Aug 15, 2019
By Walter Niederberger
Climate change is happening, and Healdsburg already feels the impact of higher temperatures and elevated fire risks like any town in Sonoma County. So, what can we do to protect the climate system?
In March 2018 the City Council adopted a resolution to provide carbon free and renewable electricity by 2045, and has begun procuring green power for city operations. But what about emissions from fossil fuels used in buildings and cars? Half of the greenhouse gases from buildings are caused by heating and cooking with natural gas. Replacing it with 100 percent clean electricity (solar, wind and geothermal) therefore would be a significant contribution to fighting climate change. Berkeley’s City Council passed a historic ordinance in July, requiring that new buildings be all-electric beginning in 2020. This means no gas hook-ups in new houses, apartments, and commercial buildings. The Healdsburg City Council is considering such a building electrification ordinance.
But did you know that more than 60 percent of Healdsburg’s greenhouse gas emissions currently come from transportation, not buildings or power supply? The transportation sector contributes 50 percent more to our emissions than the statewide average. This presents a unique challenge and an unprecedented opportunity to improve our quality of life.
Healdsburg needs a sustainable and much safer traffic infrastructure for all users, not just cars. Even though our City is one of the major bicycle hubs in California and attracts hundreds of touring groups, which contribute significantly to the local economy, the bicycle network is not up to a safe standard, as the recent fatal hit-and-run-accident just outside of town has shown.
A 61-year-old cyclist from Healdsburg was killed mid August on Westside Road, a cycling corridor that is used by thousands of cyclists throughout the year, yet without any “share-the-road” signage or bicycle markings. The accident was not only tragic, but also preventable. One lesson is that the City, in coordination with the County, has to ensure much better bike safety signage on all major cycling routes emanating from town, including Westside and Eastside Roads, in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys and all connections to them.
It is equally important that cycling becomes safer within the city limits. Families in Parkland Farms, for instance, would like to send their children to school by bicycle. But they are worried about the safety of the routes, and they are right. Healdsburg Avenue from the north to the south end of the city needs to be upgraded to a major bicycle route, since it is the most direct and the least hilly route to the schools. Step one is to create a dedicated bicycle lane with more signs indicating that cars and bicycle share the road and parking in bicycle lanes is prohibited. Step two is to modify the induction loops at red lights, to make sure that not only cars, but bicycles can trigger them to turn the lights green. Step three is to make intersections and roundabouts safe with green painted lanes and bike boxes, which allow cyclists to wait in front of stopped vehicles. The experience of other US cities tells us that it is safer to concentrate cyclists on fewer routes, where the car drivers can see them, rather than to disperse them to side roads with frequent crossings of major arteries.
Healdsburg with its climate and terrain is an ideal place for bicycling. More and more citizens are aware of that and would like to take advantage of it. For instance the free bike parking at the Tuesday concerts at the Square is very popular. And the local Folk Spoke Bicycle shop sells and rents out more and more electric bicycles. E-bikes make cycling a viable alternative for more people (e.g., injured athletes, elderly) and more functions, such as shopping at the farmer’s market or touring the beautiful vineyards, while at the same time promoting healthy lifestyles, reducing car traffic and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. According to the NPD Retail Tracking Service, sales of bikes with electric motors rose 73% last year at specialty shops, after more than doubling the year before. In contrast, traditional bike sales fell 8% last year.
More trips by bike and foot will benefit the climate system and improve Healdsburg’s quality of life.
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