Raising bar on biking: Cited for success, Davis takes on new challenges

Davis has again been crowned the nation's pre-eminent cycling city, but don't let the laurels lull you.

Published October 9, 2007 by The Sacramento Bee 
By Tony Bizjak

Davis has again been crowned the nation's pre-eminent cycling city, but don't let the laurels lull you.

Some residents are saying the university town with the cyclist logo is no pedal-pusher paradise.

The League of American Bicyclists last week named Davis as the only city in the country to earn its "platinum" or top bike-friendly status.

It's the second platinum award in two years for Davis, and city and university officials say it corroborates their sense that decades of efforts to make bikes partners on streets have paid off.

But those same officials say growth on the once sleepy college town's fringes is creating new challenges to the community's biking mentality.

More new residents are car commuters to Sacramento and Bay Area.

"Newcomers are not as tied into the bike culture here," says David Takemoto-Weerts, UC Davis' bicycle program coordinator.

Population growth also means more congestion around town, leaving less elbow room for cyclists.

That creates a potentially combustible issue each year when a new crop of university students arrives, many of whom haven't learned the etiquette and legalities of bike riding, such as stopping at stop signs.

"We want to make a strong push in the educational and encouragement area," said Davis city engineer Bob Clarke.

"We want to get more of the community to use bicycles on some of their trips."

Cycling commuter Paul Dorn says he wants the city to update its bike racks, do more to combat the town's long-standing abandoned bike problem and enforce the vehicle code more as the streets become more crowded.

New cyclists ought to understand that the rules of the road apply to them, too, Dorn said.

Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists, based in Washington, D.C., acknowledged those issues but said Davis nevertheless remains the best biking town he's seen.

Clarke visited Davis last month and rode around. "Davis is outstanding," he said.

Although Boulder, Colo., and Portland are pushing hard for platinum status, there isn't another American city close, Clarke said.

"Davis has been doing what it's been doing 40 years," he said.

"This is a generations-long commitment. It still feels right to me that Davis is the only one at platinum."

Almost every major street in Davis has a bike lane. Officials said the city has built 27 bridges over or tunnels under streets for bikes and pedestrians, including a massive passage under Interstate 80 linking west Davis with downtown and the university.

The city recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first on-street bike lane on Sycamore Lane — a bike lane that officials say may be the first in the nation.

The cities of Sacramento, Folsom and South Lake Tahoe also won bike-friendly honors from the bicyclists' league in recent years.

League executive Clarke lauded Sacramento for its work in midtown turning some three-lane streets into two-lanes, making room for bike lanes. Officials made those changes a few weeks ago on 19th and 21st streets.

City transportation spokeswoman Linda Tucker said narrowing the traffic lanes — which she called "road diets" — is done on selected streets to slow traffic and make the streets safer and more usable for cyclists and pedestrians.