This place was built on big ideas. In the mid-1800s, when the County of Kern was organized, Col. Thomas Baker was county surveyor. He must have realized at the time that the new city would grow and laid out the streets with wide proportions, which accounts for the spacious thoroughfares that endure today.
Legend has it Baker wanted the streets to be wide enough for a carriage to turn around in one swoop. I love to picture this lawyer and former war-time colonel, with his black tailcoat, knotted cravat and top hat, grinning as he watched fellow businessmen instruct their carriages be turned right in front of them to head back home.
These wide streets throughout downtown and the surrounding areas are a gift from our city’s namesake and should be attributed to his foresight. At the time of his surveying, Baker knew that this place might someday be a bustling city, but what he could not have known were the many future uses for these well-proportioned roadways.
The modern utility for wide streets differs somewhat from that in the dusty chaos of the 1800s, but we should not overlook this opportunity. Now, we use not carriages but cars, our town is populated not at 500 but nearly 500,000, and our roads are not dirt and gravel but paved in asphalt. And with more people, comes a need for a more organized roadway system.
Today’s residents have higher expectations; we appreciate separated sidewalks and bike lanes when they are incorporated everywhere and especially with thoughtful landscaping.
In recent decades, our city has focused almost exclusively on the motorized sort when mapping out the use of streets, but we should also consider other modes of travel. Wide streets can accommodate everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike.
And moving around outside of a car is a basic human need; we should get back to that.
There are plenty of reasons to make space for cycling and walking along city streets and to encourage and make safe these additional uses. The health of residents and economic success of our city will benefit by considering all possible means of travel. Time spent in a car each day takes a toll on our health. A longer commute is a key predictor of heart disease. Property values and retail receipts are also higher in walkable communities.
Cities around the world are now promoting safe walking and cycling to improve public health and spur development. From Davis to Denver to Durham, cities are shifting their primary attention from keeping cars moving to making it easier to walk, cycle and play on their streets. Some central roads are being converted into pedestrian promenades, others flanked with cycle lanes. Speed limits are slashed. More than 700 cities in 50 countries now have bike-share schemes.
Residents are demanding safe accommodation for non-motorized modes of transportation. Outsiders are also attracted to a community that values quality-of-life matters like walkability and bikeability.
We should build on Baker’s visionary outlook for our city. We must tailor these wide streets to the needs of current and future generations as our city evolves. Baker gave us a network of living, breathing infrastructure upon which to build a robust city, and we should respect that vision and improve upon it.
I write a lot about the urban landscape of this increasingly metropolitan city, but I'm keenly aware that Bakersfield's first modern industry was agriculture, and farming continues to be a vital segment of our economy. That means both farms and farming suppliers.
One of the oldest farming suppliers in the area, Bakersfield Tractor Supply Co., isn't just business, though. The folks at BTS tell me they'll be welcoming all leashed, friendly animals to their store during Pet Appreciation Week Sept. 13-17.
Manager John Hohler says one aim of the promotion is to help families find an adoptable animal from one of our community rescues. In furtherance of that goal, Kern County Animal Services will be on site that Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Of course, Hohler is also hoping to sell a whole bunch of pet food and pet supplies, and he has marked down prices accordingly.
For more information on the week’s events or to participate, contact the Bakersfield store at 661-589-1504.
The rent-analysis website apartment.com has released its latest surveys of rent costs and the news is marginally good.
Rents in Bakersfield have remained flat over the past month, although they have increased 1.6 percent year-over-year. Median rent prices here prove to be more affordable than comparable cities nationwide: Bakersfield's median two-bedroom rent of $920 is below the national average of $1,160.
Over the past year, rents have increased across the state. Of the largest 10 cities studied, all have seen prices rise. So it probably could be worse in Bakersfield.
A WORTHY CAUSE
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is kicking off construction of the 2018 Bakersfield St. Jude Dream Home with a groundbreaking ceremony this Thursday at 8:15 a.m. This year's house, to be auctioned off with proceeds benefiting the hospital, is in the Berkshire Ranch community — on Bidwell Drive, near the cross streets of Panama and Old River Road.
Adopting a holistic “complete streets” approach boosts the local economy, such as home values and retail receipts, and improves livability and sustainability. (This is according to a study by the Transit Research Board of the National Academies.) A recent research project in Louisville, Ky., found that walkabilty is statistically significant in predicting neighborhood housing values.
Complete Streets is a holistic approach to transportation planning and design that aims to create comprehensive, integrated networks of streets that are safe and convenient for all people, whether traveling by transit, bicycle, foot, or automobile and regardless of their age or ability.
REDUCTION IN CRIME
Increased walkability is associated with decreased property crime, murders, and violent crime.
BIKE SHARE PROGRAM
Runner Ride at Cal State Bakersfield is a bike share program available to all CSUB students and employees. It’s free of charge. Helmet, u-lock, cable and lock key are included in rental. Find more information on the program at www.csub.edu/reccenter/runner%20ride.
WHAT’S YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD WALK SCORE?
Walk Score helps you find a walkable place to live. It rates places between 0 to 100 and measures the walkability of any address. Check yours at www.walkscore.com.