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Planning the future of bicycling in Medford

Bicycling in Medford faces a critical decision on Nov. 1 when the City Council votes to approve or reject the Transportation System Plan Update. The TSP must comply with the Oregon Transportation Planning Rule, which states that one of the purposes of transportation planning is to “provide for safe and convenient ... bicycle access and circulation.” We believe that the TSP update will not achieve this purpose.

The City Council’s adoption of the update will determine transportation decisions in Medford for the next 20 years — until 2038!

Bicycling in Medford today is neither safe nor convenient. According to a poll conducted by Medford last year, only 6 percent of its citizens ride bicycles confidently on streets. However, almost 60 percent of its citizens ride bicycles at least occasionally — two-thirds of those sometimes ride on streets but have safety concerns, and the other one-third avoid streets altogether. In our advocacy campaign for better bicycle facilities, we consistently hear that the reason people don’t ride bicycles on streets is that they are afraid of traffic. No one should have to be brave to ride a bicycle.

With the exception of the Bear Creek Greenway, almost all bicycle facilities in Medford are unsafe. The TSP Update acknowledges this reality. Why is this true even though Medford has many miles of bicycle lanes?

Standard bike lanes are not safe for traffic speeds above 25 mph and with high traffic volumes, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials document, “Designing for All Ages and Abilities.” Furthermore, many of Medford’s existing bike lanes do not meet the city’s minimum requirement for bicycle lane width. No wonder you don’t see many bicyclists using our bike lanes!

Bicycling is also inconvenient in Medford. We desperately need better east-west connections and improvements in north-south connectivity. We need neighborhood bikeways that allow our children to ride safely to school. We need to connect residential areas to a bicycle network that allows seniors and families to get out on their bicycles. Bicycle commuters need a network that gets them between home and work.

The City’s Planning Department has been working diligently on the TSP Update for two years. The Update offers bicycle facility choices that are much safer alternatives than standard bike lanes. But, they are simply that — choices. If the City Council truly wants to improve our bicycle network, the TSP Update needs to adopt standards that will ensure a safe and convenient bicycle network for the future.

An example: Foothill Boulevard is a treacherous road for bicyclists and is slated for a complete revamp from Hillcrest to Cedar Links. The TSP Update indicates no specific requirement for this section other than “bicycle facilities.” The update acknowledges a need for safety improvements here, suggesting but not requiring reduced traffic speed and buffered bicycle lanes, separated from traffic, to improve cycling safety. Interestingly, the City Council recently approved for this section not only buffered bicycle lanes but also an adjacent multi-use path for bicycles and pedestrians — a great design for people of all ages and abilities.

But what happens to the rest of Foothill Boulevard from Hillcrest south? Will a future City Council approve similarly safe bicycle facilities, or will those decision-makers fall back on less-safe alternatives? Foothill could end up with 1.5 miles of excellent bicycle facilities that connect to unsafe bicycle lanes or paved road shoulders further south.

Another example: On West Main there are substandard, unsafe bicycle lanes that narrow to less than 3 feet in some places, far below the standard of 5 feet. This street is a key east-west connector and needs significant improvement. The TSP Update includes one funded bicycle project that might address such a deficiency — to “evaluate and construct potential roadway reconfigurations to accommodate bicycle facilities ...” However, only $100,000 is allocated annually to this project, which covers all of Medford. There are likely hundreds of similar deficiencies throughout the city. These need to be identified, prioritized and funded to the extent possible in order to provide a safe bicycle network.

Medford citizens deserve a safe and convenient bicycle network. The Oregon Transportation Planning Rule requires as much. More people of all ages and abilities riding their bicycles will result in improved health among our citizens, reduced reliance on automobiles, cleaner air, increased tourism and a more vibrant economy. We urge the City Council to modify the TSP Update to ensure a safe and convenient bicycle network for our future.

Harlan Bittner is president of the Siskiyou Velo Bicycle Club.