Olympia will create its first “bicycle corridor” where bike riders rule the road.
The pilot project calls for a nearly 2-mile corridor between Lions Park on Wilson Street Southeast and Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia.
The east-west route will run along Seventh Avenue, then move north to Fifth Avenue before cutting back down to Seventh Avenue.
The corridor will not replace standard bike lanes. Instead, bicyclists will ride in the travel lanes with other vehicles, but will have priority on the route.
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In addition to pavement markings, the city will install signs that identify the corridor and relay directional information.
City officials say the project comes in response to community demand for safe bicycling options in the downtown core. The bike corridor is intended to serve a wider range of riders, including families with children.
“These are not a substitute for bike lanes,” said Sophie Stimson, senior planner, at a study session March 17 with the Olympia City Council. “They are meant to complement the bike lane network.”
The route was chosen because of its lower volume of daily traffic compared to busier roads — less than 300 vehicles a day with an average speed of 24 mph, according to the city.
Implementation will begin later this year and extend into early 2016. Estimated cost is $360,000, according to the city.
Other routes were considered for the pilot project, including one along Washington Street that ended at the Olympia Farmer’s Market. The goal is to eventually build a network of these bike-friendly boulevards across the city.
The pilot project will require the construction of crossing paths for bicycles and pedestrians at the median on Plum Street. Seventh Avenue will be turned into a one-way road for westbound drivers near Adams Street. The city will remove 19 parking stalls near that Adams Street intersection.
City officials have acknowledged the need to raise awareness about the project.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum suggested a series of events this summer to gauge interest and familiarize the public with the concept. One idea is to close down streets on a Sunday afternoon and let people ride along proposed bike corridors.
“My own concern is that there isn’t a marketing piece in that budget as it’s presented,” Buxbaum said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The concept of a boulevard for bicyclists has been simmering in Olympia for several years. Jim Lazar, who chaired the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee in the 1990s, said it’s good to see the project coming to fruition.
During nice weather, Lazar bikes from southeast Olympia to his job near the Capitol, and still rides recreationally on city and county roads. He says bicycle corridors have the potential to free up valuable parking, reduce carbon emissions and promote physical fitness.
“The experience in other places is that this has encouraged more cycling and has gotten people off of their butts, out of their cars and onto their bikes,” he said. “It’s an easy way to get around that’s inexpensive, and you can always find a place to park.”
Bicycle corridors have flourished in other cities including Portland, where the concept is called a neighborhood greenway. There are 59 miles of greenways in Portland, according to the city, and about 80 percent of residents live within a half-mile of one.