Visalia council pedals ahead with safer bike lane project along Tulare Avenue

Council received presentation on feedback from public opinion survey, workshop, moves forward with Class IV bike lane project for Tulare Avenue

VISALIA – The Visalia City Council received a presentation at the June 7 council meeting on the proposed bike lane updates spanning Tulare Avenue, with the goal of providing a safer environment to get more Visalians out on bicycles. 

The project would span from Roeben Street to Santa Fe Street along Tulare Avenue and would provide a class IV bike lane separated from traffic with a buffer zone with some street parking in between the bike lane buffer zone and street traffic. Mayor Steve Nelsen said he’s in favor of making Tulare Avenue’s bike lane as safe as possible for cyclists. 

“I don’t think you can put a price tag on the safety of a cyclist or a human life,” Nelsen said. “I think if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Let’s figure out what it’s going to take and make it happen.” 

Council Member Poochigian thought class IV bike lanes might only be needed east of Woodland Street as he believed that section of Tulare Avenue was already safe enough, and might be unnecessary spending. But the project would not impact the city’s budget as it’s covered by state grant funding, and staff assured the council the cost of class IV bike lanes east of Woodland Street would be less than half a percent increase on the entire project cost.

Diego Corvera, an associate engineer with the city of Visalia, said postcards were sent to 2173 homes directly impacted by the potential project to complete the public opinion survey. The survey garnered about a 4% response rate at 89 responses.

Of those surveyed, over 50% agreed or strongly agreed with the project, just shy of 15% were neutral and under a third were opposed to the project. Traffic safety was the primary concern for residents who did not bike on Tulare Avenue.

“We can infer from this that there’s a potential ridership increase due to the improvement of traffic safety, which is really the goal here with this project,” Corvera said.

Loss of street parking was a concern for the council, staff and survey and workshop participants. Six schools span the reach of the proposed bike lane project on Tulare Avenue, and two of them stand to lose all their street parking—12 spots at Divisadero Middle School and 43 at Mt. Whitney High School—albeit all six have their own parking lots.

The city completed a parking study on six different dates from January through March 2021—for which the city acknowledged the numbers may not be accurate since the study was done during the winter surge and shutdown of the pandemic—from which they were able to deduce that only 18 of the 177 parking spots that would be lost from the project were actually being utilized. East of Woodland Avenue is where Tulare Avenue is narrower, and consequently is where the heaviest parking impact is taking place.

13 residents also attended the May 12 public workshop to give comments and feedback on the proposed project, where Corvera said some residential quality-of-life questions were brought up.

“Something that came up a lot was the entering and leaving driveways and concerns of sight distance along Tulare Avenue, which right now is an issue,” Corvera said. “We did tell them that in our design process with this, we would like to put a five to 10-foot buffer between the driveway where a car could park. This would offer some sight distance for entering and exiting their driveway.”

Corvera also said the narrowing of lanes will have a traffic calming effect, and the slower-moving traffic will help facilitate safer ingress and egress into the roadway. Property values were another concern of workshop participants, to which the city and Hopper Company, a local appraisal firm, concluded that bike lane projects have yet to show a positive or negative effect on property values.

What has yet to be hashed out is how trash pickup and street sweeping will be handled with the new class IV bike lanes and parking blocking off a significant portion of the street.

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