At last Wednesday's City Council meeting, more than a dozen cyclists crowded into the chambers to say something elected officials may not hear often enough: Thanks.
Organized by Bend Bikes, a recently formed group advocating for urban cyclists, the contingent spilled into the hallway outside the council chambers and sent nine people up to the podium during the visitor's section to show appreciation for the recently completed Riverside/Franklin bicycle infrastructure project.
It was the first time the group had rallied its members to testify en masse, but it likely won't be the last. Steering committee member Lucas Freeman told the Source the group, already more than 50-members strong, plans to continue advocating for infrastructure improvements to make Bend safer for current commuters and more appealing for the "curious but cautious."
"We really just wanted to kind of put a positive face on what we saw as a great first step for the city and a lot of the bicycle infrastructure improvements," explained Freeman, who also runs the Bike Around Bend blog (bikearoundbend.com).
But the cyclists didn't just express their gratitude for Riverside/Franklin project—which, completed in October with the help of ODOT funds, added "bumpers" to help separate cyclists from cars, "Dutch" style intersection markers, and plenty of bright green paint. The cyclists also wanted to encourage more, similar efforts.
"Separating bikes from cars, like the Riverside project [does], is the best way to increase safety and comfort for cyclists," daily bike commuter Alice Drobna said at the council meeting. "I hope for more improvements like these."
Specifically, Freeman said the group would like to see the city create, designate and promote bike corridors like Portland's "greenways"—lower volume streets where cyclists are prioritized as the primary road user. He added that another major concern is figuring out how best to accommodate road users on either end of the age spectrum.
"Bicyclists in general are considered vulnerable road users. And the most vulnerable tend to be older and younger users. If we can think about infrastructure we're comfortable with 8-year-old kids and elderly neighbors or parents using," Freeman said, "we'll be able to capture that next big group of people."
What that looks like, he explained, is creating a wider gap, or even physically separating cars from cyclists. That can take a lot of forms, including concrete planters, an elevated bike lane, or simply a bit more elbowroom.
Freeman went on to explain that infrastructure improvements alone will not be enough to convert the masses to bike commuting.
"We started off on the advocacy foot but we would like to help influence local culture so bicycling isn't just thought of as means of recreation, but as a way to get around," he explained.
Freeman told the council that critics of bike transportation improvements often bring up Bend's perceived short commuting season and ask, "Why spend money on cycling infrastructure if people only cycle in fair weather?" He acknowledged the chicken-egg relationship between improvements and participation but went on to predict, "if you build it, and you maintain it, they will ride it."
While adding bike lanes to straight stretches of road and using bright paint to increase visibility are relatively simple solutions, some scenarios require a more creative approach. Namely, the city's iconic roundabouts.
"Many people are intimidated by riding with traffic directly behind you," Freeman explained. "If forced to take roundabout, sometimes that's enough of a barrier to discourage some category of people from biking."
Other Bend Bikes members shared this concern and said they would like to see more space between bikes and cars, both in-lane and through the creation of additional off-surface trails, to avoid potentially deadly collisions with distracted drivers.
"Completely separating bikes and cars is best way to keep everyone safe," said Ross Winsor. "On my daily commute, I see a lot of people talking on cell phones while driving. All it takes is one distracted moment."
Councilor Victor Chudowsky thanked Bend Bikes for coming out and suggested that the Riverside/Franklin project is only the beginning.
"Because this project has been a success, we're going to expand on this. Bicycling is becoming more embedded in our thinking about transportation," Chudowsky said, adding that cycling infrastructure improvements aren't that expensive and often involve more creativity than anything.
In the interest of ensuring that bicycling doesn't get sidetracked in new construction projects, members of Bend Bikes will offer suggestions for the U.S. Hwy 97 Corridor Project at the Nov. 18 Bend Planning Commission.
The project, spearheaded by ODOT, is aimed at decreasing congestion on the highway on Bend's north side. Freeman said that current plans do not provide a safe way for cyclists and pedestrians to enter the Cascade Village Mall and the box stores to the north.