Stockton isn’t exactly known as “bike friendly.” While other cities large and small have prioritized cycling infrastructure, our city continues to lag behind the curve. Even as our neighbors in Sacramento and Modesto make huge strides this area, cyclists and pedestrians in Stockton are left wondering when the city will be responsive to their needs.
But city officials have started to turn the tide. A new Bike Master Plan is nearly complete, and funding has been secured for bike lanes along Downtown Stockton’s Miner Avenue. But the first concrete advancements in our bike infrastructure are actually occurring very soon in North Stockton.
Recently, the Public Works Department unveiled updated plans for the very first “green,” buffered bike lanes in the entire city and county, with construction beginning in early 2017 and lasting most of the year. These plans were recently presented to a packed Stockton Ball Room community workshop where residents and bike advocates were able to view the actual block-by-block plans of the Thornton Road widening project, which, in addition to new bike lanes, will increase Thornton Road from two lanes to four. While it’s our general rule of thumb at SCL to frown upon road widenings, these new plans are actually a gigantic step in the right direction.
The improvements are occurring on Thornton Road between Estate Drive and Pershing Avenue. Readers familiar with this stretch will remember that it earned SCL’s ire two years ago as one of the “Worst Streets in Stockton,” and with good cause. This roughly 1.5 mile stretch of road creates a massive bottleneck, squeezing several lanes of traffic into two lanes. Moreover, Thornton Road is a nightmare for pedestrians and cyclists with almost no sidewalks or shoulders, despite being a heavily traveled north-south corridor. Collisions with cars and pedestrians/cyclists are not uncommon along Thornton, sometimes with deadly consequences. Given these conditions, it’s safe to say that this overhaul of Thornton Road is sorely needed.
But what’s even more impressive about this project is its evolution from a car-centric design to one that’s more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. The original plans called for a major expansion of the road, from its current two-lane configuration to six lanes. However, these plans were put on hold due to the recession. Once funding became available to complete the project, city officials could have just as easily moved ahead with the original plans, but instead they took a more thoughtful approach. Instead of creating a six-lane speedway, staff sensed an opportunity to incorporate a more multi-modal design. After looking at the actual traffic projections, they determined that four lanes would be sufficient for auto travel, and the extra room could be dedicated to bikes and pedestrians.
Needless to say, this shift in staff thinking is most welcome. Through the years, nearly all Stockton road projects have prioritized maximizing vehicle capacity without thought to the pedestrian or cyclist. As a result, we’ve been saddled with major thoroughfares that are dangerous and intimidating for anyone without a car. However, with this new Thornton Road plan, staff has signaled an important change in philosophy. Furthermore, I’ve personally had discussions with staff about these issues, and I can confirm that this shift in thinking is real. We’re starting to see a real change in attitudes towards walking and biking in Stockton, and the public works staff has taken notice of these changes. It’s encouraging to see staff completely rework a project to meet the new demands of a younger, more multimodal generation of Stocktonians.