Riding under the radar

Obscure Bicycle Advisory Committee paves the way for cyclists

Ed McLaughlin continues to advocate for cycling projects and safety.

Ed McLaughlin continues to advocate for cycling projects and safety.

photo by Tom Gascoyne

That the city of Chico is a bike-friendly community is no secret. There are currently 61 miles of bike lanes within the city limits and another 150 miles proposed for future construction. The League of American Bicyclists has awarded the city a bronze label for its efforts to encourage bicycling.

But there is an aspect to the city’s efforts that is not widely known: the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC). By the city’s own definition, it exists “to serve as an advisory committee to the City Council on the implementation of the City’s Bike Plan and to promote bicycling and bicycle safety in the community.”

Without the committee (or the Bike Plan adopted in 2008), the city would not be eligible for the federal and state grants that cover the costs of those bike lanes and their accoutrements, including signage and bike racks.

The committee is made up, in theory at least, of seven members who meet on an ad-hoc basis (generally about six or seven times a year). It last met Tuesday, March 20, at 3 p.m, which might explain the meager public attendance. Not even all of the committee members showed up—Bidwell Park and Playground Commission representative James Mikles was absent, probably because he has a daytime job. And Chico State’s seat has been vacant for a number of years.

The committee is chaired by longtime Chico bike activist Ed McLaughlin, who remains committed to bicycle advocacy despite being paralyzed in a bicycle accident in Bidwell Park several years go. The 68-year-old McLaughlin hit a traffic bollard (an orange pole meant to control vehicle traffic) while riding with a group of other cyclists along Peterson Memorial Way.

McLaughlin, organizer of the city’s annual Wildflower Century Ride and founder of the Chico Velo Cycling Club, said he got involved politically back in the 1980s when a Chico woman riding a bike on Bidwell’s North Park Drive was struck and killed by a motorcyclist. He said he attended a Bidwell Park and Playground Commission meeting in which the agenda called for a recognition of the tragedy.

“The item was called, they offered some condolences and just like that said, ‘Next,’” McLaughlin recalled. “Then they brought up an issue in which someone standing on the bridge crossing the creek at One-Mile was brushed by a bicyclist. The next thing you know, riding a bike across the bridge is banned. I thought ‘What?’ That’s when I decided to get into the political side of it.”

This bike path near Teichert ponds will be extended via a bridge over Little Chico Creek this summer.

photo by Tom Gascoyne

(That bridge-riding ban has since been modified to allow a cyclist to cross as long as there are no pedestrians on the bridge.)

McLaughlin said BAC was formed back in the early 1980s, meeting only when projects were proposed or when state or federal money for projects became available. That money comes from a number of sources, including the Federal Highway Association’s Safe Routes to Schools, the Caltrans Bicycle Transportation Account, and the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Management fund.

Other committee members include bike shop owner Steve O’Bryan, Iván García, program manager for the Butte County Association of Governments, Chico State professor Russell Mills (though not as the school’s rep) and retired Chico State lecturer and environmental activist Nora Todenhagen.

McLaughlin referred to García as the “person who knows where the money is.” For his part, García says his job is “to help secure funds on behalf of the local agencies and support their projects.”

The committee works closely with Bob Greenlaw, a senior civil engineer with the city of Chico, on lining up projects and keeping them in the pipeline. Those projects include two bridges over Little Chico Creek, one of them slated for construction this summer, and an ambitious bridge over Highway 99 at 20th Street, planned for a yet unnamed date.

One regular attendee at the BAC meetings is local activist Susan Mason, a member of Friends of Bidwell Park.

“I’m not a bicyclist,” she said. “My interest in attending these meetings for the last seven to eight years has been to advocate for bike projects in Bidwell Park and other areas under the purview of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, since the appointed BPPC representatives have so rarely attended the meetings.” She also noted a lack of written staff reports and minutes from meetings available to the public.

Her group has been clearing brush along Little Chico Creek just east of the freeway. “I was able to tell many people who stopped to talk to us that there will be a new bike/pedestrian bridge constructed next to Highway 99 this summer,” she said. “None of them were aware of the project.”

She did point out, however, that BAC members “are competent and conscientious. They’ve been very successful in getting grant money.”