Grants to be used for Barstow bike lanes

F_BikeBarstow(Howells)jpgThe long-term plan to construct an extended bikeway along Barstow Avenue shifted up a gear after the university recently received two new grants for the project.

The bikeway, which is part of Fresno State’s Master Plan, will eventually see bicycle paths on both the north and south sides of Barstow Avenue between Cedar and Willow avenues.

The two recent grants will help fund the north side path between Cedar and Chestnut avenues, specifically. CALTRANS Active Transportation Plan awarded $872,000; meanwhile, the Fresno Council of Government’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program granted $570,000 in federal funds.

“Barstow is a narrow, aging, urban road and it is a major renovation to build modern bikeways on it,” said Dr. Gillisann Harootunian, director of university initiatives and projects.

As well as contributing to the broader goal of “greening the campus,” Harootunian said the bikeway is critical in connecting the wider bikeway systems of both Fresno and Clovis together.

“It’s a very important leg in the Fresno-Clovis metropolitan bikeways,” Harootunian said. “It transforms the university from being a barrier of commuter bicycling to being a major access route.”

Thomas Gaffery, Fresno State’s parking and transportation manager, also said the connection will prove critical in eliminating the “black hole” that is Barstow Avenue between the two bikeway systems.

The bikeway will connect with Fresno’s Sugar Pine Trail and eventually Clovis’s Old Town Trail, Gaffery said. The city of Clovis has plans to create a future trail on Willow Avenue between Shaw and Bullard avenues that will connect with the Old Town Trail.

While no timeline is available for the completion of the bikeway, Gaffery said the university plans to start designing in March for the north side segment between Cedar and Chestnut avenues.

Another reason behind the bikeway is providing students and faculty with an alternative to driving, something that will lessen traffic congestion and benefit the environment, Harootunian said.

“The university wants to demonstrate environmental leadership,” she said.

Another project aimed at greening the campus is the installation of an electric vehicle charging station. Scheduled to open in September 2015, will see six EV stations, including two rapid chargers that will be the first of its kind in the Valley.

The chargers will be located in parking lot P2, west of the Save Mart Center. Gaffery said this location means it will benefit students and faculty, as well as the public. Being adjacent to Highway 168, CALTRANS will erect signs on the highway alerting citizens of the charging stations availability.

Dr. Hongwei Dong, an assistant professor in the department of geography and city and regional planning, said the university could take the lead in sustainability in the city, especially in terms of raising awareness about biking.

“We have more than 20,000 students,” Dong said. “If a significant amount of students, proportionate to the student body, rides a bicycle, that reduces a lot of traffic, saves a lot of energy and reduces pollution.”

In using the example of UC Davis’s campus, Dong said Fresno State can also demonstrate to the region why bicycling should be considered an option.

“[UC Davis] took lead and made the whole city very bicycle-friendly, and now a lot of people ride there,” he said.

Gaffery also hopes to generate an increase in bike ridership. He said with 10 percent of the university’s population living within one mile of campus, riding a bicycle should be better than the struggles of driving a car – such as buying a permit for $93 each semester and trying to find parking.

“What we’re hoping this Barstow bike path will do is help make it so biking is more convenient for our students when they come to campus, and that becomes an easier choice for them,” Gaffery said.

Yet Dong, a regular commuter to the campus via bike, believes there needs to be a “change to people’s perceptions” about riding, as many people are intimidated by the roads around campus.

“I do believe the university should have more efforts to have students and faculty members ride bicycles,” he said.

In order to see the bikeway project completed, Gaffery said the university gave up agricultural land along Willow Avenue from Sierra to Barstow avenues to the cities of Fresno and Clovis.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has also awarded two other past grants for the project, valued at close to $200,000, Harootunian said.

She said, in total, the four bikeway grants are valued at around $1.6 million, meaning the bikeway project has required some additional university funds.

“The total price tag on the bikeways is in excess of $2 million, so the university is bearing up quite a bit to get those bikeways built,” Harootunian said.

Gaffery said he anticipates other grants coming out in the future that will aid in the completion of the project, resulting in campus funds being preserved “for other priorities.”