Newell, cyclists clash over new ordinance

PARKERSBURG -Area bike enthusiasts expressed disappointment with a new city ordinance that would allow bike riding on sidewalks along a stretch of Juliana Street.

The ordinance allowing sidewalk biking from Second Street to the historic district along Juliana passed a first reading Tuesday by Parkersburg City Council, but not until after several biking enthusiasts and members of the city’s Bike Advisory Board complained the ordinance would create an unsafe situation along the busy road. They also complained it would force serious cyclists to use the sidewalk instead of the road.

In return, Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell expressed frustration over the board’s lack of forward motion on creating new bike paths in the city.

“I tried three years ago to create spokes off of the Little Kanawha connector, and they complained saying that was something they were doing,” he said. “Three years later and it still hasn’t been done.”

Newell said his intent with the ordinance was to give tourists in the downtown area a route where they could bike to an established bike path in the historic district.

“I’m thinking about the family of four who want to ride their bikes from the Blennerhassett Hotel,” he said. “I’m not going to force them to ride in the street.”

When Councilman J.R. Carpenter made a motion to send the ordinance to the Bike Advisory Board for review before approval, Newell said the board already had taken too long in other areas of consideration.

“Could you set a time limit on that? I only have four years left, and the next mayor might not be as supporting of biking,” Newell said at the meeting.

The motion was defeated and the ordinance passed its first reading.

Newell later clarified, saying he did not mean it as a criticism of the bike board, but instead wanted more forward motions on plans. Newell also renewed a call for the board to present city council with a comprehensive biking plan for the city instead of addressing it in a piecemeal fashion.

Councilwoman Kim Coram is a member of the bike board and is an advocate for biking and hiking trails. She has spoken on the topic at a state and national level and has worked to map trails for Wood and other counties.

“The purpose of the bike board, we were to be used for planning, and we were never used for this route,” along Juliana, she said Friday.

Coram said the state’s sidepath law requires cyclists to use marked bicycle paths whenever they are available. When the ordinance was first drafted she asked city attorney Joe Santer to include language specifying the route from Second Street to the historic district on Juliana was not considered a bike path, allowing riders the option of biking in the street along those blocks.

Newell said the ordinance was altered to specify riders are “allowed” to use the sidewalks, but not required. The state placed signs along the street saying pedestrians must share the sidewalks with bikes.

But Coram said that means a city ordinance supersedes state law, something she thinks could set a national precedence.

Bike enthusiasts “have been trying to do away with sidepath laws,” she said. “This could prove to be the tool to do that with.”

Even so, Coram said other issues arise from the move, including cyclists who potentially could weave in and out of traffic using the sidewalk because “effectively there are two bike paths on that street” and fears that Juliana is one of the most heavily used streets in Parkersburg.

“There is a tremendous amount of traffic along Juliana. It has three of the most dangerous intersections in the city,” she said. The sidewalk also runs in front of the Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority bus garage, which sees a lot of traffic turning in and out of that facility.

“I wouldn’t take my grandson down Juliana Street,” Coram said.

Members of the advisory board and Blennerhassett Bicycle Club will hold a public bike ride at 2 p.m. Feb. 23, starting at Point Park in downtown Parkersburg, to showcase “better” routes from downtown to the historic district, Coram said.

“It will be a very family-friendly ride,” she said.

Coram also said she hopes to present more information to council on the advisory board’s work and the numerous laws and regulations governing biking, and she wants the ordinance to come to the advisory board before it is put into place.

“I understand his (Newell’s) frustration, and I appreciate everything he has done,” she said. “Transportation planning takes a long time and we have been moving forward. While it seems we are working slowly, we are working comprehensively.”