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Guest Opinion: Celebrate the Nevada Street divide

Three cheers for The Daily Tidings, which continues to cover the proposed bridge over Bear Creek with some first-rate journalism. And for publishing letters — both for and against — in spite of the Tidings’ reiterated bias in favor of the project. Great to have a responsible press to help us keep informed. Many towns are without a local paper. That could be one of those assets not fully appreciated until it's gone. Lucky us.

I respond to the editorial published last week, “Bridge the divide.” I propose that we celebrate the divide.

The satellite map does show that Ashland is a relatively compact and densely populated area about two miles wide and four miles long, surrounded by undeveloped terrain. Bear Creek shows as a dark swath that runs roughly east of 'greater' Ashland. What a satellite map doesn't show is the sweeping valley east and mountains to the west. Most of us chose to live on the edge of town because of the magnificent views and quieter environs. It's important to remember that when permits were issued for building on this edge of town, it was deemed safe, and distances from fire stations and medical facilities remain the same. In fact, driving from the Mountain Meadows neighborhood, up to Eagle Mill to get to Oak, or down Mountain to get to Hersey are considerably short distances and ones we willingly chose.

Had there been a bridge "all along" as the editorial suggests, there probably would have been undesirable sprawl. Bear Creek edges town and it edges neighborhoods. Part of Ashland's charm is it's many neighborhoods, each with it's own character. No need to create artificial neighborhoods like "gated communities."

Fortunately Ashland has a Comprehensive Plan that civic leaders use as a touchstone in decision-making. The Plan calls for encouraging alternate forms of transportation, for making walking and bicycling easier, safer, more pleasant and even more attractive. The Plan calls for enhancing the livability of neighborhoods. And the Transportation Commission's mission statement ends with the following: …allow us to move toward a less auto-dependent community.

Besides planning documents and mission statements, Ashland is fortunate to have able and willing people serve on commissions to advise the City Council. One could hear a collective sigh of relief among citizens at the meeting when Transportation Commissioners directed Public Works to submit plans that people from surrounding neighborhoods support: A bike and pedestrian bridge — or better still — a bridge that also accommodates fire and rescue vehicles, a transit bus, or evacuations. Ether bridge would improve connectivity and neither would encourage more car trips.

Now, put away the satellite map and reach for a magnifying glass, for the devil is in the details. The plan was to bridge the creek and divert up to 4800 cars daily through the neighborhoods. If I am not mistaken, Nevada could also serve as a detour for Interstate 5. Those are devilish details!

Part of why this plan got traction was that details were closely held. It is so antithetical to Ashland's Comprehensive Plan that places such priority on enhancing neighborhood livability. It appears to some that Public Works loves the idea and ushered it along from a concept to a priority to a high priority. Maybe Public Works is so focused on easing the awful traffic congestion downtown that they were willing to sacrifice a few neighborhoods. And I am told that previous City Councils probably urged the priority.

It is pointless to lament the time and money that has been spent on this project. It was just a paper plan after all. We can be grateful that there are guiding principles to shape Ashland's growth and inform the decision-makers. Some introspection about process is in order, and if the process can be repaired or retooled, we can save time, money and psychic energy.

We can't wait to see the new proposals. How terrific to make progress on extending the Bear Creek Greenway through Ashland. It seems utterly wrong that this bike path that starts in Central Point ends abruptly in "progressive" Ashland. We can do so much better.

Marty Breon lives in Ashland.