Sure, the elbow-in-the-ribs assessment is that there are two seasons in Bend—winter, and road repair; a "joke" nearly as irksome as being asked whether you're the one who ordered all the hot weather. Yet, as summer winds down, we recently sat around our editorial conference room and assessed what has changed from May until now. And know what? We were impressed with how much the quality of life has moved upward these past few months. No, nothing major has happened. But, the city of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District have implemented several relatively simple changes that, taken as a whole, have made a big difference.
Consider the new pedestrian bridge at First Street Rapids, near downtown Bend—the 10-foot-wide, 160-foot-long steel and wood bridge that connects the west bank of the Deschutes River to the east. It was installed in June and has since been a hive of activity from dawn until dusk. Runners, walkers and commuters can avoid busy streets and stick to the ponderosa-lined natural areas.
More recently, through July and August, there have been other additional projects—again, simple, but impacting the lives of residents and commuters on a daily basis. A number of bike lane infrastructure upgrades have popped up all over town—and, not just on the westside. In fact, one of the best examples of Bend's new commitment to bicycle safety are the high-vis green bike lanes on Northeast Greenwood and Northeast Eighth Street, which alert drivers that cyclists traveling east and west have the right-of-way over cars turning to the right (south or north). Other such green bike lanes, like those on business Hwy. 97 near The Riverhouse, have existed for about a year.
Downtown roads also have seen important changes—and just by laying down some paint. Now there are sharrows (shared roadway bicycle markings) on Northwest Franklin Avenue and a buffered bike lane on Northeast Franklin Avenue—and more paint work is planned for Northwest Broadway Street. Easy changes that make big differences for bikes safely moving around downtown.
And the biggest bike lane improvement—the Riverside/Franklin Pedestrian and Bicycling Infrastructure Project—is well under way. Like the other projects, it should "calm" traffic and encourage alternative transportation. Buffered bike lanes, curb extensions, improved lighting and shared roadway markings are among the planned improvements.
The city of Bend—from city councilors to the transportation engineers—deserves much of the credit for these progressive improvements, but recognition also should go to area nonprofit Commute Options, which has recently increased its communication and collaboration with the city.
Just two weeks back, during a Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, Commute Options Executive Director Jeff Monson was told by two MPO policy board members—Mark Capell and Victor Chudowsky (who also happen to be city councilors)—that he had the counselors' support in his search to secure funding for planning and implementation of a communitwide bike share program, similar to those that are now widely used in Washington D.C. and New York City.
And that is what is especially encouraging: That the improvements seen over this summer seem to have a steady momentum. Extending the Deschutes River Trail underneath the Newport Avenue Bridge to Drake Park—points further upstream and downstream—is slated for the coming months and years, thanks to a voter-approved $29 million bond measure passed last November; and, we hear from Bend Park & Recreation District board members that the Colorado footbridge, part of the Colorado Dam Safe Passage Project, could be built for approximately $500,000 less than was previously estimated. The savings come from moving the bridge nearly 150 yards downstream and away from the Colorado Bridge, allowing for construction of a smaller bridge.
Yes, it is good to know our public officials are looking at costs savings and progressive changes—here's a Glass Slipper, please keep up the good work.