Benton County officials discuss bicycling, related safety issues
BENTONVILLE — The popularity of bicycling in Northwest Arkansas has caught the attention of Benton County officials, who acknowledge they’re just now considering how to respond.
The question of bicycling on county roads was raised Monday during a town hall meeting hosted by County Judge Barry Moehring in Gentry. Shawn Hunter of Gentry asked Moehring and Chief Deputy Meyer Gilbert about the legal status of bicycles on county roads. Moehring said county government needs to be more aware of the growing number of bicycles on roads after Gilbert explained bicycle riders have the same rights as motorists.
“The bike culture that started in Bentonville and Rogers is growing and spreading to other parts of the county,” Moehring said. “It’s bringing in people and economic development. It’s an issue we’ve started talking about and one we’re going to have to address.”
Hunter rides her bike on city streets but avoids major thoroughfares such as
Arkansas 59 and other roads linking Gentry to Siloam Springs, where she works.
“I won’t ride on 59 because the shoulders are so dirty I’m afraid I’ll get a flat,” she said. “I have ridden on the back ways, through Dawn Hill, but those are so narrow it’s too dangerous. It was a little bit scary for me.”
How the county responds to bicycling will be a longterm issue, Moehring said.
“I think within the next few years we will have to work on ways to accommodate bicycles,” he said. “The law is that bikes have equal rights to the roads. We need to recognize that fact and the fact that the bike culture is helping our economy.”
Moehring has spoken with Gentry Mayor Kevin Johnston about bike trails, and Johnston said his city is working within its budget and trying to promote cooperative efforts involving other cities on the west side of the county.
“There are some things we plan to do with our own resources, regardless of the participation of the others, but the ultimate goal is to get everybody to work together and to get everybody connected,” Johnston said.
Hunter has worked with the city to promote biking
safety in Gentry, and Johnston said the city has gotten permission from the state Highway and Transportation Department to use the Arkansas 59 Spur and Arkansas 59 Business routes in the city as shared roads with signs and striping alerting motorists to the presence of bicycles. The city is working on plans to mark bike routes along other city streets that tie in to those state roads, he said.
“We’ll do it a piece at a time as we can afford it,” he said.
Centerton Mayor Bill Edwards said he’s aware of regional plans and proposals to expand biking and hiking trails across the county, following the model of the Razorback Greenway linking major cities in Benton and Washington counties. Centerton is working to add trails and bike paths, especially in newly developing areas, he said.
“They have a plan at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning website for what they’re calling the Heritage Trail that runs along Highway 72 over toward Gravette,” Edwards said. “But that’s all in
the future. What we’re doing is as we’re putting in new subdivisions and new developments we’re requiring them to donate right of way for trails. We would like to be able to connect to the west side and to Bentonville. We have a connection to Bentonville now along Arkansas 102, but we’d like a nicer one for folks than having to ride their bikes on that busy highway.”
Moehring said he’s uncertain what can or will be done along the 1,400 miles of county roads — 800 miles of paved roads and 600 miles of dirt roads. The county’s budget doesn’t provide anything for adding pavement to roads for bike paths, he said.
“Laying down three more feet of asphalt on all of our roads is not economically feasible,” Moehring said. “We don’t have the money to do that. That being said, this is exactly the kind of problem most communities wish they had. We have to find ways to address problems created by new economic activity and new recreational activity among our people. These are great problems to have. As far as what to do, we’re starting to ask that question of people who have a lot more experience in this than we do.”
A sign advises motorists to give cyclists space when passing Saturday along Y City Road in Benton County between Gentry and Decatur.