Last night I briefly spoke at a Centralia City Council meeting, asking councilors and city staff to support the creation of low-cost bicycle infrastructure in our city.
For those unfamiliar with Centralia, we’re a city of about 16,000 people give or take a few halfway between Portland and Seattle on Interstate 5. Our downtown core lies about a mile east of the freeway, and our retail core lies along a stretch known as Harrison Avenue. We have a community college that serves a large number of students, several schools and a nice little system of parks and recreational sites.
The city recently passed a sales tax proposal to help fund a Transportation Benefit District that is designed to fund repairs along streets and roads that desperately need to be fixed. Last night, city councilors unanimously adopted city Public Works staff’s proposal on which streets needed to be fixed first. I don’t have the list in front of me, but I tended to agree in person upon hearing and seeing the list.
However, I believe the city can act now and use very little money to make improvements to alternative transportation such as cycling. As a recreational cyclist who plans to commute to work once the weather starts to improve, I see a need for the city to adopt a bicycle transportation corridor but do so at low cost to be good stewards of public funds.
WHY WE NEED BIKE INFRASTRUCTURE
The opportunity to appeal to cyclists from beyond Lewis County. The Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic brings 10,000+ riders through town each year, many who stay in town and utilize restaurants, hotels, motels and more. The Willapa Hills Trail, five miles south of town, is awaiting the completion of a bridge in Adna before 23 miles between Chehalis and Pe Ell are fully connected. If cyclists from outside our region see that we’re putting effort into creating a sustainable bicycle infrastructure, they will be more likely to come back and explore our area on two wheels.
Safe, designated routes to schools and work. Centralia College is a hub for education in our community (and I even tend to call the Aadland Esplanade Centralia’s living room), and several schools are located adjacent to low-traffic streets. By giving students who wish to ride to school and professionals who wish to commute to work on two wheels a supported system of transport, people would be more apt to use their bikes for more practical purposes. We also have many people in our community who rely on bicycles as their only mode of transport, and creating a safer system for them will put their minds at ease.
An economic driver for our downtown core. Centralia’s downtown core is beautiful, and just recently the city and Centralia Downtown Association teamed up to put bike racks downtown. That was a good initial investment, and it needs to go further to promote transportation through our city to the downtown area so more people can explore shops, eat at restaurants, etc.
HOW CAN WE DO THIS?
My proposal to City Council called for the creation of shared bike lanes — lanes of travel occupied equally between cars and bicycles and advertised as such through signage and paint — on low-traffic roads in Centralia.
Many of our streets cannot be widened without incurring a significant cost, but several low-traffic streets would function well to get cyclists from point A to point B while passing near or by important points in our city.
The implementation of shared bike lanes is cost-effective, creates awareness of cyclists on the road and educates both cyclists and vehicle drivers on how to properly share the road and be safe.
For a good primer on the benefits of shared lane markings, and photos of some of them in action, click here.
MY PROPOSED ROUTE
This is revised from even what I had shared with the council last night, but I think it’s a good idea on further review. Please hit the play button on the map below to get a good idea of the flow of this route.
My route proposal above is based on extensive cycling through Centralia, and observations of the road from behind the handlebars.
From the south, the route starts where the Airport Road Trail that connects Centralia and Chehalis ends and proceeds eastward on Mellen Street, where a right-of-way for a bike lane exists in both lanes. Cyclists would then have to signal left and utilize the traffic signal to turn left onto Yew Street, which is a major north-south route in the city.
However, cyclists would not utilize Yew for long. A Bike Route sign would point cyclists eastbound onto Chestnut Street, then immediately north onto Cedar Street. These streets are significantly less traveled and are primarily used by residents of the immediate area.
The route continues on Cedar for a few blocks until reaching Pear Street. Here, cyclists would have an option to continue northward on Cedar and connect with Centralia College Boulevard, then continue east toward the college and downtown. For purposes of this proposal, however, we’ll proceed eastward on Pear — much less traffic than Centralia College Boulevard, and a vital connector to the southern part of the Centralia College campus.
Cyclists would then turn northward onto Iron Street, which forms the eastern boundary of the Centralia College campus. From here, they would then connect with Centralia College Boulevard and turn westbound, riding along the northern side of the campus. Cyclists would have an option to continue the route onto Washington Avenue or ride westward back toward Cedar Street.
Turning northward onto Washington Avenue, cyclists would have to stop at a traffic light that signalizes an intersection with Main Street. From there, cyclists continue on Washington until reaching a stop sign at First Street. There, cyclists would turn left and proceed west on First and onto Harrison Avenue, where bicycle lanes have already been implemented on the shoulders of each direction.
This route creates a direct connection from the far south side of Centralia to Fords Prairie and beyond, and importantly connects a major trail, the community college, downtown core and retail areas on Harrison all while providing a safe route for cyclists with as minimal interaction with vehicles as possible.
This route isn’t without its obstacles, however.
The first glaring issue is that many streets on this route aren’t the smoothest, and some may even have potholes or cracks. However, they are certainly rideable. I have done so, but I have had to do so while paying greater attention to the road and decreasing my speed.
The second issue is that signalized intersections in Centralia for the most part to not recognize bicycles in an intersection unless they are placed just perfectly. Many times I grow frustrated and bypass this by smashing the crosswalk button. A solution would need to be implemented where cyclists are instructed or shown by placement of a painted sign on the ground where they should place their wheels to trigger the light.
And finally, the third issue will be careful placement of the shared lane markings in order to keep cyclists away from door zones. Door zones are spots in which cyclists are in dangers of being hit by opening car doors. To remedy this, I would advise placement of the shared lane markings as close to the middle of the lane of travel or even slightly further left as possible.
SO HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The cost of implementation is striking in its frugality, and the time it would take to implement is very little. Your main costs would lie in paint, signage and manpower to get the job done.
Here are the two signs you would need:
So let’s estimate the cost of 30 18″x24″ Bike Route signs at about $25 each. That comes to about $750.
For the Bicycle May Use Full Lane signs, you’d only need about 20 of those. A 30″x30″ sign is about $65 each on a website I looked at, so for 20 the cost would amount to $1,300.
Total cost of signage would amount to about $2,050, not including mounting poles. But it’s at least a good start.
I don’t know what kind of paint or how much would need to be used, so I’d be bad at estimating cost. However I have seen a roundabout price of $250 for 5 gallons of white reflective paint.
Personally I would anticipate the entire route could be created for $7,000 or less, depending on the cost of paint. In the general scheme of things, that’s peanuts.
I hope I wasn’t rambling here, but I really do think it’s time for Centralia to make a massive upgrade to its cycling infrastructure. Two City Councilors informed me after last night’s meeting that meeting needs for alternative transportation is a priority for the city, and I am glad to see and hear that.
Hopefully this post can serve to further clarify what I spoke to the council about last night and serve as a starting point for further research and hopefully implementation. I’d love to hear some thoughts on this.