Bend's Stay Healthy Streets Could use a Pick-Me-Up | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Bend's Stay Healthy Streets Could use a Pick-Me-Up

With limited resources available to the City, how safe can Greenways be? And how long will the Stay Healthy Streets initiative last?

A big part of living in Central Oregon is the great outdoors. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, organizations in the state and city worked to make sure that we still had some access to these great amenities. With access to National Forests and State Parks closed, leaders looked at alternatives to provide people safe escapes from their home and exercise, all which benefit mental and physical health.

On April 21, the City of Bend began putting in temporary traffic controls to discourage traffic and create pop-up Stay Healthy Streets through already-established or planned Neighborhood Greenways on NE 6th Street and NW 15th Street, as well as "pop up neighborhood greenway routes" on Roosevelt, Centennial, and Hartford in Bend. Bend Bikes, Bend Park and Recreation District, city transportation officials and others contributed to the effort.

click to enlarge Bend's Stay Healthy Streets Could use a Pick-Me-Up
Nicole Vulcan
Bend Bikes partnered with the City of Bend to install bilingual informational signs on streets designated as "Stay Healthy Streets," including NE 6th and NW 15th, which are also the City's first Neighborhood Greenways.

The Greenways, a part of the City's Transportation System Plan, are intended to allow people to ride bikes, run, walk or jog at safe distances from one another. It is also supposed to limit motor vehicles to create more of a safe space for these recreational users.

"We saw this as an opportunity to really showcase what the neighborhood greenways could become," says LeeAnn O'Neill, president of the bike advocacy organization Bend Bikes. "We see the Stay Healthy Streets as an essential for mental health so folks can get outside safely, but also to provide a model of how the Greenways could be all the time, if implemented and enforced effectively."

And while the Greenways are meant to provide safe activity, there are still some concerns around the level of vehicle traffic.

"The reality is that many vehicles still travel too fast on those routes, and the Greenways are still being used as cut-throughs to avoid major streets like Reed Marked and 3rd," added O'Neill. "This is what Greenways should be even in the best of times, but what we are seeing is that with fewer vehicles, people are actually going even faster through these areas, so we have been advocating for enforcement and moving barriers further into the travel lane."

According to O'Neill, the City of Bend didn't initially plan to have any extra signage, other than big orange ones that read "Road Closed to Through Traffic" and cones to lay out the other temporary elements to the streets. But Bend Bikes offered to help with additional signage, cost-sharing and partnering with the City to add 50 lawn signs, 10 signs explaining social distancing and more than 15 maps to help users navigate the Greenways. The signs are marked in both English and Spanish. Volunteers helped install these signs over a four-day period. 

"It is the City's responsibility to ensure the safety of the Greenways and the Stay Healthy Streets, and when residents make their voices heard, it demonstrates to the City that resources should be dedicated to that end." -LeeAnn O'Neill, president of Bend Bikes

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"We felt it was imperative to add these elements to help make the Stay Healthy Streets initiative successful, to lay the groundwork for success for the Greenways and other multi-modal infrastructure."

Other areas have implemented similar pathways for exercise and have even found alternatives for safety resources. In Portland, city officials are installing 80+ barrels to help prevent motor vehicle traffic from entering designated safe streets and make them a priority for walkers, bikers and other recreational users, Willamette Week reported. 

City officials told the Source that the reason for the immediate lack of additional safety resources, like barricades or extra signage, is due to construction projects already underway, and the usual construction season, which starts in June.

Currently, the City's website states that "signage will be limited, as much of the city’s signing and barricade inventory is being utilized to support COVID-19 testing and other construction projects. Not all intersections or accesses will receive City-led signage; signage will be prioritized for routes with higher through traffic."

The City will not add any new Stay Healthy streets, and O'Neill said it's her understanding that the Stay Healthy Streets will only be in place until the end of May, so the City can reallocate signage to different projects.

"As a small grassroots advocacy group, Bend Bikes has been encouraging residents and users of the greenways to ask for better enforcement with respect to speed and through traffic. My understanding is that David Abbas (city Transportation & Mobility Director) is planning to reach out to Bend PD to see if there is capacity to help provide enforcement in a way that feels appropriate for these times," O'Neill told the Source. "It is the City's responsibility to ensure the safety of the Greenways and the Stay Healthy Streets, and when residents make their voices heard, it demonstrates to the City that resources should be dedicated to that end."

Robin Lewis, a transportation engineer for the City, has been a large force behind implementing Stay Healthy Streets in Bend and a big reason why this was even possible (almost single-handedly, as O'Neill put it). According to Lewis, herself and Abbas will meet Wednesday to discuss if there are any other options to make safety changes to these streets, but she says using something like barrels seems unlikely.

Lewis is happy to see that people are using the Stay Healthy Streets and that it's adding something positive during a time when people need it. But that might just be a silver lining, as she's not confident we'll see pop-ups like this in the near future post-pandemic.

"I'm not sure. I think that with the budget cuts and everything I don't think we'll be able to support that," Lewis told the Source. "It was a good way to get people to realize that there are all these great trail connections that most people probably weren't aware of."

Ariel Mendez, a Bend Park and Recreation District board member, also shared his thoughts on the current state of the Stay Healthy Streets initiative and overall safety of using streets in Bend.

"Resources are short, but the main shortcoming is that the project is not designed to create a sufficiently safe space for people to walk, roll and bike on these streets. It doesn't make sense to treat all street users the same when they have different needs," said Mendez. 
"Overall this is a fantastic program worth supporting. Even though I worry it will not meet its stated objective of allowing people to safely distance while walking, rolling or biking on streets, some drivers are slowing down," added Mendez. "To the extent that drivers are slowing down, this project shows that you can promote safety with basically a single staff person's efforts, some traffic cones, and a few hundred bucks worth of signs."

Mendez mentions that car crashes are the number one injury death among kids in the U.S. and that on average, St. Charles reports a person hospitalized with traumatic injuries due to car crashes every three days. Speed is the main factor here and can determine most of the time whether or not that person lives.

"Maybe people will consider that future Bend doesn't need new ways to cram more cars in, it just needs fewer cars," finished Mendez.

Isaac Biehl

Isaac is living proof that "Iowa Nice" is actually a thing. A journalism graduate from Iowa State University, he regularly writes about music, the outdoors and the arts/culture scene. Isaac loves the Trail Blazers, backpacking and a good IPA. He plans to one day win Survivor. Your move, Jeff Probst...
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