McKinleyville’s Trails: Don’t Let The Dream Be The Enemy Of The Reality

(Rambling Jack column from this week's opinion page.)

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

Listening to last week’s presentation by the McKinleyville Organizing Committee, one could understandably get the impression that Mack Town is inherently dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians.

A traffic jam on the Hammond Trail.

A traffic jam on the Hammond Trail.

But that’s nonsense. Although there are a bunch of trouble spots, there are also lots of pedestrian and bicycle friendly amenities in McKinleyville. For bicyclists, in particular, McKinleyville is downright user friendly compared to most communities, depending, of course, on which part of town you’re traveling through.

On the west side of town there’s the Hammond Trail, which extends the entire length of McKinleyville, from the Hammond Bridge on the south end to Clam Beach at the north end. Most of the Hammond is a Class 1 trail, meaning it’s completely separated from traffic.

Between McKinleyville High School and Railroad Drive is the Mid-Town Trail, also Class 1. As McKinleyville grows and the vacant fields behind Safeway get developed, the Mid-Town Trail will be extended, providing a connection from Murray Road to School Road right through the middle of town. That means McKinleyville will have two Cadillac-grade trails running north and south.

But what about the east-west connections?

Work is currently underway on School Road. By the end of summer there will be bicycle lanes and sidewalks along School Road from Central Avenue to U.S. Highway 101.
Hiller Road, while lacking in bicycle amenities, is a generally safe and pleasant east-west connection. Murray Road is also an adequate connector for bicyclists.

Over the last several years, the County of Humboldt has spent more than a million dollars building sidewalks to serve the local schools. There is a sidewalk extending from Morris School, down McKinleyville Avenue, and east on Railroad Drive. This provides a safe route to school for many students at both Morris and McKinleyville Middle School, located at Railroad Drive and Central Avenue.

The county also built a sidewalk on Central Avenue from near Bates Road all the way to Murray Road, and then extended the sidewalk further along the length of Murray Road to McKinleyville High School.

Central Avenue, between Railroad Drive and School Road, has bicycle lanes on either side of the road. There are also sidewalks, with a few missing pieces.

So a big, fat chunk of McKinleyville has bicycle and pedestrian connections already available. There’s no reason to not get out and walk or ride. There is no reason why the majority of McKinleyville’s students can’t ride a bike or walk to school.

These kids, with some exceptions, don’t need to wait for further improvements to ride their bikes to school. They can do so right now. What’s holding them back? Paranoid parents?

There are, of course, problem spots in McKinleyville. The McKinleyville Organizing Committee has correctly identified many of them, and is thankfully working on a solution.

As the organization declared last week, Central Avenue needs help.

Perhaps the missing segments in sidewalks can be built. Maybe there are ways to improve the safety of the bicycle lanes.

And there are the intersections. Ever try crossing Central Avenue at School or Sutter roads on foot? Motorists turning left seem to be oblivious to the pedestrians in the crosswalks. Many people have experienced near misses. This is a real problem, and something that could probably be solved with proper roadway engineering.

Then there’s the north part of town. Unlike students at other schools in McKinleyville, the Dow’s Prairie kids have a good reason for not walking or biking to school – it’s too dangerous. There are no sidewalks. There are no bike lanes. The shoulders are inadequate.

There is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in McKinleyville. The town has a long way to go. But it also has a lot of positive attributes for bicyclists and pedestrians.

While residents wait for improvements, they should also use what they now have. They should pump up their bike tires and go for a ride, lace up their walking shoes and take a stroll.


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  1. Tom Nelson said:

    Cycling Central, heading south past Bartow Road is very dangerous for
    bikes where the shoulder gets pinched to nothing shortly before you get
    to the Seventh Day Adventist church. Plus, in spite of the speed limit,
    drivers are picking up extra speed before they head down the hill past
    the brewery to 101. Someday soon some cyclist is gonna get smacked by a side mirror through there – ouch. Its beyond me why they couldn’t fix this when they widened the road between there and Bartow…

  2. Glenn Franco Simmons said:

    Great column and an awesome photo! Reminds me of my days growing up in Freshwater where the cows outnumbered the entire valley’s youths. It should be one of Humboldt’s iconic photos of all time, Jack. Reminds me of what I miss and will return to in a few years but beyond the fog belt. I also agree with the column’s recommendation to get out and enjoy the outdoors, even though I’m late in reading it. I’ll be subscribing.

  3. Jack Durham said:

    It’s good when the projects make people safer. What’s bad is when the projects give people a false sense of security. This can happen with some crosswalks.

  4. Fred Mangels said:

    I’m not trying to be argumentative and don’t have a problem with sidewalks or wider shoulders, per se. I’m just becoming more and more convinced that the safer people are made to feel, the more careless they get.

    That’s why I see so many people not looking before they cross the street.

  5. Jack Durham said:

    The opposite of what you’re saying about safety measures is true. The County of Humboldt and local developers have invested millions in sidewalk improvements, trails, bicycle lanes and other amenities.

    Having a sidewalk, or trail, or wider shoulder makes it safer for everyone.

    My point is that while there is still work to be done, a lot off amenities already exist. So get out and ride or walk.

  6. Fred Mangels said:

    I don’t recall hearing of a whole bunch, if any, auto vs. bike or pedestrian collisions in Mckinleyville. Am I just not paying attention?

    If my impression is correct, and there aren’t many accidents in Mactown, maybe a good part of the reason is you haven’t tried to make implement safety measures? Those measures just make pedestrians and bike riders feel safer, thus they end up more careless.

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