Tahoe-area bicyclists plead for bike lanes, safer conditions | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe-area bicyclists plead for bike lanes, safer conditions

Brendan Riley, The Associated Press

CARSON CITY — Millions of people drive, hike, boat and pedal around scenic Lake Tahoe every year — but bicyclists say they risk their lives on some of the narrow roads that loop the national treasure.

Tahoe straddles the California-Nevada line in the Sierra, and bicyclists are urging officials in both states to make the roads safer — especially in Nevada which has far fewer miles of bike trails than its neighbor state to the West.

Nevada transportation officials say they’re doing what they can — but road-improvement projects and bicycle trails are costly, and some stretches of Tahoe highway are nearly impossible to widen for bike lanes.

“The goal everyone agrees on is to dell said. “Caltrans is among the leaders on bicycling issues. They’ve invited us in at the planning stages of road projects.”

“On the Nevada side, the trail network is close to zilch,” he said. “There’s no comparison with California. The Nevada Department of Transportation is still completely car-focused.”

Wendell is backed by other advocates, including Chris Hahn of Incline Village who’s assembling a grass-roots group to lobby various agencies to move ahead with bike path planning and development.

Both say biking makes sense in an environmentally sensitive area like Tahoe because, besides being good exercise, it cuts down on vehicle traffic and emissions.

Wendell wrote to Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, a member of the Nevada Board of Transportation, asking for help and noting that on a per capita basis Nevada leads the nation in pedestrian and bicycle fatalities.

Wendell said that just a foot or two of new pavement along roads, plus replacement of drainage grates that can snag skinny bike tires, would be a help — without the big expense of separate trails paralleling Tahoe-area roads.

In his letter, Wendell noted Nevada tourism officials are currently marketing the state to the burgeoning adventure sports crowd — and “we don’t think putting on-road recreational and commuter cyclists into harm’s way is what they had in mind.”

Del Papa responded that Nevada is willing to do what it can, and takes bicyclists into consideration when improvements are made on the Nevada side of the lake.

But Del Papa said the state can’t afford the ideal solution, a bike path separated from the main highway.

She also said the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has the main responsibility for bike trail planning at the lake, which draws an estimated 5 million visitors to its shores annually. The agency is still working on a bike element for its master transportation plan.

Assistant Nevada Department of Transportation Director Kent Cooper said a bike trail that would run just a few miles from Incline Village to popular Sand Harbor State Park would cost $20 million. He added the existing road is so narrow and the slope so steep that a cantilevered bike path would be needed.

Cooper also says there are liability concerns that complicate the bike trail issue.

“When we implement facilities, we essentially are telling people, regardless of their age, that the facilities are safe to use,” he added.

Besides construction costs and liability issues, private property might have to be bought to get enough highway right of way for a bike path — and in areas such as upscale Incline Village, the cost would be high.

Cooper also said Nevada doesn’t deserve the criticism that it’s bike-unfriendly.

“Our staff has gone overboard in working with the regulatory agencies, and anyone else who has an interest in biking, to accomplish the best we can in that environment, he said.”

Wendell said he agrees with the Nevada officials’ argument that the TRPA needs to move ahead with bike trail planning. He said the agency seems to be “a major stumbling block to this (bike trail) process.”

But Pam Drum of the TRPA says her agency, which oversees development at Tahoe to ensure that the lake’s clarity isn’t damaged, “has long been supportive of a regional bicycle trail that would go around the lake.”

Drum says some sections of trail are in place, “but there are some major missing links — and they are the hardest ones to address.

“The solutions are hugely expensive.”

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