Up and over
Council greenlights bicyclist, pedestrian crossing over East 20th Street
Janine Rood recently stepped down as executive director of Chico Velo Cycling Club, a role in which she advocated for local bike safety and infrastructure for more than five years. It’s telling, then, that she doesn’t personally bike to south Chico’s retail district.
“I don’t ride to the mall, ever,” she told the Chico City Council on Tuesday (Jan. 2). “It’s just too dangerous.”
It’s not Rood’s imagination: The city recognizes the area along East 20th Street as a safety hazard for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike. According to traffic data, the intersection near the northbound off-ramp to Highway 99 is one of the most accident-prone in the city.
The roadway is a major obstacle as city officials look to bridge the final gap in Bikeway 99—Chico’s arterial, north-to-south route following the Highway 99 corridor from Eaton Road to Skyway. The city started construction of Bikeway 99 back in 2009, but funding dried up after the bridge crossing Little Chico Creek by Teichert Ponds was completed in 2012. Now the incomplete path spits southbound cyclists into the parking lot of the Chico Mall, and from there traffic congestion on East 20th Street effectively acts as a barrier discouraging bicyclists and pedestrians from proceeding south to Skyway and beyond.
“It’s the pedestrian and bicycle equivalent of a clogged toilet,” said Councilman Randall Stone.
Early last year, city engineers floated a grand solution that would close the gap in Bikeway 99, complete nearly 7 miles of bike path and become a showcase piece of cycling infrastructure—a bridge over East 20th Street.
The 20th Street Pedestrian/Bicycle Over-crossing Feasibility Study came before the City Council Tuesday following a series of public workshops and outreach efforts at events such as farmers’ markets to gather the community’s input. Members of the public looked at several alternative solutions, including building a tunnel underneath the roadway and improving the at-grade crosswalk, but most favored a bridge that would let people avoid that mess altogether.
Based on the feedback, the community also wants to go big. The city contracted with Donald MacDonald—a San Francisco-based architect who helped design the new Bay Bridge—and he illustrated several concepts for the public to choose from. The most popular design, called “City of Trees,” incorporates elements that look similar to tree branches or bike spokes, depending on your perspective. That option also was recommended by city staff.
Of course, money is the biggest obstacle to actually building the bridge. The project’s total estimated cost of $14.7 million remains unfunded for now, but city staff plans on pursuing grant funding through CalTrans’ Cycle 4 Active Transportation Program (ATP). The grant would cover about $13 million of the cost, according to Brendan Ottoboni, the city’s director of public works-engineering. The rest would come from a combination of development impact fees earmarked for bikeways and grant funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. None of the money would come from the city’s general fund, he emphasized.
Chico is in a good position to land the grant, Ottoboni said, because the overcrossing project falls in line with the state’s push for “complete streets,” or those that are friendly not only to motorists, but also to bicyclists, pedestrians and disabled people of all ages. It also supports active transportation—basically, getting people to walk or ride bikes instead of driving.
City Manager Mark Orme added that, if the grant application isn’t accepted, the project will come back before the City Council for reconsideration.
The council approved the project with two votes. (Mayor Sean Morgan was on vacation, leaving Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer to lead the meeting.) Councilman Mark Sorensen made a motion to accept the feasibility study’s findings—including the recommendation to pursue the “City of Trees” design. His motion passed unanimously. Separately, Councilwoman Ann Schwab made a motion to allow city staff to pursue the ATP grant, which also passed without dissent.
The project’s completion is still a long way off. City staff will apply for the grant this spring, but construction likely wouldn’t begin until spring 2022.