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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.

The Bakersfield City Council on Wednesday approved a Bicycle Transportation Plan that even its advocates said highlights the dangers of city riding.

Alta Planning & Design, which produced the eight-chapter plan with a $120,000 county clean air grant, found that the numbers of collisions involving Bakersfield cyclists dropped during four of five years between 2006-2010 -- but that 40 percent of accidents involved cyclists younger than 18, and 26 percent of crashes happened during the after-school hours of 2 to 5 p.m.

The number of bicycle-related collisions dropped every year but 2008, from 56 in 2006 to 49 in 2010, according to plan data from Kern County Sheriff's Office and Bakersfield Police Department. During 2007 and 2008, 54 bicyclists were in collisions each year.

The plan reveals that 69 percent of collisions were broadside crashes, "(indicating) those involved were either not obeying traffic control devices (e.g. signals, stop signs) or ensuring it was safe to cross."

Alta project manager Jennifer Donlon-Wyant said in an interview that the young age of so many accident victims makes it crucial for the city to implement bicycle education and safety programs, and increase bike lanes on smaller streets.

"While the community appreciates the bike lane on the large arterials, they're not very comfortable on them," Donlon-Wyant said.

Kern River Parkway bike trail co-founder Rich O'Neil said in an interview that he supports the plan, but thinks it needs more Class 1 bike paths like the one along the river, which would be separate from vehicle traffic and, he believes, safer.

Community Development Director Douglas McIsaac said in an interview that the city is trying to educate riders, and applied for a $350,000 Caltrans grant earlier this year to educate young riders on safe routes to school, but did not receive it.

McIsaac told the council that the recommended additions to existing bike paths would cost $34.2 million and represent 260 miles of improvements -- which could be built as grants are received.

"I want to emphasize that this plan does not require or obligate the city to conduct these improvements," McIsaac said.

"What it does do however, it will make the city eligible to apply for grants from the state of California that it otherwise would not be eligible for."

The plan also makes the city eligible to pursue federal grants to augment its existing 144 miles of bike paths. It met with enthusiastic support Wednesday from five residents who urged the city to vote yes.

"It's important for us to recognize that data and the fact that we need better infrastructure and safer routes for families and children," said Bakersfield City School District board member Andrae Gonzales.

The council approved the plan 5-0, with Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson absent and Vice Mayor Ken Weir abstaining.

"I don't think there's anything in the plan that talks about someone forcing an educational plan on people that are on bikes and are going to be using our transportation grid, but it sure would be nice," said Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, noting that "the vast majority of people on bikes aren't following any rules at all."

"I'm excited that we do something for children's safety and get children active in the community, give them safe routes to school," said Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, a longtime cycling advocate.