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):
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
Tomorrow the City of Eugene will be hosting the third community forum on the South Willamette Street Improvement Plan. It’s very important that those who want a multi-modal street attend the meeting and give their input on making a street that works for all users, including pedestrians and cyclists. Here’s the basic information and then some information from the “Bike Willamette” campaign:
Community Forum #3: Rank & Refine the Alternatives
WHEN: Tuesday, June 11, 4:00 – 5:45 or 7:00-8:45
We are holding two meetings to accommodate the high interest in this project. Please come to the earlier time if you can, as many can only come to the later.
WHERE: South Eugene High School Cafeteria (back of school), 400 East 19th Avenue
Come hear study results for the three alternatives:
* Conceptual layouts
* Cost estimates
* Projected travel times
* Function for cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, and buses.
If you plan to attend and have not yet sent us an email, please RSVP now to help us prepare. Send an email with your name and which time you prefer (4 pm or 7 pm) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Can’t make the meeting? Visit the project website between June 12 -18th to take a survey.