Why Stockton needs to embrace biking

Last week, the Central Valley Business Journal wrote about the state of cycling in the region. The article noted that despite the valley’s favorable terrain and Mediterranean climate, less than one percent of commuting trips are made via bicycle. This is not surprising, as Central Valley cities have been planned around the car with little regard for walking or biking. In other cities, biking has become immensely popular, not just as a commuting choice, but as a better way to enjoy everyday activities. Sadly, Stockton continues to be dominated by the car. Most people who ride bikes in Stockton are those who do not have access to an automobile. This has to change, and not because it’s good for the environment (though it is), or because there are too many cars (also true), but because there are legitimate economic reasons for Stockton to embrace biking.

Bike lanes have great economic benefits

Bike lanes have great economic benefits

Building a cycling infrastructure to encourage more bike rides has real, tangible economic benefits for cities. However, while cycling has become an increasingly popular transportation choice in most American cities, it’s actually becoming less popular in Stockton. In 2011, .37% of commuters rode a bike to work, a decrease from 2006 when .60% commuted by bike (though the margin of error may be skewing the results a bit). However, as Stockton’s population is set to take off over the next 30 years, cycling needs to become a more integral part of the city’s transportation network. More people means more traffic and congestion. But by providing infrastructure for biking, Stockton can accommodate the increasing demand on roads. Here are the reasons why Stockton needs to embrace cycling both to accommodate growth and capitalize on its economic benefits.

Bicycle infrastructure is cheaper and more efficient

Installing bike lanes is a bargain when compared to the costs of widening or even maintaining an existing road. One mile of bike lane can cost around $60,000 in California. Not cheap, but consider that it’s costing $262 million to repave and widen Interstate 5 in Stockton. A tiny fraction of this amount could be used instead to build an impressive biking infrastructure. With just one eighth of the total it is costing to revamp I-5, Stockton could install nearly 55 miles of bike lanes  (see my earlier story on why widening I5 is a waste of money).

In terms of capacity, bike lanes are also very efficient. A typical bike lane carries seven to 12 times more people per meter than a car lane. As for parking, a single parking spot can hold up to ten bikes.

Bikes bring economic development

Installing bike lanes also has a positive impact on local economies, much more than roads. In Baltimore, a study of expenditures showed that while each million spent on roads creates nearly seven jobs, the same amount spent on bike lanes generates 14 jobs.

Several studies also show that proximity to bike lanes or trails correlates with higher home values and increased quality of life. For example, one study in Indianapolis found that homes near a popular biking trail sold for 11 percent more than the same home not near a trail (the same is also true for homes in more walkable areas).

Moreover, bikers tend to spend more when they go shopping. In Toronto, a 2009 study found that patrons arriving by bike spent more money than their car-driving counterparts. Merchants polled also supported more biking infrastructure, saying the presence of bikes would boost their sales activity. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, maybe bikers have more disposable income since they don’t have to spend as much money on gas?

Bikers in Downtown Stockton during Bike to Work day

Biking makes people healthier

Stockton is not the healthiest city. In fact, Stockton was once named America’s most obese. This unfortunate truth is largely a consequence of our city’s auto-centric design. Having to drive everywhere means we are exercising less, contributing to high obesity rates. One way to address this and other health issues is to provide Stocktonians with more opportunities to bike.

In Copenhagen, researchers found that bike commuters had a 40% lower chance of dying than their peers. This is not surprising, as bike commuters enjoy twice the daily physical activity of drivers. Biking to work is essentially the equivalent of a gym membership, except you get your workout while getting to and from work. The added health benefits of biking to work has an economic impact as well, as bike commuters also miss fewer days of work due to illness.

Bike use among Millennials and young professionals is rising

If you read my April column in the Central Valley Business Journal (and you should. It’s awesome), you know that young professionals have become one of the key drivers of the housing market nationwide. As these younger generations flock to more walkable communities, they are also embracing the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transportation. In 2009, 16 to 34-year-olds took 24 percent more bike trips than in 2001. Moreover, young American’s overwhelmingly support sustained or increased federal spending on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. If Stockton wants to take advantage of its proximity to the Bay Area to attract young professionals (and we should), we will need to get wise to the growing popularity of biking amongst this demographic.

The City of Stockton does have a bicycle master plan dating back to 2007 which sought to increase the number of bike lanes, reduce bike-vs-vehicle collisions and ensure that each public K-12 institution developed a Safe Route to School program to encourage more bike usage. All of these are good goals, but unfortunately, budgetary restraints have kept the master plan largely unimplemented. In the near future, making any progress on bike-related initiatives will be difficult. However, one could argue that since biking is a form of transportation, that the responsibility of improving bike infrastructure should be shared with regional agencies such as SJCOG and SJRTD. Both agencies deal with regional transportation, why not kick in some money for bike projects? (Or maybe they already do, someone please correct me if I am mistaken)

While investing in bike infrastructure pays big dividends for cities, new lanes and trails won’t help if no one uses them. How can a city like Stockton—which is entirely reliant on the automobile— encourage more people to willingly use a bike? Part of the answer lies in creating communities where biking makes sense; where jobs, shops, and entertainment are not so spread apart that biking just is not an option. Also, accessibility to bikes is another issue. While any city can lay down some stripes on a road for a bike lane, it takes a comprehensive strategy to foster a shift in transportation culture. How can Stockton accomplish this? The subject of my next post will be on what other cities are doing to both encourage more cycling and accommodate rising demand for bike infrastructure.

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Categories: Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

11 Comments on “Why Stockton needs to embrace biking”

  1. Jon Seisa
    May 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Besides urban bike trails within the city proper, I always thought it would be ideal if the city, county and state formulated a comprehensive master plan to create a vast “San Joaquin River State Park” greenbelt much on the lines of Sacramento’s American River Parkway, and enhanced aesthetically with natural landscaping, marshland vegetation, and a major tree planting initiative, including mature-growth trees, and having biking, jogging and horse riding trails.

    The ideal corridor for this river state park is the vicinity of the San Joaquin River on the southwest side of Stockton from West Charter Way southward to Dos Reis County Park at Lathrop Road, approximately 7.25 nautical miles, and flanking both sides of the river with cross-connective pedestrian/trail bridges and key street bridges. The city biking trails could easily feed into the river park system’s trails, as well.

    Other “destination amenities” should also be included in the master plan to add enhanced features and accomodations, i.e. rest areas with restrooms, picnic groves, toddler playgrounds, riverside beach coves, boat launch facilities, RV resort parks, camping grounds, nature center, sports recreational parks, equestrian center/track/stables, tennis center, handball, squash and basketball courts, a rock climbing wall facility, skateboard park, botanical gardens with pavilions, duck and swan ponds, snack bar, refreshment and concession village, municipal pool, toddlers wadding pool, amphitheatre, entertainment kiosk, Shakespearean village and theatre, Shakespearean library, Japanese tea gardens, arboretum, aviary, and so on. It could become a major recreational and tourism attribute for the city and county, not just for residences and local biking enthusiasts, but also for travelers and RV vacationers passing through town, a “must do” destination on their list.

    Another trail-oriented greenbelt parkway I think would be ideal is to expand the Calaveras River biking trail beyond Golden State Highway 99 into a “Calaveras River Regional Parkway” to North Jack Tone Road northeast of Stockton (approximately 13.5 nautical miles from the San Joaquin River to NJT Rd), where along the river route basin east of 99 a strategic river/water reclamation series of designed cataracts would be constructed to create a linear formation of engineered artificial lakes and waterways flanked with recreational amenities, along with biking, jogging and horse riding trails, and aesthetically enhanced with regenerated natural landscaping that is augmented with an ambitious re-vegetation landscaping plan. Some or similar “destination amenities” as mentioned above could be integrated into the master plan to add enhanced activity and interest.

    • David Garcia
      May 7, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

      These are great ideas. I have always felt that our waterways are under appreciated and under utilized. Other cities and regions make great use of rivers, lakes, etc, but in the Central Valley most people don’t even know they are there. Stockton should be turning water ways into trails and paths. However, I think the corps of engineers deserves a lot of the blame as they insist that levees be stripped of most plants and vegetation, making it difficult to turn urban waterways into enjoyable trails rather than something we just drive over.

      • Jon Seisa
        May 7, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

        I’m so glad you agree, David; thanks. I guess there needs to be a campaign started to educate outsiders more on Stockton’s Delta attribute and asset, and a comprehensive plan co-oping with the California Bay-Delta Authority in conjunction with USACE, if the waterway levees are to be used for other than driving. Through engineering and design I know these things can be achieved, and a cohesive balance created between community use and natural preservation. If anything, the weight and abuse on the levees’ structural integrity by heavy motor vehicles, trucks and heavy equipment is far more jeopardizing and damaging than by the scant weight of mere bicycles, pedestrians, horses and joggers. So why not shift the levees from motor-orientation to people/bike/etc-orientation, and construct the roads at the base of the levees? That makes more sense.

        Baton Rouge has a splendid levee bike trail with separate lanes for bikers and pedestrian walkers/joggers and rollerbladders, as well as periodic seating, lighting and drinking water fountains…

        Baton Rouge’s Mississippi River Levee Bicycle Path:

        St. Charles Parish Levee Bike Path: http://media.nola.com/news_impact/photo/chas-levee-bike-080310jpg-5f90361636a07ea8.jpg

        The Monarch Chesterfield Levee Trail through St. Louis, Missouri, is apart of the Missouri River Greenway. Along the way, the trail provides access to the Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex, which includes playgrounds, concession areas, restrooms and dozens of playing fields for baseball, softball, soccer and football… the same thing can be designed in a “San Joaquin River State Park” and/or “Calaveras River Regional Parkway”:

        Another thing, a side note that your comment sparked, I think Stockton needs to “campaign” itself via a marketing strategy that capitalizes on its unique attribute and asset as “The Delta City”— something no other city in the entire state of California can ever claim. This is an untapped marketing novelty gold mine and city brand identity asset that can develop further in so many beneficial and dramatic economic ways, i.e. aquatic lifestyle uniqueness, an oasis sanctuary, aesthetical enhancements via water use in design compounded with a citywide garden aesthetic campaign (Stockton reconceptualized as “The Delta-Garden City”— Stockton can leverage its unique orientation and location within the Central Valley Garden of California), aquatic-oriented tourist destination, water sports and recreation, waterway casinos and hotels, floating restaurants, waterfront rejuvenation along the entire Stockton Channel Corridor, and/or perhaps a designated westside zoned tourism-entertainment district focused on the exclusive water theme combined with aquatic recreation, and having easy access to I-5.

        It seems to me the Stockton leaders can do more to help facilitate efforts towards the goal of such a new city image aesthetical makeover, say, institute municipal ordinances for developers to integrate more green elements, mandatory garden style elements, hanging terraced gardens, mandatory aesthetical water features, reflecting ponds, fountains, façade and wall trellises, more integrated landscaping per square acre, and so on.

        For instance, for an aquatic-oriented city, why isn’t there an annual California powerboat grand prix race held in the Stockton Channel with major commercial sponsorship, like the Lucas Oil World Finals drag boat race (LODBRS World Finals)? Or an annual Western U.S. crew competition? By comparison these events would dwarf the benefits and revenue generated by the Annual Asparagus Festival (not that the festival should go away, by any means), because of their more far reaching audience, visibility factor, and the influx of external revenue into the city that is separate from its local economy; but most significantly because there is a major “spectacle” involved, especially the dramatic drag boat race, that can be cross-supported and augmented with a festival of beverages, eateries and merchants.

        This is the type of high intensity annual event that should be held each summer at the Stockton Channel, which is the perfect linear waterway venue for this event, having the right placid waters, width, and requiring only 1000 feet in length for the course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-ljpD7BdQA

        [The annual Long Beach Toyota Grand Prix is a major moneymaker for Long Beach with attendance nearly at 300,000 people, including celebrity appearances. It is a gold mine for local restauranters and hotels, as well. Yet, on the other hand it totally puzzles me why they have completely overlooked utilizing the city’s IMMENSE ASSET of San Pedro Bay at their sole disposal and threshold to hold an annual international super powerboat grand prix race; and this is an aquatic port city directly on the Pacific Ocean. In other words, this event would be far more appropriate than a Toyota Grand Prix. Go figure.]

  2. Jon Seisa
    May 7, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Overall, I think the biking experience must be made into a leisurely pleasurable event for bike commuters (besides recreational bicyclers) in order to drive interest and participation higher, as well as be efficient with good connectivity and street safety. Environmental aesthetics also helps, lush shade trees lining the path help circumvent over exposure from the hot valley summer sun, garden landscaping and stunning vistas are also a visual delight; as well as conveniences and accommodations help to lessen fatigue and facilitate rejuvenation, i.e. canopied cooling centers, rest areas with seating, access to drinking water, refreshments and restrooms. Also, interesting things to do along the route is something to consider, i.e. a library, magazine stand, park, picnic groves, cluster of outdoor trendy and hip internet cafes, floral mart, riverside beach cove to stop for an afternoon sunbathing session, a sports park with green lawns and, say, a batting cage center, a state-of-the art Bally’s gym or 24-Hour Fitness Center for fitness enthusiasts who want to augment their biking with a workout regime, and so on.

    This is interesting, reported by Huffington Post Green, “Between 1990 and 2009, the number of cycling trips rose 64% in the United States, with biking specifically for transportation (as opposed to recreation) comprising 54% of all trips.”

    Stockton’s city neighbor, Sacramento, is #25 on “America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities” list; more…

    #40 Oakland
    #38 Thousand Oaks
    #32 Los Angeles
    #25 Sacramento
    #19 Long Beach
    #8 San Francisco
    #1 Portland Oregon

    It looks like Stockton will have to be more ambitious and aggressive to get on this list due to the criteria required, and definitely funding for biking infrastructure is critical and the hiring of a city/county bike-ped coordinator.


    “Best Bike Cities In The U.S. 2012: Bicycling Magazine’s Top-Rated Regions”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/best-cities-biking-cycling-bicycle_n_1536262.html

    Original Article from Bicycling Magazine: http://www.bicycling.com/ride-maps/featured-rides/1-portland-or

    In my community (#19 on the list) there is a grave problem that deals with a lack of awareness in cycling etiquette and road rules by bicyclers, themselves, who ride on the sidewalks putting pedestrians in harm’s way, even demanding pedestrians to get off the sidewalks (despite bike lanes) instead of riding the bikes on the streets, who often ride going in the wrong direction of traffic and on the wrong side of the street leading to danger for drivers, pedestrians and bikers where accidents have often occurred with bicyclers being run down by vehicles due to their own carelessness that puts them and drivers at risk; like not yielding to a driver who has entered a stop sign intersection first; and most neglect to wear safety gear such as helmets. With ever increasing bicycling commuters and accidents caused by bicyclers, this may need to prompt some sort of new statewide bicycling operative liability insurance laws to cover mutual damage costs just as drivers using the streets for commuting with their vehicles must have auto insurance.

  3. May 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Thank you for the great article. I think a dedicated cycling community is budding here in Stockton, and I hope it continues to grow and find deeper roots. Advocacy will play a key role in making Bike-Ped projects a priority for local leaders.

    With regards to funding, SJCOG does contribute to bike-ped through Measure K, the transportation sales tax. Not sure about RTD.

    Thanks again for featuring bicycling. Looking forward to the next article!

    • David Garcia
      May 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

      Hello Kari,

      Thanks for the compliment and for enlightening me on SJCOG funding. It’s great to hear that biking is becoming more popular, I hope the city will invest in the proper infrastructure to foster even more growth. I plan to write more about biking in Stockton soon, thanks again!

  4. Bill Fuhs
    May 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    I agree that biking is the answer to many of Stockton’s problems. Unfortunately, Biking only works when it is faster and safer than other forms of transportation–you can’t just throw in a bike lane here and there and expect good results.

    Mr. Garcia, can I use SCL to challenge Mayor Silva to a race? I challenge the Mayor to a race from San Joaquin Bike Coalition (SJBD) (235 N. San Joaquin St) to UOP. He can scoot, drive, run, taxi or fly on a Spanos Jet. I will ride my bicycle. A fair warning , I am about twice the Mayor’s age, so I have many more years of exercise.

    Here are the rules:

    The Mayor must allow me to set up “Bike Lanes”, “Bike Boulevards” and “Sharrow Streets” such as those used in Palo Alto, Portland, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee. All of the cost can come from Measure K funds.

    I promise not to touch, and/or change Pacific Avenue–we will leave that to the cars, buses, trucks and other lumbering things.


    ~~Bill Fuhs

    • David Garcia
      May 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      You are right, bike lanes by themselves won’t do the trick. there needs to be a network that makes it easy and safe for people to get from point A to point B, as well as worthwhile destinations. Stockton needs to look no further than Sacramento which has ranked very highly as a bikeable city. We share the same geography and climate, and we have a street grid in and around downtown that can make biking very attractive.

      You can certainly use my site to proclaim whatever you would like to the mayor. I would probably post this challenge on his facebook page, though. I am not sure if the mayor has time to read my articles.

      • Bill Fuhs
        May 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

        I’ve never met the mayor, but if he is sharp enough to get elected–I bet he reads SCL. I don’t have a Facebook, so lets see if he picks up the challenge here.

        As far as a comparison with Sacramento–Stockton has “better bones”. Wide, beautiful streets, more waterways, more opportunities. I consider the American River Parkway (along the American River) as one of the world’s finest rides. Thirty two miles from Old Sac to Folsom, no cars allowed. Stockton could be better!

      • David Garcia
        May 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

        I agree. Stockton has miles of waterways that could become great for biking. The city did draw up a waterfront connections plan just a few years ago, but as with other projects, it has been sidetracked due to more pressing issues. I hope the city can realize its potential with its waterways in the future.


  1. Can a bike share program work in Stockton? | Stockton City Limits - May 22, 2013

    […] week, I discussed why Stockton should become more-bike friendly; Biking promotes good health, provides an economic boost to merchants and offers alternative […]

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