Lack of bike lanes in waterfront plans questioned

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The $1.3 billion development planned for Vancouver's downtown waterfront has been described as bicycle-friendly.

But as the city prepares to put the Columbia Way project out to bid, bike advocates have been questioning why plans don't include bike lanes. Columbia Way, which branches off Columbia Street, will serve as the east-west arterial. Plans call for one lane in each direction, with on-street parking and shared bicycle lane markings, or "sharrows."

Columbia Way would also have 12-foot-wide sidewalks, the standard width for downtown, said Chad Eiken, the city's director of community and economic development.

Madeleine von Laue, chairwoman of the Clark Communities Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said the committee has been concerned since seeing plans more than three months ago.

Sharrows and signs won't work for cyclists, she wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to the city's public works department. "Drivers may not understand those symbols or may choose to ignore them," she wrote. "And, again, if the city is concerned about traffic congestion, the best way to alleviate that is to encourage safe and enjoyable alternatives," she wrote.

City Manager Eric Holmes and Eiken both said last week plans haven't been finalized, but Eiken said if bicycle lanes are added, something will have to give, either on-street parking or the wide sidewalks.

Private investors plan on redeveloping a 30-acre former Boise Cascade mill site into a vibrant mix of retail and residential plus a hotel and greenspace, with the city building a 10-acre park. The extension of Columbia Way is part of the city's $45 million access project, which includes two new railroad bridges at Esther and Grant streets, the extension of Esther and Grant streets, the closure of railroad crossings at Jefferson and Eighth streets and related utility work.

The Columbia Waterfront project's website says, "Streets will be scaled to allow cars, pedestrians and bicyclists to coexist." It also says "striped bicycle lanes" will be on the main route. While bicycle lanes were included on the Grant Street extension, they are not on the Esther Street extension.

Barry Cain, president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Gramor Development, co-owns the site with four investors as part of Columbia Waterfront LLC.

Cain said Friday he believes shared lane markings will work. He noted the speed limit will be 25 miles per hour, but anticipates people will drive slower than the speed limit.

The blocks will be short, Cain said, and he thought it would be more dangerous for cyclists if they were in and out of bike lanes.

"This will be real pedestrian-friendly," Cain said.

Eiken said studies have shown drivers slow down on streets with only one lane in each direction and on-street parking.

Eiken said he thought cyclists could access the site on the city's Waterfront Renaissance Trail, which will be extended to reach the former Boise Cascade site. He's heard from bike advocates, however, that while the trail would be fine for recreational riders, cyclists want to stay on streets.

The city plans to put the Columbia Way project to bid this summer. Eiken anticipates the city's portion of the street will cost between $5.8 and $6.2 million.

Work is scheduled to start in the fall.

Columbia Way isn't the only area of concern for bike advocates.

For example, Todd Boulanger, a transportation consultant who used to work as a senior planner for the city, said he believes even more critical bike access issues will be how cyclists go to and from Columbia Way from the existing trailhead for the Interstate 5 Bridge and the bike lanes on Columbia Street.

Holmes said Friday the city council doesn't have a workshop scheduled to discuss the street design, but he plans on briefing them at today's meeting about the concerns.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508; twitter.com/col_cityhall; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.