A bridge too narrow

Last month the Chico City Council found itself trying to legislate morality with a proposed ban on public nudity. The effort failed on a 3-4 vote. This week the council made an attempt at legislating common courtesy and succeeded, at least in taking some action.

At issue is the pedestrian/bicycle bridge that crosses Chico Creek at One Mile in Lower Bidwell Park. For the past 10 years a sign has asked bicycle riders to “please” walk their bikes across the bridge. It said “please” because there is no way to enforce such a request—the bridge is part of a Class I bicycle path, and bikers have a right to pedal their way across.

In the 10 years since the bridge was made an interim part of the path, bikers and pedestrians have occasionally bumped into one another. On other occasions, pedestrians would accost bicyclists and tell them to dismount, or bikers would yell at pedestrians to get out of the way.

The bridge is 5 feet, 3 inches wide; by state standards a Class I bike-path bridge should be 8 feet wide. So recently some bikers asked that the sign be changed to allow bikers to cross without climbing off their bikes. And it was, to read “Narrow bridge—use caution.”

Complicating the matter is a city law that outlaws loitering on the bridge, which means those who stop to watch the water flow over the dam are in fact breaking the law, but pedaling bikers are not.

Four members of the council audience gave testimony that the bridge was an accident waiting to happen.

Lynn Calaway complained that in recent years she had been forced to “scramble and dodge” junior high and high school kids, mostly male, who questioned her right to use the bridge.

“If I see a bicycle in that area I am afraid to get on that bridge until they are all gone,” she told the council. “It is just plain crazy there now.”

Dave Ward, a former member of the Parks Commission, had made a video over a course of a weekend to illustrate the problem. The council’s Internal Affairs Committee viewed it, and a member of that body, Steve Bertagna, said he’d seen the tape and “the only problem were the bicycle enthusiasts.”

Councilmember Coleen Jarvis pointed out that, because of the Class I designation, “we have no legal requirement that [bikes] should be walked.”

Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan opined that the council was trying to “legislate common courtesy and common sense.”

“No sign,” he said, “is going to dictate behavior.”

Ward countered, “If common sense and courtesy were the issue, we wouldn’t be here tonight.”

So the council—with Mayor Maureen Kirk in absentia touring China (though not on a bike)—voted 6-0 to change the sign again, this time to read “Please walk bikes when people on bridge,” and send the matter back to Internal Affairs for further study.

In the meantime, on Nov. 6 the Parks Commission is scheduled to explore funding sources to build another bridge for bicyclists downstream from the existing bridge. But that will take at least two years to complete.

Until that is done, the City Council can only hope that pedestrians and bikers, showing the same cooperation as the normally fractured council, can use the bridge in passing harmony.