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News / Clark County News

Grow your cycling skills at Heights Bike Garden set to open at old Tower Mall site

Project at central Vancouver site designed to help riders of all ages be better cyclists

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 5, 2024, 6:03am
4 Photos
Here&rsquo;s a graphic that shows the overall design of the Heights Bike Garden.
Here’s a graphic that shows the overall design of the Heights Bike Garden. (Contributed by the city of Vancouver) Photo Gallery

A paved but off-street and carless space where cyclists can safely practice their riding skills is coming to the vacant Tower Mall redevelopment site in central Vancouver. A grand opening of the new Heights Bike Garden is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd.

What’s a bike garden? It’s a kid-sized, model streetscape where fledgling bike riders of any age can safely sharpen their skills — or just tootle around in confidence, knowing no cars will cross their paths.

“The intent is to help children learn the rules of the road without being on an actual road,” city project manager Amy Stewart said. “They’re also known as traffic gardens, and they’re all over the country, but I believe this is the first one in Southwest Washington.”

The Heights Bike Garden is almost two blocks in size, Stewart said, making it one of the largest in the U.S. Its little roadways, intersections, roundabouts, stop and yield signs, pedestrian crosswalks, and other features were recently painted by volunteers onto a section of the Tower Mall parking lot surface, just east of River Maiden Coffee.

The bike garden layout was created by First Forty Feet, a Portland urban design firm, with input from East Coast consultant Discover Traffic Gardens. The center of the two-block layout is a painted pedestrian island featuring colorful street murals, as well as real picnic tables.

“We’ve heard a lot of excitement from the community. We think it’ll be well used,” Stewart said.

As of the Saturday grand opening, the bike garden will be free and open for all (with nonmotorized vehicles only) to use from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day, Stewart said. Bike Clark County volunteers will be on hand for the grand opening, and the nonprofit may use the layout after that for its own periodic bike-training sessions, she said.

The same security detail that patrols the Tower Mall site will keep an eye on the bike garden too, she said. Adjacent construction areas will remain fenced off.

According to news outlet BikePortland, bike gardens started blooming in Europe in the 1950s. Many appeared in and around Portland during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic — a time when safe outdoor recreation was widely sought, but many public recreation facilities were closed. Homemade bike garden layouts have been created with everything from sidewalk chalk to spray paint to plastic cups to orange traffic cones.

Because redevelopment of the former Tower Mall site is an ongoing city project, the Heights Bike Garden is expected to be temporary — lasting perhaps a couple years before new construction moves in, Stewart said.

If You Go

What: Grand opening of the Heights Bike Garden

When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

Where: 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver

Admission: Free