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Bike velodrome bill goes forward

SALEM — A Senate committee Thursday unanimously endorsed a bill to construct three velodromes in Oregon to help make the state a world-class destination for cyclists.

The bill now goes to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee because of a $3.9 million appropriation request to help plan and build the facilities. That money would come from lottery funds dedicated to state parks.

The three sites are the Portland area, Lane County and Southern Oregon, probably Jackson County. The measure directs parks to consult with the Jackson County Parks Department, the city of Central Point and Southern Oregon's cycling community in siting the velodrome.

Approval of Senate Bill 926 in the Energy and Environment Committee was a major victory for Rep. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, the chief sponsor and a former semi-professional racer who still enjoys racing once a week.

Atkinson and bicycle enthusiasts testified that Oregon is one of the top states for cycling. They said the facilities would attract participants and tourists from around the world.

Scott Bricker, policy director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, said studies show bicycling contributes $133 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The velodrome proposal has generated support from the tourism industry, businesses and chambers of commerce in Oregon.

"We have built coalitions all around the state," said Atkinson.

Also lauding the bill was Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, who nodded in agreement when one witness said velodrome bike racing would go a long way toward reducing childhood obesity. Bates is a physician.

"We in Southern Oregon are grateful to you for bringing this forward," Bates told Atkinson.

Construction of the three facilities — the Jackson County velodrome would be open-air because of the area's relatively mild climate — would require cycling interests and others to come up with matching funds.

A provision in the measure requires them to work with local cycling groups to come up with a plan to construct and maintain the velodromes with assistance from state Parks and Recreation.

The only opposition came from the League of Women Voters of Oregon.

Peggy Lynch said the league actively supported Measure 66, which provides money to maintain existing state parks and purchase land for new ones.

"Diverting funds to a special project not in that plan will continue to erode the opportunity to meet those goals," she said. She said parks already has budgeted $200,000 for recreational biking facilities.

Supporters are expected to organize a bike day at the Legislature, heading to the Capitol in hopes of persuading Ways and Means to approve the funding.