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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Cindy Parra, a board member of Bike Bakersfield, leads a group of cyclist through Mill Creek Park in their start of an approximately 8 mile ride on the Bakersfield Streets to get first hand experience of cycling through different areas of Bakersfield.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Cindy Parra, a board member of Bike Bakersfield, prepares to lead a group of cyclist on an approximately 8 mile ride on the Bakersfield Streets.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Bakersfield City Councilman Bob Smith participated in a bike ride out of Mill Creek with other cyclist to explore the city's existing bike lanes and streets.

The city's downtown, and adjacent eastern and southern areas are its least safe for bicyclists, though the number of collisions involving cyclists dropped regularly between 2006-2010, according to a draft Bicycle Transportation Plan the Bakersfield City Council will consider Wednesday.

Still, the report says, just 7 percent of Bakersfield bicyclists are "enthused and confident" and will use most available roadways, while 60 percent are "interested but concerned" and "are typically not confident cycling with motorists."

These are the kinds of findings the Bakersfield City Council will discuss Wednesday when it considers approving the plan, done by Alta Planning & Design during the past year and a half with a $120,000 grant from the Kern County Air Pollution Mitigation Fund.

The city needs such a plan to qualify for state and federal grants that would allow it to maintain and add to existing facilities -- from the Kern River Parkway bike path to the bike lane on Coffee Road.

Community Development Director Doug McIsaac characterized the plan as " ... the beginning, not the end, in terms of trying to pursue further enhancing our bicycle transportation network."

The eight-chapter plan includes a needs analysis, recommended programs and an analysis of the 256 wrecks involving bicyclists that occurred between 2006 and 2010, the most recent year surveyed.

The number of bicycle-related collisions dropped every year but 2008, from 56 in 2006 to 49 in 2010. During 2007 and 2008, 54 bicyclists were in collisions each year.

"Compared to other California cities with populations over 250,000, Bakersfield ranked the lowest by average population," the report reads, noting that "(the) vast majority of collisions occurred in downtown Bakersfield or adjacent to downtown to the east and south."

Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, who led a tour of a variety of city bikeways Tuesday, emphasized the report's finding that the No. 1 violation cyclists commit is traveling on the wrong side of the road -- riding against traffic -- saying that riders need to obey traffic laws in order to be safe.

Smith said the council needs to target the 60 percent of "interested" riders instead of the 1 percent who are "strong and fearless" or the 33 percent in the "no way, no how" group, and approve the plan.

"This new plan shows (expansion) on slower streets, what we call more family-friendly routes. This is a pretty high-dollar example," Smith said, indicating the bike path along the western shore of the Central Park lake, where the ride began. "We get 50 percent of that 60 percent and we'll be doing well."

Many of the dozen riders who rode Tuesday were members of Bike Bakersfield, the group Smith helped found. But regardless, riders said that slower, smaller streets make biking safer and more enjoyable.

Bike Bakersfield board member Cindy Parra praised the Garnsey Avenue neighborhood -- which would be intersected by the Centennial Corridor freeway link -- saying it helps her avoid California Avenue.

"I had no idea you could use it to wiggle through to California," Parra said. "I like the neighborhoods a lot better."

Zachary Griffin of Kern Active Transportation, a transportation consultant and cyclist, said the city needs to add its bicycle plan to the General Plan, to demonstrate its commitment to cyclists.

City Attorney Ginny Gennaro disagreed, saying that would help, but is not necessary.

In other business, the council will consider paying Parsons Transportation Group an additional $144,000 for environmental work on building four unrelated parts of Centennial Corridor separately and earlier than the freeway connection between Highway 58 and Westside Parkway.