Stop playing games and build Donner Pass Road bike lanes
August 8, 2005
At age 63, I love bicycling on paved roads. I’ve been doing it for years. It’s good exercise and it leaves the air cleaner and parking available for others when I go downtown that way. But I don’t love it enough to die for it.Yet I’m beginning to wonder (as my wife has for years) if I’m nuts for biking on a particular busy road without bike lanes here in Truckee, my home for a good part of every year. As has happened too many times before, my heart skipped a beat recently as the side mirror of a pickup barely missed my left shoulder. “Something has got be done,” I muttered to myself as the fear melted.Like hundreds (every week, summer and fall) of other bicyclists, I regularly travel along Donner Pass Road. Unfortunately, on three quarters of this busy thoroughfare along the north shore of Donner Lake there are no bike lanes.Yes, I know, as Rodney King famously pleaded “can’t we all just get along?” and as the Caltrans signs urge, we can “Share the Road,” but too many close calls later… Furthermore, both federal and state biking injury/death data show the need for bike lanes on busy streets.So I decided it was time to do some investigation into a question that has bugged me for months: Why aren’t the bike lanes to be added to Donner Pass Road this summer as promised? That addition would create for the first time a safe road biking environment along the entire length of the north shore of the lake. These lanes are years overdue.Doing a little checking revealed something rather interesting. Truckee’s Public Works Department, under Dan Wilkins, Public Works director/town engineer, was all set to use town funds to do the relatively simple road widening and add the bike lanes this year. That would have involved relatively modest funding, and our town had the budget to do it.Then, when the necessary publication of this plan occurred, apparently the owners of the homes along the lake mounted a campaign to stop the bike lanes. They wanted – and want – to continue using the public right-of-way to park their own vehicles. Of course they couldn’t admit that that was their motive, so they claimed that they were concerned about the loss of trees if the road were to be widened to accommodate bike lanes. It was also claimed that town funds would be better spent on creating better public access to the public docks along the north shore of the lake. In my opinion, both issues are pure red herrings to cover the real motive: To stop the addition of bike lanes in order to keep the present hillside and/or existing wide road shoulder “as-is” for their own convenience.So the Public Works Department looked into the cost of trying to keep the homeowners happy by doing three things.• Widening the road to add bike lanes.• Adding brand new paved parking spaces along the lake (yes, guess who, would be the primary users of those spaces?).• Improving dock access. To do all three, the budget shot up to well over $5 million. That quickly ended Wilkins’ plan to just do it and get the lanes done this year.This whole matter is coming to a head on Sept. 1, when the Truckee Town Council and town staff consider priorities for so-called “Measure A” funds. Those funds are from a half-cent temporary sales tax, which will disappear before long. Council members will be briefed at a 3 p.m. meeting at town hall by staff, such as Wilkins, as to the options. As always, priorities must be set among many potential projects, including bike lanes.If the council members bow to pressure from a relatively few homeowners by permitting road widening for bike lanes on Donner Pass Road. Only if all three measures are done – bike lanes, paved parking and new dock access – I’m quite sure none will get done. The bike lanes will be doomed.The three-fold project would be simply too expensive; there aren’t enough Measure A funds to go around. The addition of bike lanes will die a quiet death, and the homeowners will have accomplished their objective.If you care about safe biking (or even if you just want to have those “pesky” bikes off to the side of the road in a bike lane so you can drive unhindered) now is the time to express yourself to members of the council.It is more important to avoid potential serious injury to hundreds of people each week than it is to accommodate a few homeowners’ desires for convenient private use of public property.Let’s get the bike lanes in and stop playing games.Bill McGlashan is a part-time Truckee resident.