YOLO SUN NEWS REPORT :

 

Updated in large part as a result of the death of a Woodland bicyclist — riding upon the existing — on-street, Class II type of bikeway route previously adopted — the “Final” version of a 2001-originated Davis-Woodland Bikeway Feasibility Study (DWBFS) has now recommended a preferred (6.5 mile) intercity route and accomplished related feasibility analyses for potential implementation of a dedicated, Class I type of bikeway.

Class I bikeways are physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic, by either open space or a barrier.

According to an associated staff report: “The final piece of the on-street [Class II] type of bikeway is currently under construction with [imminent completion, along expanded CR-99D, CR-29 and CR-99]” — while, the near-decade old, DWBFS also: “included pursuing a dedicated bikeway after completion of the County road improvements.”

However, several pivotal problems are looming and — “any one of these issues could kill the project” — according to Woodland City staff members briefing Council members Bill Marble and Martie Dote during a recent meeting of its Infrastructure Subcommittee.

Uncertainty surrounds potential agreement by Woodland, Davis and Yolo County about joint action on an application for regional and federal funds to accomplish another phase of this project — within “the next application window in October 2009.”

This “Final” DWBFS Update is currently being circulated throughout appropriate community venues within all three jurisdictions and is intended to be available for action during late October — by both city and county panels of elected officials.

___  Reasons / Outcomes of DWBFS Update  ___

Reasons other than this (early 2008) bicyclist fatality — for this DWBFS Update begun by multi-jurisdictional action during mid-2008 — are three, identified as: evolving “State and Federal government mandates [and] funding opportunities for projects that promote alternative forms of transportation, [i]nterest in evaluating new options to accommodate the growth in southeast Woodland and surrounding areas,” and interest about inclusion of a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) component within what was deemed an: “alternative transportation corridor.”

Key facets of the program of feasibility analyses addressed within the updated DWBFS are interwoven and overlaid, including policy predication for selection of its preferred route for a dedicated (Class I) bikeway.

“Connection Travel Times” analyzed for three alternative routes, demonstrate (not surprisingly) that the optimum route orientation involves a diagonal, SE / NW path — “as a bird flies” — between J Street & Covell Boulevard on the Davis end and County Road 24A & Sixth Street at the Woodland terminus.

Coincidentally, this basic route is already the track of the California Northern Railroad, and the recommended bikeway route parallels this track for much of its own course (please see related details, below).

One proposed alternative route would enter Woodland at its SE corner, greatly extending “travel times,” toward the predominance of the City — while, the other alternative route would closely parallel Highway 113 — failing to optimize “travel times” upon entering Davis.

The alternative route paralleling Highway 113 would impact 33 parcels of land, but the preferred route would impact only 18 parcels.

In addition, concerns and resistance from adjacent landowners was much greater along this Highway 113 corridor, according to Woodland City staff.

By vivid comparison — 2.7 miles of the 6.5 mile recommended route — has already been positively received by adjacent landowners: North Davis Land Company and Lewis Planned Communities — which have “sent letters stating their interest in working with the jurisdictions in the future,” regarding this project.

Another key item that is proceeding smoothly is passage of this recommended bikeway route under Highway 113 (at its railroad overpass). “Caltrans has provided positive feedback to construct” the bikeway within its [right-of way], indicates a staff report.

DWBFS intentions regarding: “evaluating new options to accommodate the growth in southeast Woodland [principally, the Spring Lake Community area]” — was noted by inclusion of a — potential phase — that may in the future be added as a branch of the preferred route.

___  NEVs to be Nixed  ___

Quite significantly — both staff and elected officials of Woodland and Yolo County favor eliminating the NEV component from the project, based on several considerations.

“Let’s get rid of the NEVs — now!” exclaimed Woodland City Manager Mark Deven, during the recent meeting of its Infrastructure Subcommittee — while, another staff member indicated that: “the county is strongly with removing [NEVs]” from this proposed bikeway plan.

One reason for not accommodating an NEV lane is its expense. A regular pedestrian – bikeway is estimated to cost about $9.5 million — with NEV capability adding $3.8 million to that price-tag.

In contrast — a regular bikeway-branch of this proposed facility — that might eventually better serve SE Woodland — is estimated to cost only an added $2 million.

Maintenance costs for this facility are estimated to be $76,000 annually (shared among three jurisdictions).

Money for designing and constructing this bikeway, however, is intended to be entirely derived from: “regional and federal transportation funds generated by competitive grant applications or federal appropriations” — not from the local purse — emphasizes Woodland City staff.

___  NEVs Lack Political / Marketing Traction  ___

Justifications for including an NEV component within this local project appear tenuous, at best. Concerns and cautions are plainly outweighing perceived benefits of this aspect of the project, and its direct feasibility appears vague and unproven.

Apparently, this nature of motor vehicle exists within an already slim and swiftly narrowing niche.

NEVs — with a top speed of around 25 mph and a range of less than 30 miles — are mainly intended for intracity (“neighborhood”) travel and are unlawful to operate on roads posted for speeds above 35 mph (except on specialized lanes, analogous / coincident with bike lanes).

Also, the price differential between NEVs and regular electric-powered motor-vehicles — capable of conventional speeds and versatility — is rapidly closing.

NEVs may eventually become obsolete antiques rather than viable alternative transportation, implies this DWBFS assessment.

A key fact worth added note — is that electric-powered motor vehicles, while creating no emissions — themselves — are inevitably powered by various sources of electricity which may significantly add to climate change.

Bicycles — however —  are guaranteed to be totally free of environmentally deleterious emmisions in operation.

Woodland City staff recently expressed to its Traffic Safety Commission that — because of a variety of factors — local NEV use is expected to remain flat or perhaps decline during the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, Joshua Cunningham of UCD’s — Institute for Transportation Studies — presented a September 2008 analysis entitled: “Research Insights for NEVs on a Davis-Woodland low speed corridor,” which highlights the limitations and diminishment of the NEV niche within evolving transportation circuitry.

___  DWBFS Survey and NEVs  ___

This evolving profile of NEV use is clearly reflected in a DWBFS survey of approximately 300 local residents, the majority of whom live / work in Davis (where there exists a higher level of NEV interest).

Survey results indicate that: while more than 87% of respondents would be more likely to increase their — bicycle use — as a result of having access to a (Class I) Davis-Woodland Bikeway, almost 60% of respondents said that such an NEV access route was — “not likely” — to increase their NEV use — with most (67 of 79) of the other — likely users — presently lacking an NEV.

More than 66% of survey respondents, most of whom don’t presently own an NEV, stated that they would “rarely or never” use it on this proposed facility, while less than 18% said they would use it at least once per week.

“NEVs are not a good match with bikers,” recently observed a city staff member.

Support for this observation / conclusion appears in the DWBFS survey, wherein more than 90% of bikers are “comfortable sharing the facility” with pedestrians — but that comfort level starkly drops to the 65% range for “motorized vehicles traveling less than 25 mph.”

In other words — about a quarter of potential users of such a bikeway are “[un]comfortable” about inclusion of motorized vehicles — regardless of their intended speed of operation.

Several elaborated comments within this survey offered specific criticisms of NEV inclusion upon such a bikeway — desiring a focused emphasis on bicycling.

Only 40% of survey respondents were “comfortable sharing the facility” with equestrians. Such incompatibility may have been one reason for the elimination earlier this year of this particular mode of transportation from the proposed bikeway.

Woodland staff suggested and reiterated at the Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting — that some reasonable opportunity should be available for Davis to politically digest this — NEV-nixing by Woodland and Yolo County — among Davisites — prior to publicly announcing it — since: “we don’t want it to kill the project, [or] to cram it down [Davis’] throat.”

___  Four Other Critical Issues  ___

During the recent Woodland City Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting, staff members outlined a series of five major issues requiring resolution prior to further progress, one of them being whether the DWBFS should recommend inclusion of an NEV component.

Remaining critical issues are: (1) Acquisition of Right of Way (ROW), (2) Maintenance of the Bikeway, (3) Potential Conflicts with Agricultural Uses, (4) Funding for Local Match of Environmental – ROW – Design Phase.

In addition, renewed joint decisions by city councils in Woodland and Davis, as well as by the county board of supervisors — “would be required to move the project forward” — relates the staff report.

ROW acquisition could potentially involve public eminent-domain proceedings, wherein owners of what is almost entirely farmland (on the recommended route) would receive monetary compensation for property taken for public use.

___  Woodland Council Opposed to Essential Eminent Domain?  ___

However, the sheer prospect of having to condemn any private property for purposes of constructing this bikeway aroused immediate and profound antagonism from Councilmember Marble — who indicated his belief that other Woodland City Council members would share his policy position of extreme reluctance regarding any use of such a process.

Councilmember Dote didn’t disagree with Marble’s political assessment.

Marble expressed that he considered the scope of public value / importance attaching to this proposed bikeway to be significantly less than that of a public road or highway — with City Manager Deven agreeing.

Thus, it seems that any single, relevant landowner / farmer along this proposed bikeway route could extinguish the project by simply refusing cooperation.

Eminent domain proceedings would — however — only affect a tiny sliver of land amidst relatively vast agricultural fields and across Willow Slough.

Staff members and council members at the Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting suggested that the Yolo County might take the lead role within such a ROW process.

___  Agricultural / Environmental Impacts  ___

Major problems of bikeway – agricultural compatibility will certainly arise with occasional episodes of agricultural (aerial, and perhaps ground-based) spraying — which would arguably pose a health hazard / nuisance for bicyclists — as well as with required alterations of field-tillage practices — which would have to conform to inhibitions of a transecting bikeway.

Yolo County Farm Bureau has “recommended a 500 foot buffer [on either side of this facility] along this corridor, possibly via purchase of the property or purchase of an easement with restrictions.” it also “recommended incentive programs for impacted landowners to offset impacts and to offset increased exposure to liability [and environmental concerns].

“Spraying of any given crop usually occurs a couple of times a year per parcel, and it mostly occurs during the morning hours,” according to the feasibility study. “The duration of spraying is typically an hour.” Aerial spraying is forbidden within a 500 foot buffer zone around city limits.

“The corridor may need to be closed during spraying times which will require close coordination with growers to determine their spraying schedule.”

Various approaches to such temporary bikeway closures are being considered.

Accomplishment of detailed analyses of environmental (flora & fauna, etc.)conditions and impacts of this project are likely to become its next developmental phase. Several state and federal permits will be required for its eventual approval.

___  Maintenance and Funding  ___

Much discussion occurred during the recent Woodland Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting about the nature of — three-way funding split — that would operate for future phases and long term operation of this project.

Currently, there is a 40% / 40% / 20% cost sharing arrangement, with the county in the lesser category of expense.

City staff expressed their belief is that the county is actually looking for a — bi-city — 50-50% split — with it being written out of the funding formula.

“That doesn’t seem fair,” responded Marble. Dote echoed his position by noting that city residents also pay into county coffers and are residents of both jurisdictions. Plus, various county residents may also use / benefit from such a facility.

City staff strongly related a basic preference for one (single) entity (perhaps in multi-year rotations) being in charge of facility maintenance (from potholes and lighting to broken-glass and rubbish) — whatever the eventual decision(s) about jurisdictional cost-sharing.

That single entity will likely be Woodland or Davis, rather than Yolo County.

Councilmember Marble thought aloud that: “perhaps PG&E might put solar panels [on a shade structure installed along the bikeway],” in order to help fund this project.

On the topic of creating a local match for needed proportions of available federal funding — city staff say that certain state-provided money can be used for such a local funding match — minimizing allocation of (severely strained and hyper-prioritized) local revenues for this project.

In order to move this project into the next phase, however, some joint-council resolutions / joint-funding mechanism(s) / relevant memorandum(s) of understanding(s) must be renewed.

Such resolutions would commit these jurisdictions to a local-funding match (intended to eventually be obtained from state-level resources), in order to submit a timely application for various federal allocations.

As noted above, the next application period for relevant federal support is during October 2009.

___  Railroad ROW (Bonus) Wild Card  ___

The recommended route of the “Final” DWBFS runs predominantly alongside a Union Pacific Railroad track used by the California Northern Railroad (CNRR).

City staff has revealed that there is a — fair chance — that the change in local railroad practices which has been quite eagerly anticipated within Woodland — for a quarter-century — may finally be on track and approaching the station (so to speak).

“[R]ecent discussions with [ ] railroad representatives revealed plans to abandon the railroad tracks five to ten years into the future,” indicates the DWBFS. However, “[p]urchasing right of way or obtaining an easement from the railroad is a lengthy process and is not recommended if the jurisdictions want to explore starting the next phase of this project soon.”

Apparently — federal money is coming for replacement / restoration of the CNRR’s ancient, wooden trestle spanning the Yolo Bypass — but CNRR is contemplating using these significant funds — instead — for completing a re-orientation of their entire — local tracking format – including abandonment of the railroad track that runs alongside the proposed (recommended) bikeway route – as well as the portion of track that runs North & South along East Street in Woodland.

This new CNRR track orientation would send its rail traffic through West Sacramento and Davis, proximate to I-80 — then north to NE Woodland along a separate, more easterly track (west of Conaway Ranch).

If CNRR abandons the portion of its track alongside the proposed bikeway route, this situation would present a classic — “Rail – to – Trail” — scenario, a planning template commonly followed throughout the state and nation.

City staff perceives no conflict with pursuing the current bikeway project in the midst of this potential / impending CNRR, “Rail – to – Trail” prospect, because a significant amount of environmental and design analyses would remain useful within any developmental scenario.

Of course — if this CNRR prospect arrives at the political station along a fortuitous manner / schedule — most ROW matters will thereby become instantly resolved.

___  Fascinating DWBFS Statistics  ___

Official statistics relate that there currently occur daily about 21,000 one-way trips between Woodland and Davis, with about half of these trips starting in one city and ending in the other.

By 2035, 28,000 such daily trips are currently predicted to occur.

Approximately 10% (2,100) of these 21,000 daily intercity trips are made by UC Davis bound Woodland residents.

An estimated 1,500 Woodland residents are students, faculty or staff, regularly commuting to UC Davis.

“[T]he most commonly cited reason to [general] travel from one jurisdiction to the other was for shopping [~70%], followed by recreation / leisure [~40%] and work [~30%], specified survey results.

Multiple answers were permitted” for this DWBFS survey.

Relatively more respondents use bicycles for recreation / leisure (~94%), than shopping / errands (~70%) or work purposes (~60%).

Only about 145 electric-types of vehicles are presently registered in Yolo County, with most of these presumed to be NEVs.

This contrasts with the City of Lincoln (a nearby hotbed of NEV culture) — with 600 registered NEVs and another 800 street-legal golf carts.

It’s worth noting that Lincoln’s system, apparently based mainly upon on-street (expanded, Class II-type) lanes for both NEVs and bikes within that community — doesn’t have such a facility as proposed here: traversing a many-miles round trip between it and other communities — excluding whatever in-city miles are relevant.

Current estimates of 100 to 200 such bicycle trips per day between Davis and Woodland may increase as a result of the proposed bikeway — to perhaps 1400 per day — according to city staff recently speaking before the Woodland Planning Commission.

4% of Davis residents commuting to Woodland use a bicycle, while only 1% of Woodland residents do so when commuting to Davis.

The DWBFS survey indicates that there are a — wide variety — of regular commute-cycles between Davis and Woodland.

Non-commuters (rarely if ever traveling between these communities) comprise 6.5% of survey respondents, while 13.3% commute about once a month.

22.2% of survey respondents accomplish a relevant commute about twice per month, while 20.1% commute on a weekly basis; 15.4% commute several times per week — with the largest proportion: 22.5% — commuting daily.

Thus, about 80% of respondents (- 2/3 live in Davis, 3/4 work in Davis -) presently commute between Woodland and Davis — at least twice per month.

87% of survey respondents currently ride a bicycle.

More than 80% of respondents said they used a bicycle on a daily basis or several times per week. Less than 15% said that they would rarely if ever use such a proposed bikeway — yet more than 25% indicated they would use such a (Davis – Woodland) bikeway daily or several times per week.

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