When I saw the headline on Herb Benham's Sept. 9 column, "One wrong turn makes bike ride a trip to hell," I thought it was going to be about riding the bike lanes in Bakersfield. The title would have been equally apropos. Cycling the streets of Bakersfield is a bike ride to hell: You risk your life if you make a wrong turn or continue down any street too long. A neighborhood ride might start out with a well-marked bike lane, but it doesn't take long before it abruptly ends, the streets narrow, the shoulder disappears, and what started out as an enjoyable ride turns into a terror-filled fight for your life.
Take the bike lane at the recently redesigned intersection of Hageman Road and Allen Road or Hageman and Santa Fe Way, for example. Turning north onto either Allen or Santa Fe, the brightly marked, wide bike lane lures the rider into thinking the lane is thoughtfully planned and will connect at coming intersections with bike lanes going in cross directions for a simple, sensible, enjoyable ride. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing sensible about Bakersfield bike lanes. Turning north onto Allen, the lane soon ends and the rider is competing for road space with cars. A lot of cars. Sharing the road only makes sense if there is road to share. The rider is forced to ride in the sand along the side of the road in order to remain safe.
From Hageman turning north onto Santa Fe, traffic gets heavier and faster. The bike lane is no longer clearly marked as such and it has become narrower. Is it still a bike lane or is it now a shoulder? Is it OK to still ride in the lane/shoulder? Is it safe? The lane is now overgrown with tumbleweeds that, in order to dodge, sends the rider into the lane of traffic. A reasonable rider would think it wise to get off the now bike-unfriendly street.
Reina Street would seem like a good choice. Turn right, cross the railroad track, and -- no bike lane. No shoulder. Narrow street. The only option is to ride over gravel with plenty of sharp rocks capable of causing a flat tire. Not an option.
Back onto Santa Fe north, there is no option to turn right until the overpass at 7th Standard Road. There is a pretty wide lane/shoulder on 7th Standard going east. Ride to Calloway Road and turn right and -- no bike lane. No shoulder. Narrow street. Fast cars. It just doesn't make sense.
It's like riding in a maze and hitting a dead end. Did planners even think about the consequences of abruptly ending bike lanes? What is a rider to do? Opting for the rocky gravel or sand continuing south on Calloway, the bike lane is intermittent. It has long since stopped being a pleasurable ride. At least the street is wide enough to ride apart from traffic until Hageman. Crossing Rosedale Highway, the drama begins again, as the bike lane on Calloway ends.
Biking the streets of Bakersfield, you also notice how few bike lanes there are near neighborhood schools. It makes no sense. If bike lanes should be anywhere, they should be near schools. Their absence brings home the importance of the Safe Rides to School initiative. It is scary enough for an adult to bike these streets, let alone kids.
City and county planners, council members, and supervisors should ride the bike lanes and experience the danger and frustration cyclists experience. They will find the streets of Bakersfield not only not well-planned for cyclists, but also unsafe and unfriendly to cyclists.
I am not a long-distance cyclist or a bike racer. I'm just a middle-aged woman trying to drop a dress size by riding my bike in my neighborhood before work and afterward when I can. I should not have to run a traffic gantlet to do so. Can our bike plan be a little better than this?
Evelyn Young is executive assistant to Cal State Bakersfield President Horace Mitchell. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.