lost parking but I think it gives us a definite safe route to school concept,” Mayor Steve Nelsen said.

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