Fresno is asking for public comments on the “Trail Network Expansion Feasibility Plan”

The City of Fresno recently published their draft (PDF) of the “Trail Network Expansion Feasibility Plan,” and they are looking for public comments until November 12, 2019.

According to the city:

The Fresno Trail Network Expansion Feasibility Plan (Plan) builds on the City of Fresno’s efforts to develop the Class I bikeway (trails) network proposed in the adopted 2016 Fresno Active Transportation Plan. The goal of the project is to prioritize all planned but currently unfunded trails, to select five corridors, roughly five miles in length, and to develop concept designs and analyze the feasibility for the five selected corridors. The resulting recommendations will help the City begin to build out its trail network.

City of Fresno

Comments should be sent to PublicCommentsDPW@fresno.gov before 5pm on November 12th.

What is in the Trail Network Expansion Feasibility Plan?

The first part of the report is about how trails should be prioritized. The report goes into detail on the various factors that go into the analysis, including history of crashes, potential to reduce emissions, socio-economics of the community, and proximity to schools and transit.

100 points are available, and they are divided as follows:

  • 5 points for ADA access
  • 18 if the project is located within severely disadvantaged census tract
  • 5 if a high priority in the Active Transportation Plan.
  • 2 if area has low car ownership
  • 3 fills a network gap in bike facilities
  • 15 for direct access to schools
  • 4 if near public transit
  • 6 if near park
  • 6 if near “regional destination”
  • 2 fixes gap in future bike network
  • 2 for land use
  • 20 if location is near a recent fatality
  • 4 for length
  • 7 for greenhouse gas emission reduction
  • 4 if population near project is over 30k

In other words, the major factors are if the area is low-income, if there was a recent fatality, and if there’s a school nearby.

What’s missing for the analysis is anything about area bicycle stress level. Only 6 points are assigned if the trail connects with jobs. Only 3 points if it fills a gap in the network.

The end result of that analysis is this prioritization map:

Which in turn resulted in these five projects being recommended:

• A trail along the Herndon Canal in the Ashlan/West
neighborhood
• Three in Southwest Fresno: along Merced Street and
Thorne Avenue, connecting to Kearney Boulevard, and
short segments on Church and Jensen Streets

I am not a fan of this result.

Does the southwest part of town need investment? Absolutely. The reason these projects ranked so high is because that is a low-income part of town that needs serious help.

But it’s also the least populated and least busy. That is, it’s the easiest place to ride on the roadway because the roads are all empty!

In my opinion, the trails that should be prioritized are those near the busiest corridors. Ie, Blackstone, which is packed with jobs people are trying to get to, but is much too dangerous to ride a bicycle on. Or Clovis Avenue, where the very popular Old Town Trail ends at the Fresno border.

Unfortunately, the prioritization metrics they came up with did not provide a list of projects that will be well used. Shouldn’t that be a major factor in the analysis?

Can anyone look at this map and seriously pretend a trail would be well used? Of course not, but a few boxes were checked, including proximity to a school and park.

The proposed trails

Especially wasteful is the proposed trail along Kearney. Kearney already has 6-foot bicycle lanes in each direction AND frontage roads with minimal traffic.

Take this section here, which is the north frontage road, looking west next to Chandler Airport.

The center road has one lane in each direction, with bicycle lanes. Speed limit is 40mph, which is uncomfortable. But right next to this is a frontage road which nobody has any reason to drive on.

Here’s an idea: put up a sign that says bike trail and you have a perfectly functional bicycle facility built for $25.

Instead they want to create a trail on the south side, and spend $3,135,700 to do so.

How on earth is THIS a priority?

It turns out “maximize miles of safe bicycle paths using limited funding” wasn’t part of the prioritization metric.

One benefit of 4/5 trails being in the same area is that they sort of create a network.

The proposed trails

One thing that’s missing is any connection to the outside world. No trails to downtown Fresno. No trails to jobs.

What about future development in the area? Well, that development should pay for bicycle infrastructure within the existing roadway right-of-ways, similar to how the Copper River development resulted in a trail along Copper Avenue.

The trail proposed along the Herndon Canal makes the most sense to me. It is in a high density area, cuts across the street network, and links to destinations.

Unfortunately, problems crop up here as well. The report says the south side would be best. However:

The City met with Fresno Irrigation District (FID) to discuss the alignment, and FID reported that they use the south side of the canal for maintenance activities. Their preference is for the trail to be on the north side.

And that’s that. Instead of working with the Fresno Irrigation District to see if they can use the north side for maintenance, the sub-standard trail with no amenities will be on the north. Great. That introduced difficulties with crossing Ashlan and West Avenues, because the south side is closer to the intersection.

To be fair, maybe capitulating to the Fresno Irrigation District makes sense. It is their fault that a series of trails that “broke ground” a few years ago haven’t been built yet. Clearly, they rather throw up roadblock after roadblock that serve the people of Fresno. I took some photos of the lack of progress in 2017. This Fresno Bee article asked why nothing had been done in 2018.

Remember the Midtown Trail? In June 2016, on a sweltering afternoon, former Mayor Ashley Swearengin stood at a podium to announce the creation of a 7.1-mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway through central Fresno starting near the Manchester Center. Eventually, the Midtown Trail would connect with the Old Town Clovis Trail to form a 17-mile semi-circle friendly for both recreation and bike commuting.

What’s the hold up?

I’ve spent some time trying to answer that question. After doing so, I’m left with the impression the Midtown Trail, as well as several others utilizing Fresno’s canal banks, will eventually get built. When? It’s an open question.

Construction was slated to begin last fall. Except negotiations between the city and the Fresno Irrigation District, which owns the land where the Midtown Trail and other Class I bike paths will occupy, continue to drag on.

Fresno Bee

Public Outreach

After talking about the selection process, the report continues to talk about public engagement. I think this image speaks for itself.

In a city of 527,438, the consultant group managed to speak to 64 people over the course of 6 meetings.

That’s a pretty big failure.

The report ends with details on each of the five projects, including cost estimates and some sketched-up drawings. They’re worth looking at. And if you see something dumb like this trail roundabout, be sure to let the city know by 5pm on November 12th.

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