Visalia wheels toward bike lane improvements

Bike lane improvements on two Visalia intersections will expand County Center Drive roadway,  anticipated to start in January

VISALIA – Opting to walk or bicycle instead of taking a drive is an efficient way to cut down on vehicle gas emission, and the city hopes to encourage eco-friendly alternatives amongst residents by making improvements to city bike lanes.

The county center drive rehabilitation project would enhance existing bike lanes along North County Center Street by making them safer for pedestrian use and encouraging non-vehicular travel. The enhancements will be made on the intersections on West Ferguson Avenue and West Riggin Avenue in Visalia. Nearing its final stages before it’s planned to go to construction, the project’s framework was approved by Visalia City Council in a unanimous vote on Nov. 7 and could come back to council depending on community feedback.

The project would upgrade the County Center Drive roadway to meet class IV classifications, which would bring an eight-foot, green lane to the roadway with a seven to eight-foot buffer separating it from traffic. It would also add texture to the road with protective tactile treatments, similar to speed bumps, along the intersection’s turning points to keep vehicles in their lanes and slow down turning movements at intersections. As it exists now, County Center Drive is a two-lane collector roadway, which means it connects major and minor roads. The roadway also currently has class II bike lanes, which are the typical white-striped bike lanes found along the road.

“The corridor itself has many, various destinations that the community would benefit from,” City of Visalia civil engineer Diego Corvera said. “Developing a robust corridor that’s multi-modal can give folks options of non-vehicular travel to parks, to schools as well as to shopping [centers].”

Advantages of the upgraded intersections include a better visual of pedestrians and bikers for drivers as well as the slowing down of conflict points that typically occur during turning movements for motorists and bicyclists. It would also provide more of a separation between bicyclists and drivers, providing some more protection for pedestrians.

The project is outlined to begin sometime in January. It is primarily a pavement rehabilitation project that will remove existing asphalt and replace it. The project also includes drainage improvements, the reconstruction of some curb returns to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a restriping of the roadway.

In order for the bike lane to function optimally, all on-street parking along County Center Drive, between Riggin Avenue and Houston Avenue, will need to be removed. However, according to the staff report, a parking survey was conducted over the span of two weeks to review the number of cars parked along the roadway. It was observed that of the 433 of the available parking spaces on the street, six to 11 vehicles were consistently parked there.

The County Center Drive Rehabilitation project would utilize $2.2 million in funds from Measure N, a half-cent sales tax that addresses public safety services, repair and maintenance for streets and roads in Visalia. The measure also addresses the maintenance of city parks and trails. According to Corvera, funds for the project paired with its conventional construction would only allow two-thirds of the corridor to be rehabilitated.

“Because it is a 60-foot wide roadway, to build that out in its full thickness for vehicle traffic, we cannot complete it with just $2.2 million,” Corvera said.

To ensure all expenses are covered, which have already been cut down to preserve funds, staff recommended an appropriation from the city’s Gas Tax funds in the amount of an additional $166,000 to fund components for the bike lane. According to the staff report, the extra funding would cover the cost of green paint to distinguish the bike lane, road delineators to separate it from traffic and cover the cost of additional road striping.

According to Corvera, the state of California is moving toward active transportation arrangements, with an emphasis on the movement of people and goods without the use of motorized vehicles. He said there has also been a push for new designs on road infrastructures, which should be built for people of all ages and abilities.

“It’s [incentive] for us, as a city, to stay competitive and ensure that we have opportunities for future grant funding to incorporate accurate transportation and all-ages approach in local projects,” Corvera said.

The next steps for the project include city staff reaching out for local community feedback by sending out mailers. If community responses are positive, staff plans to proceed with the design as it is proposed and will not return to council for further consideration. If community feedback is negative, staff will return to council with the results and allow them to weigh in on the responses and decide on the best course of action going forward.

The enhanced bicycle facilities are not only in effort to improve bike lanes in the city, but to fulfill the implementation of goals in the city’s Active Transportation Plan (ATP), complete streets policy – which requires all regionally funded roadway projects to consider accommodating people who use methods of travel like biking and walking – and address the reduction of vehicle miles traveled in the city.

ATP was brought about by Senate Bill 99, passed in 2021, to encourage using active modes of transportation like walking and biking instead of utilizing vehicles. ATP was adopted by the city in March 2017 and lists goals of: increasing the proportion of trips taken by biking and walking; increasing the safety and mobility of those without motorized vehicles; and enhancing public health by reducing childhood obesity through the use of funding from programs like Safe Routes to School (SRTS), according to the staff report.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, SRTS aims to promote walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education and incentives that would encourage walking and bicycling to school.

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