The city of Napa’s bicycling infrastructure has improved steadily over the years. As recognition, the city has retained a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists for nearly the past decade.
The city most recently received the bronze designation, which last for four years, in June this year. What the designation means, essentially, is that the city has consistently put effort into bike-related engineering projects, bike education and encouragement and long-term planning.
Several statistical measures go into the designation as well. In the past four years, for instance, about 1.29% of Napa commuters bike, there have been 536.4 crashes per 10,000 bicycle commuters and zero fatalities.
But Napa has a long way to climb in several categories if the city wants to rise to a silver designation, where cities like Sacramento, Santa Rosa or Emeryville reside. And the gold designation — which includes San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Chico — is much further out of reach. (There’s also a lofty platinum level; Davis, where the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame is located, is the only California city to receive that designation.)
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The city’s bicycle and trails advisory commission has continued to discuss the bronze designation at meetings this year, and is looking to come up with a plan to improve the city’s bicycling status, said Tim Wood, senior city engineer.
“It gives you some goals to shoot for,” Wood said of the designation. “Some of them are in the city’s control, some out of the city’s control.”
In shooting for silver, Wood said, what’s most important for the city to do is continue implementing the city of Napa portion of the 2019 Countywide Bicycle Plan. For the city, the plan lists about 150 projects to expand the 49-mile bike system in the city to cover 109 miles, according to past Register reporting. Overall, the plan is looking to add up to 459 additional miles of bike paths, lanes and routes countywide.
“The main thing that we can do as the city is implement the bike plan and increase the number of lane miles of bike lane and then also miles of separated bicycle facilities and whatnot,” Wood said.
The plan states that more than 50% of people are interested in bicycling, but have concerns about safety. Those people are often not comfortable with street bike lanes, prefer off-street or separate bicycle facilities and might not bike at all if the bicycle facilities don’t meet needs for perceived comfort, the plan says.
Patrick Band, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, said much of the work of the group focuses on the segment of the population that’s interested in biking, but concerned about safety.
“Our work really focuses on not just the person who’s out there riding 50 or 60 miles on a weekend,” Band said. “It’s the person who’s riding two or three miles from their house to downtown to grab coffee with somebody, or a couple miles across town to go to work in the morning.”
The designation also suggests the city increase its amount of high quality bicycle parking; that it ensure consistent bicycle safety education for students of all ages; that it encourage local businesses to promote cycling; that it ensure bicycle facilities remain safe and accessible and that it work to help provide bicycle friendly driver training to Napa motorists.
The city is making other efforts that could improve bicycle safety. Wood said the city is almost under contract with a consultant for work on a local roadway safety plan, which will take a deep dive into major injuries suffered by pedestrians and drivers from motor vehicles. Generally, he said, the city’s public works department looks into possible specific improvements to city infrastructure whenever there’s a pedestrian fatality caused by a vehicle.
Band said what’s most important to encouraging bicycle use is improving the system as a whole, to meet the needs of the entire city population or specific neighborhoods.
Solutions aren’t always as easy as painting a strip to establish a bike lane, Band said. For example, bike lanes on Soscol Avenue may exist, but they aren’t inviting to most bicyclists because of generally heavy vehicle traffic. A solution for bikers near Soscol, he said, is instead a segment of the Napa Valley Vine Trail currently under construction.
“Yes there’s bike lanes on Soscol, but Soscol, whether you have bike lanes or not, is still going to be a 40 to 45 mile an hour, high volume corridor with, frankly, kind of mediocre pavement, a whole lot of heavy trucks and large vehicles,” Band said. “And it’s not going to be very comfortable to ride a bike on that corridor just with that little strip of paint. So we want to provide the appropriate, safe facility for the trips that people need to take to get where they want to go.”
Band added that the ongoing effort to improve biking in Napa is largely about allowing people who'd like to bike to feel safe enough to bike wherever they want to go.
“It’s about providing the right facility for the right context,” Band said. “So that, wherever people want to go, they can do so safely. Because hey, guess what? We’ve got roads for cars that go wherever people want to go. So we want to make sure it’s as comfortable and safe for people to get wherever they’re going on a bike. And, I’ll say, for walking too.”
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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.