Working Toward a Cycling-Friendly County
By Margaux Mennesson, BTA Communication Director
Washington County is known throughout the Pacific Northwest for its hundreds of miles of road cycling routes that wind through scenic farmland, small towns, and Oregon wine country. Drawn by the easy access to great rides, many dedicated cyclists end up staying to start families and found businesses in communities like Tigard, Beaverton and Hillsboro. But when it comes to making bicycling part of the daily commute, these same fearless road warriors and racers agree that Washington County’s automobile-dominated roads have not provided the kind of safe, comfortable facilities that encourage new riders, kids and families to bike to school or work.
That’s all starting to change. Washington County, facing the same questions and challenges as many communities across the country, is figuring out how to accommodate a growing population, attract new business development, and move people and goods where they need to go safely and efficiently. Bicycling is a key part of the solution.
Racers and advocates both have a key role to play in transforming more communities like Washington County from car-centric to multi-modal. Riders in other communities can look to the area as an inspiring model for creating bicycle designs that fit the environment, engaging riders and citizens in the process, and navigating the internal politics of transportation funding.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is teaming up with riders of all ages and abilities to lead a campaign for better biking and walking in Washington County. We are organizing citizens to get engaged in the planning process and weigh in on decisions that impact growth and transportation in the region. We are also building relationships within the transportation and planning bureaus to empower city officials with the tools and resources they need to get going.
Create Bicycle Design Standards for a Broad Mix of Land Uses
Design practices for bicycle facilities have evolved rapidly over the past five years, with much of the focus on bicycling in urban environments. But in Washington County, like many suburban and rural jurisdictions, there is a broad range of land use — from downtown urban centers to suburban neighborhoods to rural farmland — that require different types of treatments and different designs.
Seeking to empower its engineers and planners to respond to the demand for bicycling, and recognizing that its existing road design standards don’t include the latest and best innovative bicycle treatment, the county is in the process of developing a new highly anticipated Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit.
One of the biggest opportunities for Washington County to build ridership is by investing in its already-robust trail network. Instead of trying to put riders on busy arterials with bike lanes and sharrows, connect their backyards to their workplaces and other destinations with trails, which are safer and easier for new riders to imagine riding on than high-traffic, high-speed streets.
Key to the county’s progress in both trails and on-street infrastructure is the leadership of elected officials like Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten, who has pushed the county to improve its mid-block crossing policy, secured federal funding for bike projects, and has said he would like to spend 40% of county transportation resources on biking, walking, and public transit.
Get Riders to Advocate for Riders
With scenic roads connecting farmland and wine country with urban centers and affordable suburban neighborhoods, Washington County has a lot to offer to racers and recreational riders. And yet for years, the people advocating for safer streets and better bike infrastructure were missing the voices of people who were already riding.
“Racers and recreational riders make extensive use of the roadways for racing, training and commuting. And, the concerns of non-racing riders (health, the environment, livability) are quite often also concerns for members of the racing community,” said Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) director and BTA board member Kenji Sugahara.
Sugahara’s comment was prompted by a March 2012 VeloNews editorial by Nick Legan calling for racers to start acting on advocacy. The editorial resonated with members of the Oregon advocacy and racing communities who are already engaged but see potential for more collaboration between the groups.
Susan Otcenas, co-founder of Hillsboro-based TeamEstrogen.com and a BTA board member, says racers have an important voice to add to the conversation. Most serious injuries and fatalities occur on the same rural and suburban roads where riders like to train, where there is little or no bike infrastructure. All users will benefit from making these roads safer for riding.
Dedicate Funding for Bike Projects
The demand for safe streets and affordable transportation in Washington County is loud and clear. Together with our members, we are weighing in on which projects should be prioritized, and we are urging the county to dedicate the resources necessary to achieve our vision.
Washington County has a street-funding source known as the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP-3d) that is funded through local property taxes. While some of the funds from the previous MSTIP programs have been used to create bicycle lanes and sidewalks, critical gaps remain in the bike and pedestrian network that make the system unusable by all but the fearless.
Over the course of several months, BTA has engaged citizens and leaders around a campaign to get their local authorities to dedicate more resources to biking and walking. Dozens of Washington County citizens have emailed their County Commissioner and Board Chair Andy Duyck and asked them to support using MSTIP-3d dollars to help build a safe and complete bicycle and pedestrian network. Our goal is for the county to agree to the following three requests:
1. Prioritize road projects that close existing gaps in the pedestrian and bicycle network.
2. Include world-class bicycle facilities on all new roadway projects using the MSTIP-3d funds.
3. Allow for the $3 million match fund to be used for multi-modal projects that help complete the bicycle and pedestrian network.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is committed to creating a full-time advocacy position in Washington County so that we continue to build upon the momentum for bicycling. To find out how you can support the movement by becoming a BTA member, go to www.btaoregon.org/join.
Washington County Rider Profile: The von Borg Family
Oregon's Washington County is stepping it up to get more people out of their cars.
This Hillsboro family of seven is shaping the future of Washington County and transforming attitudes about who can ride a bike. Motivated by their desire to be better environmental and community stewards with fewer living expenses, the von Borgs switched from minivan to car-free lifestyle in January 2011. Since then, their commitment has only deepened. Residing in Hillsboro with five active children, one father with physical disabilities, and a mother working part-time, they traded four wheels for 14 with refurbished bicycles, repairs, rebuilding assistance, and helmets from WashCo BTC.
Bikes are the family’s primary means of transportation, supplemented by walking and mass transit. Their refreshed outlook on life from outside the automobile has provided them with a broader understanding of the impacts of our car-based culture and economy, as well as a clearer vision of human-powered transportation as the new standard in our communities.
Washington County Rider Profile: Will Vanlue
Will Vanlue has been instrumental in helping promote walking and biking issues in Washington County. A rising star of active transportation advocacy, Will is working every day to create a Washington County where families like the von Borgs feel safe and confident riding bikes.
As a Tigard resident who rides everywhere, Will has an intimate knowledge of just how challenging bicycling in Washington County is, but he also understands just how good it can be. He’s using his time, energy and passion to move forward a vision of a safe, healthy and accessible place for people walking and biking. He volunteers with both the BTA and Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, writes about Washington County issues for BikePortland.org, sits on the Washington County Transportation System Plan update Citizen Advisory Committee, organizes and promotes fun bike events, and runs the blog “The Prudent Cyclist.”