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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
March 5, 2024

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Clark County’s culture of cycling is growing

Work remains to accommodate even more bike commuters

By , Columbian Education Reporter
5 Photos
Frank Dick makes his way across the Interstate 5 Bridge with northbound traffic on his way to work in Vancouver. Dick bikes 12 miles each way from his home in Southeast Portland.
Frank Dick makes his way across the Interstate 5 Bridge with northbound traffic on his way to work in Vancouver. Dick bikes 12 miles each way from his home in Southeast Portland. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As the sun shines, you may have noticed more Vancouver workers are ditching their four-wheeled rides for two-wheeled ones, bringing the bicycles out after a long winter.

Bike commuters as a whole remain scarce in Vancouver, according to U.S. Census data. According to American Community Survey five-year estimates, only 0.6 percent of Vancouver residents bike to work. That narrows to 0.5 percent of Clark County’s 197,159-person workforce.

Compare that to Portland, where bike-mania has long been a cornerstone of the city’s culture. There, 6.4 percent of the city’s 316,901 workers ride their bikes to work.

Efforts are underway at the city of Vancouver to improve accessibility by implementing a Complete Streets policy, which would guide infrastructure design with cyclists, pedestrians and those who use public transit in mind.

Tips from longtime to new bicycle commuters

Bike commuters shared the following tips if you’re just getting started on your bicycle.

• Wear bright, reflective clothing so you’re visible to drivers.

• Use rear- and front-facing lights on your bike. Some cyclists recommend two lights on each end of your ride, just to be safe.

• Carry, at a minimum, a multitool, a portable bike pump and a set of tubes in case you need to make quick repairs on your bike commute.

• The safest bike route may not always be the shortest. Side streets may be easier to bike on but add minutes to your commute. Try taking the trip at least once so you know what to expect on your way to work.

• The city of Vancouver provides free Vancouver and Clark County bike maps detailing where to find bike lanes, shared-use paths and other road features. The maps can be found at various city and county locations and bike stores around town.

Still, those few who do crisscross through Clark County — or even bicycle commute from Portland to work in Vancouver — say the county is home to accessible bike routes and a growing culture of cycling.

A way of life

Frank Dick, a wastewater engineer with the city of Vancouver, bikes 12 miles each way to and from his home in Southeast Portland. That means heading over the Interstate 5 Bridge, a harrowing task for any commuter.

But for Dick, even a trip to work over the bridge is made more relaxing as a function of doing it on his bike.

“It’s such a nice way of life,” he said. “I think it’s really made me pause in my day-to-day life.”

Dick is not alone in his sentiments. For Clark County’s bike commuters, the time they spend riding is a way to exercise and decompress for the day ahead or behind them.

Jim Thomas has a quick jaunt from his home to work — about a 2-mile ride, he said — but he has dedicated himself to the cycling lifestyle. He’s a member of the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Stakeholder group, a member of Bike Clark County, a regular rider for the Friends of Trees bike plant program and is contributing feedback on the city’s Complete Streets program.

“At my age, I find I need to bike regularly to keep biking,” the 65-year-old said. “The main reason is to get some stress relief.”

Garrett Hoyt, who works at Clark College, bikes in from Battle Ground every day, rain or shine. It’s a long trek, but a pleasant one headed down St. Johns Road into downtown, he said.

The longtime cyclist said biking in Vancouver has been among his most pleasant commutes, noting that drivers with few exceptions are aware of his presence and adjust accordingly.

“I have 45 minutes to get home, calm down and transition to being with my family,” he said. “It is a lot less stressful than sitting in a box on wheels and listening to bad news on the radio.”

Improvements needed

Bike commuters do point out flaws in the system, however.

In his role on numerous boards and commissions dedicated to cycling, Thomas said, he’s heard many people say they’d bike if they felt safer.

“I think more people would ride if we had better trails, better paths,” Thomas said.

Ken Williams, who rides from his home near downtown Vancouver to Hewlett-Packard’s campus on 164th Avenue in east Vancouver, is “no gonzo” when it comes to riding, he said. He doesn’t bike in the dark, nor will be bike when it rains.

In spring and summer months, however, Williams enjoys the 10-mile trek to work, though he stressed the need for improved bike lanes. He pointed to a spot on East McLoughlin Boulevard in Vancouver’s Central Park neighborhood where residents’ parked cars force riders out of the shoulder and onto the road. That section of Vancouver is just one example of where improvements could be made to keep cyclists safe, he said.

“Bike paths have not kept pace with the amount of vehicular traffic,” Williams said.

The Complete Streets policy under development by the city could address some bikers’ concerns. Patrick Sweeney, principal transportation planner, himself a bike commuter, said the policies will guide the city on future transportation projects serving commuters of all kinds.

“It gets back to the element of providing an interconnected and balanced transportation system for all users,” he said.

The Vancouver City Council is slated to do a first reading of the Complete Streets policy Monday with possible adoption later this month.

Columbian Education Reporter