Going Home: Creating Bike-Friendly Communities on California’s Highway 50

I’ve lived in three countries and worked on active transportation projects in over 20 states. Over that same time, my transportation habits have transformed, and I live a very bike-friendly lifestyle. I get into a car perhaps once a month these days because I’m most happy biking, walking, or taking public transit.

They say you can’t go back home again — but recently, I did just that.

A young Jessica in Placerville, CA

I grew up in El Dorado County in Northern California. Some of my fondest memories of my early childhood involve mobility. We were a pack of kids roaming over the hills around us, building stick dams and making deer trails our own. I walked to the bus stop with my siblings and to my best friend’s house by myself at a very young age.

Soon both lifestyles and land uses changed, and the Era of the Car began in earnest. By the time I was in junior high school, I literally couldn’t get anywhere from our house without climbing into a car. By the time I turned sixteen, I had the keys to our third car and I knew how to use them. It was the only time in my life when I drove every day.

So when I was recently invited by the 50 Corridor TMA to come back for a one-week bike-friendly communities speaking tour of my hometown in Placerville and environs, I jumped at the chance. The population has increased, and the suburban development has dumped a lot more cars on roads that were never made to handle them. People are hungry for chances to walk and bicycle, but the challenges to becoming a bike-friendly community are real and familiar to many places in the US — even those with great bike-friendly reputations like Portland, OR.

The Highway 50 Corridor near Sacramento, CA

Over the course of four days, I spoke with ten different groups. These ranged from elected bodies (like the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors) to a spaghetti feed that kicked off Bike Month. I discussed bike tourism with the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, and the increasing importance of bikes in attracting businesses and workers with the El Dorado Hills Community Service District. With public works staff, we discussed how every employee can make a contribution to creating bike-friendly communities. With the Rotary, we talked about how bike-friendly places are economically productive places. I met small business owners, advocates, elected officials, and hard-working staff.

No matter who the audience was, I received a warm welcome and highly-engaged questions. It’s clear that the communities along the Highway 50 corridor understand that investing in biking is investing in their future and being able to draw on my experience working to promote active communities to help my hometown was truly the highlight of my career. I look forward to bringing my son with me in the future and experiencing it on two wheels.

Find examples of the projects that I’ve been working on at Alta here.