Nevada County aims to pave the way for bicycles on Newtown Road |

Nevada County aims to pave the way for bicycles on Newtown Road

Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

Nevada County transportation officials continue to gather viewpoints on a $1.3 million road-widening project slated to be performed on Newtown Road in 2014.

The project aims to install 4-foot shoulders on either side of Newtown Road in an effort to make the transportation route safer for motorized vehicles and for bicycles, said David Garcia, a transportation planner with the Nevada County Department of Public Works.

Newtown Road is a key segment of one of the most popular loops for recreational bicyclists in western Nevada County, said Duane Strawser, mayor of Nevada City who also owns the Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop.

"It's one of my favorite loops on this side of the county," Strawser said.

The loop is known to most locals as the Newtown Loop but is also referred to as the LeMond Loop after famed professional cyclist Greg LeMond, who is native to the Sierra Nevada.

The route is attractive to cyclists of every ability level due to its accessibility, concision, scenic value and relative degree of safety, Strawser said.

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While strenuous stretches that may challenge more seasoned riders abound, the route can be accomplished by beginning cyclists.

The loop typically begins in Nevada City, heading westbound on Ridge Road until it dead ends into Rough and Ready Highway. Taking a right, the road continues onto Bitney Springs Road until the cyclist hits the intersection with Newtown Road.

Newtown will filter the rider out onto Highway 49, which makes for a harrowing ride on a narrow roadway until the rider encounters Old Downieville Highway, which leads back to Nevada City, Strawser said.

The California Department of Transportation has committed $320,000 toward the addition of a Class II bicycle lane to either side of the portion of Highway 49 that connects the recreational loop, said Daniel Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission.

The slice of roadway represents one of the most "dangerous stretches" of road for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, Strawser said.

Many vehicle accidents are caused on roadways with a narrow shoulder, where the driver drifts off and then overcorrects, he said.

Garcia said the road-widening project will not only allow for safer passage of bicyclists but will help motorists drive safer.

However, not everyone is pleased with the project.

Molly Fisk, who lives on Newtown near the intersection with Highway 49, said she is concerned that the project will entail the removal of a 60-foot pine tree in her front yard that provides shade while reducing highway noise. Fisk said it was a good idea to build lanes for bicycles on Newtown but said she is hopeful that she can work with officials to spare the tree while fulfilling the aims of the project.

Garcia said the county is in the process of addressing right-of-way issues with many of the residents on Newtown Road.

Initially, many people expressed opposition to the project, but once residents were given a more accurate picture of the road-widening project and its impacts, most residents were generally receptive, Garcia said.

Funds will be derived from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, a federally administered grant funding program that provides money to projects and/or programs aimed at improving air quality in qualified areas. The transportation commission maintains the Nevada County Bike Master Plan on the books, a necessary qualification for obtaining funding from the California Bicycle Transportation Account, Landon said.

The existing roadway network in Nevada County includes an estimated 958 miles of developed roads, according to the master plan. Travel is primarily accomplished by automobile due to the rural nature of the transportation network and limited opportunities for alternative modes of travel.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or 530-477-4239.

Community forum

Molly Fisk, a county resident who lives on Newtown Road, posted in the Facebook group “Nevada County Peeps” on Feb. 24 soliciting feedback on the Newtown Road project. The following comments are a sampling of some garnered responses under the names with which they were posted:

Margo Stebbing: Really? Wow, this seems so counter productive to spend so much money on a bike path. Don’t we coexist pretty well with bikers on the road? I don’t see that many bikers to warrant this.

Douglas Keachie: There would be far more bicyclists on the roads if people felt safe there. I don’t.

John Burnett: I bike on the roads and feel relatively safe. But I am an experienced cyclist. I am nervous about bringing my kids out to teach them to ride these roads.

Randy Hafiz Neu: We live on Newtown Rd. I love to bike too … I have kids and would NEVER take them on this road the way it is … I personally am glad they are building a bike path… the way people drive and the tight curves … it is seriously dangerous the way it is.

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