Bike lane plan causes angst on The Avenue
Thursday, January 31, 2013
WENATCHEE — A city proposal to repaint the lines on a part of busy North Wenatchee Avenue to make more room for bicycles and less room for cars has left members of the public stuck in the middle of the road.
Strong opposition and support were both represented Wednesday at a city-hosted open house to discuss the proposal, which would reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to two from Fifth Street north to Miller Street to make room for bicycle lanes and landscaping.
The .81-mile stretch of North Wenatchee Avenue between Fifth and Miller streets carries more than 11,000 vehicles a day, according to city estimates.
That includes semi trucks, who choose the straight, cross-town Wenatchee Avenue route because it’s hard for their southbound big rigs to make a tight right turn onto Fifth Street and then a left onto Chelan Avenue — the intended cross-town route for trucks.
The Fifth-to-Miller portion of the avenue was last paved in 1998 and is overdue for resurfacing, city officials say. Repaving and other work will happen this summer, regardless of what the city decides to do with lane configuration, officials say.
— Christine Pratt, World staff
A decision on how to repaint the lines is only a tiny part of a $927,000 overhaul of that stretch of road already planned for this summer. The other option would be to preserve the current, four-lane configuration.
More than 80 people signed the attendance sheets at the open house. Many more didn’t sign in, a city official said. Both business owners and a strong contingent of bicycle riders were present.
“My first reaction when I saw the plan was that with Pybus (public market) coming on, it was a wonderful way of expanding the downtown to include the businesses in this area,” said bicyclist Cora Sturzl, who coowns Chinook Music Service in East Wenatchee.
She and other cyclists said they’d welcome the plan for the increased bicycle access to businesses and restaurants on the north avenue.
Many business owners who attended flatly oppose the change.
“I don’t know why they’d want bicycles on the avenue when they’ve got the (Apple Capital Recreation) Loop Trail,” said Barry Bilderback, co-owner of both the Buzz Inn restaurant and the Joe’s Log Cabin tavern. “I think you’re asking for trouble. It will create more traffic congestion, and that’s not good for business owners.”
Gary Owen, a city engineer and spokesman for the project, said the proposal stems from a general public desire for city engineers to consider all forms of transportation, including bicycles and foot travel, when designing city streets and traffic patterns.
Feedback, pro and con, was about even at Wednesday’s open house, he said, but added that he’d spent most of that day fielding phone calls and emails from citizens who flatly opposed not only the proposal, but bike riders in general.
“I’ve had pretty much nothing but non-supporting feedback all day today,” he said. “Most were citing congestion and the Loop Trail nearby.”
Work this summer will include road resurfacing, improved curb-access ramps at intersections, better signing and improvements to storm drains and water mains. Grants will fund most of the cost. The remaining $238,000 will come from matching funds from the city, the presentation says. Restriping the lanes, one way or the other, would happen anyway and is included in the cost.
City councilmembers who make up the city’s Transportation Benefit District Board said they thought the reconfiguration could work, but told Owen to see what the public thinks about it.
Both he and Dan Frazier, director of public works operations for the city, said the proposal is just a concept. It would help tie that area of the avenue into a greater subarea plan for the city. But nothing’s been decided yet.
“I’m not interested in shoving anything down anybody’s throat,” Owen said. “We need to go through the process of considering everything before it’s a done deal.”
The City Council will ultimately decide the proposal’s fate. Councilmembers will likely discuss the proposal at one of their upcoming sessions, Feb. 14 or Feb. 21, Owen said.
The public still has time to comment on the proposal by contacting Owen at 888-3204 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the city website, wenatcheewa.gov.
Christine Pratt: 665-1173
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