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UC Merced Lands Grant for Making Roads Safer for Bicyclists, Pedestrians

April 16, 2024
Traffic is shown along a stretch of Bellevue Road near UC Merced.
Bellevue Road now has only a narrow shoulder as a bike lane.

A major route to UC Merced could soon begin to be much safer under a project to install, test and assess several bike lane and other safety interventions.

The Bellevue Road safety project will be paid for through a $3.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Safe Streets and Roads For All (SS4A) program, with local matching funds for the $4 million effort coming from partnerships with the city of Merced and Merced County Association of Governments, along with in-kind contributions of staff time. The project is one of 385 nationwide funded through the program.

"Safe bicycle and pedestrian access to UC Merced is critical to our students, staff and faculty," said Margaret Saunders, UC Merced executive director of space, capital planning and real estate, who is leading the project. UC Merced is working with the Merced Bicycle Coalition, the city of Merced, Merced County, and the Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) to determine the final selection of pilot safety interventions.

Bellevue Road is a two-lane arterial roadway with a 55-mph speed limit and only a narrow shoulder as a bike lane. A UC Merced student riding a bicycle was struck and killed by a car in 2021, and there have been numerous other accidents and close calls.

"It is not safe," said avid bicyclist Justin Hicks, a UC Merced economics professor and former chair of the Merced Bicycling Coalition. "I would never recommend anyone ride a bike down Bellevue."

He said the last time he rode on Bellevue while classes were in session, he heard a noise behind him. It was a truck that had strayed from the roadway and to the gravel alongside it.

"I had to ditch it straight into a fence to get out of the way," Hicks said. "A separated bike lane will be a game-changer."

The section of Bellevue between G Street and the campus, where the SS4A project is focused, is the primary connector between UC Merced and Merced College. It's a 5-mile route that should be an easy bicycle commute except that the usual speed of traffic on Bellevue is closer to 65 mph.

In their proposal to the Department of Transportation, UC Merced officials said about half of the university's 8,300 undergraduate students, all of the graduate students and more than 1,800 employees commute to campus.

Hicks said UC Merced is well-known as a sustainable campus, earning LEED certification for all of its buildings. It is appropriate for the campus to become involved in facilitating alternative, greener transportation for commute purposes, he said. Also, with the rise in the popularity of electric bicycles and scooters, there is a growing opportunity for people to commute in ways that impact the environment less than gas-powered vehicles. "We have to design infrastructure to promote that kind of technology," he said.

The project will try a range of other measures such as increased signage, additional lighting, and installation of signaled crossings to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. Following a short period, the project team and UC Merced researchers will evaluate these interventions, comparing collision and near-miss data with historical trends. The findings will be used to finalize a Supplemental Safety Action Plan and inform the design of permanent bicycle and pedestrian solutions when Bellevue Road is widened in the future.

The Safe Streets and Roads for All project will begin immediately after the agreement is signed with the Department of Transportation. The pilot measures will be tested and assessed through the 2027/2028 academic year.

Saunders said there will be many opportunities for community stakeholders to complete input surveys and assessment evaluations. There will be more information and a website soon on how to become involved.

Patty Guerra

Public Information Officer

Office: (209) 769-0948