Stockton, like many other American cities, is taking notice of the changing pace of development, particularly surrounding transportation. What has been an automobile-centric status quo is quickly falling out of vogue, particularly among younger demographics. As car use declines, alternative transportation methods are steadily gaining favor, including expanded use of bicycles. While the cost of adding additional bicycle lanes can sometimes be costly along major thoroughfares, Stockton could benefit by making use of existing side streets that run parallel to major crosstown thoroughfares, a design known as a Bicycle Boulevard.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Stockton is actually quite conducive to cycling, particularly for short trips. The terrain is flat, the weather relatively mild and in many of the older portions of the city– built prior to the dominance of the personal vehicle– the existing street grid pattern makes navigating potentially busy streets much less frightening.
However, only a small percentage of Stocktonians use bikes for getting around. Embedded in the text of the Stockton 2007 Master Bicycle Plan sits a tiny blurb stating that less than one-percent (about 700 people) regularly commute anywhere by bicycle. There is hope that this metric– seven years later– has strong potential to change. The opportunity for Stockton to embrace and encourage cycling as a viable method of transportation is knocking as the city’s Public Works Department seeks funding to update the current bike plan.
Part of what the updated plan should consider is shifting some of the current lane designations away from major arterial streets like Pacific and Pershing avenues onto quieter, reduced volume streets. This concept has seen great success in many bike-friendly cities. Berkeley’s Bike Boulevard system is a good example.
In the early 2000s, the City of Berkeley identified streets that cyclists were already naturally drawn to due to existing low vehicle volumes, speeds and provided minimal delay when trying to reach a destination. These streets were enhanced with traffic calming measures, way-finding signage and pavement markings to further create a street environment that catered to non-motorized travel. Today, the routes are well used, efficiently enabling people who were otherwise uncomfortable riding in traffic to cycle more.
These biking boulevards also cater to more than one use. While roads designed explicitly for automobile throughput can be off-putting to pedestrians, Bicycle Boulevards provide a comfortable walking environment for walkers and bikers alike.
Additionally, cities using this design often find it a more economically viable option toward expanding the bike network as it utilizes existing roadways. By allowing residents who otherwise would not be comfortable biking on busy streets an option for travel on one or more trips, road congestion can decrease, moving cities closer to various sustainability goals. That’s good news for places like Stockton, which recently released its draft Climate Action Plan pledging to reduce greenhouse gases over the coming years, particularly through reducing vehicle emissions.
There is already evidence that a Bicycle Boulevard approach to biking could work well in Stockton. Of those who do use a bike to get around, many are already intuitively using these adjacent side streets for their travel. Streets like Baker Street and Kensington Way, which parallel Pershing Avenue – a Class I bicycle route according to the Master Bicycle Plan – are a much preferred alternative to Pershing’s uneven pavement, lack of a striped lane and fast moving traffic flow. Likewise, the movement of traffic to Miner Avenue downtown could direct bike traffic off busy Weber Avenue just one block away.
Cycling carries with it a lot of benefits, both personally and for the community at large. Residents who travel by bike are more likely to spend their money locally, bolstering small businesses within their community. More bikes means fewer cars, and as Stockton considers ways to reduce the largest greenhouse gas metric – vehicle miles traveled – it behooves those in charge of planning for the city’s future to consider what design methods could be put in place to encourage residents to think seriously about hopping on two wheels instead of four.
To ignore the existing potential the city has for bicycle travel would be a waste, especially as cost effective measures like Bicycle Boulevards are very feasible and communication between the city and those advocating for an improved bike network is improving. Improving the existing bicycle network is an important step for Stockton. It would signify the city’s emergence into modern progressive transportation planning and encourage a diversity of more equitable transportation options.