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May 15, 2021

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Proposal for bike lanes raises concerns on Columbia Street

Veterans Assistance Center, businesses, others worry about parking, accessibility

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
3 Photos
A cyclist bikes down Columbia Street toward Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver on Tuesday. The city is considering a proposal to replace the parking on Columbia Street with protected bike lanes, and the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center is concerned that this will affect accessibility for veterans, especially those with disabilities.
A cyclist bikes down Columbia Street toward Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver on Tuesday. The city is considering a proposal to replace the parking on Columbia Street with protected bike lanes, and the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center is concerned that this will affect accessibility for veterans, especially those with disabilities. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A proposal to remove parking from Columbia Street and install protected bike lanes is raising concerns at the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, where staff worry that the plan will deter disabled veterans who count on convenient parking.

The CCVAC isn’t the only group sounding the alarm. Some residents and business owners along the proposed bike lane routes have also expressed worry about how the proposal might squeeze an already-tight neighborhood parking situation.

The cycling proposal, called the Westside Bike Mobility Project, would form protected bike lanes along three routes snaking from downtown to uptown Vancouver.

The most controversial route would run along the east and west sides of Columbia Street, from Waterfront Park to West 45th Street. If implemented, the current street parking on both sides of the roadway north of West 12th Street would be eliminated.

“This will effectively put the Veterans Assistance Center out of business. We have so many disabled veterans who come here for help who cannot walk from around the corner or even from across the street,” said Judy Russel, president of CCVAC.

“The vast majority of our veterans who come here for assistance are disabled in one way or another. A lot of them are in wheelchairs, or they’re on crutches, or have canes.”

Russel estimates that 95 percent of the veterans who use the center drive themselves, or catch a ride with somebody else. They count on parking. Just a tiny fraction walk or uses public transportation, she added.

Support for cyclists

The Westside Bike Mobility Project is a subset of the city’s overarching Westside Mobility Project, implemented in July 2016.

The final Westside Mobility Project cited a study that indicates more people would commute via bike if they felt safer.

“Vancouver’s bike lanes and sharrows that share the roadway adjacent to moving traffic and parked cars do not provide enough physical separation to feel safe for these potential riders. These people — known as the ‘interested, but concerned’ cohort in research on bicyling behavior — represent 60 percent of the average urban population,” the project’s text stated.

The topic of bike lanes dominated a Feb. 11 citizen forum before the Vancouver City Council, with locals turning out to voice their support or opposition to the proposal.

Among the speakers were cyclists who’d seen firsthand the need for safer bicycle infrastructure.

Shawn Brownfield, a resident of the Lincoln neighborhood and a father of four, said he’s nervous letting his kids ride into town along Columbia Street under the current state of affairs. He supports the proposal to install sheltered bike lanes.

“From my time commuting in Portland, it’s clear to me that protected cycling lanes are very key to cyclists’ comfort,” Brownfield told the council. “I’m amenable to compromise. I just want safer cycling facilities for myself and my family.”

Scott Yeager, a cyclist and Vancouver resident, was more blunt.

“I ride my bike, and I don’t want to die while I’m riding my bike,” he told the council.

Neighborhood squeeze

Parking is a hot commodity in the Hough neighborhood, where vintage homes with short driveways dominate the landscape. Garages, either attached or detached, are rare.

The neighborhood would be hit hard if parking is removed along Columbia Street, said Miltie Vega-Lloyd, a resident near the intersection of West 20th and Columbia streets.

“Both of the neighborhood homes on both sides of the street don’t have garages, and if they do, they’re unusable,” Vega-Lloyd said.

Though an online survey solicited feedback from people on the draft designs, she expressed frustration at how the decision-making process was largely conducted without input from the neighborhood’s residents.

“We are stakeholders, we are going to be mostly impacted by this. We need to be at this table,” Vega-Lloyd said.

Her neighbor, Glenn Young, also addressed the council to convey his concern about how a loss of parking might hit the area’s elderly population.

Something as simple as carrying groceries into the house would become a huge hurdle, he said. For some, it could be unlivable.

“We are an old neighborhood, and we are also an aged neighborhood in terms of the population that lives there. We are literally talking about people needing to relocate — that’s a very realistic scenario,” Young said.

Vancouver staff plan to present the bike lane project to the council Monday.

The city aims to formalize the plan in March. If the bike routes move forward, construction could start as early as this summer, when the section of Columbia Street from Mill Plain Boulevard to Fourth Plain Boulevard is scheduled for repaving.

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