A cyclist rides through the tunnel on the Larkspur Trail

By Katy Bryce, for Commute Options

Like many of us in central Oregon, good friends visited my husband and me this summer to enjoy everything that Bend has to offer. Each time we went out to dinner, or to an event, or to go to a park, we all hopped on our bikes (the littlest on a trail-a-bike) and rode bikes to our destination. Our visitors would say, “This is amazing, being able to go so many places on trails and bike paths!”

Parks and trails help make cities more livable, not only by creating natural “green” spaces, but also by providing important transportation choices. Urban trails are a critical part of a healthy transportation system because they allow residents and visitors to access off-street connections between neighborhoods, business districts, schools and parks. In terms of community “livability”, the ability to avoid busy streets while biking or walking to destinations ranks high on the list.

Bend Park and Recreation District (BPRD) is currently working on an updated comprehensive plan that will help shape Bend. Through a variety of surveys, questionnaires, focus groups and public meetings, BPRD discovered that soft and hard surface trails topped the list of park facilities most important to residents. According to Michelle Healy, Planning and Park Services Director for BPRD, “there is a strong emphasis on trails not just for recreation uses, but for transportation purposes as well. People like to use trails to get around.”

Residents also provided very insightful feedback on how they get to and from parks and recreation facilities. In an online questionnaire completed by 1400 residents, many respondents said that they are willing to walk 10 minutes or more to get to a park or recreation facility. However, the biggest barriers or problems that people encounter while walking to a park are bad intersections that are difficult to cross. Through this data, BPRD reaffirmed that improving walking and biking infrastructure throughout our city makes it easier for people to access public spaces, as well as businesses and services.

Planning, building and maintaining infrastructure that makes walking and biking safer and more convenient depends on collaboration and partnerships by many agencies. BPRD is working with the City of Bend, Oregon Department of Transportation, utilities and irrigation districts to not only create and improve trails, but to improve access to parks and facilities. They will first identify intersections and streets that may pose challenges for walkers or bikers, then work together to improve those areas.

Healy says “Trails continue to be identified as a high priority by the community. People are looking to trails to provide recreational and fitness opportunities, as well as a means to more easily commute around town by foot or bike. BPRD is working closely with other agencies and community partners to explore opportunities to provide trails that link people directly with key destinations, such a parks, schools, and businesses throughout Bend.”

Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director, Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit www.commuteoptions.org

Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. www.katybryce.com