Benton County of­fi­cials dis­cuss bi­cy­cling, re­lated safety is­sues

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

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.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

A sign ad­vises mo­torists to give cy­clists space when pass­ing Sat­ur­day along Y City Road in Benton County be­tween Gen­try and De­catur.

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