STOCKTON — With mild weather for much of the year and plenty of flat terrain, Stockton provides the perfect elements for bicycling. Yet bicycling isn’t as popular as many think it could be. That’s something advocates in Stockton hope to change.
The city organized a workshop Sept. 12 at Huddle Cowork in downtown Stockton to examine ways to make Stockton a safer, more bike-friendly city.
Organizers brought in representatives from the UC Berkeley Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) to host it with the help of transportation consultants Fehr & Peers.
The workshop was part of the city’s larger Bicycle Master Plan. That plan is in the evaluation stage until December, when the city will come up with the preliminary concepts. From there, the plan’s concepts will be developed. City administrators hope to have the plan drafted and finalized by October 2016.
“The city was very pleased to receive Active Transportation funding for the update of the Bicycle Master Plan for Stockton,” said City Engineer and Deputy Public Works Director Eric Alvarez. “Public Works believes the timing is perfect given the current movement to build more ‘complete Streets’ concepts into our transportation systems. This includes encouraging and implementing more active modes of transportation such as biking and walking in our community.”
The hope is that the plan ultimately improves the way cyclists can travel throughout the city. Part of that can be done through educating cyclists and drivers on the rules of the road. According to the Stockton Police Department, there were 335 bicycle-related collisions from 2010 to 2014, and the primary factor in 45 percent of them was cyclists riding against traffic, on the wrong side of the road.
The bike plan also aims to create a safe, connected, efficient and convenient network for local residents. As San Joaquin Bike Coalition Board Chair Kari McNickle points out, creating that network will be key, but it isn’t an easy task with three major freeways and a river running through town.
“The key is connectivity,” said McNickle. “What you want to look for is a grid — an easy way to get north and south and an easy way to get east and west.”
The bike plan was a hit among cyclists who attended the workshop. Many of them were happy the city is taking action to make improvements. During the workshop, participants walked around the downtown area and audited the current situation. They pointed out potential with the wide streets, flat terrain and nice scenery around the waterfront.
“I’m really encouraged that key people have an interest in making cycling better in Stockton,” said Stockton resident John Shreve. “That’s the bottom line. People are concerned and interested. I’m glad about that.”
The hope is the changes to make Stockton a safer place for cyclists will encourage more people to participate because there are benefits that come along with it.
Increasing the number of cyclists and decreasing the number of people who commute to work by car, which is currently 83.2 percent of Californians, will improve air quality, advocates say. It will also increase overall physical activity, which has its own positives.
“One of my favorite stats is that if you change nothing else and you start biking to work, you’ll lose 13 pounds,” said McNickle. “The average number of pounds lost in a year if you start biking to work is 13. That’s with no other changes to your lifestyle. So it’s an easy way to, especially if you have a short commute, to have a significant impact on your health.”
That could also save a lot of money in health care costs. The Minnesota company QBP saved $170,000 in health care costs over a three-year period by encouraging its employees to commute to work by bike.
Cycling also has other local economic benefits. A 2012 study in New York’s East Village by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives found that as a group, cyclists spent the most money at local businesses at an average of $168 per month, compared to $158 for pedestrians and $143 for car drivers.
McNickle theorized that part of that increase could be due to the slower pace of biking, which allows you to notice and stop at local shops you may not ordinarily frequent.
Of course, in order to reap those benefits, Stockton needs to get more people out there cycling. Events like the San Joaquin Bike Coalition’s Bike Fest, which was held on Sept. 26 at University of the Pacific or the full moon rides in downtown Stockton, where participants meet, ride and eat are aimed at encouraging more cycling.