The beaten path

Community, engineers discuss upgrading The Esplanade’s out-of-date infrastructure

The Esplanade is long overdue for improvements to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

The Esplanade is long overdue for improvements to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.


Help fix the road:
Look for the second public survey on how to improve The Esplanade at through Dec. 13. Email or call the Public Works Department at 879-6900 for more information.

In the late 1950s, Chico’s arterial north-to-south roadway was redesigned to become a multilane boulevard. Lined with historic homes and stately heritage trees, The Esplanade has since remained mostly unchanged. That’s part of its charm.

It’s also part of the problem, at least when it comes to traffic design, says Steve Weinberger of W-Trans, an engineering consulting firm hired by the city to improve The Esplanade corridor. Weinberger led the second of three public workshops on the project on Thursday, Nov. 19, at Enloe Conference Center to both inform and gather input.

“It’s a 1950s system,” he said. “As a registered traffic engineer in the state of California, I’m telling the city that this is something they need to seek funds to upgrade, because that’s what the law says.”

Weinberger was referring to the state’s Complete Streets Law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008. It mandates that roadways be designed with all users in mind—cyclists, pedestrians, bus riders, children, elderly people and those with disabilities, as well as motorists. That’s on top of a statewide initiative to increase nonauto vehicle traffic and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

The Esplanade is not friendly for all users. It serves 21,500 to 24,500 vehicles per day, according to data collected by the city for the Esplanade Corridor Improvement Study, but currently lacks standard features such as signals at crosswalks, vehicle-detection sensors that react to the volume of traffic (intersections are instead regulated by clocks timed on 45-second cycles), ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps and designated bike lanes.

Furthermore, The Esplanade is “one of the least comfortable bike routes in the city,” Weinberger said, and one of its busiest intersections—First Avenue—is relatively dangerous for cyclists. The rate of collisions for cyclists there is 1 in 800,000, the study shows, compared with 1 in 4.2 million motorists. And just up the road, at the unsignalized crosswalk near Chico High School, about 2,000 pedestrians and cyclists cross the thoroughfare every day.

In other words, The Esplanade needs a modern facelift.

A series of possible infrastructure improvements were presented via slideshow at the workshop on Thursday, including refuge medians for pedestrians and cyclists to wait in between lanes; green bike lanes along the frontage roads; an entirely separate two-way bike lane; and most controversially, judging by grumbling in the audience, roundabouts at the intersections of Memorial Way and First Avenue.

In most scenarios, changes will come at a cost of convenience for motorists. It currently takes an average of 175 seconds to drive up The Esplanade from Memorial Way north to 11th Avenue; that time likely will increase by 30 seconds or more once the project is completed. Weinberger says that’s the central question for the public: “How much travel time are you willing to [add] to make the corridor safer?”

Recognizing that many people don’t ride bikes, Weinberger argued that everyone on the roadway would benefit from improvements to bike infrastructure.

“You want to know where [cyclists are], and have some warning of them,” he said. “Also, the more traffic you convert to biking, there are less cars on the road. I think that’s an issue everyone should consider.”

Whatever the direction, it’s still a long road before the project is completed. The third and final public workshop will be held in February, and the community input process will close as a draft proposal comes before the City Council. Then the city will apply for a transportation grant, Weinberger said, and has a few points in its favor: The Esplanade serves a high school, a major hospital and is of historical significance.

Once the grant application is submitted, the project will be completed in three to five years.