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Exploring Bikeways in Arcata

10:57 AM PST on December 22, 2022

Bike-wheel motif at the intersection of two of Arcata’s bike boulevards. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited Arcata, California. I enjoyed exploring by bicycle.

Arcata is a coastal college town, located about eighty miles south of the Oregon border. The population-19,000 city is home to California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt (Cal Poly Humboldt), though for the couple days when I was there, college wasn't in session. I think that this, plus cool wet weather, may have contributed to less bicycling than might be typical there.

In my mind, Arcata had a reputation as a kind of hippy/lefty/ecological place. The city pioneered a natural wastewater treatment system, essentially wetlands that cleanse wastewater while serving as a wildlife sanctuary. The city took radical anti-nuclear stances. Arcata owns a large area of nearby forest, which it manages as a park and nature preserve. A few decades ago, when I started getting into bike/transportation activism, I was excited to subscribe to Car Free Times, published by the then-Arcata-based Alliance for a Paving Moratorium.

In 2022, Arcata was not quite the radically crunchy eco-paradise I had imagined, but it is a pleasant place to visit, walk, bike, and explore. Especially in comparison to other cities its size, Arcata has taken some worthwhile steps toward making bicycling viable, safe, and convenient.


Arcata might be among the smallest cities to have its own bike-share system: Humboldt Bikeshare.

Arcata's Humboldt Bikeshare - photo via system website
Arcata's Humboldt Bikeshare - photo via system website
Humboldt Bikeshare bikes attach to docks via a cable that fits into a Dutch-style back-wheel lock

According to the Tandem Mobility Humboldt Bikeshare website, the system has twenty bikes in four docking stations. Like pretty much all bike-share systems, it was easy to use via an app. My relatives mentioned that the city announced that it is expanding the system by adding more docking stations.

Rail Trail Path

Arcata has built its portion of the Humboldt Bay Trail (bike path) alongside rail tracks that run through town and along Arcata Bay. The existing four-mile path is part of a planned fourteen-mile trail that will connect to nearby Eureka.

In the city of Arcata, the bike path runs alongside the overgrown rail right-of-way
In some places in town, the city has used bollards to prevent through traffic on a small street that parallels the rail right-of-way.
Arcata's rail-with-trail runs through the city's wastewater treatment marsh
Arcata's rail-with-trail runs through the city's wastewater treatment marsh
South of the marsh, the bike path runs between the 101 Freeway and Arcata Bay. This part of the path opened in 2017.
Arcata's Humboldt Bay Trail runs along unused railroad tracks (visible at lower left)

In 2019, Humboldt County received a California Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant to complete the Humboldt Bay Trail's four-mile gap between Eureka and Arcata. According to the county website, the project is currently in the design phase.

Bike Boulevards

The city of Arcata has at least three designated bike boulevards. (For those unfamiliar with them, bike boulevards - also sometimes called neighborhood greenways or bike-friendly streets - are relatively calm streets shared by people on bike, on foot, and in cars, where features have been added to prioritize biking and walking.) The Arcata bike boulevards are pretty good; they're fairly calm streets but without all that much in the way of traffic calming features.

Arcata's bike boulevards have lots of sharrows - shared lane markings - the wimpy dregs of bike infrastructure. In my opinion, based on a couple days in Arcata, there might have been too many sharrows there; sometimes city staff rely heavily on sharrows instead of more worthwhile treatments that actually make bicycling safer.
Arcata bike boulevard facilities include lots of bike symbols across intersections.
A couple of Arcata bike boulevards include small traffic circles for traffic-calming
Arcata's I Street bike boulevard with small traffic circle
Arcata bike boulevard signage
More Arcata bike boulevard signage. The intermodal transit facility is a hub for local and intercity buses.

Bike Lanes

Lastly, the city of Arcata has a basic bike lane network. There are standard (unprotected) bike lanes on many major streets, with connections into downtown and the university.

Arcata bike lane
Bike lane on Alliance Road in Arcata, California

The city is also exploring implementing more of its 2010 bike/walk plan, including potential protected bike lanes on a downtown couplet. To get involved in making Arcata more bike-friendly, get in touch with the local Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities.

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