The idea of getting some or all Bend City Councilors onto bicycles for a short ride really took root about a year ago. We published a short post about a bike lane that just ended just east of the bridge on Newport Avenue as it crossed the northern face of downtown Bend. The piece was a bit tongue-in-cheek calling on city leaders to save tourists who might be surprised by a bike lane's abrupt end. After it was published though, real questions germinated. Do our city leaders understand what it means when a bike lane just ends without warning? Have they ridden a route lately and experienced what that's like?
Flash forward almost a full year and invitations were personally passed to City Councilors during the public comment period of the March 15, 2017 City Council meeting. Three Councilors, Sally Russell, Bruce Abernethy and Bill Moseley accepted the invitations and joined us on two separate dates for a ride. (Who knows, we may yet get more Bend City Councilors onto bikes for a spin.)
The route we took was about 2 miles long starting at Bend City Hall and described a loop down Greenwood Avenue, past Juniper Pool, and back along Franklin Avenue.
Along the way, we took the lane on Greenwood Avenue as we left downtown and headed east towards NE 6th. We asked the riders to note how they felt on that .4 mile section without a bike lane and compare it to when they did. If you've never ridden in the car travel lane on a four lane road at 4:30pm on a weekday in Bend, you definitely get the sense that you don't belong.
We stopped at NE 6th and Highway 20 and talked about the potential for a neighborhood greenway just north of us. It's where we demonstrated some traffic calming measures on NE 6th during Bend Open Streets last year. While there, we highlighted how important it will be to bridge the divide between Juniper Pool (awesome family destination) and the neighborhoods north of Highway 20.
At our next brief pit stop at Juniper Pool we discussed the importance of safety crossings at unsignaled crosswalks along 3rd Street as well as what lay ahead on the route: the Franklin underpass which is absent bike lanes. All three councilors took the lane rather than ride the sidewalk beneath the train trestle. Despite the lighting improvements there, not many like the ambiance of those pedestrian tunnels. While Councilor Moseley could use his throttle to speed through (courtesy of a rental bike from Bend Electric Bikes), the rest of us had to pedal as fast as our legs would take us past the narrow underpass. It's not a fun feeling knowing car traffic is waiting on you. In short order, we found ourselves back at City Hall.
Thinking back on the ride, one wonders, did we change any minds about the need to connect bike lanes especially to destinations on either side of 3rd Street? Likely we didn't. After all, Councilor Moseley's position on funding active transportation seemed pretty fixed before the ride. But you never know. What we heard from both Councilor Russell and Abernethy seemed to indicate that they supportive of altering the cars-first-bikes-later funding philosophy that has dominated our city budget for decades.
Keep your fingers crossed that at this Thursday's budget committee meeting when transportation spending comes up, the transportation spending package Council had preliminary approved (Option #3) stays in the budget.