South Willamette Street- Time for Action

Today I shared some information with a group that is considering endorsing Option One of the South Willamette Street plan, which is the plan to keep it the way it is. With the long op-ed last week and the signs cropping up on the street saying “Four Lanes for Safety” (a pure untruth) it is time for those who want to see a better street for all to speak up!  Write your council member, attend the City Council meeting next week (Facebook event), write your own letter to the editor and educate your friends and neighbors about Option Three.  City staff are working with EcoNorthwest on an economic impact study and once that is complete the City Council will be making a decision on the matter.  We need to get the information out there that a complete street is a safer street and that we want a vibrant business district where walking and biking (and driving) are better!

Here is what I shared with the group (after giving a brief intro the five E’s of Safe Routes to School):

Alternative Three- Wouldn't that be nice
Alternative Three- Wouldn’t that be nice

Today I am here to talk to you about the E of Engineering and the importance of how we build our transportation system in a way that creates a safe environment for our children. Engineering is the infrastructure piece of how we create safe routes not only to and from our schools but as a whole transportation system for families. Infrastructure dictates behavior and when we build a system that makes it very easy to drive everywhere we get an outcome like the one we find ourselves in today; which is walk and bike rates to school have declined from more than 50% in the 1970’s to down to less than 10% by the 2000’s.  Along with our major decline in students using active transportation to move themselves to and from school we have seen a huge increase in obesity.  We know that our built environment effects how we move around our city and we know we need to make some major changes in our built environment to make active transportation the easier choice for kids and families. We’ve seen it around the world and we’ve seen it right here in Eugene. When you build a better place for families to choose active transportation they make that healthier choice because they like it!

As a school district we have a wellness policy that dictates that we create schools that encourage safe, healthy and active transportation options but we are not a bubble, our schools exist within a community that also values active transportation and transportation options for all ages and abilities.  4j has 4 schools within a half mile of this corridor (Edison, Camas Ridge, Roosevelt and South). There is also a 4j facility with the Village School charter school located near the corridor as well as the Network Charter School located just one block off of it.  All of these schools are within what we call the potential “walk shed” of S. Willamette Street.  That is, outside of 1 mile of an elementary school and 1.5 miles of a middle school children are bussed and within those boundaries families are encouraged to walk or bike. There is a huge potential for active family trips within this area of S. Willamette.
Alternative Three- What's not to like when you know the facts?!
Alternative Three- What’s not to like when you know the facts?!

Working with the City we are trying to improve the walking and biking environment around all of our schools.  As I mentioned before, we know that what we need is a systems approach because we know that we don’t simply go from home to school and back again. Our families are masters of efficiency. We trip chain and mix shopping with a stop for dinner and another for that toilet part that broke last night. As such we have to look at the whole system and how it is working for the families who are currently walking and biking (and there are thousands… we have a higher mode share than many other cities around the country) as well as for the thousands more we expect to be using active transportation as demographics as well as the social and physical environment change.

So why is option three the best for families using active transportation? The truth is, it’s not. It’s missing separated facilities for biking and it’s missing wider sidewalks.  But to do this you’d have to totally reimagine the whole transportation system and allocate space for the priority of more than moving cars through the corridor. That clearly isn’t going to happen anytime soon, so how do we build within this paradigm to make it safe and functioning for all?!  Option three helps to get us to that point. It takes an outdated street that would NEVER be built today and updates it to modern safety and engineering standards to both meet auto capacity numbers while also providing a BASIC level of service for pedestrians and cyclists that doesn’t even exist now. The proposed design is a PROVEN safety and efficiency improvement. There are hundreds of examples that show it working for ALL users around the country and not one that has been presented to show this kind of change has NOT worked.
Let me give you a quick personal example: two nights I need to do some shopping after picking up my three kids (a 4 yo daughter, & 3 yo twin boys) from Auntie Nica’s Preschool….one night we go home west of 18th & Chambers and then walk down 18th st. to BiMart to get some plumbing supplies.  Next we walk over the bridge to Albertsons for some cereal and coffee then across the 18th & Chambers intersection to the Pub and Pantry for an easy dinner before walking home. The hardest part is the intersection but overall I feel comfortable enough that I do this type of trip often. I don’t even have to show my BiMart card because they recognize my kids.  Now another time I park at True Value to pick up some LED lights and decide to walk down Willamette to The Glenwood, just over a block away. The whole way I am terrified. I’m yelling at my kids to stay on the other side of the sidewalk because of the close passing cars. I have visions of them tripping and falling under a car. The stress level is crazy. I never walked down Willamette with them again, choosing to load them in the bike or car for a one block trip when I need to or just avoiding the corridor all together. With a simple bike lane buffer the difference between the streets is huge.
Option three is the minimal we need to do to create a better S. Willamette. Yes, there are other improvements like wider sidewalks, less curb cuts, and refined land uses but this is a VERY important first step to creating a better and safer Willamette Street for all. Keeping it the way it is is irresponsible and looks back instead of ahead to our future and our children.

And now for a little fun. Willamette For All (sung to the tune of Help Me Rhonda):

Author: Shane MacRhodes

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