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Bike path dream could come true

(Editors Note: This is the final installment of a five-part series describing Measure S, the estimated $5.3 million recreational project that the South Lake Tahoe Alliance for Recreation has planned for the South Lake Tahoe Basin provided two-thirds of the community facilities district supports the plan in a special election Sept. 19. )

In 1977 Jere Williams, South Lake Tahoe recreation commissioner, envisioned an extensive bicycle trail system that would connect Lake Tahoe to San Francisco.

“It has been discussed very heavily for several years,” he said almost 25 years ago.



While that dream may have been ambitious – to say the least – the bicycle system in the Lake Tahoe Basin is not even complete within itself.

South Shore bicycle paths are fragmented and require riders to pedal along congested roads, such as U.S. Highway 50 and Al Tahoe Boulevard, or meander through neighborhoods in order to reconnect with other sections of trail.




“We need to connect the sections that we have now, so tourists and locals can use them effectively. So kids can go to fields and skate parks and schools,” said outdoor activist Tom Wendell.

While the Tahoe Conservancy, a California state agency, has plenty of money available and design plans in the works for South Shore bicycle path construction, in order to qualify for a construction grant applicants must be able to supply maintenance money for at least 20 years.

If Measure S passes, it would provide South Shore with 30 years of maintenance money for bicycle trails – $5,000 per mile for up to 25 miles of bicycle trails a year.

Right now the Public Access and Recreation Program of the Tahoe Conservancy has $26.2 million to spend by 2008, according to the Environmental Improvement Plan set forth by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in 1997.

“All of this has come down to maintenance dollars,” said Bob Kingman, the program analyst for the Tahoe Conservancy.

“What STAR does is open up the gate and says ‘build those projects.’ “

The bicycle paths being planned by the Conservancy will connect existing trails, Kingman said. Some of the projects in the design process include connecting Linear Park trail with Stateline, and the 15th Street trail with the existing U.S. Forest Service Trail along Highway 89. Another trail includes two paths that will run alongside Ski Run Boulevard between U.S. Highway 50 and Pioneer Trail.

Existing trails in the STAR area include 10.5 miles of Class I and 17.3 miles of Class II trails and 10.3 miles of Class III trails, Kingman said.

The trails being planned include 6.8 miles of Class II and 14.3 miles of Class I trails, which are specifically designated for bicycle use. They are two-way paved trails; each way is between 4- and 5-feet wide with a 1- to 4-foot buffer on each side.

Class II trails are marked by a 5-foot-wide striped lane on the side of the road, and Class III trails are bike routes, marked only by a sign.

A more extensive project that is planned further in the future is a 9.2 mile Class I trail that would run along the old California Transportation Department right-of-way, which starts where U.S. Highway 50 and Pioneer Trail meet in Meyers, and varying in width between 100 and 400 feet, continues to Stateline.

The land was originally set aside for a freeway project, initially planned in the 1960s, which never materialized due to neighborhood opposition. Change of title from Caltrans to the Conservancy will take place in the next three to five weeks, Kingman said.

The 9.2 mile trail, however, probably won’t begin for another couple of years because of the size of the trail and the construction difficulties that the terrain presents, he added.

The last time the Conservancy funded a trail in South Lake Tahoe was last year when they built the Linear Park trail, which runs east from Ski Run beach to the old Shell service station near Tahoe Meadows. It spent $878,000 on the one-half mile trail, most of that money was spent purchasing property in order to connect with the one-third mile Ski Run development trail, Kingman said.

The money from the Conservancy, however, is not guaranteed to any group. If Measure S passes, an application for grant money still must be made to the Conservancy. The soonest a grant could be approved would be at the Conservancy’s board of trustees meeting in December 2000, and construction would not begin until May 1, 2001. The appropriate permits will also need to be acquired depending on what the design plans require.

“The TRPA will diligently pursue getting the projects through and be duly facilitative in getting these bike trails in,” said Nick Haven, TRPA associate transportation planner. “We’re very supportive. This fits within our agency’s goals of reducing vehicle miles traveled and creating air-quality benefits for the region.”

While many communities want a piece of the Conservancy’s grant money for bicycle trails, many have been unable to provide the maintenance money, Kingman said.

“This program is very forward thinking,” he said. “South Shore is the first one to come up with an initiative specifically to raise money for the maintenance of bike trails.”


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