The path less traveled

Local enthusiasts take to the road in support of national bicycle greenway

Penny farthing for your thoughts: Jacques Graber shows off his hot wheels

Penny farthing for your thoughts: Jacques Graber shows off his hot wheels

Photo By Victor Abi Abad

A publicity stunt powered by high-tech gearheads, antique-bike collectors and daisy-eyed free spirits rode the streets of Sacramento and beyond recently. The one thing they had in common: Their legs were buff. That and their shared belief that the country needs a network of bike-friendly routes connecting major cities and small towns from sea to sea. They cruised 50 miles from Davis to Folsom on high-wheelers, recumbent bikes and everything in between to take part in the National Bicycle Greenway Mayors’ Ride. The idea was for cyclists around the country to ride together in unity and gather support from city mayors, like spokes coming together to form the backbone of a wheel.

Somehow, I landed smack in the middle, riding a silver mountain bike in a group that included a guy on a unicycle and a woman on skates. The unicyclist was 39-year-old Patrick Thomas, a teacher from San Francisco. He said he planned to ride all the way to Chicago to make a point.

“I believe very much in safe bicycle paths,” he said. “It’s a car’s world. Ninety percent of the roads are for cars. It’s important for drivers to be sensitized to us.”

Two dozen people and their bikes gathered in Davis’ Central Park that morning for a send-off from Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson. Everyone then set off through the city’s downtown in a stream of bike bells, laughter and whistles. Asmundson rode a three-wheeler and led a small contingent of Korean visitors.

Half of the group made it through the first light before it turned red. Someone yelled, “Critical Mass!” and the rest of the pack cruised through. I laughed, thinking this was likely the only Critical Mass ride escorted by a mayor on a bike.

Within a few short blocks, Asmundson, the Koreans and more than half of the riders turned back. Eleven bikes continued down streets and then stretched out on a bike path for a hot, noisy ride east along Interstate 80. No one was in a hurry. Even so, Thomas soon fell behind. Like other unicycles, his bike had no handlebars, no gears and no brakes. It didn’t go too fast.

Of course, “fast” is relative when you’re riding with high-wheel bicycles from the 1880s. One high- wheeler was Jacques Graber of Rancho Cordova. He organized the trip with help from Palo Alto rider Martin Krieg, who’s leading the National Bicycle Greenway effort.

Bicycle-friendly roads already exist throughout the country in the form of bike routes, bike lanes and bike paths. Those who see bicycles as an alternative to traffic, urban sprawl and pollution would like to bridge the gaps between existing routes to create an interconnected network.

Here in the Sacramento area, there is a huge assortment of bikeway needs and current projects, said Ed Cox, program analyst for Sacramento’s Department of Transportation. Some ideas put forth by bike advocates and planners include:

• An American River bike trail (the “Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail")—In November, voters may be asked to decide on a half-cent hike in Sacramento County’s transportation tax that would include funding for maintenance of the American River Parkway bike trail.

• The Cross State Bicycle Route (also known as the Tahoe-to-San Francisco Route or simply the X Route)—This project would connect existing bike paths, lanes and routes to create an X Route across the state with Sacramento as the hub. About 65 percent already exists. Caltrans District 3 initiated a study to coordinate connecting piecemeal routes, projects that must be undertaken by individual cities under their own schedules. The “legs” of the X would extend east up Interstate 80 and Highway 50 and west along Interstate 80 and the Sacramento River near Highway 84.

• American River bridges—Bridges for bikes and pedestrians are needed across the river, including in the Natomas area.

• Freeway bridges—Safe freeway crossings are needed in Highway 50 and Interstate 80 corridors.

• A regional network of trails through green space along creeks and rivers, like the American River Parkway—Trails could be built in urban areas to connect downtown Sacramento with other areas.

• A 70-mile paved loop trail using the American River Parkway, Dry Creek Parkway and the future Ueda Parkway.

Other projects currently under way in some form include:

• Folsom South Canal—to develop a possibly 69-mile transportation route for bikes and shuttle buses accessing key residential and commercial areas near Highway 50.

• Tower Bridge—to widen sidewalks to 10 feet on the historic yellow-gold bridge for people on bikes and on foot.

• Sacramento River Bike Trail—to connect existing bike trails along the river by adding roughly a half-mile of bike path starting near R and Front streets.

• Ueda Parkway (pronounced “you way da")—to build a seven-mile bike trail on top of levees next to newly named Steelhead Creek (formerly the Natomas East Main Drainage Canal) from Elkhorn Boulevard in north Sacramento to the American River.

• Two Rivers Bike Trail—to build a bike trail on the south levee of the American River between Discovery Park and Business 80. The trail would give great river views not available on the north side and would provide a link from Midtown to downtown.

After 14 miles, the bikes turned onto Capitol Mall and rode toward the Capitol. Bike bells rang as the riders pedaled on like they were claiming a prize. People on sidewalks stopped and stared. A round of photos was shot at the Capitol, and we rode off again.

We were more than an hour late for a requested meeting with Sacramento’s mayor, but none of the riders seemed to care. The group later met up with the mayor of Rancho Cordova. The riders were about three hours late to meet Folsom’s mayor, who didn’t stick around.

Two riders didn’t make it all the way to Folsom. The unicyclist got a flat tire and lagged behind all day. It’s a long road to Chicago.

But, for many, the power was simply in getting out and riding, doing something for the environment and themselves.

“I like not polluting the air if I can," said Barbara Hatch of Menlo Park. The 51-year-old skated with the cyclists all the way from Davis to Folsom. "And I like the energy. The body energy. Everybody should stay active."