Sacramento Bike Trails: The promise and challenges

American River Bike Trail, Sacramento, CA
American River Bike Trail, Sacramento, CA

When you mention Sacramento bike trails, many area residents immediately think of the American River Bike trail. Also known as Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, the 32 mile mixed use path winds along the American River between Sacramento and Folsom, CA. The trail is regarded as one of the longest paved purpose-built bike trails in the country. Not surprising that it is what many associate with the phrase Sacramento bike trails. But this gem is only part of a much larger network of bicycle infrastructure.

The American River Bike Trail is part of a much larger public use park complex known as the American River Parkway. There are various spurs and alternative, paved paths connected to the American River Bike Trail, and efforts are underway to expand those paths ever further.

The trail has become much more than just a recreational jewel. It also serves as a commuter path for folks commuting to work or activities in the city centers from suburbs. As more and more people use it as part of their daily commute, trail closures for maintenance can become more and more disruptive. Many segments of the trail do not have reasonable viable alternatives that don’t add several miles or more to commutes. In addition, communication of closures and detours tend to miss the casual or occasional users. While there is a website of trail and park status, it is not incredibly well known. The primary means of notification seems to be signs posted (hopefully well in advance) along the bike trail.

One current area of focus has been the addition of a path on the Sacramento end of the trail, on the opposite bank of the river from the American River Bike Trail. This portion of trail improvement has run into social issues due to the large number of homeless encampments in the currently somewhat secluded area of river bank. However, a recent petition is trying to spread more awareness of the potential gains of the project.

Farther south, a plan has been on the books for over 40 years to extend the Sacramento bike trails along the river, stitching together various disjointed routes of both pavement and gravel. However, this route crosses a lot of land that is currently privately held. And many of those owners are reluctant to part with it. Only time will tell how this will get worked out.

We reached out to the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates for comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.