The growing popularity of cycling in El Dorado Hills has spawned several clubs and a bustling bike shop in Town Center: El Dorado Hills Bike and Tri Owner Erin Gorrell hosts multiple teams. She estimates that El Dorado Hills is home to 2,500 to 3,000 competitive riders and untold numbers of less serious pedal pushers.
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Many ride the local roads. Others are afraid to.
Some of each turned out for the second formal meeting of the newly formed El Dorado Hills Bike/Pedestrian Safety Coalition recently.
“It’s about overall quality of life for young families that live here,” said coalition founder John Raslear, an active senior bike rider. “I have seven granddaughters and I wouldn’t take any of them on these roads.”
“Whatever Folsom’s doing, just do that,” said one rider, a reference to trails in bike-friendly Folsom, where trail czar Jim Konopka has overseen the creation of an estimated 106 miles of bike routes.
The coalition’s three-pronged mission is about safety:
• Safer north-south passage through the El Dorado Hills Boulevard interchange and its now-immanent neighbor east of Silva Valley Parkway.
• Additional bike routes along local roads in the community.
• Safety improvements in specific areas.
Members point to a handful of horrific bicycle accidents and ample near-misses as riders increasingly compete with impatient and distracted drivers on commuter arteries that routinely see 60-plus mph auto traffic between signals.
Two members of the Bodacious Biking Babes cycling team became poster children for impaired/distracted driving awareness following their multi-year recovery from being struck from behind by a drunk driver on El Dorado Hills Boulevard in 2008.
Bicyclists also complained that debris on the shoulder can be as much a hazard as the cars. Flat tires are common on Green Valley Road.
Raslear stumbled on the issue in his role on the El Dorado Hills Area Planning Advisory Committee, where he chairs the White Rock/Latrobe subcommittee and monitors the potential impact of the proposed Capital Southeast Connector.
The connector will one day link Elk Grove and El Dorado County via White Rock Road and the Silva Valley Interchange, which is now approved and scheduled to break ground this summer.
The retired New York educator studied the interchange design, spoke with El Dorado County Department of Transportation officials and became concerned that bicycle riders and pedestrians would compete with exiting freeway traffic at the north end of the interchange.
He shared his concern with his master swim coach Kari Duane, an avid rider, triathlete and mom.
Duane founded the El Dorado Hills Triathlon Club and later, EPIC Tri, which offers triathlete training programs. She joined Raslear on the coalition as an advocate for bike routes, a goal echoed by El Dorado Hills Community Services District Director Guy Gertsch at the first coalition meeting held in November 2012.
The coalition’s second meeting was held on Jan. 29, and included members of the El Dorado County Transportation Commission, which identifies funding for local road and trail projects, and county DOT, which builds them.
Transportation planners Dan Bolster and Jerry Barton, both veteran grant writers and bicycle commuters, were on hand. Deputy DOT Directors Matt Smeltzer and Steve Kooyman also attended.
“We have some dangerous roads and a lot of cyclists here. We also have a lot of kids and schools. How do we get our voice heard?” Duane asked.
Transportation Commission Executive Director Sharon Scherzinger promptly announced a recently won grant to study bicycle safety at four potentially dangerous locations in El Dorado County, and committed to work with the coalition to prioritize and seek funding for potential trail projects, and to host a meeting on the interchange safety concerns.
Recent local victories
The commission and DOT recently won a $500,000 grant that nearly completes a 6.5-mile Class II bike route on Green Valley Road from Cameron Park Drive to the county line. The 0.6 mile between El Dorado Hills Boulevard and Loch Way were bypassed due to steep terrain and easement issues.
The commission also recently won funding for the first phase of a short Class I trail beneath the power lines between Fairchild and Stonegate Villages, connecting Silva Valley Parkway and the New York Creek Trail.
The second phase, which the El Dorado Hills Community Services District is helping fund, will extend the new trail to Steven Harris Park, and will include an as-yet unfunded bridge over the creek — all part of a long-term plan for an El Dorado Hills to Folsom trail beneath the powerlines.
New Class II bike trails in El Dorado Hills are often funded by developers as a condition of project approval, according to Barton.
Longtime Area Planning Advisory Committe Chairman John Hidahl encouraged the DOT representatives to remember to ask developers to build bike routes when approving projects.
Grant funding is another major funding source. Barton ticked off the half-dozen state and federal grants commonly available for bike route projects as the discussion gradually turned into an informal grant strategy clinic.
“In my experience, if the community is willing to work for a trail project, they get it,” said acting DOT Deputy Director Kooyman, who spliced together several funding sources to complete a popular bicycle trail near Lake Tahoe.
“There are things you can do to give yourself an edge, and most of them cost money,” he continued, “starting with a source of seed money.”
Other strategies include letter writing campaigns, pre-purchasing right of way and having CEQA complete, he added.
Kooyman credited Tahoe residents for passing Measure S, a $16 annual parcel fee that established a trail fund for maintenance and grant seed money. The fund demonstrates that the community has skin in the game and will maintain its trails. “It’s a big check box on the grant application,” said Kooyman.
Bolster stressed the importance of having broad-based community support. “Grant writing is story telling,” he said. “Your involvement helps us tell the right story.”
Gertsch confirmed the CSD’s formation of a 501c3 non-profit foundation that can potentially funnel tax-deductible donations into seed money for trail grants.
Scherzinger encouraged coalition members to finalize a list of a half-dozen-or-so priority projects and reiterated her commission’s willingness to help. She suggested they act quickly, as the 2012 federal transportation bill, MAP-21, contains major changes to the transportation funding landscape, and that states are currently grappling with the changes.
Three large, previously ear-marked trail funding programs were consolidated in MAP-21, creating more opportunity and more competition, she said.
National bicycle and trail groups are howling over the apparent overall reduction in trail funding from $1.2 billion to $800 million annually, and also bemoan provisions added by House Republicans that allow states to transfer up to half their trail funding to other transportation projects.
The bill appears to leave key provisions in place that allow trail projects to compete with roads for Surface Transportation, Highway Safety Improvement and Congestion Mitigation funds.
Contacted later in the week, Scherzinger explained that the state has yet to pass legislation that will determine how federal transportation funds pass through to local projects, and that Gov. Brown’s Jan. 10 preliminary budget proposed a further consolidation of state and federal pedestrian/bicycle route funds, and that the likely result would be challenging for rural counties.
She’s on the front lines of the process, advocating for rural counties as chairman of the 26-member Rural Counties Task Force, which has created a webpage on MAP-21 issues.
“We don’t know how it’s going to play at the local level,” said Scherzinger. “But we want to have a wide variety of projects in hand so we can react when the criterion come out. We need to be nimble.”