CalBike’s Central Valley Bikeways Project will analyze the area surrounding the future high speed rail (HSR) station in Bakersfield. We will come up with a plan to improve connections to the station for people who bike and walk in Bakersfield. The plan will also propose changes to make it easier to bike and walk throughout the Central Valley.
Current Transportation Plans
In the past few years, there have been several new plans that address transportation planning in Bakersfield and the larger Kern County. Among these are the Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategies for Kern County (2018), the Kern County Active Transportation Plan (2018), the Downtown Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station Area Plan (2018), and the Bicycle Plan and Complete Streets for Caltrans District 6 (2019). These plans draw on each other as well as earlier plans, including the Kern County Bicycle Master Plan and Complete Streets Recommendations and the 2013 City of Bakersfield Bicycle Transportation Plan (2013), and they present many of the same findings and objectives. Common objectives of the plans are as follows:
- Create a sustainable multi-modal transportation system that is reliable and safe
- Increase connectivity to jobs, transportation, and activity centers by expanding bicycle and pedestrian networks
- Serve disadvantaged communities by increasing mobility and transportation access
- Create more livable communities by creating a sense of place
- Boost the economy by increasing access to jobs, lowering transportation costs, and promoting development
While the plans overlap, they also have unique elements and differing focuses. This report seeks to synthesize the important takeaways from each plan and to identify their strengths as well as potential areas of improvement.
Efforts are currently underway that will address the bicycle and pedestrian environment in Bakersfield. These include the City of Bakersfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Plan, the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) grant, and the General Plan update.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Plan was developed by the City of Bakersfield with consultant Alta Planning + Design. Funded by the Sustainable Communities Grant Program, the plan identifies 8 high-risk corridors and proposes safety-oriented improvements to those areas. While the plan has been completed, it has not yet been released to the public.
The TCC grant will fund efforts by the Kern Council of Governments, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Bike Bakersfield, and California Walks to create a plan promoting alternative transportation, affordable housing, and economic development.
The Planning Commission also began meeting to update the Bakersfield General Plan starting in July 2020. The plan will be a blueprint for future development in Bakersfield and will address land use, open space, conservation, housing, circulation, noise, safety, energy, and the Kern River.
Friant Kern Canal Class 1 Bikeway
The Friant-Kern Canal Bikeway is a planned multi-use path along the Friant-Kern Canal. The 6 mile trail would connect 7th Standard Rd to the Kern River Parkway. Kern COG has secured $4.2 million through ATP funding, but the total cost of the project would be $8 million.
The Hageman Flyover project would extend Hageman Road from Knudsen Drive to Golden State Avenue, creating a new four lane road and new bridges over the San Joaquin Valley Railroad and State 99. The 1.5 mile road extension would also include a new bike path from Knudsen Drive to the intersection of Rio Miranda and Buck Owens Boulevard. While the design of the project is complete, Bakersfield is still seeking funding for the project.
Centennial Corridor Bikeway
The Centennial Corridor Bikeway is part of a $1.4 billion project that is estimated to be completed in summer 2022. The Centennial Corridor project expands Route State 58 from Cottonwood Road to Interstate 5. Included in the plan is a new class I bike path that will run along the planned Centennial Corridor from Commerce Drive to the intersection of Ford Ave and North Stine Rd. The multi-use path will be 12’, and there will be some additional bicycle parking built.
Kern County Regional Transportation Plan (2018)
Building on previous plans, federal and state laws, and public outreach efforts, the Kern County Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) establishes regional transportation goals, policies, and actions to be implemented over the next 24 years. The plan provides funding projections for the construction and maintenance of multi-modal transportation systems that each jurisdiction will use to implement projects and transportation demand strategies that conform to the goals and policies of the regional plan. The RTP also contains a list of planned improvements with identified funding sources and well as without.
The RTP has 7 general objectives: mobility, accessibility, reliability, efficiency, livability, sustainability, and equity.
While the plan encompasses all modes of transportation, this report is most concerned with the plans regarding bicycle and pedestrian networks. The plan points to the Kern County Active Transportation Plan (2018), the Kern County Bicycle Plan and Complete Streets Recommendations (2012), and the City of Bakersfield Bicycle Transportation Plan (2013) for more specific recommendations but offers some goals for near-term (2018-2020) and long-term (2021-2042) development.
- Encourage COG jurisdictions to adopt local bicycle plans and include bicycle plans in larger transportation plans
- Provide funding and seek other local, state, and federal funding to maintain and build pedestrian and bicycle facilities
- Promote bicycle stations and lockers at Kern County multimodal stations
- Promote bicycle tie-downs and racks on buses and trains
- Fund a Kern County Pedestrian Facilities Plan
- Investigate the possibility of integrating non-motorized uses to off-road vehicle facilities and introducing covered parking and information kiosk to trail heads
- Continue to update Kern ATP
- seek local, state, and federal funding to maintain and build pedestrian and bicycle facilities
- Promote development of walkable and bikeable neighborhoods through controlling dust from streets and street shoulders and improving intersections
- Investigate the possibility of integrating non-motorized uses to off-road vehicle facilities
The plan also includes an itemized list of active transportation improvements by subareas. These improvements include pedestrian enhancements such as corridor, crossing, sidewalk, and complete streets improvements, and bicycle facilities such as Class I Shared Use Paths, Class II Bike Lanes, Class II Buffered Bike Lanes, Class III Bike Boulevards, Class III Bike Routes, Class IV Cycle Track, and bikeway studies.
As required by law, Kern COG conducted public outreach to inform the RTP. This outreach included was meant to involve seniors, low-income, and minority populations, and was conducted through presentations to community organizations, 4 stakeholder meetings that included representatives from the business, industry, environmental justice advocacy, social services communities, and the Regional Planning Advisory Committee, 17 workshops, 8 community events throughout the region (fairs and festivals), booths at 7 farmers markets, 9 walk audits, and surveys through the plan’s website. People were made aware of these efforts through social media, the plan’s website, direct outreach to “limited English proficiency, minority, senior, and low-income populations,” media outreach, and written and visual materials.
The RTP’s inclusion of a list of specific projects with estimated costs and planned funding for pedestrian and bicycle improvements gives jurisdictions concrete steps to take to improve active transportation facilities. However, when taken as a whole, this plan does not prioritize active transportation. It allocates significantly more funds to projects that detract from pedestrian and bicycle safety, such as road widenings, new freeway construction, freeway extensions, and construction of new interchanges. Separately, while outreach efforts may appear extensive, they are not specific to bicycle and pedestrian planning or to Bakersfield.
Kern County Active Transportation Plan (2018)
The Kern County ATP was done by Alta Planning + Design for Kern COG. It plans for over 1,200 miles of updated and new bikeway projects, 300 miles of pedestrian network improvements, and recommends locations for new end-of-trip facilities and specific locations for spot improvements. The funding for these projects comes from California’s cap and trade program and Caltrans’s Active Transportation Program allocating a minimum of 25% of program funding for sidewalk and bicycle network improvements to disadvantaged communities.
The ATP is focused on serving disadvantaged communities through improvements in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. As 34% of Kern County residents have disabilities, the plan seeks to improve mobility and transportation accessibility for this population. It also aims to improve first-last mile connections, and provide economic benefits such as lower transportation costs, local economic development, and job creation.
Kern COG created a steering committee with representatives from Kern County, Caltrans, Golden Empire Transit, City of Bakersfield, Bike Bakersfield, Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability. This committee met 3 times to provide input on plans. The first phase of the outreach process consisted of 8 community workshops and 9 walk audits. During phase 1, community members were asked to provide feedback on conditions, preferred pedestrian bike facilities, where they bike and/or walk, and locations with potential opportunities and constraints. Participants provided feedback that they wanted lower speeds on major streets, green bicycle lanes for increased visibility, that sidewalks were too narrow, poorly maintained, and close to traffic, that the lack of sidewalks in many residential areas was an issue, and that there were ADA compliance issues.
Phase 2 of the project consisted of 7 booths at farmers markets in Bakersfield, Lamont, Ridgecrest, Shafter, and Wasco where community members were shown drafts of the plan and offered input, presentation of the plan at community meetings, and a community survey. Of the respondents, 45% were between the ages of 46-65 and 25% were retirees. The top challenges they cited were incomplete sidewalks or bikeways, too much traffic, and dangerous drivers, and they requested new sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike facilities and upgrades to existing bicycle and pedestrian facilities. They also expressed a preference for facilities that tend to be low stress (Class I shared-use paths and Class IV cycle tracks).
The ATP has many strengths. This plan creates an extensive bike network that not only connects important amenities to each other (Kern River Parkway path, planned HSR, Amtrak), but also the larger region to transportation hubs. It also includes many pedestrian improvements as well as suggested locations for end-of-trip facilities. The plan includes a detailed list of all recommended bikeways and study areas with mileage and estimated costs, making them easier for communities to implement. There were also several forms of outreach, and they received specific feedback on what community members wanted as well as locations for interventions.
However, the plan also has many areas of improvement. Despite community members clearly stating a preference for low-stress facilities, most of the existing and many of the planned bicycle paths do not fit CalBike’s criteria of “low stress.” Respondents also asked for green bike lanes and complained that traffic speeds were too fast, both of which were not addressed in the final plan. As with the RTP, outreach was conducted for the entire Kern County and not Bakersfield-specific.
In addition, many of the proposed changes are vague. Proposed additions to the bicycle network are simply categorized by class, and pedestrian improvements are categorized as sidewalk improvements, corridor improvements, and crossing improvements. While there needs to be some flexibility in the plan to allow for differing conditions, guidelines on best practices would encourage cities to choose the safest possible option. For instance, the plan lacks specificity on how intersections will be treated and only identifies one specific intersection for crossing improvements. Other “crossing improvements” are applied to entire corridors. There are several different crossing improvements that can be made of varying qualities. We would recommend that communities follow the NACTO intersection guidelines for safe crossings.
Downtown Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station Area Plan (2018)
The Downtown Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station Area Plan, or the Making Downtown Bakersfield Vision Plan (2018), aims to guide future development in Downtown Bakersfield in response to the planned High-Speed Rail Station. The plan, which was produced by the City of Bakersfield in partnership with California High-Speed Rail Authority, lays out a broad vision for growth in the next 10, 20, and 30 years. One of the major goals of the plan is to create a multi-modal transportation system that connects the High-Speed Rail to existing and new bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the historic core, other transportation hubs, and the surrounding area.
The Downtown Vision Plan’s objective is to provide best practices for development sparked by the future construction of the High Speed Rail Station in Downtown Bakersfield. The plan envisions development in increments of 10, 20, and 30 years and aims to densify Downtown Bakersfield residentially and commercially, promote economic growth, develop underutilized or vacant parcels, connect cultural and activity centers, establish an “efficient, reliable, and effective” multimodal transportation network, increase livability and sense of place, and secure funding to realize these goals.
The plan proposes three major projects: the Wall Street Pedestrian Paseo, the Golden State Connector, and the Garces Circle Pedestrian Plaza. Through these interventions as well as enhanced bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on K Street and 21st Street, the plan will create a “green loop” that creates a continuous active transportation network around Downtown. By promoting active transportation, the plan aims to make Downtown Bakersfield into a regional hub where people will come to work, shop, recreate, and live.
A further analysis of each major recommendation is below:
- Wall Street Pedestrian Paseo
- The Wall Street Pedestrian Paseo will expand upon a one-block existing paseo between Eye Street and Chester Ave. By expanding the pedestrian alley east to Mill Creek Linear Park and west to D Street, the corridor will connect the densest area of Downtown to the Historic Core.
- Golden State Connector
- The Golden State Connector is a planned multi-use path that will run parallel to the planned HSR route and to the Golden State Freeway. The pedestrian and bicycle path will act as an open space and will connect to the existing Kern River Trail and Mill Creek Linear Park to the HSR station.
- Garces Circle Pedestrian Plaza
- Currently, 7 roads flow into Garces Circle, including two freeway interchanges. The plan aims to make this bicycle and pedestrian hostile intersection into a “gateway” to Bakersfield, connecting users to the HSR and to Chester Ave, while is the main street in Downtown Bakersfield. The plan offers few specifics on how to turn this auto-centric intersection into a pedestrian plaza, but it recommends removing three of the seven intersections and adding a bus lane.
Multiple forms of public input were collected in the making of the Downtown Bakersfield Vision Plan. There was an online engagement portal, partner meetings, community events, walking tours, 11 vision workshops with a total of 125 participants, 2 open houses with 150 participants, and community charrettes. In total, over 500 people contributed to the process, identifying “livability, connectivity, and prosperity” as key values. In addition, there were monthly stakeholder meetings. Stakeholders included “state, regional and local agencies, local stakeholders, residents, business leaders, members of the development community, and others.”
The Downtown Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station Area Plan outlines a high level vision for future development in Downtown Bakersfield. It focuses on the area surrounding the planned Bakersfield HSR, and community outreach was specific to this region, making it more relevant to CalBike’s study. The goals listed in the plan are generally positive for active transportation-friendly development. The plan promotes denser, mixed-use development in Downtown, which creates more favorable conditions for pedestrians. It also has the potential to add to the low-stress bike network with the addition of the multi-use trail and the K Street Bike Boulevard, and the Green Loop has the potential to fill in current gaps in the bicycle network.
However, the plan lacks specificity. It is hard to imagine how Garces Circle could be transformed into a pedestrian plaza given the current conditions, and the plan does not produce a cohesive vision for how this will be realized. One major hole in the plan is that it does not adequately address how street crossings and freeway interchanges will be treated. For the length of the planned Wall Street Pedestrian Paseo, only Chester Ave and Q Street are indicated as locations for intersection improvements despite the fact that most of the intersections along the proposed route do not have crosswalks. The plan also says there will be intersection treatments along the planned K Street Bicycle Boulevard, but it is unclear whether this applies for the entire corridor or just the four blocks shown on the map. The only specific treatment that is proposed is a mini traffic circle on 21st Street. The quality of intersection treatments will determine whether or not the K Street Bicycle Boulevard is “low stress.” While the planned Golden State Connector has potential to add to the low-strews bike network, its location abutting the Golden State Freeway is not ideal. Questions remain about how users will cross the freeway and how frequent these interchanges will be. Finally, the plan calls for a “slow roll-out plan” for bicycle improvements, stating “The general progression of bike facilities are from sharrows to bike lanes to protected bike lanes to cycle tracks and/or then bike boulevards. Each step in the hierarchy requires minimal investment that builds on the previous improvements.” This plan removes the onus on the City to improve the bicycle network. Instead, the safest possible option should be installed immediately.
Bicycle Plan And Complete Streets Facilities For Caltrans District 6 (2019)
The Bicycle Plan and Complete Streets Facilities For Caltrans District 6 (2019) provides existing regional bicycle plan maps, main street maps, and interchange maps for Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, and Tulare Counties as well as information on best practices. Information on existing and planned bicycle routes was collected through regional ATPs, which give Caltrans insight into “planning, programming, design, construction, operations, and maintenance on the State Highway System.” The plan aims to highlight “potential connectivity opportunities within cities and counties.” No additional public outreach was conducted.
The plan aims to create bicycle connections within California at local, regional, and state-wide levels to improve its economy and livability and to promote health and safety. In addition to showing existing and planned bicycle infrastructure, the plan highlights best practices for freeway interchanges and Main Streets.
Concrete recommendations are provided on how to treat interchanges to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety. These include:
- “Tee up the high-speed ramps to 90 degrees.
- Shorten crossing distances at ramps
- Install high visibility crosswalks
- Clarify the right-of-way on the roadway so that bicycle lanes are marked and visible.
- Shorten wide crossings with pedestrian refuge islands
- Install lights to improve visibility and security
- Maintenance and construction projects give an opportunity to improve the existing or non- existing facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.”
In addition, the bicycle plan stresses the benefits of making Main Streets comfortable for multiple modes of transportation, including increasing property values, improving the local economy, and improving community health. It offers two suggestions for calming traffic on main streets: roundabouts and roadway reallocation or road diets.
While this plan does not contain additional bicycle infrastructure recommendations beyond those in the ATP, the best practices outlined are helpful to this project, specifically around interchanges. Interchanges are not sufficiently addressed in any of the other plans despite the fact that the planned HSR station abuts Golden State Ave, and commuters northwest of the freeway will have to cross it to access the HSR station and Downtown Bakersfield.
If you have questions about the Central Valley Bikeways Project in Bakersfield, please contact one of CalBike’s project managers.
Forest Barnes, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415.484.3143
Jared Sanchez, email@example.com, 714.262.0921