On Tuesday, Bend and two other cities were designated "Walk Friendly Communities." The program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, recognizes community efforts to increase non-car travel. While not comprehensive evaluations, such recognitions are an accurate measurement of Bend's efforts to be sustainable—environmentally by weaning from car travel and socially by bringing more people out of their houses and cars, and interacting more directly with their communities.
For this achievement, we give the city of Bend a partial Glass Slipper. Partial because the work being done is good, but not great. For the Walk Friendly Community recognition, Bend received a silver designation, which is, yes, better than bronze and certainly better than not even qualifying. But it is not gold or platinum.
Seattle, for example, has earned the only platinum designation in the country. Each year, the city targets 10 schools to increase the number of students and teachers walking to and from. It is an aggressive plan. But with car traveling and emissions a primary contributor to ozone depletion, now is the time to be aggressive.
Corvallis and Eugene both are stellar examples of bike and walk communities. In particular, Corvallis has thrown considerable resources behind overhauling lifestyles and city planning. That city employs a full-time bicycle-pedestrian coordinator and has plowed money into plans, trails and crosswalks. That overt public support and strong infrastructure directly has led to results; more than 10 percent of the population there commutes by foot, the second-highest such rate in the nation for cities under 500,000—and earning a gold standard for Corvallis.
Eugene is also ahead of Bend for walkability standards. Instead of considering bike trails an add-on to existing roadways, that city is radically shifting its entire urban plan to consider bike and walking trails the backbone of the entire transportation system.
In part, Bend received the silver designation for its 25 miles of trails that weave through the community; the review committee commented that these trails connect to bridges and tie together the city. Especially important are the additional 50 miles planned and supported by the $29 million Park & Recreation bond measure. In addition, the city of Bend will begin to expand its bike lanes in mid-July, creating an on-road system that connects eastside and westside. For that project, the Oregon Department of Transportation is granting the city of Bend nearly $650,000 to support a $1 million expenditure for additional bike lanes.
The recognition as a silver-level Walk Friendly Community is a satisfying tip of the hat for the work that is being done—and planned for the future—but it is equally a gut-check that Bend is, yes, doing something to change habits, but it still has many miles ahead.
Time to hit the pavement!