Let’s make The Esplanade a ‘complete street’

Looking at the whole picture when considering changes to Chico’s favorite boulevard

The author is the executive director of bicycle-advocacy nonprofit Chico Velo and a Chico resident.

The list of improvements from the Esplanade Corridor Safety Study should be considered as a whole, not as a laundry list to pick and choose from. Some options, like achieving ADA compliance, may seem more palatable to the community than others, such as roundabouts, unsynchronized lights or a separated bikeway, but we should strive to make The Esplanade a “complete street” that serves the needs of all users.

The notion of complete streets helps us look through a wider lens than just one set of users (whether motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians) to see the whole picture. Our streets are our largest pool of public space, and we have choices about how they work for us. Transportation data from 2013 reveal that vehicle accidents claimed the lives of nearly 33,000 people in the U.S.

Streets can be optimized to move high volumes of automobiles quickly or to be safe places for people and vital community connectors, but not both. Those who don’t bike might question why we need better bike facilities, but as part of a complete-street solution, a separated bikeway on The Esplanade will contribute positively to everyone.

In addition to improving bicyclist safety, bikeways lower the speed of vehicles by narrowing traffic lanes. They protect pedestrians by giving bicyclists a designated lane off the sidewalk. They increase revenue for local businesses by increasing slow-moving traffic past storefronts and raise property values (both residential and commercial).

Finally, a separated bikeway on The Esplanade will encourage more people to give bicycling a try, improving their health as well as reducing vehicle congestion and improving our air quality. Nationally, 50 percent of trips are under 3 miles and are easily managed by biking or walking, but fewer than 2 percent of people currently make that choice.

In Chico, our wonderful weather and geography offer even more opportunities for bicycling. We don’t need to be afraid of safety-related improvements; we should instead embrace a variety of safe and healthy transportation options and make The Esplanade enjoyable for all.