Report: perilous holes in bike network

Ashland's bicycle and pedestrian network is fraught with holes, leaving cyclists and walkers to compete with cars on many busy streets, according to a recent study by a Portland engineering firm.

The city is working to add bike routes and sidewalks, especially in areas the study showed have had a high rate of crashes injuring cyclists and pedestrians in the past decade, said Jim Olson, the city's engineering services manager.

"It's just unusual to have arterials without those amenities," he said Thursday. "In 1959 when the streets were improved and built, it wasn't uncommon, but it is now."

The Oct. 14 study by Kittelson & Associates Inc. recommends creating a bike route in the downtown area, which is especially crowded and difficult for cyclists to navigate. The engineers also recommend installing sidewalks on major streets that lack them, such as the portion of Ashland Street that crosses over Interstate 5 and the part of Siskiyou Boulevard between Walker Avenue and Tolman Creek Road.

"It's pretty well known that bicycling in the central business district is a little bit daunting," Olson said. "And we still have a lot of streets that have no sidewalks on them at all."

Most crashes between 1999 and 2009 involving pedestrians or bicyclists occurred on Ashland's three main streets: Main Street, Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street, according to the study.

The downtown area — Main Street between Helman Street and Siskiyou Boulevard — had the highest number of crashes involving pedestrians, with 2.4 crashes per mile per year.

Meanwhile, the portion of Siskiyou Boulevard between Ashland Street and Normal Avenue, near Southern Oregon University, had the highest number of crashes involving bicyclists, with 2.2 crashes per mile per year.

Between 1999 and 2009, there were 86 pedestrian-related crashes, four of them fatal and 68 involving injuries, according to the study.

During the same time period, there were 122 bicycle-related crashes, none fatal, but 90 involving injuries, Kittelson found.

In total, 84 percent of pedestrian-related crashes and 74 percent of bicycle-related crashes involved injuries.

The city hopes to use the Kittelson report to help reduce dangers for pedestrians and cyclists on Ashland's streets, Olson said.

"That's always the goal," he said. "The goal should be zero crashes."

The report detailed dozens of places in the city where pedestrian or bike routes are lacking.

Less than half of Ashland's network of major streets — Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland Street, North Main Street and surrounding roads — has sidewalks, the study found.

The study found that 25 miles, or 54 percent, of the major street network does not have sidewalks. About 20 percent, or 9 miles, of the major network has sidewalks on one side of the street and only 26 percent, or 12 miles, has sidewalks on both sides.

"As properties develop, we require them to put in sidewalks, so that's been happening, but it's piecemeal — a little piece here, a little piece there," Olson said.

Bike lanes also cover 26 percent, or about 12 miles, of the major street network, and shared roadways and shoulder bikeways cover an additional 22 percent, or 10 miles.

The engineers recommend creating an east-west bike route along A Street, so cyclists can avoid the particularly crowded downtown area. Another option would be to remove a lane of car traffic on East Main Street and dedicate it to bike traffic, Olson said.

The firm also recommended creating a bike route on either First or Second streets, so cyclists have a clear route to downtown.

The city should also work to create bike lanes on North Main Street and a bike route between the Greenway path at Helman Street and the downtown area, Kittelson said.

"We know that North Main Street is not a friendly bicycle environment," Olson said. "And the Greenway is one of the main generators of bicycle traffic, and there aren't any bike lanes or dedicated bike ways that connect to it."

City officials agree with many of the suggestions in the report, but they will need to be narrowed down by the Planning and Transportation commissions, as well as the community, he said.

The city's Planning and Transportation commissions met on Oct. 26 to discuss the report and will continue to consider its suggestions as they create the city's new Transportation System Plan, said Planning Commission Chairwoman Pam Marsh.

"This transportation update is breaking new ground," she said. "We are not just looking at the automobile — we are turning this on its head. We're including skateboards and bikes and Segways and pedestrians. Cars are in there too, but they're not running the show."

After the plan has been created, the city will begin repairs when financing is available, Olson said, noting that the city is trying to secure grants for the work.

Some of the suggestions cover road sections that are maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation, including portions of North Main Street and Siskiyou Boulevard, so that agency must also agree to the changes and pitch in funding for the work, he said.

The commissioners are encouraging residents to comment on the study and the proposed bike lane and sidewalk improvements. People can visit to take a travel questionnaire and submit other comments.

City officials hope to complete the Transportation System Plan update by January 2012. The City Council voted 3-2 in January to pay Kittelson $416,000 to manage the project. The city will use $125,000 in grant funding to cover the cost and will pay for the remainder with transportation system development charges that the city assesses against new development.

The city will hold a public meeting in the coming weeks to get more input on the plan, Olson said.

"I think we're going to see a little bit of flip-flop from what we saw 10 years ago," when the current Transportation System Plan was created, he said.

"I think there's going to be less emphasis on building more streets and new streets and lanes and signaling. Instead, we'll be looking at more areas where we can add a lot more miles of sidewalk and bike lanes and bike paths."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

Bicycle and pedestrian related crashes in Ashland are heavily concentrated along the OR 99 and OR 66 corridors. Select segments of the corridors on the map for details on crashes and the environmental factors that pertain to them.

Crashes per mile per year are averaged from 1999 to 2009. Traffic was measured at weekday peak times, 3:15 to 4:15 p.m., in Sept. and Oct. of 2009. Source: City of Ashland Transportation Plan Update, October 14, 2009.

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