Sharing the road on MacArthur Boulevard

As Vancouver prepares to re-stripe the busy, four-lane roadway, local bicyclists voice concerns, offer ideas for improvement

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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MacArthur Boulevard has residents debating how it can best be used.

If you look back far enough into history, you can find stories that MacArthur used to be an airstrip. That's why the boulevard, four lanes across with a center median in some places, is so wide, some say. City engineers say they've seen photos, or heard of such stories. City Councilor Jack Burkman says he thinks it might have actually been an emergency landing area.

But there is no doubt, the road is wide.

More recent history shows a plan proposed to put the wide road on a diet, reducing the four lanes to two, and providing spacious bicycle lanes along the boulevard.

The plan was first introduced in 2010, but the city has since moved away from the redesign. The road will receive microsurfacing improvements between East Mill Plain Boulevard and South Lieser Road this summer. That means the city has a chance to change things when it restripes the road.

A survey of those living in the area surrounding MacArthur found that 60 percent rejected the plan to change the road to a two-lane street.

As Vancouver Public Works Project Manager Ryan Miles explains, the current proposal for restriping leaves "a lot of it the same."

Still, one of the biggest concerns for the city is the safety of cyclists. As the bike lanes are drawn now, there are sections that edge up against a steep drainage slope, making it a problematic and hazardous ride.

For now, the proposed solution is to replace some areas with a cohabiting bike and vehicle lane on the right side of the road, with arrows marking the road's shared use.

"But the sharrows (shared-lane marking) work in low-speed, low-traffic areas," said Dan Packard, a cyclist who lives in the area. "They're working a plan based on emotional input, not on the empirical data of their original plan."

Cyclists worry that motorists won't recognize the shared lanes — or simply won't care — and that leaves them in the middle of a road where the speed is 35 mph. That's a dangerous proposition for even experienced cyclists, Packard says.

"What we are asking the city to do is review their recommended visioning strategy," said Madeleine von Laue, a cyclist who uses the road frequently.

The road, she says, is also home to one private and two public schools. Limiting the road to two lanes would eliminate the need for elementary and middle school students from having to cross the five lanes of traffic, including turn lanes.

The bottom line, she says, is safety.

The city says it’s still listening to the group’s concerns.

“We are talking, and trying to engage with everyone,” Miles said. “We’re willing to look at speeds and how the signage works. We’re looking at ways to tweak it. ”

It isn’t an ideal solution, von Laue said, but reduced speeds would be something.

“They could also narrow the traffic lanes,” von Laue said. “And if they use the ‘sharrows,’ they need to sign it really, really well and provide a lot of education.”

But until the new paint goes down on the road this summer, the cyclists will continue to petition for the city to go back to its original diet.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.