Few topics bring up as much passion in Bendites as transportation and housing. On the first topic, the City of Bend is continually charged with balancing the needs of the greater whole—drivers, walkers, cyclists and disabled people alike—with the cries of the sometimes-outsized vocal minority.
While it's true that Bend needs more vehicle-transportation infrastructure to accommodate a growing population, city leaders should also remember that chipping away at some of the non-vehicle transportation infrastructure is not the way to move forward in a comprehensive, inclusive transportation plan.
- An example of a roadway set up for alternative transportation.
Here we look at two ways that non-drivers might see their right to safe, reasonable passage chipped away at presently.
Moving a GreenwayThe City's Neighborhood Greenways program is just getting underway, with the development of features on two streets—including NE 6th and NW 15th Streets—intended to make walking, biking or using other forms of alternative transportation safer. Among the Greenways program's Project Goals: "provide safer connections," and "reduce cut through traffic and speeds." It's a brand-new program that is already seeing results in making streets safer, as drivers choose other routes that don't include speedhumps and extra traffic circles.
In a future phase of the plan, the City had planned to develop a Greenway along NW Milwaukee Avenue, to help non-drivers safely navigate the area around Newport Avenue. But in a recent re-design of that route, the plan has changed to move the Greenway back and forth, from Lexington Avenue and then back to Milwaukee. The new route will also force people to ride along busy NW 14th Street for one block. This change happened after, according to Bend Bikes, a business owner expressed concern about their ability to park delivery trucks on Milwaukee.
According to a statement on Bend Bikes' website, "Forcing families to ride on NW 14th Street is a poor substitute for the original design, which allows for a better flow and keeps family and children on safer roads."
We agree. A confusing Greenway that zigzags back and forth between multiple streets doesn't make it easy to navigate, doesn't "provide safer connections," in this case, and signals to others that a complaint from a single business—a single vocal minority—is enough to outweigh a plan that helps the wider community get around safely.
Allowing Exceptions for SidewalksMeanwhile, neighbors in the Wood River Village neighborhood of Bend believe their neighborhood's makeup is so special and unique that they don't need to fall under the City's current rules about installing sidewalks when a homeowner significantly improves a home. The City is considering granting that neighborhood an exception.
Sure, the streets there are narrow and not well-traveled—but instead of allowing the entire neighborhood to be granted an exception to a rule that the rest of the city must continue to follow, we believe the City could work toward middle ground.
How about establishing an exception for a neighborhood such as this to build sidewalks on just one side of the street? While it means homeowners on just one side of the street would be forced to install sidewalks when they add onto their homes, it also means that we're not delving into precedent-setting territory where a small vocal minority gets an exception that other neighborhoods can then use to get out of the work of pedestrian safety themselves. Sidewalks, as painfully slow as they're being built in Bend, are important for another, perhaps less-vocal portion of the population, including kids, non-drivers and those in wheelchairs.
If drivers believe getting around safely and efficiently is their birthright, they should be prepared to extend the same right to people who don't use the roads and transportation corridors in the same way. Leaders at the City of Bend should not chip away at the small things that make streets safer for non-drivers.