In a recent letter to the editor, one of our readers pointed out that it isn't the lack of bike racks downtown that limits bike commuting, but the lack of good, safe pathways for cyclists.
Yes, we agree.
And, in a final report released by the Growth Management Department released this month, it seems as if so does the City of Bend.
The report is a modest, yet eminently important, proposal to expand bike routes and, hopefully, in the process, reduce car commuting in the area. With a noticeably increasing population size in the region and with the pending siting of the Oregon State University campus on the city's west side, the report could not be any more timely.
The report lays out several priorities for connecting existing bike paths, and creating more and safer routes for commuters.
Yet, perhaps the most telling line in the report is buried mid-paragraph on page 4: "Travel by bicycle and foot has tremendous potential in the Bend urban area," explains the report. This is a statement that both can be read as a land use compliment and a complaint, and as a reality and a possibility. The report goes on to explain that a 2012 American Community Survey shows only a measly 1.7 percent of workers in Bend commute by bike, a portion one-quarter of that in Portland even though the city covers a much smaller geographic spread (and, hence, an easier bike commute)—a point underscored by the report explaining that most people consider biking 2 or 3 miles to their designation a reasonably easy commute.
Yet, and what's most concerning, the report goes on to explain that a 2006 survey found that 16 percent of car trips in Bend are less than a mile, and a whooping 56 percent less than three miles. The upshot is that much of the driving Bendites do could be reasonably replaced by bike or walking.
But why that is not happening is the interesting answer—and potentially the solution for Bend's current and pending commuter problems. It is not for lack of a will, but for lack of a way. When asked whether they would bike commute if routes were safe and met their needs, a majority of Bendites enthusiastically affirmed.
Said differently, if the city builds it, riders will come!
This is a pivotal answer—and thankfully one for which the Strategic Implementation Plan has laid out several solutions—all which are modest and achievable.
For example, one priority that the report urges is to create more continuous bike paths in the downtown area. Currently, bike paths stop and start, protecting bike commuters part way, but not all of the way, to their destinations. Along NW Bond, for example, the bike path traveling north is solid for several blocks but then (ironically) near City Hall simply disappears for the length of two football fields, leaving cyclists mingled into car traffic.
"There were several . . . key gaps in the system which," the report explains, "if closed, would open up long biking corridors." The report identifies and prioritizes six such gaps—and we hope that this report is the push that City Council and City Manager Eric King need to take the measures to create a more continuous and usable system of bike paths. Last year, when the city closed the gaps along NW Franklin, it created a much needed connection for bikers between the east and west sides. Imagine what six such projects like that could do to create a much more inviting system for hundreds of residents in Bend to bike commute to work—and help ease car traffic on the road.
Bend is at a crossroads. As the population swells in the upcoming years, and as OSU students begin to flood into the area—most likely commuting from affordable housing on the east side to their west side campus—car traffic could easily become much more clogged. Or, an alternative is, city hall can implement the small changes that its subcommittee identified in this report, and create a transportation system that eases those concerns, as well as preserves Bend's culture and livability.