Do you know who Vladimir Morozov is?
Neither did we.
But he won fifth place at the recent World Swimming Championships (100 meter free), which is exactly where Bend, the self-dubbed Bike Town USA, ranks in the state (yes, the state of Oregon, not even the nation) as a bike-friendly community. Behind the platinum- level Portland and gold medal cities Corvallis, Eugene and Ashland, Bend wears a Silver rating (tied with Sisters). Which, yeah, would be a lot like Vladimir Morozov calling himself The Swimmer of the World after his middle-of-the-pack finish. (Michael Phelps might have something to say about that.)
Perhaps it is time for Bend to re-evaluate its position as a bike-friendly city—and, with such an earnest gut-check, then begin trying to surge forward from there toward an actual gold medal, not simply claiming success too soon.
But, we're in an optimistic mood, not a salty one, and we are not awarding a Boot to City Hall for not doing enough to advance bike lanes and non-car commuting; instead this week's award is more a Cinderella take-that-pumpkin-and-make-it-a-sweet-commuter- bike Glass Slipper. In particular, Bend Bikes, a grassroots organization focused on promoting and improving Bend's bicycle conditions, has been working hard to push forward the standards and conditions for bike commuting in Bend. Last week, for example, the advocacy group hosted a well-attended meeting at Bend Velo bike shop where steering committee member Brian Potwin provided updates and goals. The gist? Bend's bike future is bright enough, but success will take work, not complacency.
Potwin outlined a number of overdue (but exciting!) current projects that had us riding wheelies down Bond Street. He said there are two ways to improve Bend's bike town status: one, create a critical mass of cyclists by organizing more fun, accessible group rides (already in progress, see bendbikes.org for more information); and, two, improve bicycle infrastructure.
Thankfully, we are now starting to see that happen. During a recent repaving, Franklin Avenue finally earned a striped, two-foot-wide bike lane that will help connect downtown to Bend's westside. The nearby hairy underpass that connects to Third Street should be next. Ground also was broken last week on the sweeping Riverside/Franklin bike lane project, which should be completed by late October. Additionally, the city has said it agrees with Bend Bikes—that Bend needs greater north-south, east-west bike lane connectivity and highlighted NE Eighth Street as a potential bike corridor. Other zones are also being discussed.
Yes, these are baby steps in the correct direction, but for this momentum to remain, bike-riding citizens need to speak up and speak out. The city has told Potwin and Bend Bikes that an opportunity for change exists. But if concerns aren't voiced, expect the status quo—broken bike lanes and anemic alternative transportation numbers. Write an email to Mayor Jim Clinton. Speak to city council, attend meetings and use the new bike lanes. It's the only way to build on the momentum.
Yes, we understand that Bike Town USA is not some hard-earned title handed down from the U.S. Department of Transportation, but more a marketing gimmick—and, moreover, the title's origins are based on the number of elite cycling races hosted in the area. Still, the title should serve as a goal, as a kick in the bike seat to get going (cue Rocky theme music) and move up from the middle of the pack.