Tahoe entities plugging away on building America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway

As you can see from this image, not much room exists for cyclists and motorists on Tahoe’s East Shore. Photo: Chris Talbot
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 edition of Tahoe Magazine. It was first published on this website in August 2018 and is presented in its original form.

Improving access to Lake Tahoe’s famed waters in an environmentally conscious way — while promoting health and wellness — via paved bike paths is fast becoming one of the region’s top-of-mind capital improvement projects.

Several agencies and organizations have come together in recent years to work through the challenges of funding and building on the region’s mountainous terrain, with the ultimate goal of creating a paved pathway around Lake Tahoe.

Getting vehicles off of the main roads (especially right around the lake on U.S. Highway 50 and Nevada/California routes 28 and 89) will not only help alleviate traffic congestion and parking, but will help restore and maintain Lake Tahoe’s air and water quality.

This TTD schematic of the larger Fanny Bridge project shows what the bike path will look like under the new bridge; it will have sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides. Contributed photo: Tahoe Transportation District

Among the top groups helping embrace more bike paths is the Tahoe Fund. Created in 2010, the bistate nonprofit organization takes on environmental improvement projects that help improve outdoor recreation, restore lake clarity, and build a sense of good stewardship in protecting Lake Tahoe. Many of the Tahoe Fund’s projects that are supported by federal and state grants, in addition to private donations, go toward developing paved bike paths.

As of the spring of 2018, there are approximately 25 miles of existing shared-use paths around the lake, about 5 miles of which is being constructed this summer. Below is a look at the top three projects in the works, and how various organizations are working together to get them completed:

1. SR 28 Incline Village to Sand Harbor: 2.437 miles

Work on the Incline-to-Sand Harbor shared-use path is expected to wrap up this summer. Contributed photo: Tahoe Fund

Anyone who has gone to Lake Tahoe’s East Shore on the weekend to access a public beach has probably noticed the morass of cars parked along the shoulder of State Route 28, causing safety issues and hazards. This prompted Tahoe entities to try to relieve the stress of traffic and impact on the environment by building an alternate route to access the lake.

In the works since 2015, the trail is expected to be completed in September 2018 and may have not been possible without charity. Donations from the public helped immensely to get the project funded and come to fruition.

“Private funding played a huge role. The Tahoe Transportation Department funded a $12.5 million grant to do the project, but that was contingent on getting $500,000 in local match funds to secure it,” Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry told Tahoe Magazine this spring.

A lot of people have been so passionate about the project that the Tahoe Fund had already raised more than $1 million in private donations, as of this spring, and is still accepting more.

“We’re so thankful for the support of the private community; it’s because of them that we’re able to make this happen,” Berry says.

From a government standpoint, the Nevada Department of Transportation has taken the lead on the Incline-to-Sand Harbor trail, and the bistate Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) helped set up the project.

“We play more of a broker role — we pull all of the projects together to get it completed,” says TTD Manager Carl Hasty.

The special district is more focused on implementation of transit services and capital projects, Hasty says, adding that a main focus of the Incline-to-Sand Harbor project is providing additional parking off the highway, as well as seasonal transit services.

“With the Tahoe Fund, we asked them to raise half a million dollars in match money because one issue we have is a long-term maintenance plan and how to keep up the trail,” Hasty says. “Washoe County is also chipping in on it, but we are afraid it won’t be enough. We need to look at how our user base can help us keep it maintained.”

Learn more: Visit tahoetransportation.org/sr28 to view the TTD’s page dedicated to this project; you can also visit tahoefund.org/our-projects to learn more from the Tahoe Fund.

2.  Meeks Bay Shared-Use Path (off of Highway 89): 0.59 miles

On the California side, Hasty says the TTD bundled three projects together to get funding — the Tahoe City realignment roundabout project at the congested “Wye” intersection (officially known as the SR 89/Fanny Bridge Community Revitalization Project), the Dollar Creek Shared-Use path and the Meeks Bay Shared-Use Path.

For the latter, even though it is only a half-mile stretch of road on the lake’s southwest shore, extending the Sugar Pine State Park bike path to Meeks Bay may start to get into challenging territory as construction gets closer to Emerald Bay. This is another high-congestion area where cars try to park alongside the road to access the backcountry and Rubicon Trail.

The bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency says that building a bike path in an area with steep grades and narrow roads (like Emerald Bay) would require some creative planning.

“That is one of our largest challenges, but some trails don’t necessarily have to be right on the lakeshore,” says TRPA Senior Transportation Planner Morgan Beryl.

Learn more: Visit tahoetransportation.org/current-capital-projects for information on the Meeks Bay path.

3. Dollar Creek Shared-Use Path (SR 28 outside of Tahoe City): 2.31 miles

A look at a recently installed paved section of the Dollar Creek Multi-Use Trail. Contributed photo: Tahoe Transportation District

On the California side of the lake, on the West and North Shores, have you ever been cruising on the bike path from Tahoe City toward Carnelian Bay and noticed the path stops when you get to the 7-Eleven at Dollar Point?

Well, Tahoe’s planning agencies have noticed it too and are in the process of extending the bike path from Dollar Point eastward into Carnelian Bay. This path will reportedly dip into the mountainside Dollar Creek area and connect to Old County Road, one of Carnelian Bay’s major neighborhoods.

“The 2.3-mile paved flat surface is scheduled to be finished this summer and will include picnic tables, bike racks and other features along the trail,” says Tahoe Fund’s Amy Berry.

Learn more: Placer County is among agencies collaborating on the Dollar Creek path; visit bit.ly/2HFCAdP for information.

Also learn more: Regarding the aforementioned Fanny Bridge project, the project includes a paved bike path as only a small part of a massive effort to install three roundabouts and a new Fanny Bridge, among other developments. Visit tahoetransportation.org/fanny-new-1 for full details.

So … when will the whole lake connect with a paved bike path?

Even though Tahoe is making progress toward a safer, environmentally-friendly transportation structure with the above projects, there’s still a long ways to go to connect the whole lake (which encompasses roughly 72 miles of roadway).

The ultimate idea is proposed by way of the TTD’s “America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway” plan, the mission of which is “to complete a premier separated Bikeway circling Lake Tahoe that connects communities, enhances recreational opportunities, expands transportation choices, and promotes the enjoyment of the Tahoe Basin.”

However, since many of these projects require millions of dollars of funding to move forward, there’s no real timetable for when it might all be complete, other than “several years.” Still, the TTD, TRPA and Tahoe Fund (among many other agencies) are slowly “paving the way” for current and future generations to enjoy Lake Tahoe through lots of communication, partnerships and creative planning.

There may be opportunities to receive ancillary funding from other major capital improvement projects, such as building a Sand Harbor-to-Spooner Summit trail on the East Shore in conjunction with a proposed effluent (human waste) pipeline project, as well as the potential for an NV Energy project burying new electrical power lines, all tentatively planned the same area as the bike path.

“That will add an additional 8 miles,” TRPA’s Morgan Beryl says. “TTD was the lead, but there is no funding yet. However, they are diligently working with the counties.”

“A lot of these solutions include working across state lines; the synergy has been a pleasant surprise,” adds TTD’s Carl Hasty. “The cooperative venture between organizations and the public is very responsive. Trails are becoming increasingly used year-round for recreation and as a transportation alternative.

“We are not interested in widening highways, we need to invest in other alternative modes to improve the quality of life here.”

Plenty of partners

According to TTD, the following regional agencies and organizations are partners in various aspects America’s Most Beautiful Bikeway project: California Tahoe Conservancy, Caltrans, Carson City County, city of South Lake Tahoe, Douglas County, El Dorado County, Incline Village General Improvement District, Nevada State Parks, NDOT, Nevada Division of State Lands, North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, Placer County, Tahoe City Public Utility District, TRPA, Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, U.S. Forest Service, Washoe County and the Washoe Tribe. Visit bit.ly/1aunu8L to see full details.

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