Bike plan calls for maps, lanes

Already a recreational mecca, Island County will soon be transformed into a cyclist’s Shangri-La after a county project is implemented to provide a helpful map of the islands’ touring routes, clearly-marked bike lanes and improved safety.

Whidbey is a spectacular, recreational microcosm that boasts networks of trails, and ample shoreline with every level of tidal activity. Now it will offer cyclists the opportunity to tour the land mass from bridge to ferry.

The 2006 Island County Non-Motorized Trails Plan is a practical framework for the construction and improvement of non-motorized trails on Whidbey and Camano islands. The plan not only serves as a planning tool, but a document necessary to secure funding for projects, said Joantha Guthrie, Island County Public Works project manager.

The trails plan identifies “Bicycle Touring Loop” as a high priority concept for the plan’s four geographical segments: North, South and Central Whidbey, and Camano Island. Additionally, bicycle touring maps and appropriate sign markings were identified as viable short-term, countywide projects. The county has added the undertaking to its already impressive project portfolio.

The information compiled in the trails plan was used to develop the Island County Bicycle Enhancement Project consisting of three specific components. The first element involved developing and producing a bicycle touring map for both island, a task Guthrie and staff have taken on with fervor. The second component will see a portion of the shoulders along Crescent Harbor Road improved to meet standards for a bike route. The improvements lead to the final step: installation of the ubiquitous green “bike route” signs along a breathtaking touring route extending from Deception Pass bridge to the city of Oak Harbor.

“When that is completed, cyclists will be able to ride from the bridge to Oak Harbor for the first time on a completely designated bike route,” Guthrie said.

Part of the county’s comprehensive plan, the trails element listed and prioritized projects for both islands designed specifically for bikers, horseback riders, hikers, kayakers, and any other means of forward mobility not employing the use of a motor.

“The plan runs the gamut of non-motorized trails,” Guthrie said.

The state Department of Transportation is funding 100 percent of the three-pronged Bicycle Enhancement Project.

The county, with valuable community involvement, is in the process of formulating a map charting the different touring routes on both islands that provide road conditions for cyclists, including shoulder width, tourist spots and the location of other amenities. While Whidbey has the westerly and easterly routes, Camano is essentially a big — albeit scenic — loop.

“The map will allow cyclists to plan their route according to their abilities and interests,” Guthrie said. “It will also contain valuable information like where public restrooms are located as well as local bike shops and grocery stores.”

The map will also include road safety tips and the “rules of the road.”

Data has been compiled and now the perfect graphic designer will be sought through the request for qualifications process.

“We hope to have the maps by fall,” Guthrie said, adding that the gratis maps will be distributed through numerous tourism conduits like the chambers. “They will also be available in other places, including the county.”

For touring fanatics unable to make it to Island County before the trip, the aesthetically pleasing map will be available online for a high quality reproduction.

“They will be able to segment the map to make it easy to print and very easy to read,” Guthrie said. “The goal is to make it accessible to anyone.”

Shoulder improvement will be the second phase of the project. In order for a roadway to be designated a bike route, it must be at least four feet wide in high traffic areas.

The final prong will be the installation of signs completing the touring route.

“This has been a very fun project,” Guthrie said.

Touring is just one of the nearly 100 projects working groups identified in the trails plan. Kayaking camps around the islands are one plan in the pipeline that will give the water worshippers opportunities to stop for a quick respite or for a lengthier, all-night stay as they take a break from circumnavigating the islands.

“There would also be bathrooms and fire pits at the sites,” Guthrie said.

Community members were instrumental in planning the Rhododendron Trail to Kettles extension. And the Main Street to Jacobs Road multi-use trail addition is already underway in Coupeville.

“That’s adding 1.3 miles of trails in Coupeville,” the project manager said. “And the Maxwelton Trail will begin this summer.”

The lead agency for each project identified in the trails plan varies depending on the specifics.

“Sometimes it’s state parks, sometimes it’s the city or county,” Guthrie said. “It’s always been a very cooperative effort.”

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