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News / Clark County News

Vancouver Bicycle Club raises safety concerns

Members say lack of parking fees makes Frenchman's Bar Park more dangerous

By Tyler Graf
Published: November 18, 2014, 12:00am
2 Photos
Glenn Teague, in front, followed by Dale Meier ride down Lower River Road from Frenchman's Bar Park Monday.
Glenn Teague, in front, followed by Dale Meier ride down Lower River Road from Frenchman's Bar Park Monday. Teague participates in the Vancouver Bicycle Club's time trials over the summer, but he is concerned that last year will be the final one because of unsafe conditions at the park. Photo Gallery

Glenn Teague admits that he probably made a cyclist’s mistake — one that could have cost him dearly.

As he rode his bicycle near Vancouver Lake in June, he passed another rider as he approached a curve. It was a warm June day, and Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park was alive with activity. Teague and others were riding along Lower River Road, participating in the Vancouver Bicycle Club’s time trials, a test of how fast cyclists can ride a set distance.

Traffic was heavier than usual, as it had been two weeks earlier when participants of the time trials witnessed a T-bone crash that resulted in a car spinning out of control in front of them. It spun in the opposite direction; otherwise, they would have been hit.

Teague assumed he had plenty of room to navigate the move. It was a no-passing zone for vehicles, and the motorist coming toward the cyclists was keeping to his lane.

But without warning, a second vehicle swooped into Teague’s lane to pass the first. As the other cyclist waved toward Teague — a warning — he looked up and saw the vehicle bearing down. The driver revved the engine.

He had no place to go as the car zoomed by within inches of hitting Teague and the other cyclist, who was now behind him.

“I don’t know how I survived that, really. I just rode the white line,” Teague said. “I didn’t see the car go by me — it was so fast.”

Teague’s close call was the tipping point for the organizers of the annual time trials, who decided to move the weekly event from Thursday evenings to Saturday mornings to avoid the crowds. Doing so dropped participation by half. Now, the future of the time trials is in question.

Nancy Cook, a time trial organizer, said she had no choice but to move change the day of the time trials because of safety concerns. During the first three weeks of the time trials, there was the T-bone collision, a report of gunshots being fired, and the near-miss of Teague and the other cyclist.

“This last summer, there were the crowds, and the crazy drivers,” she said.

The time trials’ course, winding near Vancouver Lake and through Frenchman’s Bar Park, had stayed the same for more than two decades, and, in that time, there had only been a few memorable incidents.

In part, Cook and others blame rowdy new activity at the park due to the elimination of parking fees.

County commissioners agreed to eliminate the fees — between $2 and $8, depending on the park — in April 2013, at around the same time they chose to split from the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department. The decision was made with a 2-1 vote, with Republican Commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore favoring it and former Democratic Commissioner Steve Stuart voicing apprehension, hoping to amend it.

Since then, there have been of complaints from park regulars about crowds and raucous behavior, including people drinking alcoholic beverages and fighting. Park regulars have said they’ve seen bad behavior increase.

The future of the time trials is now uncertain, Cook said.

Many riders no longer feel safe at the park. To keep the time trials going, she plans to discuss with the Vancouver Police Department the possibility of hiring an off-duty officer to have a presence on Thursday nights, when the club would prefer to conduct the time trials.

“A presence would really help a lot,” she said.

Patrolling near the park is the responsibility of the Vancouver Police Department, not the sheriff’s office. There is no full-time security presence at the park, although officers have responded to calls there, including the night of the June 15 shooting.

Jan Verrinder, a member of the bike club, said she was concerned about the loud partying, reckless driving and alcohol consumption she witnessed at the park over the summer.

She’s had second thoughts about returning to the parks on certain days, at certain times.

“If it’s full of rabble-rousers, drunks with guns, then it’s not where I want to bring my grandkids,” Verrinder said.

Verrinder supports the idea of hiring an off-duty officer, if it ends up being cost-effective.

Cook acknowledges that hiring a moonlighting cop would be expensive, likely costing the club thousands of dollars. The bike club may not approve of the money being spent in that manner.

Even though the club organizes the time trials, most of the participants come from outside the club itself.

The bike club’s riders say they don’t necessarily mind the park being open to more people. They do worry that doing so without improving park safety measures is a disservice to the park’s longtime visitors.

Mary Ann Teague, Glenn’s wife and a volunteer for the time trials, wrote three letters to the county commissioners explaining the bike club’s concerns. The emails document what the bike club considers unsafe and family unfriendly activity at the park since parking fees were waived.

Mary Ann Teague recounted incidents she witnessed at the park, including the T-bone car collision.

“One of the policemen, who responded to the accident site, told my husband they really need to patrol the beach for drinking parties but they simply don’t have the resources to do that,” she wrote. “Aren’t the parks supposed to be alcohol free?”

Despite sending three emails, Teague said she has yet to receive a reply from the commissioners.

They have generally referred to the elimination of park fees as a successful experiment. They say the parks are still home to “park ambassadors” who can call the police if things get out of hand.

But for Glenn Teague, that’s not good enough. He said he doesn’t want the parks to be exclusive, but he would like to see a system put in place to ensure safety.

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And if the time trials disappear next year, he’ll have to do likewise to train.

He said: “I really need to be able to train down here.”