Shifting Gears: Viable Cycling for the Underserved of Fresno

Shifting Gears: Viable Cycling for the Underserved of Fresno
Fresno should make use of its canal and abandoned rail lines to have the best bicycling opportunities in the United States. It would benefit the entire population, especially low-income groups, provide health benefits, increase family income and attract needed dollars to Fresno’s economy. Potential Class I bicycle routes are outlined in gray on the map.

According to the last U.S. Census, 85% of Fresno’s population consists of minorities, women, youth, the elderly and low-income people.1 But the 1% of the population that cycles regularly comes from the remaining 15% of Fresnans. That 1% is largely male, White, able-bodied, middle-income and young or middle-aged.2 They have easy access to the present system, which offers the finest riding experiences.3

Why is this? In 2011, the League of American Bicyclists, one of the largest and oldest rating organizations in the United States, rated Fresno’s bicycling system as the fifth best in the nation.4

To date, the City of Fresno has spent $36 million to implement its Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan (BPTMP).5 To fully carry out the plan will require another $1.3 billion.6 Will this investment be effective to increase ridership beyond the existing 1%? Even fully implemented, the master plan infrastructure will not be attractive to these communities because the plan neglects a critically important factor—people’s fear of bicycling alongside automobiles.

The BPTMP, along with bicycle advocates and people who use the system now, say that those who do not bicycle just need to be taught how safe and fun bicycling is. The master plan has an entire section devoted to education and encouragement.7 Taking this approach places the burden on those who fear sharing the roads with vehicles and not on driver behavior.

The master plan suggests that people need to get over their fear of bicycling on streets with cars. However, such statements fail to acknowledge that cars are moving fast and weigh thousands of pounds, and motorists are often contemptuous of bicycle riders.

Instead of telling frightened people not to be afraid of what they have every reason to fear, the BPTMP should focus on creating facilities that remove the reason for that fear.

Most of the research carried out over the last decade on why people do not bicycle finds that lack of education is not the problem; traveling on roads with cars is the problem.8

In 2011, for the Fresno General Plan and Development Code update, a survey of bicycle users in Fresno showed that “most people [of Fresno] feel safer on Class I facilities”—that is, bicycle lanes completely separated from streets.9 For the development of the BPTMP, another survey yielded the same result.10

Yet the master plan states that the only really important obstacles to bicycling are things like freeway crossings or streets in county islands where bicycle lanes are not painted on the asphalt.11

The Brookings Institute declared that Fresno has the highest concentration of poverty in the United States.12 Many who live here cannot afford cars; they are transit-dependent even as bus service has been shrinking because of budget cuts.13 With the country still in the worst recession in a century, transit systems, which are heavily subsidized, are at risk of losing additional funds.14

A system of connected Class I bicycle facilities, like a well-designed freeway system, would allow low-income people to travel around Fresno on bicycle as easily as in the cars they cannot afford.

Actually, a well-connected Class I system would provide economic, environmental and health benefits to the entire population of Fresno.

Commuters would no longer have to be stalled in traffic; they could wave to trapped motorists as they flashed by on their Class I way to work. Children could bicycle safely to school (imagine the savings in time and fuel that would bring about, not to mention the improvement in children’s health). All kinds of errands could be done by bicycle. People could reach appointments by bicycle. Families could bicycle together for recreation.

A fully connected Class I network would attract bike enthusiasts from all over the country. The Sugar Pine Trail already attracts people from outside Fresno.15 Imagine the money-spending tourists and competitive events that an entire system would attract.16

Fresno could have a future in which 20%‒30% of the population use bicycles, rates commonly found in Europe.

Before we spend $1.3 billion to build a bicycle system that will have few Class I facilities (poorly connected to one another at that), how can we redirect our efforts to make bicycle riders out of people from the 99% who do not bicycle now? Here is a three-step program:

  • Fresno city and county must recognize that the public will take bicycling seriously only if they have Class I (fully separate) facilities. The Clovis Sugar Pine Trail is an ideal example; anything less will not address the concerns of 99% of Fresno’s population.
  • The BPTMP needs to focus on creating a system of interconnected Class I trails that link residential areas with meaningful destinations. To make it affordable, use the railroad lines and canals that crisscross the city. There are precedents for this. The Clovis Sugar Pine Trail was created from a former railroad line. The City of Fresno converted land along the Enterprise Canal into a bicycle trail.
  • The people who do not bike must be made aware of the benefits of a Class I bicycling system. They need to become advocates of such a system—to articulate their fears of riding in traffic and to demand the health, environmental and financial benefits that a usable, viable system would provide.

The City of Fresno has already stated in official reports that it sees the value of using canals for bicycle lanes.17 As for railroads, the California Air Resources Board has identified rail yards as a major source of health problems for people who live near them.18 Because Fresno has a large rail yard near low-income residential areas, the railroads might be willing to open their rights of way to bicyclists in exchange for air quality offset credits.

There aren’t many cities that have full bicycling networks. Fresno should make use of its incredible canal and railroad opportunities to have the best in the United States. It would benefit the entire population, especially low-income groups, provide health benefits, increase family income and attract needed dollars to Fresno’s economy.19

For more information, “like” Shifting Gears on Facebook at


Marcus Evans is a member of Corazon Planning, a group of local urban planners who love Fresno and spend their free time figuring out how to make Fresno better. Contact him at



  1. City of Fresno Economic Development Department. (2009). 2009 Demographic Summary. Retrieved from Caucasian males are only 15% of the population of the Fresno metropolitan area.
  2. Alliance for Biking and Walking. (2010). Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2010 Benchmarking Report. pp. 35, 40‒44, 88. Retrieved from About 1% of Fresno city residents bicycle to work. Of that, 1% (about two-thirds) of current bicycle riders are Caucasian males up to 65 years of age.
  3. Hostetter, G. (2012, Aug. 6). “Fresno City Council weighs $1.7m trail tunnel question in wake of fatal crash.” Fresno Bee. Retrieved from The majority of the Class I bike system and most of the good bike facilities have been built north of Shaw Avenue, whereas the majority of the poverty in Fresno is south of Shaw. “The people of southwest Fresno would like to have trails, too,” says Fresno City Council Member Oliver Baines. The discussion pointed out that most of the trails are all in northeast Fresno, where the new homes are.

Map My Ride (n.d.). Fresno Cycling Trails. Retrieved from Of the 18 trails listed for bicycling on this map, only four are located south of Ashlan Avenue.

Brookings Institution. (2011). Re-emergence of Concentrated Poverty in the 2000s: Fresno, CA Metropolitan Area. Analysis of 2005‒09 American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates. Retrieved from Income levels drop sharply south of Ashlan Avenue in comparison to the entire northern half of Fresno, and income levels drop even sharper south of McKinley Avenue in comparison to the rest of the northern half of Fresno.

  1. I Bike Fresno. (2011, June 21). Fresno is Officially Bicycle Friendly. Retrieved from “We are honored to share that the League of American Bicyclists (National Organization) has awarded the Bronze Medal Designation to the City of Fresno as a Bicycle Friendly Community. The fact that we led the State of California and 48 other states with implementation of the most new bike lanes of any city in 2010 with 30 miles, in addition, to completing the three miles of trail on the Sugar Pine Trail alignment to connect the City of Fresno and Clovis, and one grade separation on Fresno Street north of Nees Avenue helped immensely. No excuses!”
  2. City of Fresno. (2010). City of Fresno, Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan. Retrieved from “As shown in Table 2.2, past citywide expenditures on bicycle facilities totals over $36 million” (p. 29).
  3. City of Fresno. (2010). City of Fresno, Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan. Retrieved from “The total cost for constructing the proposed system is estimated at $1.3 billion” (p. 216).
  4. City of Fresno. (2010). City of Fresno, Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan. “In addition to the implementation of bicycle infrastructure, the BMP recommends programs to increase the number of bicyclists in Fresno. Encouragement programs such as media campaigns, employer incentives, and bicycle competitions aim to persuade people to ride their bikes” (p. II). “Educational programs for bicyclists and motorists complement one another. These programs should not create an “us versus them” perception of the roadway, but should promote a shared use of the roadway for all modes of transportation. As the bicycle network in Fresno expands, riders of all abilities will need education about the system” (p. 178).
  5. Buehler, R., & Pucher, J. (2008, July). Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.” Transport Reviews, 28(4), pp. 495‒528. Retrieved from “The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections” (Abstract).

Dill, J., & Voros, K. (2006). Factors Affecting Bicycling Demand: Initial Survey Findings from the Portland Region. Submitted for presentation and publication at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board. (Table 6: Barriers to biking and biking more). Retrieved from About 60% of the public does not bike because they are close to traffic, and 40% do not bike because there are not bike lanes that are safe (p. 18).

Geller, R. (n.d.). Four Types of Transportation Cyclists. Portland Office of Transportation. Retrieved from “Riding a bicycle should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and non-cyclists alike. No person should have to be ‘brave’ to ride a bicycle; unfortunately, this is a sentiment commonly expressed to those who regularly ride bicycles by those who do not.”

Geller, R. (n.d.). Four Types of Cyclists. Portland Office of Transportation. Retrieved from “Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle.” Sixty percent of the public is interested in bike riding but does not because of concerns for safety. Thirty-three percent of the public will not think about riding bikes because they see the system as not safe at all.

SFMTA. (2012). 2012 San Francisco State of Cycling Report. Retrieved from The report states that a majority of 600+ SF cyclists surveyed for the report do not feel safe using shared facilities and states a preference of cyclists for Class I facilities (pp. 58‒65).

Teschke, K., et al. (2012). Impact of Transportation Infrastructure on Risk of Injuries While Cycling. University of British Columbia. Cycling in Cities Research Program (PowerPoint presentation). Retrieved from Links shared infrastructure or treatments to higher risk of injury for cyclists.

Teschke, K., et al. (2012, December). Route Infrastructure and the Risk of Injuries to Bicyclists: A Case-Crossover Study. American Journal of Public Health, 102(12). Retrieved from Links shared infrastructure or treatments to higher risk of injury for cyclists.

Teschke, K., & Winters, M. (2010, September/October). Route Preferences among Adults in the Near Market for Bicycling: Findings of the Cycling in Cities Study. American Journal of Health Promotion, 25(1). “Most respondents were likely or very likely to choose to cycle on the following broad route categories: off-street paths (71%–85% of respondents); physically separated routes next to major roads (71%)…Findings indicate a marked disparity between preferred cycling infrastructure and the route types that were currently available and commonly used.”

Yuba County. (2012, Feb. 9). Yuba County Bikeway Master Plan. Appendix C: Public Workshop #2 Exhibits. Retrieved from Shows preferences for Class I over Class II and III facilities in pie chart and bar graph form, based on public workshops conducted as part of the process for generating the Yuba County Bikeway Master Plan.

Pucher, J., & Buehler, R. (2008). Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. Transport Reviews, 28(4), pp. 495‒528. Retrieved from This article explores the experiences of Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany in promoting bicycling, as compared to the United States and the United Kingdom. The authors contend that the provision of separated bicycle facilities has made a key difference to the success of cycling in the European countries profiled.

Dill, J. (2013). Categorizing Cyclists: What Do We Know? Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC. Retrieved from Fear of being hit by a car was strongly correlated with how interested or willing a person was to bicycle. In addition, those less willing to bicycle were more likely to be women or older than age 34. Results indicate that a physically separated bike lane (i.e., cycle track) could have a strong positive influence on the decision to bike.

Garrard, J., Rose, G., & Lo, S.K. (2008). Promoting Transportation for Cycling for Women: The Role of Bicycle Infrastructure. Preventive Medicine, 46, pp. 55‒59. Retrieved from The researchers observed cyclists at various points in Melbourne and estimated their distance to the Central Business District to explore hypotheses about women and their preferences for bicycling facilities. The results suggested that women preferred greater separation from traffic.

Szczepanski, C. (2013, Aug. 6). Women on a Roll: Benchmarking Women’s Bicycling in the United States—and Five Keys to Get More Women on Wheels. League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from According to a 2009 study of bicyclists in six cities, “the most important determinant of bicycling for women was their comfort bicycling” (p. 31). More than half of American women (53%) say more bike lanes and bike paths would increase their riding (p. 1). According to the 2010 Women Cycling Survey, women’s top safety concerns were distracted driving (73% of respondents) and speed of cars (63%; p. 23). A 2009 survey in Portland, Ore., found that 94% of women agreed that separated lanes made their ride safer, compared to 64% of men (p. 24). The number of women riders rose 100% on Los Angeles’ Spring Street after the installation of a buffered bike lane in 2011 (p. 27). According to a 2013 analysis, the presence of a bike lane on a street increased women’s ridership, on average, by 276% in Philadelphia (p. 28). The number of female riders grew 115% after the installation of a bike lane on New Orleans’ South Carrollton Avenue in 2009 (p. 29).

Smith, B. (2013, Nov. 17). A Transportation Plan to Bring Fun (and Better Health) to City. Bakersfield Californian. Retrieved from “The plan will expand our existing bikeway network of 143 miles to just over 400 miles of bikeways. It’s not just about having more bikeways, though it is about the experience generated by the type of bikeway…Our current bicycle plan directs bicycles to high speed, six-lane roadways on minimum width bicycle lanes. The new plan recommends over 100 miles of ‘family friendly bikeways.’ Many are designed on local residential streets, and some are separated from the street completely, similar to the Kern River bike path. These bikeways connect to schools, parks and commercial areas so that families can travel by bicycle and enjoy the ride.”

  1. City of Fresno Development and Resource Management Department. (2011, Nov. 14). Fresno General Plan and Development Code Update. Working Paper 4: Transportation and Connectivity. Chapter 4: Bicycle Movement. Retrieved from “Bicycle facilities make sense as a means of reducing adverse impacts to the environment (air quality), and fit with the economy and geography (flat) of Fresno. Most people feel safer on Class I facilities, but Class II and III are better for connectivity and Class I is thought of as more cost prohibitive.”
  2. Public Survey for 2010 Fresno Bike Master Plan. Retrieved from Public concerns with their children riding bikes in Fresno: 81% are concerned for traffic. What impacts public’s choice of what route to ride a bike on: 78% indicated traffic volume. What prevents you from biking more often: 50% said no bike paths and 45% said too many cars. What improvements would influence you to bike more often: 71% noted separated bike paths.
  3. City of Fresno. (2010). City of Fresno, Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan. Retrieved from See pages 8‒9.
  4. Stockdale, C.B., & Sauter, M.B. (2011, Nov. 3). Cities with the Poorest Neighborhoods. 24/7 Wall Street. Retrieved from “The concentration of poverty in the U.S. has been increasing over the past decade…Fresno, CA, has the third highest poverty rate in the nation of 20.5%.”
    Carrero, M. (2011, Nov. 30). Census: Fresno Has Highest Poverty Rate in CA. KMJ. Retrieved from
  5. Stevenson, J. (2012, Jan. 22). Fresno, Bus Driver Union at Odds over Work Rules, Pay Cut. Valley Public Radio. Retrieved from “Just last week the city’s transit rates and services committee recommended the city raise bus rates by 75 cents over five years…Scott says he is seeking a reduction in salaries not because he thinks city employees are paid too much, he says the budget situation leaves him no choice.”

“Jerry Brown Proposes Cuts to School Bus Funding.” (2012, Jan. 13). ABC 30. Retrieved from

  1. Snyder, T. (2011, Sept. 8). House GOP’s 2012 Transportation Budget: Deep Cuts, Especially for Livability. DC Streets Blog. Retrieved from
  2. These state and national Web sites all mention the Fresno Clovis Sugar Pine Trail:–clovis-old-town-trail.aspx–near–fresno-ca

  1. Central Valley cities that have built a Class I bike system through their city have been able to attract millions of dollars in outside tourism to their city.

“Downtown Merced, Amgen Tour of 2009”: “America’s most successful cycling race, the recently expanded Amgen Tour of California, is an annual sports events. Expanded in 2009, both in duration and state footprint, this international, world-class cycling road race features elite professional teams and athletes from around the world competing for the highest prize purse of any cycling race in North America. Some 1.6 million visitors were expected to converge on the race throughout the state. The race has a potential state economic impact of $100 million. Hosts selected for the event include such cities as Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Modesto, Pasadena and Escondido. On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, the City of Merced with support from local sponsorships, played host to [the] 4th Stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. After days of rain soaked conditions, the skies opened up and shined on the Downtown starting gate…Some 10,000 people were expected to have attend the event in Merced. In addition to the race, attendants were invited to participate in the street festival where vendors and community organizations were set up to provide food, products and entertainment.”
2009 Merco Downtown Merced Criterium 079

  1. City of Fresno. (2010). Inclusion of Fresno Irrigation District Canals in the Fresno Bicycle Master Plan. City of Fresno, Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan. Retrieved from “Oftentimes the banks on either side of these canals are accessible to the general public, or could be made accessible with only a small investment of time and financial resources. A number of factors, including location and accessibility, make the canals appear attractive for use as bike path corridors” (p. 1). “Many of the bikeways located throughout the City are not linked, such that a bikeway may run for one or two miles, and then terminate without first linking to another bicycle facility” (p. 2). “Additionally, the 2010 BMP proposes Class I bike paths along FID canals. While the canals do not provide direct access to many of the destinations noted, they would provide excellent access to many areas of the City, especially when linked with on-street bicycle facilities” (p. 2). “Including canals in the City’s bikeways system is a practical option, based on the locations of the canal systems throughout the City, the topography, and the anticipated usage of bike paths” (p. 29).

The City of Merced already has Class I bike facilities on its canals, and the canal district endorses this use. See the following:

  1. Rail yards have become a source of special concern for the California Air Resources Board:

South Coast AQMD. (2006, February). Fact Sheet: Locomotive Operations and Air Pollution in Southern California. Retrieved from Locomotives and rail yard operations are a significant source of smog-forming and toxic emissions and controlling these emissions is crucial to cleaning up Southern California smog.

California EPA. (2005, Jan. 14). Cal/EPA Environmental Justice Action Plan: Pilot Project Proposal Summary for Reduction of Air Pollution Exposure in Urban Communities in Southern California. Retrieved from

California Air Resources Board. (2013, Dec. 2). CHAPIS Analysis Program. Retrieved from Analysis results in the image below are for Fresno. The map shows a majority of rail yards with emissions are located in south Fresno near Downtown.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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