Have you ever had the joy of using bicycle infrastructure that is better than anything you’d previously seen or imagined? We had this delightful experience this past summer when the City of Hillsboro finished up its major road project on NE Jackson School Road.
Prior to the project, this was a clogged two-lane roadway, with dangerous ditches bordering the road — no sidewalks on sections, and no bike lanes. It’s a road we would never have used for biking or walking and always avoided.
When construction began, I expected a road-widening project to add car lanes. I had no idea the project would give priority to bike riders and walkers and give us a protected cycle track. Flashing beacon crosswalks were also added, along with a traffic-calming roundabout, and improved lighting.
If you have never experienced infrastructure like this: it’s amazing! Cycling (and walking) is comfortable and pleasant, a complete joy to use.
This newly improved road has quickly become a favorite place for us to ride. It also appears to be popular with the community. Perhaps the most telling metric for the success of the improvements is that property owners along the road had trick-or-treaters for the very first time: kids were finally safe enough to walk from house to house!
As we’ve enjoyed this infrastructure, I wonder how it came to be here, and who made it happen. Whom can I thank? I know it didn’t just fall out of the sky, but surely took years of behind-the-scenes work. What responsibility do I have to participate in those processes, to make, preserve, and improve such facilities for my children and future generations?
With these questions in mind, I had the pleasure of talking with Pat Ribellia, who was the planning director for the city of Hillsboro from 2006 to 2012, and Don Odermott who has served the city Hillsboro for 28 years, including about 15 years as the head of Transportation Planning and Policy. They confirmed that the Jackson School Road project has been many years in the making.
“Sometimes it takes a champion”
My biggest question was: how did the awesome bike infrastructure get included in this project? Odermott explained that over the past three decades, “the nature of the bike solution has evolved.” In his career of 35+ years in engineering design, the norm started with no bike lanes, then four foot bike lanes, then five and six foot wide bike lanes, and then buffered bike lanes.
Now it’s six foot lanes plus a two-foot buffer and elevated/separated cycle tracks. A real evolution in cycling infrastructure. “Sometimes it takes a champion,” Odermott said. And in Hillsboro, “the largest credit for that goes to our retired assistant city manager, Rob Dixon, who really led the vision for all of us that we all rallied around that has now made what we call cycle tracks, our city standard for bike treatment.”
Odermott speculated that Hillsboro has “probably built more cycle tracks now than…any jurisdiction in the Portland region over the last 10 years.” Wherever cycle tracks are a good fit, that’s now the “go to” cycling solution in Hillsboro.
For me, it’s a revelation of how great cycling infrastructure can be, and how a cycling advocate in city leadership can make cycling infrastructure dreams a reality. Previously, I wouldn’t have had the vision or the guts to suggest infrastructure like this. Looking at the road prior to construction, I would have thought, “there isn’t room,” “property owners will be angry,” “it would be way too expensive.”
Now, after riding this, I look at every other road in my community differently. I have a vision for what can be, even when it looks challenging or impossible. And I want to get more of that vision (vacation to Amsterdam?) so that I don’t stop short when it comes to future advocacy opportunities. Better cycling infrastructure really is possible.
In this time of thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for all the folks behind-the-scenes that made this project a reality. We’ll be thanking you in our hearts every time we ride.
Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org