Part 5:

Bicycling in Walnut Creek

Bicycling provides numerous social, economic, and environmental benefits to Walnut Creek. It can be a convenient option for all types of trips, including first- and last-mile access to public transit stations and stops, trips to school and work, and shopping and recreation trips. By expanding the type and number of bicycle facilities (including support facilities such as secure bicycle parking), the community can reduce automobile trips and develop a robust, multi-modal transportation network, as envisioned in the City’s General Plan and Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans.  

While there is a network of existing and proposed bicycle facilities in Walnut Creek, as shown on the map below, there are relatively few areas with Class I paths or Class II facilities (e.g., bicycle lanes). Additionally, the rates of bicycling for work and non-work trips in Walnut Creek are very low. Experience has shown that cities with low levels of cycling can significantly increase cycling rates with the right set of policies and actions.1

 Current Low-Stress Network

The availability of a low-stress bikeway network has a significant influence on the number of people who feel comfortable and safe bicycling. A roadway’s level of traffic stress (LTS) is evaluated based on the speed and number of vehicles, as well as the presence and width of bicycle facilities. For example, conventional striped bike lanes are only considered low stress where they are physically separated from vehicles (e.g., trails or protected bikeways), or where auto speeds are 30 miles per hour or less. Roadways are given a rating from one (least stressful and tolerable for all – “LTS 1”) to four (most stressful and tolerable to only a few – “LTS 4”).

The recently adopted Contra Costa Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan includes a description of the general types of cyclists (based on research conducted in the City of Portland, Oregon) and levels of roadway traffic stress. People comfortable with riding on roadways that score LTS 3 or 4 are typically considered the “strong and fearless” or “enthused and confident” category of cyclists. Together, these two groups account for only about 8 percent of the total population. Research has shown that the “interested but concerned,” who make up the largest segment of the population, are attracted to highly comfortable bicycle facilities on which they feel safe riding. They feel comfortable and safe on low traffic stress (LTS 1 or 2) roadways such as trails, separated bikeways, or bicycle boulevards.­ The following image illustrates the LTS concept and the connection between LTS and the types of cyclists.

Low-stress options for cross-town travel in Walnut Creek are very limited. Most major east-west and north-south arterials, such as Ygnacio Valley Road, lack dedicated bicycle facilities and have significant traffic volumes and speeds. This makes travel by bicycle difficult for all but the most fearless users. Low-stress, dedicated bicycle facilities on existing roadways, such as separated bicycle lanes, are absent from Walnut Creek (though plans exist to introduce these facilities soon). Additionally, access to downtown is largely limited to Class III facilities (bicycle routes), which may be higher stress depending on roadway conditions and vehicle volumes and speeds.

 Bicycle Sharing in Walnut Creek

Bicycle sharing programs have been used in other cities to enhance mobility options for commuting, shopping, connecting to public transit, and other types of local trips. Beginning in May 2018, Lime offers dockless bicycle sharing throughout Walnut Creek as part of a pilot program that is scheduled to end in early 2019. As of December 2018, nearly 26,000 rides had been recorded and almost 9,000 people have used the service, totaling over 25,000 miles! The City is gathering additional data on the pilot program, including a survey of users, in order to evaluate its potential benefits. Nonetheless, these initial use statistics indicate that bicycle sharing, and possibly other types of shared mobility services, have the potential to be popular mobility options in Walnut Creek.

Lime Bike user data reveals that most trips begin and/or end close to the Walnut Creek BART station, demonstrating the importance of the service for first- and last-mile connections to transit. Other significant locations include Shadelands and downtown Walnut Creek.

The image above shows the location of Lime Bike users’ trips starts and ends, which are concentrated around the BART stations, downtown, and Shadelands.

The satellite image above shows where Lime Bike trips started and ended in downtown and at the Walnut Creek BART station. The BART station, restaurants, and multifamily housing are key origins/destinations for Lime Bike users.

In addition to the origin and destination of Lime Bike trips, route information provides a more detailed picture of how Lime Bike users move through Walnut Creek’s transportation network. Reflecting the patterns observed in the origin and destination data, most users are traveling in and around downtown, the BART stations, and Shadelands.

The image above shows the routes taken by Lime Bike users. The heavier lines on the map indicate a greater number of
Lime Bike trips occurred on that route.

Lime route data gives insight into the decisions made by bicyclists in terms of route and facility, reflecting the limitations of the City of Walnut Creek’s current low stress bicycle network. For example, many trips between the BART Station and downtown appear to be made on sidewalks or through parking lots rather than on roadways. This indicates that cyclists are trying to travel on more direct routes than the roadway network provides, and that they may be seeking more low-stress biking environments. 

Lime Bike paths to and from the Walnut Creek BART station show that users are riding on sidewalks and through
parking lots, including the Target store parking lot, which may provide a more direct path of travel to some downtown locations.

Within Shadelands, Lime Bike users travel through large surface parking lots to reach destinations, revealing
the potential absence of a coherent and well connected bicycle and pedestrian network.

Protected bicycle facilities such as the Iron Horse Trail attract a much higher concentration of Lime Bike users than other locations, as illustrated by the bright green lines in the image below.

Many Lime Bike users travel along the Iron Horse Trail, as indicated by the bright green line on the image above. A high concentration
of users are traveling between the Iron Horse Trail and downtown through Civic Center Park and along Lincoln Avenue.

 Policy Context

The following is a brief overview of adopted policies and ordinances affecting bicycling conditions in Walnut Creek.

Walnut Creek Bicycle Master Plan

In 2011, the City of Walnut Creek adopted a Bicycle Master Plan containing policies, design guidance, and recommendations for new facilities across the community. Central to this plan is a set of citywide goals which include supporting the maintenance of existing facilities, enhancing bicyclist safety and security, and supporting the use of bicycling in general as a healthy alternative.

North Downtown Specific Plan

This Specific Plan has more rigorous requirements in relationship to bicycle facilities than general citywide regulation. Depending on the type and size of project, the North Downtown Plan requires amenities such as long- and short-term bicycle parking and showers for bicyclists. The City would implement these changes through Zoning Ordinance amendments.

Citywide Zoning

Current zoning requires the provision of bicycle parking in new commercial development as a proportion of required off-street automobile parking. There are currently no requirements for the provision of on-site or secure bicycle parking for new multifamily housing. The West Downtown and North Downtown Specific Plans have proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance in order to address this in the plan areas. 

West Downtown Specific Plan

This Specific Plan provides guidance for improving bicycle connections in the area and between the Walnut Creek BART Station and downtown. It also provides incentives for new development to contribute to bicycle safety improvements. The West Downtown Specific Plan also specifies that new residential and commercial development provide short-term and long-term bicycle parking.

 Needs, Opportunities, and Challenges

NEED

A comprehensive network of low stress bikeways and additional bicycle support facilities, such as secure parking, are needed to increase bicycle trips in Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek has the potential to significantly increase the share of bicycle trips, but there is a need for a more comprehensive network of low stress bicycle facilities, particularly between key destinations within the city itself and the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations. Available data from the Lime Bike pilot program indicate that there is potentially a strong demand for bicycling as a key transportation mode for local trips. Currently, the lack of low-stress facilities serving downtown Walnut Creek, the Walnut Creek BART station, and general crosstown arterials makes bicycling inaccessible for all but the most fearless users.

OPPORTUNITY

By prioritizing investments in bicycle facilities, Walnut Creek has the opportunity to shift a greater proportion of local trips from automobiles to bicycling. Other cities have demonstrated that pursuing policies and actions to improve conditions for bicycling can significantly increase the number of bicycle trips and reduce automobile trips. Increasing the share of local trips made by bicycle is something that is within the City’s control. Walnut Creek also has a backbone of low-stress bicycle facilities (the Iron Horse, Contra Costa Canal, and Ygnacio Canal trails) it can build upon.

CHALLENGE

Strategic action, resources, and partnerships will be needed to improve Walnut Creek’s bicycling environment. Improving the bikeway network and providing improved support facilities for bicyclists will require additional resources and trade-offs. The City will also need to work with the East Bay Regional Park District, which owns and manages the regional multi-use trails, to enable these facilities to better serve transportation needs by extending their hours of operation and providing lighting.

What do you think?

1John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, City Cycling (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012), 348.]