Multi-Use Trails

Sonoma City Trail anchors city-wide biking network

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The Sonoma City Trail, often referred to as “the city bike path,” extends just 1.5 miles, from the Sonoma Highway across the street from Maxwell Farms Regional Park to its terminus, or turnaround, at Fourth Street East.

Pedestrians usually outnumber bicyclists. Walking singly, in pairs or larger groups they dominate the narrow paved trail’s traffic ‒ it’s only eight to 10 feet wide ‒ along with the occasional dog walker, and the bicyclists usually travel alone.

In a small city like Sonoma, this is probably how it should be, a busy multi-use trail that emphasizes human-powered travel.

Like many successful bike/pedestrian trails, the Sonoma City Trail was built to follow a railroad easement, and almost midway in its course it passes the Depot Park Museum, a historic train depot that’s now open on weekends with local history exhibits.

Speaking of history, longtime former city council member Nancy Parmelee remembers the first paved pedestrian path in Sonoma was built almost 50 years ago.

“Our first bike path was from the high school to MacArthur around 1973-74, mostly so a student in a wheel chair could get to MacArthur,” said Parmelee. “I think it was asphalt, just something to get past the eucalyptus trees.”

According to Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson, the trail as we know it today was built “during the 1975-1988 time frame by the City and County, often utilizing transportation grant funds.” That time frame also aligns with Parmelee’s recollection that the path was built right after the depot burned down ‒ the original Sonoma Depot was destroyed by fire in 1977 and rebuilt two years later, though it retains its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

A citywide network

But the City Trail is only one section of a citywide network of proposed and existing multi-use trails that includes three north-to-south marked bike lanes that head for the City Trail, and at least one cross-town bike route that allows east-west crossings elsewhere inside city limits.

The network is a combination of Class I, Class II and Class III routes: The Sonoma City Trail is a dog-friendly Class I bikeway, paved and maintained for the exclusive use of pedestrians and non-motorized cyclists. Class II bikeways are bike lanes established along streets and marked by striping and signage; Class III bikeways are preferred routes for bikes along lesser-used streets, often marked by signs and “sharrows” – roadway markings – indicating bike travel is to be expected on these shared routes.

In January, Community Services and Environment Committee member Matt Metzler presented the final report from the “CSEC Task Force for the Expansion of Dedicated Bike/Pedestrian Trails,” a handful of recommendations and observations on just how “bike-friendly” Sonoma is, and can be.

The report endorsed the idea that the city should increase funding for this network of paths, possibly hiring new staff “to identify and seek grants on expansion of the dedicated pedestrian and bike trails.”

The task force ‒ the CSEC’s Margaret Spaulding was also a member ‒ also recommended hiring a consulting organization or nonprofit to support this expansion and development, possibly to operate at a county level to assure a coordinated, regional network for people-powered travel.

The report was presented to the Sonoma City Council on March 2, but so far there has been no forward movement on the recommendations.

Metzler recently expressed concern that former mayor and cycling advocate Logan Harvey leaving town would slow the momentum for the city completing its internal bike paths projects. “The city council needs to take action and so far they haven’t,” he told the Index-Tribune.

Harvey, who resigned his city council seat in early June, spoke to the issue before he left. “I thought we were going to work on this more, but COVID really derailed it,” he said. “Sonoma should be a bike mecca. There just isn’t a safe biking infrastructure in this town.”

The Sonoma County Transit Authority bike map for the City of Sonoma and vicinity shows an elaborate network of proposed and existing bike routes inside city limits. There are two other Class I bike/pedestrian trails in town – the Nathanson Creek Trail running along Nathanson Creek connecting local neighborhoods with Sonoma Valley High School and Adele Harrison Middle School, and a similar Fryer Creek Trail on the west side of Broadway from Leveroni Road to West MacArthur.

Many of the city’s bike trails are still in the “proposed” stage and, in some cases, the infrastructure to support them has yet to be built. One such omission is at Fifth Street West, which has an existing Class II bike lane marked for much of its length up to East Napa – where it disappears, leaving cyclists stranded in heavy traffic just a couple blocks away from the Sonoma City Trail. At this point, said Metzler, there are no plans on the books to create linkage between the two.

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