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EDITORIAL: City needs to push harder for sidewalk safety

It doesn’t take long to observe what some business owners on Columbia Boulevard in St. Helens perceive as a disaster waiting to happen: bicyclists and skateboarders traveling — often at high speeds — on the sidewalk.

One business owner expressed her concern after having watched a bicyclist nearly collide into a pregnant woman and child after the two exited her shop.

In less than 20 minutes of observation, we have witnessed as many as four bicyclists traveling on the sidewalk on Columbia Boulevard, mere feet from where pedestrians enter and exit businesses.

Regardless of whether you live in St. Helens, Scappoose or somewhere in between, knowledge of and adherence to Oregon’s bicycle laws and the laws specified within each municipality are necessary to avoid safety conflicts.

In fact, St. Helens City Ordinance 2687, and its amendments noted in 2780, specifically prohibit bicycling, skateboarding and rollerblading along the stretch of Columbia Boulevard where business owners have noted a concern.

Here are the specifics for areas within St. Helens where bicycling, skateboarding and rollerblading are prohibited by ordinance:

• Columbia Boulevard, from First Street to the railroad tracks

• St. Helens Street, from 13th Street to the railroad tracks

• First Street, from Columbia Boulevard to its southern terminus

• Strand Street, from Plaza Street to the southern terminus of Cowlitz Street

• South 3rd Street, from Columbia Boulevard south 116 feet

• St. Helens Street, from South 4th Street to River Street

• Cowlitz Street, from South 2nd Street to River Street

The city has done a solid job, in our opinion, of providing bicycle lanes. Columbia Boulevard is equipped with designated bicycle lanes, for instance, yet too many people are electing to use the sidewalk instead.

The prohibited areas are limited to pedestrian zones, leaving a wide variety of options available for bicyclists who want to avoid areas of high vehicular traffic. Alternative routes are available.

If it’s recreational opportunities being sought, there is the Phillip Barlow Memorial BMX Park in McCormick Park for those with a thirst for thrills. There is also the opportunity to venture through any of the city’s residential neighborhoods for casual rides.

We would like to see more police involvement for positive education surrounding bicycling in prohibited areas where sidewalk safety has been compromised, especially along the Columbia Boulevard, St. Helens Street and Olde Towne business corridors. We don’t believe citations are necessary at this point; instead, instruct and inform bicyclists and skateboarders of the rules, the reasons for the prohibitions and educate them on available alternatives.

Likewise, we encourage the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee when it next meets on Sept. 27 to discuss options relating to improving bicycle safety in these high-pedestrian zones. Yes, there are signs at some of the street locations, though we’ve found the signs are poorly positioned and difficult to read. It is doubtful many who violate the prohibitions are aware they even exist.

As a final note, Columbia County and neighboring Multnomah County offer ample avenues for more serious bicycle adventures, including off-road routes accessible from Rocky Point Road to well-known rides on Pittsburg Road and Smith Road. There is also Columbia County’s crown jewel of bike paths — the 24-mile long CZ Trail — for those seeking an ambitious trek.

Bicycling, skateboards and other modes of people-powered transportation should always be encouraged and accommodated, except at the expense of pedestrian safety. Please use designated lanes, leave the prohibited areas to pedestrians and brush up on applicable laws and rules to ensure everyone can enjoy our public places without fear of harm. And if you’re the parent of a child who bicycles and skateboards, remember it is your ultimate responsibility should that child injure a pedestrian.