More people are riding bicycles in Placer County than ever.
Bike commuting to and from work has increased by 39 percent since 2010. This year’s “May is Bike Month,” attracted more than 1,200 participating cyclists – the largest attendance to date. As Placer County experiences dramatic growth in population, new homes and businesses, the popularity of cycling grows at the same time. The first and only Regional Bikeway Plan, created in 2002, is now being updated by Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA) and the County of Placer Public Works.
This plan will identify the gaps in our current bikeway system and recommend improvements specific to unincorporated Placer County communities and roadways. The Regional Bikeway Plan will also address key regional connections between local cities and the County of Sacramento.
As part of the community engagement effort, PCTPA hosted virtual community workshop in June to discover the opportunities to improve bicycling conditions and identify concerns of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists. PCTPA received more than 1,700 public comments to help inform the updated plan.
“The tangible benefit of this level of community engagement is that their input becomes the foundation for updating the 2002 Regional Bikeway Plan,” explained Aaron Hoyt, Associate Planner for PCTPA. “The comments help us understand issue areas within the existing bikeway network. We also get a sense for the level of interest in bikeways included in the 2002 Plan but not yet constructed. For projects not yet built, we can identify if they need to be included in the updated plan” Hoyt explained. “Public comment also helps bring to light new potential projects, such as a new cycling route for recreational cyclists or those out touring.
So what happens next?
The real work of planning begins once all the comments are reviewed. Once a final plan is completed, projects are ready to seek funding.
“After all comments have been reviewed, the next step is a needs assessment that takes into consideration potential user demand, destinations, demographics, connectivity to other transportation facilities, and safety,” said Hoyt. “Planners ask ‘what makes sense here?’ considering sight distance, speed limit, traffic volumes and other limiting factors on the roadway. Then we create a list of potential projects that are financially feasible, most likely to be competitive for funding, and supported by the community,” he added.
The PCTPA Board of Directors and stakeholders then provide input on the list of projects. Comments can take the form of online surveys, small focus group meetings or in-person, large group community engagement meetings.
The final step is to create the updated the Regional Bikeway Plan. From there, neighboring cities, Placer County or PCTPA begin their search for funding.
The span of time to get a project completed always varies. Identifying project scope, availability of funding and addressing other construction procedures come long before the first shovel hits the ground. With so many variables, a three to five year window or longer to complete a single project is common.
Where does funding come from?
Hoyt described three primary sources for funding. The first is called the “Local Transportation Fund” to support local transportation projects. This fund provides about $400,000 in funding dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle projects annually. This is a small portion of the 0.25% in state sales tax back that comes back to individual counties for transportation projects. These funds are distributed to each jurisdiction based on a population formula, no application is required. Local Transportation Funds are also used for public transit, filling potholes, and as match funds for competitive grants.
The “Active Transportation Program” is an annual, statewide competitive grant program for both cycling and pedestrian projects. In 2017, over $300 million was available statewide. Placer County jurisdictions secured approximately $8 million for local bikeway projects.
“This is a very competitive program that requires significant resources to prepare the grant” said Hoyt.
Federal grants represent the third funding option. The most common is the “Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality” grant. PCTPA receives this funding and puts out a call for proposals to cities and counties to support design, funding and construction of roadway improvements and pedestrian and bicycle projects