Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


A bicycle tour around town on Thursday morning helped city officials and others interested in the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians learn what might benefit all community members.

Work started on Baker City's Transportation System Plan this week.

Traveling throughways allows government officials - as well as the consultants hired by the city and residents helping to write the plan - to obtain first-hand knowledge about problem areas, said Michelle Owen, the city's public works director.

A roundtable meeting with stakeholders on Wednesday afternoon helped determine what areas might be worth visiting. Thursday's bike tour was abbreviated because temperatures were expected to be near 100 degrees, however.

Extreme weather predictions might have kept some people away, but it wasn't nearly as hot as expected for the three-mile ride that included frequent stops to chat about what the group noticed.

The route began outside Baker City Hall, near the corner of First Street and Auburn Avenue. The first stop was at the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway at its Washington Avenue crossing.

Some find this a difficult crossing because the pathway doesn't cross Washington in a straight line - on the north side the path begins on the east bank of the river, and on the south side the path starts on the river's west bank.

Drivers might be surprised by people using the parkway who walk or ride into the street from an array of spots.

The bicycle tour then moved east to Brooklyn Primary School and around to the back of the campus, going north on Oak Street to Broadway Street. The group stopped on Broadway to talk about traffic and other issues that arise when parents are dropping off and picking up children attending school at the K-3 campus.

City Councilors approved a change last year that moved the school bus loading zone from Oak to Washington to provide better safety for those students. It also restricted student drop-offs and pick-ups to Broadway and Clark streets..

Oak is a heavily traveled by autos and trucks, more so than most other residential streets in the city, said Gary Van Patten, the city's assistant public works director.

These changes also were made to provide better safety and visibility at the intersection of Oak and Washington. The city is looking for other ways to improve safety and traffic flow around and near the school, Owen said.

The next major stop was Geiser Pollman Park, where the discussion turned to how the participants routinely make their way through the park to reach the pathway on the other side of Campbell Street as well as reach other points. Signs might help people better identify the pathway.

The group then crossed Campbell Street at the pathway crosswalk, which is slated for the addition of beacons so people in autos and trucks could better see pedestrians and bicyclists. The beacons also are hoped to help drivers approaching the crosswalk better notice when vehicles ahead of them are stopped so people could cross.

Even a straggler was able to cross Campbell safely without concern about drivers not noticing them - though one of the consultants noted that drivers might have seen that he was snapping photographs of the street.

The bicyclists took the path and eventually reached the sports complex and talked about how amenities, such as easily accessible bicycle racks or clearly marked restrooms, might encourage more use of the pathway to reach that location.

Then they pedaled past Baker High School along Fifth and E streets, crossed 10th Street, moved south and then began their return downtown.

They cruised east down Campbell Street, south on Fourth Street, then traveled east on Auburn and returned to Baker City Hall for more discussion.

For example, if the YMCA moves its Fitness Center from its current location in the 2000 block of Main Street to the former Wilson's Market building on Pocahontas Road, creating a safe routes to that location from the other club buildings, and from Sam-O Swim Center, would be important, said Jason Yencopal, the county's community development director.

Youth "need a way to get there," he said.

The Oregon Department of Transportation and consultants for Kittelson and Associates, Inc. are among those helping the city put its plan together. Stakeholders come from the community, and many already sit on city committees, such as Parks and Recreation and the Planning Commission.

The consultants planned to return to some sites as well as visit sections of the city's south side.

Among concerns there are the location where Myrtle and Dewey avenues intersect, and that students traveling to and from school (and elsewhere outside the neighborhood) along Indiana Avenue don't have a safer, alternative route.

Other concerns were voiced Wednesday during the roundtable. The lack of sidewalk connectivity throughout the city as well as with the county areas leaves people walking on irregular, potentially dangerous surfaces. Identifying and eliminating obstructions that hamper visibility would allow people using all forms of transportation to clearly see what everyone else around them is doing.

Other issues brought up include:

andbull; Considering whether Campbell Street should be without bicycle paths so riders are encouraged to use other less highly traveled streets

andbull; How to make it safer to travel to businesses on one side of Campbell to the other by bicycle and foot

andbull; How to provide disabled people in wide motorized chairs with paths that are wide enough for them to not end up rolling in the streets

andbull; Adding more bicycle racks to areas where people need them.

The bicycle and pedestrian portions of the plan will recommend improvements to bikeways, walkways, and trails.

The city is overhauling its current transportation plan, which was adopted in 1996. This new version will guide the management of transportation within the city during the next 20 to 30 years.

Suitability for the travelers as well as the neighborhood through which automobiles, commercial vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians would move is an important aspect of this type of planning. It suggests projects that would develop and improve travel. Demographics also are taken into consideration. And potential funding is identified.

Documenting goals also helps with obtaining grants, even state or federal funding.

Work on the plan will go on during the next year. Contact Owen for details on how to help the city create the new plan. Telephone 541-524-2031 or email mowen@bakercity.com