Biking boost: South Lake Tahoe awarded silver designation as Bicycle Friendly Community, trending in positive direction
Bicycling is a popular mode of transportation and recreational pastime in South Lake Tahoe — and the area is becoming more conducive to it. The city of South Lake Tahoe was recently awarded silver status as a Bicycle Friendly Community, a designation from the League of American Bicyclists.
“It’s pretty darn cool and it’s nice to have,” said Jim Marino, an assistant public works director with the city. “It means we’re making some pretty significant strides.”
South Lake Tahoe’s silver status — the second of five levels within the program — will be in place for five years, through fall 2020. The city advanced to that level from bronze, which was awarded when it first applied for the designation a decade earlier.
“It’s great for the community because what we’ve mainly been doing over the past few years and are working toward in the next few years,” Marino said.
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The award takes into consideration a number of demographics in a city when it comes to transportation, and assesses areas for improvement — South Lake Tahoe scored highly largely due to planning and educational outreach. During the application process, the city worked closely with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, TRPA’s Community Mobility working group, Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition and the JPA Bicycle Advisory Committee.
“We all get together and formulate what the plans are going to be, and that’s how we’ve been successful in recent years,” Marino said. “We’ve merged as a group, discussed what the priorities are, and agreed upon those.”
While the designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community has value for South Lake Tahoe, it ultimately merely offers an indication that the city is moving in the right direction when it comes to bicycling. And with five- and 10-year capital plans in place that will have “significant bike trail work,” according to Marino, that trend figures to continue in positive fashion.
“We’ve been working with the TRPA and various community groups out there to create a long-term strategic plan,” Marino said.
Upcoming projects slated for construction within the next three years will address the issue of connectivity between the extensive biking trail network in South Lake Tahoe. These include the completion of a Class 1 bike trail off Al Tahoe Boulevard, the Sierra Boulevard Streetscape Project, and continuing the bike trail near South Tahoe High to connect with the “Y.”
Next year, the completion of a bike trail from El Dorado Beach to Ski Run Boulevard will make it so that a ride from Stateline to Camp Richardson and Meyers will have few gaps in connectivity. These projects — and the city’s efforts — are mostly focused on bringing bicycle and pedestrian traffic off its main thoroughfares of Highway 50 and Pioneer Trail.
“The goal is to create this mobility network that’s not associated with Highway 50 or our heavy arterial or connector roads,” Marino said.
In addition to funding, South Lake Tahoe has some challenges when it comes to becoming more bicycle-friendly — and the award’s report card indicated that. In terms of safety measures, the city exceeded the gold-level average in terms of crashes (195) and fatalities (28) per 10,000 bicycle commuters.
Marino said the way to mitigate those issues includes building more off-roadway facilities for safer travel along with community outreach and education when it comes to biking safety. For bicyclists, that starts with traveling at the right time of day with ample lighting and during periods with less traffic.
“Our accident rates up here are definitely higher,” Marino said. “That is the whole reason that we’re trying to close these gaps on these off-roadway trails — if we can get the users out of the main roadways, then they should decrease dramatically.”
Marino considers South Lake Tahoe a “six-month community” for bicycling, though there has recently been an increase of riders on area trails all year long. Winter presents a challenge for the city in terms of snow removal, ice and safety — and currently, the city typically clears a trail 20-24 hours following a storm.
“We’re seeing a lot more use of the facilities that are built,” Marino said. “Our counts over the years have constantly gone up — and it’s all year long.”
For more information on the Bicycle Friendly Community Program, visit http://www.bikeleague.org/community.
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