New bike/pedestrian trail is coming, but slowly

Aficionados lead officials on first piece of a planned 3.7-mile path

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Vancouver has an online collection of maps to local bike/pedestrian trails. Lower River Road is marked on this guide.

photoVancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, from left, state Rep. Jim Moeller and Vancouver Councilor Bill Turlay prepare for a bike tour along Lower River Road on Friday.

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photoRep. Jim Moeller takes the bike tour from St. Francis Lane to Lower River Road.

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photoTodd Bachmann of the Arnada Neighborhood Association, left, leads a tour, including Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, right, of a new section of trail along Lower River Road on Friday.

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photoVancouver City Councilmember Bill Turlay joins the bike tour from St. Francis Lane to Lower River Road on Friday.

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Wheels of different sizes and speeds took to Lower River Road on Friday afternoon. Some of them were huge, hauling freight and racing along in groups of 18 at 50 mph.

Others were skinny pairs that hugged the shoulder and tried not to get squashed. Those were the bicycles -- steered by community members, cycling activists and dignitaries who took a short ride to demonstrate the pleasures, and dangers, of the roadway out to Vancouver Lake.

The good news for cyclists and pedestrians is that the Port of Vancouver USA plans to complete 3.7 miles of safe passage along Lower River Road. It's already completed one 2,700-foot multi-use path in front of a new Farwest Steel plant, and just received $350,000 in federal transportation grants to add another, beginning at the intersection of Mill Plain and Fourth Plain boulevards and heading west for one-half mile to the Port's administrative office. Construction is expected to begin in February. The Port will also use some of that grant money to design another 1,750-foot path that will run farther west, connecting its administrative office to that new 2,700-foot path.

The not-so-good news is that the 3.7-mile pathway plan, as it exists, could take up to 25 years to complete, according to port community relations manager Katy Brooks, because the money will come in as related fees when adjacent property is developed. Much of that property is encumbered by slopes and wetlands,

requiring that developers pay for additional, expensive mitigation measures -- like replacement wetlands in other areas.

That's why local cyclists, including the groups BikeVanWa, Bike Clark County and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, pulled together what they called a "legislative ride" aimed at demonstrating to policymakers at every level just how beautiful -- and scary -- the existing ride can be.

"I'm a father of two, and I live in west Vancouver," said Arnada neighborhood activist and event organizer Todd Bachman. He said the "awesome carrot" of recreational areas west of the port -- Vancouver Lake and Frenchman's Bar -- are unique cycling destinations because they're connected to downtown neighborhoods by a straight, flat roadway. "We don't have many great natural spaces that are so accessible to the downtown area," he said.

"The point is the opportunity to connect a lot of fantastic wildlife and recreational opportunities to the neighborhoods of Vancouver," agreed Blake Trask, statewide policy director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. Brooks added that new bicycle and pedestrian lanes will mean a new way for employees of port businesses to get to and from work, if they take it. That could significantly reduce traffic on the road, she said.

"We are so appreciative that the Port has a plan," said Trask, "but it's up to more than the Port to provide bike trails. It's a community priority." If the community wants to see it happen more quickly than 25 years, he said, it should pressure legislators to make it happen. More federal and state transportation grants like are available, he said.

"I'm kind of in awe to see all this support," Trask said before the ride began, as approximately 50 cyclists -- from children to senior citizens -- gathered at the former Humane Society property on St. Francis Lane, in the Port area, for a quick pep talk. "For us to be able to say a lot of folks are here … really makes my job in Olympia a lot easier."

He invited any of the many dignitaries who turned out for the event -- including state representatives, Congressional staffers and city council members and candidates -- to speak as well.

"No political speeches!" called city councilor Larry Smith. "Let's ride!"


Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://facebook.com/reporterhewitt; http://twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.