As the go-to resource and lead advocate for biking in Northwest Arkansas, it is our job to educate people who ride bikes throughout the region about where current elected officials and candidates for elected office stand on issues related to biking and walking. To that end, we invited both candidates in Bentonville's special election for the Ward 3, Position 1 vacancy on the City Council to answer a few questions related to biking, walking, and complete streets. To vote in this special election, you must be a registered voter living in Bentonville. You do not have to live in Ward 3 to vote. Early voting begins on 3/6/2018; the special election will take place on 3/13/2018. Scroll down to see where the candidates (listed in alphabetical order) stand on issues that affect you.

1. Safe and accessible on-street bike infrastructure enhances quality of life and addresses issues such as affordability, equity, access, health, and the safety of our streets. In your view, what can the City of Bentonville and the City Council do to actively encourage more people to ride bikes for transportation?

Michelle Malashock: One of the most important roles of a councilwoman is to make sure our city is safe and accessible. I will be an advocate for improvements that will improve residents' ability to convert from recreational cyclists to frequent cycling commuters. One of the main things we can do is make sure we are considering the commuter cyclist when we look at infrastructure projects -- whether that be new roads or improvements to existing roadways -- and add bike lanes where they make sense.  I have heard from several voters who live east of Interstate 49, for example, and would love to commute the few miles to the Walmart Home Office, but don't feel safe doing so. We can fix that with future projects. We also need to look at ways to increase conveniences for cyclists -- more racks and places to park bicycles, for example.

Aubrey Patterson: [Ed. note: In lieu of answering individual questions, the candidate preferred to issue the following statement.] My family is a huge supporter of biking in Bentonville! I have four children who all enjoy biking, so I understand the importance of street safety. Our family is lucky to have schools near our home and enjoy riding to school. My son even rode to junior high every day with a trombone strapped to his back! The Bentonville Community Center is one of our favorite places to ride our bikes. This wonderful addition has been a huge benefit for those of us in southwest Bentonville. I am so grateful to live in a city that is devoted to outdoor activities such as biking and running. As a member of the City Council I will vote to ensure biking is as safe, comfortable, and accessible as possible. 

2. What do you think is the number one risk to people walking and people riding bikes in Ward 3 and/or the city as a whole? What will you do as an elected official to help remedy it?

Michelle Malashock: I think it is a lack of education. We need to be aware of each other's rights and responsibilities on both sides. The Bentonville Police are already a partner in this regard, but as we continue to see more bike and foot traffic we will have to double our efforts in education. A friend started an amazing organization, Travel with Care NWA, after her sister was tragically struck by a car and killed while running. The more emphasis we can put on education, the safer our city will be. 

Aubrey Patterson: Candidate did not answer. See statement above under question #1.

3. People bike when it’s safe, comfortable, and there's infrastructure connecting them to the places they need to go. In your opinion, what steps do we need to take to close these gaps?

Michelle Malashock: We have an amazing Parks & Recreation Department that is focused on evolving our trail system into continuous loops that will make it much easier to get around the city. Another step is to add more on-street bicycle infrastructure so commuting via bicycle is accessible to all ages and abilities by establishing safe connections between existing infrastructure.  

Aubrey Patterson: Candidate did not answer. See statement above under question #1.

4. Please explain your opinion on protected bike lanes and complete streets.

Michelle Malashock: Protected bike lanes and complete streets are important safety tools to ensure cycling is accessible to all ages and abilities. As the city takes on new road projects we should consider where protected bike lanes make sense and design our roadways for all types of transportation -- on foot or on bicycle, in a car or in a bus. Making it easier for residents to take alternative modes of transportation will help with our congestion problems and ultimately make Bentonville an easier town to navigate. 

Aubrey Patterson: Candidate did not answer. See statement above under question #1.

5. We are at the point now where increasing on-street infrastructure (such as protected bike lanes) will require some difficult decisions, which will not please everyone. A classic example is the struggle between installing bike lanes, sometimes at the expense of on-street parking. Give us some insight into your decision making process and how you plan to balance the opinions of residents who may be at odds.

Michelle Malashock: I believe we need to invest heavily in infrastructure to promote the right kind of growth -- but do it in a way that is fiscally responsible and makes sense for Bentonville. We can learn a lot from larger cities where biking is more of the norm, but we also have to remember that Bentonville is unique. We can do that by creating an appropriate engagement process to make sure our residents are heard.

Aubrey Patterson: Candidate did not answer. See statement above under question #1.

6. Please describe your vision for non-motorized transportation in Bentonville.

Michelle Malashock: Bentonville is already a bike-friendly city, but largely recreational biking. I would love Bentonville to have the appropriate infrastructure in the appropriate places that could convert more recreational bikers to commuters. That ultimately will help us with traffic and the overall health and wellbeing of our citizens.

Aubrey Patterson: Candidate did not answer. See statement above under question #1.

7. Why do you think people who care about street safety and/or bicycling and walking issues should vote for you?

Michelle Malashock: I commute to the Walmart Home Office by bike several times a week, so I understand firsthand the safety concerns that cyclists and pedestrians face. I love the bicycling culture in Bentonville, and I hope I can play a role in moving it forward.

Aubrey Patterson: Candidate did not answer. See statement above under question #1.