Ventura County Star: Ventura County puts funding muscle behind bicycle and pedestrian paths

November 9, 2017
By: Kathleen Wilson

Construction of bike paths and sidewalks is expected to surge to historic highs in Ventura County and the state, fueled by new dollars and a broad base of support.

“We’ve never seen this amount of money going to bicycle and pedestrian projects in California,” said Darren Kettle, the executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

One chunk came through last month when the commission OK’d almost $9 million for projects dotted around the county. About $5 million more is due to be approved by state officials by the end of the year, including school-based projects in Ventura and sidewalk construction at Etting Road on the eastern edge of Oxnard.

A top-rated project lies near Conejo Elementary School in Thousand Oaks.

A sidewalk will be built on a section of Conejo School Road that has none, eliminating shrubbery that obstructs motorists’ view and getting children off the street, said city bicycle coordinator Kathy Lowry. Bicycle lanes will also be added on the route that runs up to Thousand Oaks Boulevard and past the Civic Arts Plaza.

For now, some caregivers and parents jay-walk in the middle of the road, holding youngsters’ hands as they rush to the other side.

Crossing guard Debbie Schrader said the intersection of the road and Los Feliz Drive outside the school is especially concerning because the playground doubles as a park. Children walk there in the evening when no crossing guard is present, she said.

The city will contribute almost $1.2 million in matching funds from developer fees and gasoline taxes, but the rest of the $4 million project will be covered by grants. The project should be completed by early 2020, Lowry said.

Others projects are planned in Simi Valley and Ventura, plus the mid-sized communities of Moorpark and Santa Paula. Unincorporated communities are also due for upgrades. Included are a sidewalk project on Central Avenue near Rio Mesa High School and bike lanes on Sespe Street in Bardsdale, a community near Fillmore.

Kettle says the game changer is California Senate Bill 1, a $54 billion act authorizing tax and fee increases for road, bridges and other transportation projects. Included is $100 million annually for 10 years for “active transportation projects,” such as bike paths, crosswalks and sidewalks. The state’s investment in those projects has increased to $230 million annually, up 77 percent.

The Ojai Valley Bike Trail has long been one of most popular bicycle trails in Ventura County. An influx of nearly $14 million this year is allowing the county to build more bike paths and install sidewalks in some areas of the county.

The legislation is taking effect at a time when the state Department of Transportation is seeking to double walking and triple bicycling trips by 2020, plus cut bicycle and pedestrian fatalities by 10 percent each year. Opponents are trying to repeal the law with an initiative in November 2018, but for now it stands.

Other developments also reflect the trend:

  • About $9 million came to the county under a shift of federal funding. Money that had been spent on landscaping and transit-themed building projects went to bike and pedestrian projects.
  • Locally, the county transportation commission dedicated half of almost $14 million from a federal program to stem air pollution and traffic congestion to the cause. The rest went to bus purchases.
  • The Ventura County Board of Supervisors has supported paving and marking 21 miles of shoulders along county roads to make them safer for bicyclists.
  • Under a state mandate, counties and cities must develop street plans that incorporate multiple means of transportation when they update their land-use plans. The state began requiring that approach several years ago, but Kettle says it is more germane now that the recession has passed and cities can afford to build street projects. The Ventura County government is in the midst of just such an update for unincorporated areas.

Advocates for an array of interests — health, social equity, tourism and slowing of climate change — are calling for the improvements.

Source: Ventura County Star