Talent group seeks a safer bike passage

TALENT — More than 100 signatures on a petition calling for safer conditions for pedestrians and bikers along a narrow stretch of Rapp Road has been presented to the city.

A group called The Committee for Safe Walking and Biking on Rapp Road presented the petition last week during a City Council hearing on updating the town's comprehensive plan.

Thomas Lowell, who headed the petition effort, told the council he would donate a portion of his land on Rapp Road as a right of way to include bike lanes and sidewalks. Lowell wanted the city to expand an urban reserve area in the comprehensive plan to take in his land, which is in the county, but the council voted to stay with the addition as proposed.

Rapp Road has a 40-foot-wide right of way that would preclude the addition of sidewalks and bike lanes. Log trucks, bikers, joggers, walkers, cars, school buses and other traffic share the narrow road that funnels traffic from Highway 99 to Wagner Creek Road and parts of Talent.

Six months ago, volunteers backed by city aid improved a narrow walking path along the north side of the road with the addition of gravel. Drainage ditches border the south side.

City Councilor Kierstin Brown manages the 143-unit Parkside Apartments that adjoin the road.

Brown says there are about two tenants per unit, and half of those are school-age children.

"There is school-bus service to pick up kids, but a lot of kids seem to walk," said Brown. "In summer, a lot of kids walk and ride bikes to the schools."

Talent Elementary and Talent Middle School are about seven-tenths of a mile from the complex, but pedestrians and bikers must cross over a narrow bridge to get to the schools via Louis J. Street.

Brown said she was not aware of any pedestrian or bike accidents during the seven years she's managed the complex, but a woman did drive off the road and end up in Wagner Creek.

City Planner Mark Knox said the city could do improvements on land that isn't within the city if it had the right of way.

"It's clearly on the city's mind, but it also depends upon budget capabilities," said Knox.

A 2008 engineering estimate put costs of improvements from just before the railroad tracks to Rapp Lane, about three-tenths of mile, at nearly $1.3 million. That included $200,000 to bring the railroad crossing up to present standards, and build sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides. It didn't include work from Rapp Lane to Louis J Street, the area that includes the bridge.

Funds to improve Rapp Road are not included in this budget cycle, but City Manager Tom Corrigan said he would like to see them added next year.

At the end of last week's meeting, Mayor Bill Cecil said discussion of Rapp Road would be on the agenda for the next Traffic Safety Committee meeting, which takes place at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 9, in City Hall.

"I know it's not in the budget, but if we can take this in steps and phases, then some of the concerns can be met before we look at the big picture," said Brown.

Brown thinks the first place to start would be lowering the speed limit from 40 mph to the residential standard of 25 mph.

"Because we can't achieve perfection, that shouldn't stop us from trying to make some improvements to make it better," said Lowell.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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