Only about 7.5 percent of Ashland's population is comfortable with the current bicycle network, but if bike routes were improved, about 60 percent of residents might take to cycling regularly, a Portland engineering firm estimates in a recent study.
The researchers found there are three types of cyclists in Ashland, as in Portland and many other cities nationwide, according to the Oct. 14 study by Kittelson & Associates Inc.
The first type, which makes up only about .5 percent of the population, is "strong and fearless," and will bike regardless of road conditions. Then there are "enthused and confident" bikers, about 7 percent of residents, who are comfortable with the current bike network.
The largest group of cyclists, about 60 percent of the population, are "interested but concerned" about the safety of the existing bike network.
"There appears to be a need to provide a multi-level cycling system that caters to multiple types of cyclists, if there is to be a significant change in shifting more people to cycling," the report states.
The study lists several ways the city can cater to the concerned group of cyclists, and city officials plan to heed the advice, in order to encourage more people to bike, said Ashland Planning Commission Chairwoman Pam Marsh.
"Many residents are really wanting to bicycle, but are aware of safety issues, especially those people who are parents," she said. "A lot of traffic we generate in the city is from parents ferrying their kids around, so if we can begin to address their concerns, hopefully we can get more people bicycling."
The study recommends creating buffered, protected or separated bike lanes on busy streets and providing more cross-town bike routes that don't involve cycling on Main Street, Siskiyou Boulevard or Ashland Street.
"The existing cyclists, made up of the 'strong and fearless' and 'enthused and confident' groups, prefer direct, unimpeded, quick routes that tend to be along the major road network, whereas the 'interested but concerned' group is less interested in speed and tend to seek greater comfort and an enhanced sense of safety," the report states.
City officials are researching alternative transportation options in Ashland as they remake the city's Transportation System Plan, a yearlong process.
The city will begin improving the bicycle network as soon as financing is available, said Jim Olson, the city's engineering services manager.
The city is encouraging residents to comment on the study and the proposed bike network improvements. People can visit www.ashlandtsp.com to take a travel questionnaire and submit other comments.
Marsh said she sees improving the bicycle network as an economic way to significantly reduce traffic in the city.
"You really can get a lot for your money, in terms of alternative transportation, by investing in bike pathways," she said.
Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com.