When Anne Wallach Thomas was growing up in the 1970s in Palo Cedro, outside Redding in Shasta County, kids rode their bikes everywhere. When she moved back home to Shasta County in 2010 after a couple of decades away, she found a much more car-centric community than when she left.
Thomas wanted to help the City of Redding and Shasta County “get out from under all these car-centric roadways,” she said. So she founded Shasta Living Streets and later became its Executive Director.
Now, after 10 years of starting conversations and inviting people to experience new things through events and pop-ups, the work of Shasta Living Streets is about to bear its biggest fruit. With support from the McConnell Foundation and an Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities (AHSC) grant, Thomas and Shasta Living Streets are realizing a vision: the Shasta Bike Depot. The Depot, which will be completed in 2021, will provide support to residents and visitors who embrace active living and a car-free lifestyle. It will also serve as a gateway between newly bike-friendly downtown streets and more than two hundred miles of off-road bike trails.
To understand how far Redding has come, we need to look back at where it’s been.
A Gold Rush city
During the gold rush era, Redding was a bustling hub, with prospectors coming through to look for gold in far Northern California. Redding was founded as a rail-stop, on a bluff overlooking the Sacramento River.
Redding has a mixed relationship with biking. The city sits in the foothills, it’s crossed by north-south and east-west highways, and a river runs through it. Like so many other cities, the freeway off-ramps and Caltrans-controlled state routes that divide downtown make safe biking and walking connections hard to find. In addition, as Redding grew it spread from compact historic neighborhoods to new suburban neighborhoods at the edge of town. Residents abandoned the downtown core.
The best biking destination you never heard of
And yet, people on bikes have long been part of Redding’s outdoor lifestyle and the area has been home to several biking milestones. The Shasta Wheelmen first came together with 100 members in the late 1880s. A century later, the first mountain biking race in the world, the Whiskeytown Downhill, was held in the hills outside Redding. (Gary Fisher won the race.) Shasta Living Streets held one of the earliest Open Streets events in California, starting in 2011. The organization also created the first parklet on a Caltrans-controlled street in Redding.
The region is home to some fantastic bike trails as well. The Sundial Bridge, which takes bicyclists and pedestrians across the Sacramento River, is a striking structure that offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. From the bridge, you can bike the Sacramento River Trail. A few years ago, inspired by the plans to build these trails, American Trails moved their home office to Redding.
Gateway to the mountains
Over the Sundial Bridge and outside of town, 220 miles of mountain bike track plus 25 miles of paved bike trails wind through the hills, with Mount Shasta as a backdrop. With a 4-star hotel at the base of the bridge, the area seems like a natural draw for bicycle tourism. Off-road biking is growing in popularity in Redding, thanks to world class mountain biking routes and two new bike parks. Yet, the biking trails are only accessible by car to most city residents. Thomas pointed out that most people feel uncomfortable biking into town to eat dinner after riding the trails. The fast-moving traffic on connecting streets makes the routes uncomfortable to ride for everyone but the most fearless cyclists.
Still, Redding isn’t a name that comes to mind when people list California’s best cities for biking. The off-road trails are great, but there are few low-stress city routes. However, thanks to the hard work and vision of Shasta Living Streets, the McConnell Foundation, and local government and business leaders, that is about to change.
Challenges to create a truly bike-friendly Redding
Unlike many other California cities, it didn’t experience a revitalization of its downtown in the early 2000s. It took a long time, but people across the region are again embracing and restoring life to downtown Redding.
Money was a barrier. With a low tax base, funds to make improvements were scarce after a failed downtown mall development. But, Thomas said, “Today government and foundation grants have helped build the new projects that are under construction now, and these are driving additional investments.” The 2018 Downtown Specific Plan incorporated community interests, and focused attention on making the downtown district “a pedestrian- and bike-friendly place to live work and play” she said.
Downtown renewal projects were delayed but not stopped by the Carr Fire, which famously burned through the parts of western Shasta County and Redding, destroying 1,500 homes, bringing months of smoke, and stifling business and tourism across the region. In the aftermath, Thomas said, the entire community embraced downtown revitalization like never before.
The development was partially funded by two of the state’s largest Sustainable Community grants. These projects combine coordinated active transportation and transit improvements with affordable housing.
Connecting bikes to downtown Redding
The downtown revitalization plans include a Downtown Loop Trail, linking three routes to connect people across the downtown core. The Diestlehorst bridge into downtown will provide the safe and convenient connection for people walking and biking to and from downtown and the Sacramento River Trail that people have long desired. That trail is slated to be completed in 2021.
This new trail will run right by another component of the plan: the Shasta Bike Depot. The trail and the Depot will remove barriers and allow people to come into town by bike. “Our calculations show that more than 68,000 people live within three miles of the Loop Trail,” Thomas said. “Since most people can ride three miles in 20 minutes, and most car trips are three miles or less, the Loop Trail begins to create a truly bikeable city that serves all residents.”
The Shasta Bike Depot will bring it all together
“We’re building on Redding’s assets and bringing successful models from other places to serve our community’s needs,” Thomas said of the Shasta Bike Depot. “We’re putting it together in a unique way that fits the style of relaxed outdoor culture in our city and this region. People in Redding and Shasta County aren’t just ready for this – they are excited about it.”
The Shasta Bike Depot is part of the Bell Plaza project. The Depot will have the North State’s first secure bike garage and a bike-friendly café. It will create a social and practical hub for local riders and trail enthusiasts, in addition to people visiting from out of town. Shasta Living Streets, under Thomas’ direction, will manage the Depot. It will offer guided e-bike tours of the river trail, an e-bike charging station, a bikeshare system, information exchange, and youth programs.
“I suspect it will feel a little bit like a clubhouse,” Thomas said. “It’s a visitors center, it’s a transit center.” The building’s architect called the site the “Start Here” spot for biking in and around Redding and the North State. “There’s no reason why Redding can’t have what Salesforce Plaza in San Francisco has in terms of cool amenities for active living and transit,” Thomas said.
Amenities to create “smoothness”
The vision of the Shasta Bike Depot is to create a gathering place that will support everyone who wants to bike in Shasta County. The Depot will offer amenities that create “comfort, convenience, enjoyment and smoothness,” Thomas said. “When people want to start biking or go out on our trail system, they have questions, and it feels like a secret society. Where do I ride? What do I wear? How do I put my bike on the bus?” They can find answers at the Bike Depot.
Construction is going full steam ahead and even the coronavirus can’t slow the Shasta Bike Depot down. Tours and classes will be held outdoors. The café will include outdoor seating. “Biking helps individuals and communities be stronger and more resilient in the health and economic crisis we are facing now,” Thomas said. She expects the Depot to open for business on schedule next summer. By that time, the trail connection to downtown will also be complete.
“There are lots of people driving in and out of downtown who would like to try biking. They are looking for encouragement and waiting for safe routes,” Thomas said. She hopes that, once the locals find out how fun it is to bike around downtown, they will support low-stress bikeways into their neighborhoods. That will help raise Redding and Shasta County into the ranks of top places for active and healthy living.
“When we give a lot more people the resources, skills and confidence they need to get around safely and conveniently by bike, they discover the ease and joy of bicycling,” Thomas said. “Then our community becomes healthier, happier, and more prosperous.”
For more information email Anne Thomas.
Article originally posted by calbike.org, August 2020.