The Coast Connect vision includes quality pedestrian and bike infrastructure throughout the county so people can safely and comfortably move around without a car. In this guest article, Amelia Conlen of Ecology Action explains how we can help the county plan upcoming projects by identifying places that need improvement in unincorporated Santa Cruz County.
Where We Are Today
One unexpected effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a surge in walking and biking. Bike shops are selling out of bikes locally and across the country and more people are walking and biking in their neighborhoods on a daily basis. My daily walk has become a crucial way to escape the 9-5 workday spent at home, and bike rides on the weekends provide much-needed nature time and all the thrills of the outside world.
For some of us, this increased time spent outside leads to thoughts about what makes some places great for walking and biking, and other places not so great. My neighbor, a new mom who walks daily during nap time, now knows all the spots in our neighborhood where the sidewalk is broken, disappears, or is too narrow for a stroller. The paths in Arana Gulch are bustling as are the low-traffic roads in the Harbor. The West Cliff Drive path and East Cliff Esplanade are packed with people walking, biking, and enjoying the ocean views.
There is a reason people flock to these places. The experience of walking on a path separate from traffic is very different from walking along a busy street with a narrow or missing sidewalk. Biking on a path separate from traffic is very different from biking on a busy street, or even worse on a busy street with no bike lane.
All this is to say: infrastructure matters. Our streets were designed primarily to move cars, and it has been a gradual shift to adapt that infrastructure to permit other forms of travel. Over the past several decades, the County of Santa Cruz and local cities have taken steps to build sidewalks, stripe bike lanes, and construct the shared-use paths, like the East Cliff Esplanade, that are getting so much use today.
Lets Make a Plan
The County of Santa Cruz is looking ahead to the next set of projects to make walking and biking safer, easier, and more enjoyable. This fall in partnership with Bike Santa Cruz County and Ecology Action the County started work on an Active Transportation Plan, which will update the 2011 Bicycle Plan and provide a roadmap for future improvements for walking and bicycling in unincorporated Santa Cruz County. It will focus on the more urbanized areas of the unincorporated county, including Davenport, Live Oak, Aptos, Rio Del Mar, La Selva Beach, Amesti, and Interlaken. The plan does not include the cities of Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Capitola, or Watsonville, which each have their own street improvement planning efforts.
How are Your County Streets Doing?
Now is the time to share everything you’ve noticed on your daily walks and bike rides ̶ the good, the bad, and your ideas for the future. If you live, work, or play in unincorporated Santa Cruz County, please click ecoact.org/poweredbyme and use the interactive map to tell us about places that are great for walking and biking and places that could use improvement. Your input is critical to the Active Transportation planning process and can help us work towards infrastructure that makes walking and biking safe and comfortable ways to get around our county.
Join the Conversation
We are also hosting three virtual meetings to discuss ways to improve walking and biking in different parts of the county. Register now by following the links below:
Amelia Conlen is a Transportation Planner and the Ecology Action lead on the Active Transportation Plan. Over the past few years she has developed Safe Routes to Schools Plans for schools in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and an Active Transportation Plan for Scotts Valley. Amelia loves biking and walking all over Santa Cruz County.
A previous version of this story was published on Ecology Action’s website on August 7th, 2020.