South Willamette One Step Closer To a Complete Street

This post deserves more time, photos, and editing but that just isn’t going to happen so I’m going to choose a less refined product for one that will at least get done. So here’s the latest:

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The South Willamette Street Improvement Plan has passed another milestone and it appears to be on the right track. The official consultant recommendation is for “Alternative Three”; the five lane option with two bike lanes, two motor vehicle lanes, and a center turn lane. At a meeting on Wednesday the consultants from DKS Associates and Cogito, along with city staff, presented the executive summary of the consultants report. They wanted to gather one last round of comments and to get feedback before the final report and plan was complete.

Alternative Three- Wouldn't that be nice

Alternative Three- Wouldn’t that be nice

There were two stakeholder meetings held; one in the morning with more of the business owners and one in the afternoon that included a mix but with more bicycle and pedestrian advocates and general community members present. The presentations were pretty quick, giving an overview of the process and then a review of the findings, including more information on case studies than had been presented in the past. There was also a new set of Bluetooth data that wasn’t presented at any previous community forum. It showed that 63% of traffic (between 24th & 32nd) was a local trip (starts, ends, or stops on Willamette St., or uses local street for access) while 37% were through trips with 13% between 24th and 32nd and 24% via 29th.

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More local trips that some expected.

After looking at all the previous case studies, analyzing all the data, and holding a major public involvement process (with focus groups, stakeholder meetings, 3 community forums, technical advisory committee meetings, and many staff and consultant meetings) 6 design alternatives were narrowed down to 3 and now 1 has been chosen as the BEST design for South Willamette street. That design would include 5 lanes; a bike lane in each direction, a motor vehicle lane in each direction, and a center turn lane. They call it the “3 lane with bike lanes” which really is 5 lanes but when they say “lane” they mean motor vehicle lane. Got it? That’s how you get the current car-centric thinking that “four lanes are better than three”. But to many the concern really is all about moving cars. Never mind the elderly, kids, disabled, or un-interested who choose or are forced not to drive. Never mind that it’s been shown time and again that it’s people that make a vibrant shopping district, not how many cars go through it. Never mind that multi-modal streets provide safety, equity, and prosperity to a neighborhood. Clearly a street with better sidewalks, bike lanes, and a safer lane configuration is better for our community. It’s good to know the professionals think so too.

After discussing the advantages that all the research shows for these type of “right sizing” street projects: safety improvements (S. Willamette currently has an 80% higher collision rate from the statewide average), the speed reductions, and equal traffic volume and capacity (a newer design could handle the numbers that are on Willamette now and into the future) the one question that still remained for people at these stakeholder meetings was “what is the business impact.” The unfortunate part is that the consultants and city staff choose to ignore the research (1) (2) (3) (etc) that is out there that shows that roads that are reconfigured to be more multi-modal have either an increase in business sales or no effect. The concern they stated was that the source material was from organizations that were pro-right sizing streets. It’s true that there could be more hard data on the topic but the real problem is that all the data that is out there shows that businesses are NOT hurt by these kind of changes and often are helped by such a change. Many businesses just refuse to believe this and say “well that may have been true for X,Y, or Z community but our street is different.” Except that’s what all of those other community businesses said before their streets were changed. Yet no one has been able to find studies that show that these kind of complete street improvements decrease business…because they simply don’t. Maybe there will be one or two outliers in a community that did the design work wrong or the study parameters were off but there are dozens of places where it has worked amazingly well for businesses AND they have improved safety, health, equity and livability. Go back and ask those businesses now what they think and most say they can’t imagine going back to the old design.

Alternative Three- What's not to like when you know the facts?!

Alternative Three- What’s not to like when you know the facts?!

It’s great that the extensive work the City and consultants did on this project came to the conclusion that a street that works for all is the best choice. Now the hard political battle begins to fight off the nay-sayers who don’t see that our transportation system needs improving and that we are not in the 1950 era of simply moving cars through our community anymore. We are at a time where we need to provide real choices for everyone in how they move about in their daily lives. Alternative three obviously meets the goals laid out from the beginning of the study to “help Willamette Street become a vibrant urban corridor accessible by bicycle, foot, car, and bus” and to “support the area’s businesses, encourage the district’s vitality,” and create a “balanced multi-modal transportation system.”

In the next two months staff will present the consultant report to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council along with an official staff recommendation which Chris Henry, the project director, said will most likely mimic the consultant recommendation. The final recommendation will be presented to council by the city manager on November 25th. Once presented to council they will gather more input and will hold a public hearing on January 21st and then most likely vote on something in February or March.

So now we throw it out into the Eugene political wind and see what craziness comes out. There is already a report that Capella, the small local market on Willamette, has a “Four Lanes Are Safer” sign up. Clearly more education needs to be done. So now it’s time to celebrate a little but still keep in mind the work ahead to make Willamette Street a place for everyone!

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Author: Shane MacRhodes

Contributor & co-editor. Papa. Active Transportation Professional. BEST Board Member.