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Putting the cart before the bike

The state of Oregon's transportation policy requires that bike paths be included or added whenever state funds are used for major work on a highway, road or street. The city of Medford's transportation plan agrees, as do federal rules attached to funding.

So government all agrees: We should be leaving our cars in the driveway and riding bikes more often. Problem is, somebody forgot to get buy-in from the governed, and the result is a system with a laudable goal that bears no resemblance to reality.

Parents at Hedrick Middle School in Medford encountered that disconnect when they recently discovered they could no longer drop their children off in front of the school. In conjunction with a major project on Jackson Street, bike lanes were painted in where cars once lined up bumper to bumper dropping off and picking up students. Also lost was parking for dozens and dozens of vehicles on both sides of the street — and this at a school with no room to expand.

The parents and school were feeling the pain that hundreds of homeowners have felt in recent years when they discovered their streets would no longer be available for parking. White stripes now mark the roadways as off-limits and concrete companies have done a land-office business pouring circular driveways and parking spots where green lawns formerly grew.

Is the idea of building bike lanes throughout the city a good idea? Well, sure, in the abstract. We all should ride bicycles more, both to improve our fitness and in response to the savage beating our pocketbooks suffer every time we pull into a gas station.

But in reality this is the government getting the cart before the horse. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could eliminate traffic congestion by riding our bikes to work, to the store and everywhere our daily tasks take us. Truth is, despite the miles of bike lanes marked off in Medford, it isn't happening. Motorists appear to outnumber bicyclists 1,000 to 1. And many of the bicyclists we see using the bike lanes appear to be recreational bikers, whose hobby is greatly benefited by the official policies.

(As long as we're ticking off bike riders anyway, we should also take this opportunity to point out that traffic laws apply to bicyclists, something apparently not widely understood by the collective group.)

What we have here is a government mandate driven not by a demand, but by an idea that bicycling is the right thing to do. It may very well be, but when exactly did we all vote on that?

It's certainly not politically correct to suggest that we stay in our cars and leave bicycling to the kids. In fact, we do hope people will ride their bikes more, to help relieve congestion and improve air quality, among other reasons.

But in a time of diminished public resources and widespread distrust of government, maybe it's not so far off base to suggest that public officials wait a bit longer for the demand to grow before they further crank up the supply of bike lanes.