Local residents who grew up here may remember riding bicycles as children and teenagers throughout the greater Medford area. But these days, what once were sleepy two-lane roads have become four- and five-lane thoroughfares.
The thought of navigating those by bike or even on foot can make adults think twice, then hop in the car for that short jaunt. As for allowing their children to ride in that traffic, forget it.
But what if you could easily reach a paved pathway, protected from car traffic, that could take you from Medford to Jacksonville, or get you close enough to a local supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread and a carton of milk without having to drive your car?
That’s the vision now being explored by transportation planners in the Rogue Valley. Using the Bear Creek Greenway as a spine, the new paths could run between communities such as Eagle Point, White City, Medford and Jacksonville and within them as well.
Key to this vision is understanding the potential to reduce short car trips that clog roads and emit unnecessary air pollution. Transportation studies show nearly half of all trips are shorter than three miles — a 20-minute bike ride — and one quarter are less than a mile, which easily can be covered on foot in about 20 minutes. And yet, 78 percent of these trips are now made by car.
Imagine the potential for reducing automobile use while encouraging walking and biking — which are healthy and enjoyable exercises, especially if you are accomplishing an errand at the same time.
Jacksonville started the ball rolling, if you will, by putting up matching money to secure a grant to plan the conversion of former railroad right of way into a path between Medford and Ashland. Other communities wanted to get on board, and the Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization awarded a grant of federal Surface Transportation Planning money to the county this spring to advance the effort.
It’s still in the planning stages, and it’s a long road from here to actual construction. Paying for that construction will be a major consideration.
With the price of gasoline likely to stay high and climb higher, and road construction dollars harder to come by, non-motorized transportation starts to look better and better.
Police and technical committees will be formed, according to Jackson County Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager Jenna Stanke. So there will be plenty of opportunity to participate in the planning for those who are so inclined.
The going won’t always be smooth, but it’s the journey that counts.