Bikers take rush out of traffic

Lawsuit threatened after city buys into state's plan to revamp Douglas Bridge

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Bicyclists hit the road Tuesday and expected to head to court today to protest city support for a controversial state plan to reconfigure the Douglas Bridge.

About 30 bicycling enthusiasts and members of the Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club road crossed the bridge during Tuesday afternoon's rush hour to demonstrate what could happen if the state goes ahead with plans to remove the roadway's bike lanes.

Meanwhile, bicyclists talked to lawyers about filing a formal appeal in court in an attempt to overturn a Juneau Assembly vote Monday needed for the $8 million bridge project to proceed.

"The whole point of (the demonstration) is that with DOT's plan the cyclists on the road are going to slow everybody down, and they are going to be in the lanes and what happened today is going to happen on a daily basis," said Dave Bartlett, president of the Freewheelers.

Bartlett said it was the Freewheelers' first political protest, and the group is willing to hold similar demonstrations to get its message out, even if it means being cited for obstructing traffic.

Police were called out to the bridge at about 5 p.m. Protesters were told they are to ride single-file over the bridge and not to block traffic.

"If you ride side-by-side with more than one person in the lane, you can be cited for that," Juneau Police officer Krag Campbell told the protesters.

The state Department of Transportation plans to remove the bike lanes when it reconfigures the bridge, changing its two vehicle lanes to three lanes. The center lane would be reversible, with traffic flowing into downtown in the morning and toward Douglas Island the rest of the day.

The lane change, a traffic circle on the Douglas side and approach lane changes on the Juneau side were designed to limit congestion, reduce accidents and improve the flow on and near the bridge, DOT project planner Chris Morrow told the Assembly before it voted its support for the plan Monday. Morrow said the state would proceed with the project only if the Assembly approved.

He also said bicyclists could share an expanded pedestrian walkway, as many do now, or ride in the road.

Bicyclists, medical professionals and others protested the plan at the meeting, labeling it unneeded, unsafe and an attack on the fitness needs of a community where too many people drive and too few exercise.

Monday's 5-4 Assembly vote to approve the plan followed a series of up and down votes by Assembly committees and the Juneau Planning Commission. At one point, the Freewheelers appealed Planning Commission approval of the plan and won.

Assembly members Ken Koelsch, Jeannie Johnson, Merrill Sanford, Dale Anderson and Randy Wanamaker voted for the resolution supporting the project. Mayor Sally Smith and members Stan Ridgeway, Jim Powell and Marc Wheeler voted against it.

Freewheelers member Rob Welton said the bicycle club is talking to several attorneys about a legal protest to the Assembly's decision. City procedure allows an administrative appeal to be made in Juneau Superior Court.

"We feel that the proposed plan still violates several provisions of CBJ's laws," Welton said Tuesday. "The issue really is with CBJ's concurrence with the project."

If an appeal is filed, action would be taken today, he said.

City Attorney John Hartle said he's unsure if the Assembly's action can be appealed.

The vote was on a resolution of approval, not an ordinance creating a law or appropriating funds.

"The Assembly has expressed its support for a state project on a state road. But if a lawsuit is brought we will defend the Assembly's action," he said.

If the bicyclists don't file an appeal - or file and lose - they may turn to a federal appeals process or the federal courts, Welton said. He said the group believes removing bike lanes would violate terms of use of federal funds for the project.

State officials have said they believe all aspects of the project are legal and in line with funding limitations.

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