A Three Hour Tour
How Viable is The Bear Creek Greenway as a Commuting Route?
The Rogue Valley isn’t a series of walking neighborhoods. If you live here, you commute.
Research has consistently shown that the biggest factor in whether or not people will commute by bike is the quality and accessibility of bicycle infrastructure. Cycling is like Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
To assess the viability of cycle commuting, Rogue Valley Messenger staffers traversed the length of the Bear Creek Greenway from Ashland to Central Point. It took a little under two hours each way, and left us with a pretty solid sunburn.
Our general findings were that the path is generally well-maintained, with smooth ashphalt, water and bathrooms along the route, but could benefit from more protections from noise and sun, as well as arterial connections that allow cyclists access to the east/west axis of cities as well.
Other suggestions include tire pump and repair stations at the city parks along the way, wayfinding signs at intersections with roads, and more frequent sweeping of debris that could lead to flats by parks officials.
Ashland Dog Park to I5 on-ramp
This stretch of the path is scenic, with the trail gently winding through farmland. But despite being wooded in the background, the path itself is fairly exposed without much shade. It’s biggest failing is that the trail is so far off the track for Ashland that is less useful as a commuter thoroughfare than it is a recreational one. It also runs right by the sewage treatment plant, which doesn’t do wonders for even breathing. The surface is well-maintained and largely free of litter, but is often bordered by the bane of all things inflatable, creeping puncturevine.
I-5 on-ramp to Wrangler’s Arena:
This section of the greenway is loud from passing traffic and very exposed to the sun. It also has a fair amount of gravel on the path that is kicked up by passing cars.
Wrangler’s Arena to Lynn Newbry Park in Talent:
This stretch of the Greenway is sheltered from the sun from tall trees, and features a lot of nature, including ponds and a bridge over the creek. But it also isn’t well-maintained, with a lot of forest litter in the path. I even passed several giant piles of horse manure. This section also features a Little Free Library on the side of the path.
Talent to Blue Heron Park in Phoenix:
The scenery changes pretty dramatically here, with the bordering thickets shifting to chain link fences that segment the path from agricultural fields, the freeway, several trailer parks and a jail. The grass was primarily yellow and hastily cut back, along with a lot of thistles.
Phoenix to U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford:
By far the most peaceful stretch of the trail. There is little traffic noise, lots of shade, and plenty of green. However, the surface was the least well-maintained, with several sections of missing or damaged asphalt, and a more root bumps than anywhere else on the path.
U.S. Cellular Park to Bear Park in Medford:
The path spills onto the road briefly as it intersects with the activity of this multi-field sports park, a transition that could benefit from wayfinding signs. The scenic nature drops away fairly rapidly and the Greenway transitions to an urban path, passing next to and beneath the freeway, as well as over major Medford streets and by other industrial scenery. It’s loud but well-maintained and an effective way to navigate intra-city.
Bear Creek Park to North Medford:
This section of the path is a double-edged sword. It is by one of the most useful, as it’s route perfectly bisects Medford, making it an effective tool to move around the city by bike away from terrible drivers. But it’s thoroughly trashed. By fires. By litter. By neglect. By industry. It isn’t quite post-apocalyptic, but it’s the only Oregon bike path this reporter has ridden on that feels like it could be in Detroit. While many put that state on Medford’s homeless population, responsibility should be shared with the city for advocating resources to do homeless sweeps, but not to sweep up after the sweeps, or maintain the grounds in general. This section does have some lovely urban scenery however, including a series of creek control objects, and a large mural painted on the I-5 viaduct.
[Editor’s note: the day we went to press, there was a murder on this stretch of the path, showing that it presents serious safety concerns.]
North Medford to Central Point:
Clean, straight-ahead and simple, but without a strong element of utility. The path runs parallel to the freeway and goes past the Jackson County Fairgrounds. But is pretty off grid from Central Point’s urban and business districts. It has zero shade.