Kids on bikes navigate State Highway 162 in Covelo on the Round Valley Indian Reservation.
The Round Valley Indian Reservation is tucked in the a remote corner of Mendocino County. It's a 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). Mendocino County’s poverty rate is above the state average. 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 communities, the main town--Covelo-- is bisected by a state highway that simultaneously serves as main thoroughfare and "Main Street." Most of the road alignment is in a long, straight line, which encourages some motorists to speed. There is no public transportation and there are few sidewalks. Many people do not own cars. Drainage ditches abut both sides of the road. As a result, many residents--including low income households, children, elderly, and families--must walk (or ride their bike) along the barely-existent 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 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, however, is how to find enough funds 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 just not 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 fund.
But sometimes the stars align.
For the residents of Covelo, that alignment started about 10 years ago. That is when the tribes initiated a community workshop to identify and get buy-in on the need for safety improvements along Highway 162. There was broad recognition in the community of the need for pedestrian and bicycling facilities.
Mendocino COG used this results to partner on a Caltrans Environmental Justice transportations planning grant that allowed them to identify the what type of pedestrian and cycling facilities would be needed and feasible. Mendocino COG then used this information to compete for and be awarded in an additional $3.7 million Active Transportation Program grants from the California Transportation Commission for the environmental, design, right-of-way, and construction phases of a multi-use trail, separated from the state highway.
But even then, Mendocino COG had to overcome other challenges. 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 Mendocino COG’s persistent leadership they are currently in the process of creating a Multi-Purpose Trail for residents to use instead of having to walk or bike directly on the highway. The target completion date is 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 community look more like a community.
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.
- Mendocino COGs website that has just about every document you would want to see on this project.
- For more information about the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the history of the reservation: