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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bike Lane to Nowhere Infuriates Storekeeper

MARINA, Calif. (CN) - The day after construction of a bicycle lane was finished after driving customers away from Darryl Choates' store for nearly a year, the city announced it had received state funding to widen the road to four lanes - taking the bike lane with it.

After the city disrupted traffic for nine months and spent $2.2 million on the bike path along Imjin Road, Choates was outraged to hear it would be starting all over again.

So after the Marina City Council denied his claim against the city, he sued the city in Monterey County Court, for inverse condemnation and nuisance.

"I can't go through this twice; I won't lie. It crippled me," Choates said while standing behind the cash register inside his grocery and gas station. "I've been here 15 years and they just don't give a crap."

Marina, pop. 20,300, is on Monterey Bay, north of Carmel by the Sea and South of Santa Cruz. Imjin Road runs through the former Fort Ord Army base, between the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Peninsula. It has been slated to be widened to four lanes for many years. It's listed on the Marina's website as a capital improvement project to be completed by 2030.

Choates, who leases his property from the county, said he was aware of those plans, and his lease allows for the widening, but the bike-lane project was unnecessary.

"I told them, 'Why don't you just put the doggone four lanes in and do the bicycle lane then?' But Marina found the federal money and they just decided to put the bike lane in. The problem of it is, the bike lane don't go nowhere," Choates said.

He said the Marina engineer in charge of the project was fired just four hours after Choates filed his original complaint with the city. "We filed at 11 and she was fired at 3," he said.

The new bike lane is distinctive. Thick green lines mark its path, and in approaching intersections the path is striped and then painted solid green, to make it clear it runs inside the road between lanes.

Choates said the green path is imposing, and many customers are driving by his store, confused by the new sign at the exit. With police lurking around, and the peculiar signs, he said, drivers decide not to risk getting a ticket.

"Eighty-five percent of my business comes through that exit. ... These signs up there basically say 'Don't cross the green line.' It tells people don't use the exit. How are cars supposed to get off that exit without going into the bike lane?" Choates said. "And how did the federal and state people approve all this money for a bike path to nowhere ... for a bike lane they are just going to tear out?"

The city of Marina is mostly mum about it. The mayor, city engineer and several city council members did not return calls and emails. Assistant city attorney Deborah Mall said the city did everything it could so that Choates' business would not be hurt during construction.

"You have to allow repairs to be made on the road in front of your business or house. It's just part of being a citizen," she said. "The bar for reaching substantial impairment is high. These cases are routinely denied by courts. It's just part of being a citizen."

As for the necessity of the bike lane, where it goes, why it was needed, and how long it will remain, Mall said she could not say.

Todd Muck, deputy executive director of the Transportation Authority of Monterey County, said it was just coincidence that the funding to widen the road was announced the day after the bike path was finished.

"The funding we received recently is to start the design and environmental work," Muck said. "We did not expect to receive it this year. It just happens that the bike path was done this year and the funding for environmental work arrived this year. We had expected it to be a few years apart."

The project will cost $17 million, and the $1.65 million received will just start the process of design and environmental review, he said. Two years from now, another $1.65 million should finish funding design and environmental review. Muck said it will probably be 10 years before the road is widened.

"We don't even have the construction money secured yet," he said. "We are talking about a 10-year period."

Choates said the whole ordeal has been extremely costly to him. "And the next time they are going to come all the way into my doggone parking lot," he said. "They did not plan this thing right. ... You don't put bike lanes down the middle of the road."

Choates, who served for 16 years on the Seaside City Council, just south of Marina, said he hated to make the local residents liable, but he was seriously damaged. Landscaping and signage were ripped out and never replaced.

"They did a lot of things dirty - really dirty," he said.

Choates said he made four appearances before the City Council to try to work things out, and met with city staff three more times, but never could get the city to take his concerns seriously.

"If it was like $5,000, I would say it ain't worth fighting, but this is substantial, $250,000 or more. It was an unnecessary project," he said. "I hate to make the residents of Marina liable, but it really cost me."

Choates seeks damages for lost profits, replacement of his landscaping and signs, and costs of suit.

He is represented by Debra Gemgnani Tipton, with Anthony Lombardo & Associates, of Salinas.

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