By DUG BEGLEY
Video: Riverside exploring ‘downtown loop’ for cyclists, walkers
Two abandoned railroad bridges strewn with trash might be the missing links in a plan to circle downtown Riverside with bicycle paths, proponents of the trails said.
Standing on one of the bridges that spans University Avenue, two blocks east of Vine Street, Jane Block said the 30-year effort to bring a bike loop to downtown is nearing completion.
“This is as close as we’ve ever come,” Block said.
The plans don’t stop at the two bridges. Block, working with Riverside Councilman Mike Gardner and others, has devised a route using some existing bike lanes on city streets, little-used city alleys and paths through neighborhood parks to cobble together a loop.
Though she said it is subject to change depending on engineering, cost and available land, Block said the proposed path would allow cyclists and joggers to travel around most of the city’s downtown, from Fairmount Park to the Riverside City College campus and as far east as Kansas Avenue.
Linking places where people might want to bike has numerous benefits, Block said. It encourages cycling, which can improve the health of a community, she noted. It also gives downtown residents a safe recreation route between city parks and helps meet goals of reducing traffic congestion in Riverside.
“This is all doable,” Gardner said on a recent tour.
Bicyclists eager to hit the roads don’t have to wait for the loop, Gardner said. Magnolia Avenue and many other city streets have bike lanes.
What’s different about the proposed loop, Block said, is it allows for greater separation from cars and trucks — and with the two bridges allows cyclists not to compete with cross-traffic. The route would also add a continuous path for cyclists that the city could denote with signs.
“We want to have Class A bikeways,” Block said, meaning cyclists have enough space to ride along the side of vehicles, and not worry when someone opens a door on a parked car.
“It is not very safe to have parking and bike lanes,” Gardner said, explaining how putting cyclists close to parked cars put added pressures on both riders and drivers. “So if you have bike lanes, maybe you don’t have parking.”
He said city planners are examining the proposed bike path but no decisions about removing on-street parking has been made.
Early drafts have the route going from Fairmount Park along Spruce Street, then southwest along a route on or near Kansas Avenue.
From there, provided the city can acquire some right of way from the railroads, cyclists could ride across Mission Inn Avenue, University Avenue and Fourteenth Street, then cruise down Commerce Street. The loop would then go around or through the Riverside City College campus and across Brockton Avenue.
Gardner said the final pieces include a trail through the planned Tequesquite Park and a connection to the Santa Ana River Trail, which runs along the west of the park.
Because much of the route relies on streets, Gardner said the cost isn’t daunting.
“It’s more planning than it is cost,” he said. “It’s restriping some places and putting in some trails through Tequesquite Park.”
Nationally studies suggest adding bike lanes costs about $5,000 per mile, according to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.
If officials can chart a course for the loop and acquire small tracts to connect the sections, Gardner said much of the trail could be in place by spring.
Block said path supporters will consider outside fundraising if needed.
“I have learned that if you have an idea and it is a good idea,” Block said, “you don’t hesitate to execute it because of money.”
Work and Play
Cyclists said a loop around downtown Riverside would be a welcome addition, both for recreation and commuting.
Drew Scott, 26, already commutes from Colton to Riverside along the Santa Ana River Trail, a 120-mile bike path from San Bernardino to Orange County.
Block said the Santa Ana River Trail, which connects Highland at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains to Huntington Beach along the Pacific Ocean, is “the freeway” for cyclists interested in longer rides or inter-city commutes.
What’s missing, she said, is the local link to shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces.
Adding a downtown route that’s safer would make it much easier, he said.
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Scott said. “It’s the cars. Some people act like the bike lanes aren’t there.”
The loop also links three key places that officials would like to connect for safe bicycling, Gardner said. When built, the path will allow someone to ride from the UC Riverside campus to the city college campus and downtown seamlessly.
Alternative ways to travel to the city college campus south of downtown are important, said Edward Bush, vice president of student services at RCC’s Riverside campus. Construction of two buildings decreased the number of parking spaces on campus, Bush said.
But putting a trail across the campus, as some loop supporters have suggested, might not be likely.
“At first blush, that would be somewhat difficult,” Bush said. “Students are allowed to ride their bikes to the bike racks but cannot ride around campus because of pedestrian safety.”
A dedicated route might be different, Bush said, but charting through a maze of sidewalks and small access streets could be tough.
But Bush stressed that the college is interested in hearing loop proposals. The city’s bicycle advisory council, formed last year, has members with ties to the college, Bush said.
Scott said Inland cities have made progress in encouraging cycling by putting bike trails in parks and adding bike lanes to streets.
“I see people riding on them all the time,” he said.