Contact: Thomas Hottman
Dr. Glenn Gailis was pedal propelled Friday afternoon as he passed the corner of Upham Street and Oregon Avenue, where the roadways meet up with Prospect Street in Klamath Falls.
The area follows the path of the Oregon Avenue protected bike lane, which by summer 2018, will begin downtown, connect to Biehn Street, and eventually extend to use existing roads' right-of-way through Ninth Street and then through Oregon Avenue.
The 74-year-old Gailis, who serves as interim physician at Sky Lakes Wellness Center, keeps young partly through a riding schedule with routes that can reach as high as 50 to 60 miles, including the Oregon Avenue area. Gailis said he rides Oregon Avenue now, but feels safer knowing that plans for a protected bicycle lane are moving ahead.
“I think people will feel safer,” Gailis said, standing next to his bike. “A protected bike lane – It's been shown to be safer … certainly for a family with young children.”
Katherine Pope, program director for Sky Lakes Wellness Center and a force behind the project, shares Gailis' sentiment. Pope first rode the path in 2013, describing the experience of navigating fast-moving traffic on Oregon Avenue as "kind of nerve-wracking."
Pope is excited to be able to bike the route along with her nearly 2-year-old son, something she believes more people will be able to do safely once the lane is complete.
"That's one of the reasons we wanted to do it; it's so that kids could be out there," Pope said. "So everybody is able to ride a bike on this route."
The micro-surfacing project to create the buffered bike and walking path were originally planned for this summer, but moved to next summer for efficiency. It is slated to be the first project on the city's list for early spring 2018, according to Chuck Cox, streets division manager.
City Engineer Scott Souders presented updated plans for Klamath Falls City Council and staff Monday on the proposed path's progress.
Souders said the bike lane will be a cycle track, where both lanes will be located on one side of the street, buffered from vehicle traffic to encourage safe passage on the route.
One of the biggest adjustments to the project, he said, is a narrowing of an island where Upham Street and Oregon Avenue converge, and modified striping to that area.
The city has studied a three-way stop at the corner of Oregon Avenue and Biehn Street, that may be considered in the future.
“We've decided not to implement the three-way stop in the beginning just to kind of see how it operates and how it functions,” Souders said.
About 45 to 50 parking spaces currently not being regularly used could be eliminated with the project, said Cox.
“There's still more parking available on the side of the street than currently being used on that whole street,” Souders said. “We've been watching it for a year and a half now and there're very few people that are actually (parked) out there.”
Phase I of the project is funded with a $209,000 contribution by Cascade Health Alliance to Sky Lakes Wellness Center. Sky Lakes Medical Center also reimbursed the city of Klamath Falls $35,000 for consulting services to design the project.
Tayo Akins, chief executive officer and president of Klamath County's Comprehensive Care Organization, Cascade Health Alliance, hopes the contribution to the project especially impacts members of CHA who live along the path of the project.
“My stakeholders, which includes my board members, wanted to do something unique for the community,” Akins said. “We're not trying to change the city, but hopefully the goal is trying to enhance the city. If we can make it safe for people to bike, that would be great.”
The bike lane contribution is one of a total $1.2 million CHA has made since 2016 in commemoration of the company's 25th anniversary.
Akins emphasized CHA's interest in the project is also inspired by the late Dr. Stephanie Van Dyke, who helped spur the project.
“We believe in the mission and obviously, it's driven by the late Stephanie Van Dyke. We actually are doing it in her honor."
Blue Zones Project
Jessie DuBose, project lead for Blue Zones Project in Klamath Falls, believes the bike corridor will help clear a path for a healthier community.
“This is definitely an amazing built environment project,” DuBose said.
“The environment we build to function in, the way we construct our streets, our sidewalks, the width of our sidewalk crossings … and whether or not there're buffers or medians around there, can really encourage or discourage active transportation.
“We try to make the healthy choice the easy choice, so we'd rather have our built environment encourage active transportation,” DuBose said.
While Blue Zones Project doesn't offer financial support, the initiative does seek out money for projects as well as assist with planning, DuBose said.
“This is one of our marquis projects,” DuBose said. “What this really represents is very different fields – GIS, sociology, health, engineering – all coming together to one, have a positive health intervention in a neighborhood that needs it, and two, create a really positive change to the built environment that has documented and positive environmental impacts.”
DuBose acknowledged concerns have been voiced about the project, from some who live in the vicinity of the route, to City Councilman Bill Adams.
Adams voted against a contract for design services for the project, and has been outspoken against the path.
“Why have we turned into such a nanny state that we have to have protected bike lanes?” Adams asked in a March 8 council meeting.
DuBose said:“It's always important to listen to those concerns, and I think the planning has really tried to incorporate those."