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Ease up on the throttle

Nothing has the power to set people off quite as quickly as road striping. More specifically, changes in road striping proposed by the Oregon Department of Transportation that appear to favor bicycles (gasp) over motorized vehicles. We recommend deep breaths and a bit of calm reflection.

The most recent outrage perpetrated by the good folks at ODOT is a draft plan to (maybe) change Highway 99 (eventually) from four lanes to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane and new bike lanes. The "road diet" configuration could extend from Valley View Road north of Ashland to the north edge of Phoenix.

ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming stresses there are no plans to reduce the number of vehicle lanes between south Medford and Phoenix, although changes could include more sidewalks and crosswalks to accommodate pedestrians.

Immediately, critics wondered why bike lanes are needed when (1) few people ride bikes on the highway and (2) the Bear Creek Greenway bike path already exists. They predict terrible traffic jams as cars stack up behind a single slowpoke driver with no chance to pass.

A few observations:

  • This is not happening tomorrow. Full implementation is five to 10 years away, assuming the project is approved.
  • Similar predictions of catastrophe emerged when the Ashland road diet was announced for North Main Street. After a year-long trial period, the reality turned out to be much more benign, and city officials decided to leave the new configuration in place. Not everyone is happy about that, but overall it appears to be working well.
  • This plan is much more about safety — for cars as well as cyclists and pedestrians — than about some liberal, pro-bike plot to make motorists miserable. As it stands now, it can be risky to make left turns from much of Highway 99, especially the high-speed sections. Without a center left-turn lane, drivers often must stop in the fast lane and wait for two lanes of oncoming traffic to clear. That can be tricky at night or in bad weather. Turning left onto the highway across traffic also can be tough at busy times.
  • The Greenway bike path is great, but it follows Bear Creek, not Highway 99, and doesn't offer easy access to the highway along its entire length. People who bike and walk to work at businesses along 99 must use the highway.
  • The cities of Phoenix and Talent already have embraced the single-lane idea as a way to calm traffic and help pedestrians cross safely. In the case of Phoenix, that city has the opportunity to no longer have a two-lane highway running through the center of town.

There will be plenty of opportunity for interested parties to learn more and voice concerns before the plan is approved. The cities of Medford, Phoenix and Talent as well as Jackson County will have to approve their respective portions of the project.

Phoenix plans an open house later this month on its proposal. ODOT officials say an open house on the overall project also will be scheduled.

So put the brakes on the outrage and give this plan a chance.