Rethinking Lewis County, Vol. 2: A low-cost proposal for bicycle infrastructure in Centralia

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.

View route map for Bike Route Proposal For Centralia on plotaroute.com

ROUTE EXPLANATION
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.

POSSIBLE ISSUES
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:

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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.

CONCLUSION
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.

Travelogue: North Oregon Coast, 160220

Took a trip to the coast yesterday. Second time I’ve been there this month.

This time, had to check out Hug Point south of Cannon Beach. It didn’t disappoint.

Now for the visual evidence.

I haven't climbed the Astoria Column since I was a child and had my fingers smashed in the door at the top. But it is cool to get a shot looking up at a place that folks normally look down.

I haven’t climbed the Astoria Column since I was a child and had my fingers smashed in the door at the top. But it is cool to get a shot looking up at a place that folks normally look down.

Youngs River Falls, about 8 miles west of Astoria, Oregon, is seen in this long exposure.

Youngs River Falls, about 8 miles west of Astoria, Oregon, is seen in this long exposure.

Hug Point just south of Cannon Beach was apparently named because pioneers had to pretty much hug the rocks to avoid the waves that would come in. This area is only accessible in low tide.

Hug Point just south of Cannon Beach was apparently named because pioneers had to pretty much hug the rocks to avoid the waves that would come in. This area is only accessible in low tide.

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Godspeed to a friend and mentor

My friend Rich, standing in the back center in the blue shirt, passed away last night. He was a friend to many and a mentor to me during my time in Missouri.

A friend and mentor from my time in Missouri passed away last night, and the news hit me hard this morning.

Tonight I was searching for some photos of my friend Rich and found this gem from 2008 when I just started getting into flag football back in Missouri. Rich, in the back middle wearing the blue shirt, joined us one Sunday after church just because he wanted to have some fun.

His straight-arm technique would put someone flat on their back. I would know. And I also know he didn’t mean it intentionally.

Those were some fun days, and I’m grateful to have this reminder of what a good guy Rich Schultz was. A great spiritual mentor during my first stint in Missouri and a tremendous blessing to my family.

I remember one time that I was even more critical of faith-related matters than I am now. I was at a true spiritual crossroads, and shared this with Rich over coffee as we waited for our church service to start. He simply told me, “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.”

When my friends Brandon and Robin were married in Florida in August 2014, it happened to be in the same town in which Rich and Anita were living. I had the chance to meet up with them for lunch, and it was a tremendous blessing. They both told me they were proud of the person I was becoming and that they loved and treasured my parents’ friendship. That last part was special to me, and now especially so because it was the last words I ever heard Rich say in person.

When I received word this morning that Rich passed away, I couldn’t help but remember his words: “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.” I wish he could see that they are starting to, even if it is seven years after he said it. The Lord spoke a word through him that now resonates even stronger today.

I miss you, my friend, and I am thankful for the chance to have crossed paths and shared in life for a time. The promise of meeting back up with you in heaven someday is further incentive to continue serving Jesus Christ and sharing His Gospel with others.

On January 3, it snowed in Centralia

Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia was a grateful recipient of Sunday's snowstorm.

Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia was a grateful recipient of Sunday’s snowstorm.

I’ve loved snow ever since I was a kid.

Imagine how I felt today at church when our pastor looked outside and announced it was snowing. Most people sitting in the audience cheered and I probably said the loudest “amen.”

After church I had to take a trek around town as the snow fell furiously, coating the city of Centralia in a blanket of white. Within an hour there was easily an inch of snow on the ground, and the weather brought with it a quiet to the downtown area I had not heard during daytime in awhile.

It doesn’t snow often in Centralia, and when it does it doesn’t usually stick. Today we all got to see both, and it brought a tremendous amount of joy to people I saw.

Here are some of the photos I shot today and tonight, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the time I spent in my favorite weather.

The snow clouds continue to move over Centralia, as seen from Staebler Point.

The snow clouds continue to move over Centralia, as seen from Staebler Point.

Snow flocks fir trees at Staebler Point in the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

Snow flocks fir trees at Staebler Point in the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

Diffused light from snowfall is seen through trees along the Rufus Kiser Trail at the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

Diffused light from snowfall is seen through trees along the Rufus Kiser Trail at the Seminary Hill Natural Area.

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My Favorite Photos of 2015: October Sunset at Mount St. Helens

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Mount St. Helens appears to glow amid the landscape as the sunset casts an orange and pink hue on the mountain and clouds in late October.

It’s time to look back on my favorite photos that I shot this past calendar year, and there’s no better place to start than one of my favorite landscapes: that of the Mount St. Helens area.

I am privileged to live about an hour’s drive from the mountain which makes it easy to take a quick trip to a spot where fewer and fewer people converge this time of year. One October Sunday, I grabbed my camera and took off for the mountain, not knowing what lay in store for me that evening.

After spending some time at the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, I headed back down State Route 504 toward Castle Rock but stopped just a mile west of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s boundary.

That’s where I saw this, off in the distance:

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Looking directly west from about one mile west of the Elk Rock Viewpoint on State Route 504, I captured this at a focal length of about 100mm.

I decided to sit and wait for awhile, and it’s a good thing I did because I was then treated to a wonderful scene in which the sun peeked underneath the clouds.

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I moved a bit southwest and captured this, with the Toutle River flowing beneath the viewpoint on which I sat.

I realized that if the sunset was doing that to the clouds here, it must be illuminating the mountain pretty well. But my viewpoint didn’t have a mountain view, so I had to run to my car and jet up about a mile eastward back to the Elk Rock viewpoint.

I’m so glad I did.

With only minutes to spare, I arrived at the Elk Rock Viewpoint and stepped to the railing, where I shot a series of photos of the mountain with my zoom lens. But seeing the clouds boil over the mountain and the way the sun was illuminating them, I had to capture a wider shot.

Here it is.

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Mount St. Helens is seen to the right, with Mount Adams faintly visible in the distance off to the left as a vibrant sunset illuminates the National Volcanic Monument.

I’ve seen a few sunsets at the mountain, but I don’t think the scenery of this one —¬†especially in person — could be topped anytime soon. There were a few people with me, pointing and clicking away, getting similar shots of the mountain and valley below.

It was calm and quiet, and the burst of color and light only lasted about a total of four minutes after I arrived at Elk Rock, but I was so thankful to capture these images that convey the beauty of a landscape that was devastated by an eruption just 35 years ago, and is rapidly coming to life.

I don’t think life in that little corner of the globe has been more evident in my lifetime than that October night, and I am thankful to God that I had the opportunity to experience it in person and capture just a few glimpses of what I saw.

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The sunset fades over Mount St. Helens.

A momentous day for Lewis County’s evolving rail-to-trail

Leaves completely cover the Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna on a Saturday morning in autumn 2015.

Leaves completely cover the Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna on a Saturday morning in autumn 2015.

If you want to see economic development in west Lewis County over the next few years, all you have to do is follow the progress of the Willapa Hills Trail.

The WHiT, as I’ve previously referenced it here on the blog, is a 56-mile rails-to-trails corridor that is being rehabilitated for recreational use. Bicyclists, horseback riders, runners and walkers all have partaken in the joys of the trail, but most of it is still relatively untamed and untouched by many.

Very few partake in the sections of the trail in far west Lewis County for two major reasons, one of which is a direct result of the other: (1) some places along the trail require extensive work to repair major problems, thus rendering some sections largely inaccessible; and (2) the trail’s existence isn’t well-known because it’s not signed in most areas.

But things are changing, and today signaled a major milestone in building the WHiT up to a bona fide true recreational excursion. Two of the old railroad bridges that spanned the Chehalis River between Adna and Doty had washed out in a flood in 2007, creating major gaps along the trail that was still in a largely unimproved state. Today, nearly eight years to the day that flood hit — and numerous projects to improve the trail in other areas have been completed — two bridges built to replace those structures opened to the public, linking about 15 miles of trail from an area just west of Adna to Pe Ell.

This bridge, informally called the Spooner Bridge because of its proximity to Spooner Road near Adna, is one of two new bridges linking major sections of the Willapa Hills Trail.

This bridge, informally called the Spooner Bridge because of its proximity to Spooner Road near Adna, is one of two new bridges linking major sections of the Willapa Hills Trail.

I believe this is the biggest development the Willapa Hills Trail has seen in recent years, and it will draw people to parts of the trail they had never visited before to explore. It’s a lovely stretch, as the trail is crushed gravel and bikeable even on a road bike with wider tires. The scenery, especially in the autumn, is great.

It bears mentioning that Washington State Parks staff and administration have done a tremendous job administering the trail, patrolling it and ensuring rehabilitation on the trail is being done well.

The Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna hugs the Chehalis River and provides a beautiful backdrop for people using the trail.

The Willapa Hills Trail west of Adna hugs the Chehalis River and provides a beautiful backdrop for people using the trail.

It’s notable that this stretch is open because it connects very closely with Rainbow Falls State Park near Doty and Dryad. This park is a beautiful wooded area that contains several miles of trails, the biggest campground in west Lewis County and a view of the always-wonderful Rainbow Falls along the Chehalis River. It’s not a big waterfall but it looks fascinating from up close.

Rainbow Falls looks especially interesting when the Chehalis River is running low. Don't venture too closely, though.

Rainbow Falls looks especially interesting when the Chehalis River is running low. Don’t venture too closely, though.

Even if you’re not an outdoors lover or trail fanatic, you will be able to see from afar the economic development that will take place as a result of the work on the trail that continues to be done. Early next year, an unplanked trestle west of Adna (about a mile east of the Spooner bridge) will be redecked and opened for use, essentially connecting the trail from Chehalis to Pe Ell with only a crossing on State Route 6 three miles west of Chehalis to figure out.

More use of the WHiT can only mean more people finding out the beauty of our area. As I mentioned in a previous post, check out what the Banks-Vernonia Trail has done for those two towns in Oregon. The same can and will happen for Doty, Adna and especially Pe Ell — giving an economic shot in the arm to a region that will open those arms to welcome any and all comers.

Hope deferred? Place your hope in God

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That’s probably one of the biggest understatements in the Bible.

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen. When someone is hoping for good to occur in their lives — the “right one” to come along, a job, and in more dire cases that we see all too often, a reason to live — and what is hoped for does not occur, it produces devastating results.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, and I’d bet good money it makes the body sick too. Ever seen someone pining for an unrequited love? Worse yet, ever looked in the eyes of someone who barely subsists on the streets? In examples like these that I’ve seen, I can literally feel and see a physical sickness or extreme physical fatigue because of the loss of hope.

It is good to hope for a life partner, employment, place to live, hope to carry on, and in fact the Bible instructs us in many instances to let these desires be known to God.

Which carries me to my next point: What do we put our hope in? Who do we put our hope in? Do we trust the universe to let things fall into place? Do we put hope in people for the same reason?

We are ultimately instructed to cast all our cares upon God (1 Peter 5:7) and to put our hope solely in God (Psalm 39:7, Isaiah 40:31, Lamentations 3:25 among others). It is then and only then that we will see our situations permanently improve, as God is truly the only one that can change our situations.

Tonight I am praying for all my friends who are reading this who may be going through trials in which you feel your hope is deferred. The afore-mentioned verses came as a great comfort to me in a recent difficult time and I hope and pray that they bless you as well.