Last week’s article discussing the homeless encampment (Dec. 4) on the Joe Rodota Trail (JRT) lacked depth on a key issue: the importance of the trail as a safe, car-free transportation corridor.
The city and county have set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. Both depend upon getting people out of their private automobiles and into other forms of transit. Currently, less than 2 percent of Santa Rosa residents commute to work or school by bicycle. Many express an interest in doing so but are stopped by the very real fear of injury or death on our streets. Struck by a motorist driving 20 mph, a cyclist has a 95 percent chance of surviving. Struck at 40 miles per hour, they have a 95 percent chance of DYING. Three bicyclists died on Sonoma County roads in the past month alone.
The JRT is one of a precious few separated Class I bicycle paths connecting our cities and towns. Sonoma County Regional Parks has posted signs at either end of the 1.5-mile-long encampment, advising pedestrians and cyclists to take another route. The alternate routes— Sebastopol, Occidental and Stony Point roads—have some of the highest collision rates in the city.
Our public institutions don’t take the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians as seriously as those of motor vehicles. Bike lanes and sidewalks frequently suffer from poor design and disrepair while street crossings are often lacking or poorly timed. Tents erected in the middle of a street would be immediately removed but have been allowed to proliferate in the middle of a bikeway.
Shelter and mobility are basic human needs that do not easily co-exist in the same space. With adequate permanent housing unavailable, sanctioned camping areas need to be created elsewhere so that the JRT can be restored to its intended use as a safe, car-free transportation corridor.
Eris Weaver is the executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. bikesonoma.org