The City of Bakersfield is now able to move forward in developing a plan that aims to reduce injuries and fatalities of bicyclists and pedestrians in town.
The City Council approved a resolution during its Feb. 7 meeting that allows City Manager Alan Tandy to enter in agreement with the California Department of Transportation to help fund a Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Plan.
Caltrans will provide the city a $177,000 Sustainable Communities and Adaptation Planning grant later this spring. The city will cover the rest of the $200,000 plan, which will examine the city’s roadways to determine which are the most dangerous to bikers and pedestrians.
“This is a great opportunity to explore some of these intersections with high rates of injuries and fatalities,” said Chris Gerry, assistant to the city manager. “It will provide us with guidelines for reducing incidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Gerry said the plan will recommend design improvements, which could include additional bike lanes, additional signage as well as new pedestrian and bike paths away from traffic.
The city applied for the Caltrans grant in October after publishing a report that month looking at bicyclist and pedestrian deaths in the city from 2014 through August 2017.
According to the report, pedestrian fatalities have been steadily climbing since 2014, when the city reported 10 deaths. For 2017, there was a total of 21 pedestrian deaths, a big jump from 16 in 2016.
Bicyclist deaths haven’t had the same kind of climb. There were two deaths each in 2015 and 2017 while 2014 and 2016 saw three.
Pedestrians and bicyclists were at fault in nearly 75 percent of the cases, according to the report. Most of the deaths occurred because of a failure to yield to vehicles in areas without a crosswalk.
Most of the fatalities happened on or right around Highway 204/Union Avenue. That roadway had 11 pedestrian deaths, most of them occurring in the areas of Truxtun and Union avenues and California and Union avenues.
Jack Becker, executive director of Bike Bakersfield, said he’s happy that the city is taking steps to improve the conditions of Bakersfield’s roadways. He said much of the biking community has become increasingly fearful to go riding.
“Most people in our community say they don’t feel entirely safe riding their bike on the road because they’re afraid of being hit by a car,” he said. “We believe our communities should have better options and access for transportation and that there should be more consideration of vulnerable users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Becker said he urges the city to not just look at roads where there have been fatalities but also ones where there have been injuries, as he said some of those incidents could have turned into fatalities if circumstances were just a little different.
Becker said he would like to see more and wider bike lanes on roads. He also thinks more paths should be created around town such as the Kern River Parkway and that there be better connectivity between paths.
“We have a bike path that’s great for east to west connection, but for some people who don’t live nearby, it can be hard to ride their bike there. Most of them just drive to the path,” he said. “It would be great if we had more safe corridors for people to ride their bikes on. We need a network of paths.”
Regardless of what developments come out of the plan, Becker said he’s just happy that the city is looking into how to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
“I think it’s a great thing that needs to be done,” he said. “Once they have the data, they’ll know what to focus on. The more info the city has on how they should design their roadways, the better.”
Gerry said now that the funding for the plan has been approved, the city will begin looking into hiring a consultant to oversee the plan. Gerry said the city will likely present a consultant agreement for approval by the City Council by the end of May. Gerry said the city is expecting to get its grant from Caltrans around that time as well.
After a consultant is hired and the funding comes in, Gerry said the development of the plan will take at least a year but could take as long as 18 months.