Bike friendly: City and citizens work together toward special designation

January 2015 Posted in Community, News

BikesBy Steve Ritchie 

Momentum is building for the citizen volunteer-driven effort to make Silverton a “Bicycle Friendly Community.”

At its meeting on Jan. 5, the Silverton City Council voted to accept the “Silverton Bike Report” and approved beginning the application process to obtain “Bicycle Friendly Community” designation, which is awarded to qualifying cities and towns around the country by the League of American Bicyclists.

The city council unanimous vote authorizes Jason Gottgetreu, Silverton Community Development Director, to prepare the lengthy application with the assistance of volunteers from the Friends of Eastside Trails, an advocacy group that has been working on bicycle-related issues with the city, the Silverton Chamber of Commerce and other organizations since the fall of 2013.

There are currently 10 other Oregon cities that have obtained the bike-friendly designation: Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, Ashland, Salem, Bend, Gresham, Albany, Beaverton and Sisters. Silverton would be the second smallest Oregon community on the list in terms of population – after Sisters (pop. 1,925).

Charles Baldwin, president of the Friends of Eastside Trails, says the economic development opportunities provided by bike tourism are one of the key drivers behind the push to obtain bicycle friendly designation.

“We learned that about $80 million is spent by bike tourists in the Willamette Valley (annually),” Baldwin said. “When we asked how much of that Silverton is getting, the answer was probably not much.”

Baldwin added the data shows the average bike tourist spends about $80 per day when visiting an area to ride.

If Silverton was able to attract even 100 cyclists per week from out of the area, it would pump over $32,000 a month into the local economy.

Obtaining the official designation from the League of American Bicyclists would be a big boost in marketing Silverton to avid cyclists.

Given the potential economic impact, the Silverton Chamber of Commerce has been an enthusiastic partner with the city and the Friends of Eastside Trails. Baldwin said the Friends group is currently “working with the Chamber of Commerce to produce a map with suggested bicycle routes around Silverton,” and, once it is completed, the chamber will be sending that map and marketing to all of the bike clubs in the state.

While still very new, the Friends of Eastside Trails is already showing that a passionate and organized advocacy group can have an impact on city policy and planning.

The group had its genesis in three retired but very active men – Baldwin, Ed Barraclough and Mike Murphy – getting together over coffee to trade stories and mull over how they might focus their energy and time.

Their initial idea was to find the long-abandoned rail line between Silver Falls and Silverton, and see if they could create a bike trail that would be safer and more enjoyable for those who wanted to ride to Silver Falls State Park.

After a lot of time and research, they realized that approach was simply not feasible, but then learned about the growing programs to promote bicycle tourism.

At the time the group was forming, Barraclough had recently returned from an extended stay in Colorado, where he became an avid cyclist. Jumping on his bike here for a ride wasn’t the same experience, he said, because of the unsafe conditions for cyclists sharing the road with large, fast-moving trucks and cars.

Barraclough and Baldwin said one of the group’s major goals is to improve bike safety, and to do that, they will be working with the school district to develop “safe-to-school bike routes,” improving signage for cyclists, and, with the police department, developing a safety brochure.

Silverton has few marked bike lanes, but Gottgetreu said the city has obtained a federal grant which will allow it to create a bike lane and signage on South Water Street between Pioneer Village and downtown.

While the grant has been approved, the city has not yet received the funds, and Gottgetreu believes that the work won’t begin until probably September 2016.

Still, the momentum is clearly growing.

Bike racks have recently been installed downtown, an amenity that will help businesses, a number of which have already received bike-friendly merchant designation by Travel Oregon. The bike parking was funded with Urban Renewal monies. Even more exciting to the group was the public response to their sign-up sheets placed around town.

With a short message about the Friends group and a request for interested people to sign up, more than 200 added their names and email addresses within a week.

“We were absolutely stunned,” Baldwin said about the response.

Another positive development for the group is that they have received support from the Silverton City Council and the city manager for the creation of a walking and cycling trail from The Oregon Garden to the Pettit property and around the lake. This will be included in the new development plan for the Pettit property.

Those interested in getting more information on the ongoing work of the Friends of the Eastside Trails should contact Charles Baldwin at 530-368-0800 or somerset.baldwin@gmail.com.

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