City Offers First Report on South Willamette Street Improvements

New data about the re-striping of South Willamette Street shows the street is functioning well — and that critics’ concerns about major back-ups and decreased business activity have not come true.

Chris Henry, a city Transportation Planning Engineer and the Project Lead for the South Willamette project, shared data on the South Willamette Street Improvement Plan at a City Council work session in January and then at last week’s Active Transportation Committee, formerly the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Henry has come to ATC a number of times to talk about the project and gather feedback, but this was the first time he had numbers on how the current design is working.

Old South Willamette
The old street design

Here are a few slides from the presentation that show what some of the pilot study results are so far:

S. Willamette Travel Time
It’s taking people about 3-10 more seconds to get through the corridor at the evening peak travel time.
S. Willamette Traffic Speed
More people are actually traveling at or below the speed limit
S. Willamette Neighboring Streets
Almost all neighboring streets have actually seen a reduction in traffic, not an increase.
S. Willamette Traffic Volumes
The number of cars on Willamette Street have actually increased!

In summary, despite the fear and concern among some opponents of the re-striping that there would be major delays and that people would stop using South Willamette Street, what we are seeing so far is that those predictions just aren’t coming true. In fact, what we are seeing is more in line with what city staff and consultants projected and even better than their predictions.

It’s taking people about 3-10 more seconds to get through the corridor at the evening peak travel time. If you’ve driven or ridden the corridor you know that any backups occur southbound in the evening, and they are not that bad. If you’re on a bike you might pass a long line of cars, but they still make it through the corridor pretty quickly. A little bit more time through down the street (at a reasonable speed and with less jockeying in the four lanes) allows for them to see what businesses are actually on the street.

More people are traveling at or below the speed limit. Before the change about half the people going through the corridor were breaking the speed limit of 25 mph. Since the change that has dropped to half the drivers doing 22.3 mph or less through the corridor. The 85th percentile (the maximum speed at which 85 percent of all traffic on the street travels) has dropped from 31.2 mph to 27.5 mph. The design of the street is affecting how fast people drive and bringing it closer to the legal speed limit.

Almost all neighboring streets have seen a reduction in traffic, not an increase. Those opposed to the new street design said people would flee South Willamette and disrupt the neighborhood side streets. The numbers show that isn’t happening. It’s not taking much more time so it’s not worth people going out of their way to use the neighborhood streets and only Hilyard saw any increase in traffic and that’s another arterial that is built to handle the traffic.

The number of cars on Willamette Street has actually increased. More eyes on the street! Again, despite some business concerns about people fleeing South Willamette and then not seeing (or stopping) at their business, we see that even more people are using the street now that it’s a better designed street for all users.

S. Willamette Traffic
Traffic Backup?!

We still have until the summer of 2018 before the paving of South Willamette makes this design permanent and the City Council will still have to decide and vote on that change. City staff will continue to collect data including numbers on crashes and collisions, bicycle and pedestrian counts and some financial numbers from the small percentage of businesses who are participating in the financial impact analysis portion of the study.

Then even with the numbers it will be a political discussion and City Council will decide what will actually go down as a permanent design for this street. It’s hard to imagine going back from the current design that is actually working well for all users but as with any political decision you never know until the final vote is cast.

S. Willamette Josh Skov
Active Community Member Josh Skov Approves of the New Design

Author: Shane MacRhodes

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