By Russell Reagan
Ten years ago this week, the city of Davis dedicated the Putah Creek Bicycle Undercrossing, connecting South Davis to downtown and the UC Davis campus. The $4.5 million project took four years to construct.
In 2000, the longest segment was opened from West Chiles Road near Research Park Drive, crossing under Chiles and six lanes of Interstate 80. A ceremony on April 2, 2003, marked the opening of the tunnel under the Union Pacific railroad tracks behind Davis Commons at the east end of the UCD Arboretum.
The smooth concrete path stretching 0.4 mile is impressive as bike facilities go: It crosses under both I-80 and the railroad, passing through unspoiled open countryside so close to downtown Davis and the freeway-oriented businesses — but separated from them just enough to create a tranquil respite from urban life.
It circumvents the busy intersections along Cowell and Richards boulevards, especially the freeway overpass with zooming cars and trucks merging across a disappearing bike lane at the entry and exit ramps to I-80. And it avoids long waits at stoplights.
I expect that many readers either don’t know about this bike path, or have learned of it the hard way — perhaps after biking the more treacherous Richards freeway overpass and then hearing a rumor of an alternate bike route.
A bicyclist heads toward I-80 on Cowell Boulevard at Research Park Drive. The camera flash reveals the barely visible sign pointing to the bike path that allows one to bypass the freeway overpass just ahead.
This path is hidden from the view of car and bus travelers because it doesn’t directly connect to Cowell, Richards, First, E or F streets. Take Research Park Drive heading west in South Davis, or the bike path along the Arboretum heading east near downtown. Maps and bigger, more descriptive signs showing the way would be helpful!
It is also part of the Davis Bike Loop. Green pavement markers were added in 2007 and have raised awareness of this and other bike paths around the city, but these markers are of limited usefulness in terms of guiding unfamiliar bicyclists to specific destinations.
Besides the map provided here and others specifically for bicycling (e.g., google “bicycling”), this excellent bike path is not even shown on many maps. The Davis Downtown Business Association and UCD have installed large maps on public placards at key locations. None of these show the path.
In my view, this omission is particularly egregious on the UCD map. The path serves as an ideal connector between the main campus and outlying campus units along Research Park Drive such as the Center for Neuroscience. Also missing from the campus map is a similar freeway crossing for bikes south of the Russell Boulevard/Highway 113 interchange on the west side of the campus.
Why are bike paths barely shown or missing from these maps? Bike paths are more subtle and minute in detail for map makers to draw, compared to the street grid. Perhaps the view still persists that the paths are recreational rather than true transportation facilities.
I am not suggesting that bike paths on maps should be drawn as wide as the streets. But the campus map in particular needs to better highlight bicycling routes for bypassing busy streets and intersections via bridges and underpasses, to encourage this healthier form of transportation. Some exaggeration of the physical prominence of these paths would serve a valuable purpose.
Improvements are on the way! Construction is set to begin this summer on the Arboretum Gateway Garden, which will greatly improve the connection from the bike path to Davis Commons and downtown at First and D streets. Also, the city plans to install wayfinding signs, probably in 2014-15, to guide bicyclists to destinations via bikeways, similar to those in cities such as Berkeley and Portland.
— Russell Reagan is a Davis resident and a founding member of the Davis Bicycles! advocacy group. To offer a Davis Bicycles! column, email Mont Hubbard at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bikedavis.info to see instructions for authors.