Editorial: A welcome bow to bike safety in Orchard Road project

September 21, 2011

The Hood River County Board of Commissioners provided a measure of closure Monday for the long-standing question of whether or not to vacate part of Orchard Road.

Now the port can move forward its plans to shift the runway, in keeping with FFA requirements.

The county's approval is laden with conditions, partly to meet the concerns of orchardists in the area. These concerns certainly needed to be addressed; the fruit grows all year long and the substantial pear and apple sections in that corner of the valley are part of the orchard economy that is so critical to Hood River Valley.

It was heartening, too, that the commission added a condition regarding safe non-motorized traffic affected by the Orchard Road vacation.

As Ben McCarty reports on page A1, the list of conditions includes this one: Shoulder improvements must be made to Tucker Road to support increased bike and pedestrian traffic.

The commission heard the concerns of the cycling community, who were worried about the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians who would no longer be able to travel east and west along Orchard Road. Vacation of Orchard creates two dead-ends, forcing non-motorized traffic onto busy Tucker Road - or other more circuitous routes between Hood River and scenic points west and south.

Throughout the protracted Orchard Road discussion, it was tough to balance bicycle safety along one stretch of highway with orchardists' needs and the demands of the FFA.

In setting the shoulder improvement condition, commission invoked its own Transportation Master Plan, which calls for widening Highway 281 (Tucker Road).

Questions remain, however, on how this will be paid for. Port Marketing Director Mike Doke said the port might only be responsible for improvements along port property, but grant funding is available for these type of upgrades. Doke, who is himself an avid cyclist, said the port is sensitive to traffic connectivity needs, and wants to be a partner with the county as well as the agency with the final say on Tucker Road improvements, Oregon Department of Transportation.

The road vacation decision will certainly mean a significant increase, at times, of people cycling and walking along Tucker Road.

At a recent port meeting, neighbor Marian McNew spoke of the "incessant traffic" on Tucker Road, competing with as many as 50-100 cyclists a day during peak days in the summer.

FFA had a concern over potential hazards caused by a loop road or other feature to accommodate bicycle through-traffic on Orchard. Air safety is also vital, but it didn't seem unlikely that a loop road would yield assemblies of people near the runway. Bicyclists tend to keep moving.

Speaking of moving, see page A7 for articles on three upcoming bicycle initiatives in the Hood River valley. These events bear attention themselves, and also point to the underlying motivation in encouraging multi-agency attention to Tucker Road safety improvements: Bicycling is an increasingly popular activity in Hood River County. People ride competitively, for exercise and for transportation.

In addition, this beautiful valley is an ever more popular tourist destination for people who ride, making assurance of bicycling safety a human priority as well as an economic one.

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