Squaring Safety Holistically in Round Valley

Kids ride bikes on shoulder of Hwy 162

The Round Valley Indian Reservation is tucked in the a remote corner of Mendocino County. It’s home to the Yuki, Wailacki, Concow, Pomo, Nomlacki, and Pit River tribes. 

The Reservation encompasses 44 square miles and about 4,000 people. It is the second-largest in the state by population (2800).  The area has higher than normal poverty rates and is disadvantaged in terms of employment opportunities, access to transportation, goods, services, and public health.

Like many rural areas, the main town–Covelo– is bisected by a state highway that simultaneously serves as “Main Street.” Most of the road alignment is in a long, straight line, which encourages motorists to speed. There is no public transportation and no sidewalks. Drainage ditches abut both sides of the road. And many people do not own cars. As a result, residents–including low-income households, children, elderly, and families–must often walk (or ride their bike) along the narrow shoulder of the road just to get to a store, church, tribal facilities, or school.  There is nowhere to retreat.  

Not surprising, bike and pedestrian fatalities in Covelo are very high–in some locations than 20 times the state average.  

This scenario is not unique. Rural transportation agencies like the Mendocino Council of Governments (COG) are acutely aware of the severe safety issues that arise where a state highway runs through a rural community like Covelo. Their challenge is to find enough funding to construct a project that would make a meaningful difference. Many transportation funds are apportioned by a population formula and must be spent within a specific number of years–making it difficult to accumulate enough funds in time to fund a project.  Even then, there are usually so many maintenance obligations, it’s not always feasible to consider a new project. Although additional funding can sometimes be obtained through statewide grant programs, those funds are difficult to get and applications often fare better when they are written by professional grant writers, which are difficult for rural agencies to pay for. 

But sometimes the stars align.  

For the residents of Covelo, that alignment started 10 years ago. That is when the tribes initiated a community workshop to generate support for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements along Highway 162.  

Looking for a way to serve the community, Mendocino COG partners on a Caltrans Environmental Justice planning grant that funded a study to identify the types of pedestrian and cycling facilities that were needed and feasible.  This information was used as the basis a subsequent (and successful) application for $3.7 million Active Transportation Program grants from the California Transportation Commission to fund the environmental, design, right-of-way, and construction phases of a multi-use trail, separated from the state highway.

But even then, other challenges had to be overcome. First, the grant money was not enough to cover the entire cost of the project.  As a result, Mendocino COG contributed some of its own limited flexible transportation funding (RSTP exchange funds for transportation funding wonks) to fill the gaps. Second, there was no funding source for the long term maintenance of the trail; but here the partnerships and trust that Mendocino COG staff developed in the community paid off–the Round Valley Tribal Council agreed under an MOU to maintain those facilities on tribal lands after construction.

Thanks to these funds and the persistent leadership of the tribes and Mendocino COG, a Multi-Purpose Trail should be completed by  2022.  This trail will create a safe link to activity centers within the community including schools, the downtown center, tribal facilities, and residential areas.

And it will also make a close-knit rural area look more like a community. 

Sketch of proposed facilities

This part of the plan is for facilities that will bisect the state highway. They include a path separate from the road, a bike lane, well marked crosswalks, curbs to control auto access, and links to a pedestrian path.

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