Public Hearing Monday for Eugene’s Transportation System Plan

A nearly 7-year planning process on Eugene’s transportation system is nearing an end, and one of the last opportunities for community input is coming up next week.

On Monday March 6, the Eugene City Council and the Lane County Board of Commissioners will conduct a joint hearing on the draft “2035 Transportation System Plan” (TSP) which lays out the policies, priorities, and projects for Eugene’s transportation system over the next 20 years.

Eugene TSP 2017The TSP lays the groundwork and acts as a guide for future transportation decision making by creating the vision and laying out the specific projects that will make up the transportation system moving forward. The TSP states that transportation “decisions will be made within the overall context of the City’s land use plans, commitments to address climate recovery, and support for economic vitality.”

The plan includes the idea of “Triple Bottom Line” decision-making, that is, making transportation decisions as a way for the city to improve social equity, economic development, and environmental problems, such as climate change.

The plan specifically highlights that the “Eugene City Council adopted a Climate Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 10.01.13 PMRecovery Ordinance that codified a Council goal of achieving a 50 percent citywide reduction of fossil fuel use by 2030” and rolls that goal into the TSP as well.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the TSP incorporates the Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, which was “accepted” by City Council in 2012. Part of that incorporation includes a specific goal that by 2035 the city will triple the percentage of trips made on foot, by bicycle, and by transit from 2014 levels.

In other words the plan has some lofty goals and a great vision but a few questions remain, including: does it go far enough, how will projects be prioritized, and where will the funding for bold visions come from?

Let’s consider the piece incorporated from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan regarding tripling of active transportation trips. In 2015, 7.6% of Eugene residents got to work by bike; 7.6% walked; and 4% travelled by bus (LCOG). If we are to hit the target contained in the TSP to triple the percentage of non-auto trips, we will need some 23% of residents biking, 23% walking, and 12% riding the bus to work just 18 years from now.

Cities that have this level of biking include Copenhagen, Denmark (30%) and Davis, California (23%) (Wiki).  We would have to achieve mass transit ridership rates closer to LA (11%) or Portland (12%) (Wiki). We would need a walking environment closer to Cambridge, Massachusetts (23%), or Berkeley, California (16%) (Wiki). 

Does this plan have what it takes to get us to these kind of numbers? A good spot to look is the plan’s project list and the funding that is projected for those projects. Under the “Roadway, Multimodal, Transit, and Rail Projects to be Completed Within 20 Years” we see a total projection of $406.6 million worth of projects. Under the “Pedestrian and Bicycle Projects to be Completed Within 20 Years” we see $71.7 million worth of projects. That is 18% of the total budget for mode shares that we are hoping to get to 46% by 2035.

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 10.00.42 PMCompare the 130 miles of bicycle and pedestrian projects at $71.7 million to the .95 mile “Randy Papé Beltline Highway Facility” at $85 million (the largest project on the roadway list) and we can see where some of the problems might come as we try to reach these lofty but important goals.

Where will the prioritization of these projects come from and more importantly where will the funding come from? Sometimes it’s easier for a city to work, lobby, and find funding for one major bridge project than it is for it to find funding for 239 separate small projects that may add up to a complete network but also takes a lot more political work to make happen (and provides a much less interesting photo shoot).

What work will city leaders and staff do to make sure that these active transportation projects will get funded and built in time to reach these goals? Right now we don’t have the kind of funding needed to get these type of projects done. Will we in the future?

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 1.46.07 PMIf we were to build out the TSP bicycle and pedestrian project list in 20 years, we would need to be awarded some $3.6 million dollars for these projects every single year between 2018 and 2038. With some transportation funding already programmed out to 2023, and no major shifts to increase active transportation funding sources, it’s unclear how we’ll make any real strides until we see major changes in the funding structure of our transportation system. 

So what can be done to improve this plan and make it so we actually reach the goals laid out? Do we have the enough bold active transportation projects in the plan? Do we have a good enough prioritization plan so that we know the right projects will get built first? Do we have a plan for finding the right kind of funding to match our goals of increasing walking and biking rates?

Monday’s public hearing will be a good time to state support for the goals and projects laid out in the TSP, but it’s also a good time to ask some of those questions and any others that you might have around how the plan will be implemented. With the work that has gone into the many pieces of this plan and its 20-year horizon this is a crucial point to make any comments before its final adoption.

What: Joint hearing on the “2035 Transportation System Plan

When: Monday, March 6th, 5:30 pm

Where: Harris Hall in the Lane County Public Services Building (125 E. 8th Ave.)

Author: Shane MacRhodes

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