Beloved street needs upgrades

The Esplanade’s dated, unsafe infrastructure poses a liability to the city

We love The Esplanade. We love the historic homes and other buildings that line it, including the old Veterans Memorial Hall, where the Museum of Northern California Art (monca) soon will be opening its doors. And we especially love driving down the roadway, beneath its canopy of trees. The street is one of the most scenic and iconic parts of Chico, and we certainly wouldn’t want the city to damage its character.

But The Esplanade’s infrastructure needs upgrading (see Robert Speer’s report on page 16), especially as it relates to the portions of the roadway that have become dangerous to navigate. There are a number of fixes for the issues plaguing Chico’s beloved boulevard, including providing signals that have a countdown for pedestrians. Right now, the lights do not have that feature, nor do they allow enough time for folks to get all the way across.

That’s because the street’s signals were configured back in the 1950s, when Chico was a small town and infrastructure was designed for vehicles. Half a century ago, it was a great idea to time the lights so that motorists holding a steady speed of 28 mph could get down the entire boulevard without breaking. Nowadays, however, that doesn’t work.

Today, more and more drivers use The Esplanade, but so too do pedestrians and bicyclists, and the fact is, the street isn’t safe for them. Next week, the City Council will discuss a proposal to make smart, sensible changes to Chico’s favorite thoroughfare. It includes not only features for pedestrians but also cyclists, including a dedicated bike lane on the old railroad right-of-way.

We believe the safety features can be implemented without harming the character of The Esplanade. It’s time to bring the boulevard into the 21st century.