Cyclists mass to point out risky route

Plans to improve ride through industrial area near port are in place

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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It may not have been a mass, but they were critical.

A critical mass ride Friday to bring awareness to the dangers cyclists face using Northwest Lower River Road to reach Frenchman's Bar and Vancouver Lake -- a popular route -- drew just eight riders.

On the riders' radar: the Port of Vancouver, which abuts the busy industrial road, and the city of Vancouver.

The ride, unlike many critical mass events, wasn't intended to be confrontational or create a traffic disturbance, said Todd Bachmann, who helped organize the noon event. They just wanted to nudge officials into thinking about the problem -- and maybe start working to fix it.

"This is something that hasn't been considered by the port," Bachmann said. "Their whole plan is to make Vancouver a great place to live and work -- this is a no-brainer."

Riders talked about the high speeds along Lower River Road, along with the close proximity to heavy trucks.

Michael Newton, a volunteer with the new nonprofit bike safety group Bike Clark County, led a group of 35 eighth-grade students from McLoughlin Middle School on a ride down the road at the end of the last school year. They rode in small packs and kept a close eye out, he said.

"There's heavy traffic, and you don't get an opportunity to get very far from it in a bike lane," Newton said.

Port's expectations

The event, while small, did get the ear of a Port of Vancouver community relations representative, and they all got in a six-mile ride before Friday's weather got too hot.

And contrary to what riders may think, improving bike and pedestrian safety along Lower River Road is part of the Port's plan, spokeswoman Theresa Wagner said.

"Although it is an industrial area, we do know it is a great draw for recreational folks going down to those great parks," Wagner said. "And watching out for other folks using the roadway is something we've stressed very heavily with our drivers."

Northwest Lower River Road is a state-owned highway within city limits, Wagner said. The money the Port has been spending for rail and other improvements is mostly tied to grants -- which come with very narrow restrictions on how the money can be used, she added.

Still, the port's long-term plan is to build out multi-modal trails as more businesses move in. As Far West Steel builds in its new location, it will be required to build a paved, landscaped quarter-mile-long pathway from its gateway east toward the port administration building, Wagner said.

"We really get that sort of multi-modal need," she said. "Pedestrians and bicycles are an intricate part of what we're doing."

City spokeswoman Barb Ayers stressed that the city doesn't control the road; it only does maintenance such as sweeping and plowing. Still, she said, the city's 2004 transportation plan does acknowledge gaps, like Lower River Road, in the bike system.

Long-recognized need

The 2004 bicycle master plan calls for Lower River Road to have bicycle lanes, and a 2006 Clark County Regional Trail and Bikeway Systems plan also shows a shared use pathway along Lower River Road as well that would connect to the Frenchman's Bar Trail. Funding, of course, is a different matter.

Bachmann, who wore a tie as well as a helmet for the critical mass ride, said he was glad to hear those higher up are listening. He said he also hopes the port can help activists lobby the state for improvements.

While the ride was small, it likely achieved its purpose: getting word out that accommodating bicycles does good for riders and for the economy, he said.

"This generation wants places they can walk and bike to," Bachmann said. "It's a quality-of-life thing."

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.