Bend is a recreation-focused city populated with a healthy number of alternative-transportation enthusiasts, especially cyclists. For these and other reasons, the city is right to tailor its infrastructure accordingly. The addition of bike lanes, bike boulevards and those share-the-road arrows known as “sharrows” sends a useful message that streets don’t exist solely for the use of people in cars and trucks.
Given this focus on sharing and peaceful coexistence, the city’s continued sponsorship of no-car “Open Streets” events is odd, not to mention counterproductive. Commute Options, the city’s Open Streets contractor, has filed plans for the next publicly funded road shutdown, to take place two months from now on a roughly rectangular course just north of the Colorado-Arizona couplet.
The city pays Commute Options $45,000 to stage two Open Streets events per year, which means that Bend residents will cough up $5,625 per hour for the privilege of not driving on portions of Delaware, Staats, Hill and Georgia between noon and 4 p.m. on May 13. People who live on those streets will be encouraged to park on adjacent streets so as not to create problems.
The impact of any four-hour event, for good or ill, is bound to be modest. It’s true, meanwhile, that Open Streets events enjoy support among alternative-transportation/anti-car advocates. Still, it’s money badly spent.
Rather than patting themselves on the back for supporting environmentally and socially commendable causes, city councilors should be asking themselves whether they’re using the public’s money effectively. Does it really make sense to spend $22,500 on an alternative-transportation event that preaches to the anti-car choir even as it subtly alienates the very people whose support the city really needs?
Those other people are the ones who drive cars and trucks, and they might think better of cyclists, pedestrians and so on if they weren’t treated as pariahs on their own streets and at their own expense. There’s an in-your-face quality to Open Streets that simply isn’t useful if the city’s goal is to encourage respectful coexistence by motorists, cyclists and others.
When the city’s current contract with Commute Options expires, the council should consider spending the $45,000 that now funds Open Streets events on something more productive. How about additional bike-lane striping?