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Napa advocate: Big Ranch Road widening doesn’t make enough room for bike traffic

Big Ranch Road widening

The Napa City Council has approved designs for a widened portion of Big Ranch Road north of Trancas Street, but the Napa County Bicycle Coalition is asking for plans to include a dedicated bike lane northbound and southbound.

Napa is preparing to widen one of the northern approaches into the city, but a local promoter of bicycling wants to see more room created for travelers on two wheels.

Last week, the City Council approved a redesign for 560 feet of Big Ranch Road north of Trancas Street, which would receive a second southbound lane and a turning lane along with a sidewalk, storm drainage and buried utility lines.

But it was what was not in the city’s plan that raised concerns for a Napa advocacy group: a bicycle-only lane in the northbound direction to join the path that will be striped along the southbound lane.

Without dedicated bike lanes both ways, “this is an opportunity that has been missed,” said Patrick Band, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition. For such extensive road work, he added, “it makes sense to do both sides of the road at the same time.”

City officials replied they eventually plan to fully accommodate cyclists on the mostly two-lane Big Ranch Road, whose east shoulder lacks a dedicated bike lane and tightly skirts vineyards in the unincorporated county, where the Ag Preserve strictly curbs development.

But Public Works Director Jacques LaRochelle said Napa should wait until it builds a new bike-and-pedestrian bridge over Salvador Creek to the north – to the west of the existing road span over the creek – before starting a northbound pathway that would remain a dead end for years. Such a span would be devoted to those traveling south by bike and on foot, allowing enough room to stripe an opposite-way path along the other shoulder.

No such plan for a non-car bridge has yet come to a vote, however, making even a partial path to the north “still better than no path at all,” replied Band.

Added to city plans in 1996, the Big Ranch Road project is meant to relieve a bottleneck into north Napa, where the route connects with Trancas Street’s commercial strip and continues southward as the four-lane Soscol Avenue before becoming the Napa-Vallejo Highway.

Napa would acquire parts of four privately owned parcels off the west shoulder to increase Big Ranch Road’s right of way 21 feet. In addition to the passing and turning lane, the extra space would accommodate the move of overhead cables below ground and the addition of a storm drain to replace an open ditch, thus reducing ponding during winter rains.

Despite such improvements, Michael Imfeld, one of the four landowners in the project zone, met the council Tuesday to attack the plan. He said it would increase noise outside his home by more than the 1.3 decibels a consultant to the city predicted. Without concrete sound barriers or similar fixtures, he predicted, an extra lane outside his house would worsen the din on a route he described as already “bumper to bumper” at rush hour.

Such objections were not enough to sway Councilman Scott Sedgley, even as he conceded road improvements around Napa are increasingly likely to change once-quiet areas – like a missing link of Sierra Avenue the council approved in August over neighbors’ protests.

“I don’t feel I can vote ‘no’ tonight,” he said before voting in favor along with three other council members (Juliana Inman was absent). “I feel it’s time to start that plan to modernize it, to make it safer.”

The widening project would follow previous work on Big Ranch Road, which in the last two decades has added a southbound left-turn lane into Trancas and widened the roadway as far north as Salvador Creek.

Fees collected from developers have helped pay for the expansion, which has enabled it to serve the Stone Creek Estates, the Rabobank building and other north Napa sites.

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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