Riders uneasy about MacArthur Boulevard plan

Cycling advocates oppose city strategy to remove portions of bike lanes

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It’s there on Page 12 of a 65-page city document: A vision of a far different MacArthur Boulevard — of a four lane road put on a diet.

One lane in both the eastbound and westbound directions would be re-striped and replaced by vehicle parking and wide bike lanes, to provide a haven from the currently hazardous bike lanes and a model example of multi-modal transportation.

But local cycling advocates said the city plans to remove portions of bike lanes on MacArthur between Lieser and Andresen roads instead, moving in the opposite direction of their vision.

The current bike lanes, which were installed on that stretch in 2009, are painted on the edge of a steep drainage slope and considered a danger to riders. In the next few months, instead of a road diet to remedy the risk, city crews will remove parts of the lanes that are too close to those ditches, merging bikes with car traffic on the 35 mph street.

Cyclists have peppered the mayor, city council and city administrators with mass emails calling for the road diet instead.

“I am writing to urge you to keep streets safe for all and build the bike lanes as planned on MacArthur Boulevard,” the email reads. “MacArthur is a major thoroughfare for cyclists because it is a direct connection to Vancouver’s eastern neighborhoods and has low vehicle traffic. In doing so, the street will be better for cyclists, allowing them to safely avoid the stormwater drains while not impeding the flow of car traffic.”

Vancouver Public Works responded that it doesn’t have the up to $40,000 it would cost to re-stripe the 2-mile stretch of road from Mill Plain Boulevard to Lieser. Removing sections of the lanes between Lieser and Andresen instead will cost less than $5,000, Public Works Director Brian Carlson said.

What’s more, there hasn’t been enough advance notification and dialogue to justify a complete makeover, he said.

“That’s a major transition of that roadway,” Carlson said. “There was one meeting with 21 people. That’s not sufficient enough of a public process to make a major change.”

The authors of the MacArthur Boulevard Vision Plan — completed last year by four neighborhood associations, city staff and a consultant — made it clear the slimmed-down roadway featured in the plan isn’t a set blueprint, but rather a guide to fixing the problems with the street as resources allow. Carlson said there are higher-priority projects, such as widening a treacherous stretch of bike lane on Southeast Ellsworth Road near Highway 14.

Now may also not be the best time to put MacArthur on a diet, Carlson said. The road is scheduled to be resurfaced in 2012, and at that point it will need to be re-striped, anyway. A discussion about transforming MacArthur to a two-lane road could happen then, he said.

Ellsworth Springs resident Maurice Carroll, who signed the e-mail petition, said the possibility of a future discussion “holds promise.”

Building better bike lanes on MacArthur is essential to helping kids and families bike to Marshall Elementary School, he said. He called himself an experienced biker who rides MacArthur a few times a week. As a PeaceHealth employee, he said, he will ride it daily once the company relocates to Vancouver.

Right now, he already merges into traffic on the stretches of road where the bike lanes are too steeply cambered.

“I never ride down in there, particularly if it’s damp,” Carroll said. “You’re looking to have your wheel slip out on you. I can handle that as an adult cyclist … but if I’m looking to encourage children and families to bike ride, I don’t think that section of MacArthur is really accessible,” Carroll, 49, said.

The cyclists’ emails came up during Monday’s city council meeting, where the road diet seemed to have some backing from the council.

Mayor Tim Leavitt called for supporting multi-modal transportation “when appropriate.”

“We don’t want to stray too far from that,” he said. “I encourage us to move forward, and make sure there are safe and accessible bicycle routes around our community.”

Because bicycles don’t pay gas tax or license fees, Councilor Jeanne Stewart said she was uncomfortable giving lanes for vehicles to bikes.

“We’re reallocating that surface for someone who isn’t paying anything to anybody” she said.

Leavitt countered that he has a car and he also rides his bike. Carroll on Tuesday said the same.

“I have two automobiles that are fully licensed, and I fill them up and I pay taxes,” Carroll said. “After many, many years in health care, I can say that you want to create opportunities to get people out of their automobiles and walking or riding. Look at downtown Portland: It’s a great place to bike ride and see the integration of multiple modes of transportation. I’d love to see that here in Vancouver.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.