Green Dragon Bus
Is EmX a foe or friend?
by Alan Pittman
In the Dark Ages, when sages knew not what lay beyond, they’d mark their maps: “Here be Dragons.” Modern GIS-driven planning is more sophisticated. But still, in the Emerald City, myths and legends abound about what lies ahead.
|illustration by lori d. • lori-d.com|
|Two Leading EmX options. source: LTD|
Is LTD’s proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line a “Green Dragon” that must be slain with a “No Build” sign staked through its scaly EmX heart before it ravages west Eugene homes and businesses? Or is it a friendly puff of a dragon that will leap happy passengers over snarling traffic to a greener, more livable Eugene?
EmX has been a central part of regional planning efforts to reduce traffic congestion for decades, but as the rapid transit proposal goes to the Eugene City Council for a decision early next year, a “No Build” campaign has raised increasing objections. Based on mounds of LTD and opposition documents and hours of interrogating LTD officials, this story is an effort to fact check the negative claims about EmX and sort out the myths about the green dragon.
When you compare the objections to the facts, “they don’t hold any weight, they don’t hold any water, there’s no validity to them,” says LTD’s lead West Eugene EmX planner John Evans. “We’re trying to do what’s best for the community.”
Myth: EmX will hurt businesses/jobs.
Fact Check: LTD is working on a mitigation option that would remove almost all of the dedicated bus lanes on West 11th that businesses feared would reduce car access (see maps). The remaining dedicated sections would have a lane that allows cars to use the bus lane while turning or merging onto West 11th.
The West Eugene EmX will not block access to any business, and previously built lines on Franklin Boulevard and to the Gateway area have not forced any business to close. A few businesses complained about limited access during construction, but LTD officials say West 11th construction will be done in phases, only blocking one lane at a time for a short length for a short time. LTD will consider night construction to further reduce impacts during business hours.
State economists estimate that each $1 million spent on construction creates 19 jobs directly and/or indirectly. The West Eugene EmX line will bring about $100 million in federal and state money into Eugene to create an estimated 1,900 jobs during a deep recession.
Myth: EmX money can be spent on something else.
Fact Check: LTD can’t spend the money on additional regular bus routes, bike lanes, car projects or reducing the federal deficit. The federal government will pick up about 60 percent of the tab and won’t allow LTD to spend the money on increasing other bus routes or non-transit projects. If LTD doesn’t take the federal money, the money will likely go to some other city competing for public transportation funding. LTD anticipates getting the remaining 40 percent of the $100 million from state lottery funds. Without the EmX project to attract the funding, the state lottery funds won’t likely be spent in Eugene.
Myth: A cheaper, standard express bus could replace EmX.
Fact Check: Fewer stops is a big part of the projected travel time savings in EmX now, and a regular express bus could accomplish something similar. But as car congestion grows in West Eugene, EmX’s system of 75-90 percent dedicated travel lanes and exclusive transit-ways will allow EmX to maintain fast travel times, whereas a standard express bus would remain stuck in traffic.
Myth: EmX hurts the environment.
Fact Check: Some critics have charged that LTD’s diesel buses create pollution and that the EmX line will promote urban sprawl. But public transit elsewhere does exactly the opposite. Transit produces 95 percent less emissions than driving on a per-passenger-mile basis. Each person who switches to public transportation from driving saves an estimated 4,800 pounds per year of the carbon emissions that cause global warming. LTD projects that the West Eugene EmX will increase annual transit ridership by about a half million trips, taking a big chunk out of Eugene’s carbon footprint.
LTD says it will also consider converting the dedicated BRT right of way the system will preserve to electric buses powered by safe underground wires or electric light rail trains as the city grows and justifies the additional cost.
LTD projects that the EmX will increase property values and encourage development around transit stops. Many stops are downtown, but some are in far west Eugene. The stops on the edge of town already have big box stores with huge parking lots, and the EmX could encourage more pedestrian oriented redevelopment. Cities with dedicated transitways like BRT have experienced less sprawl and more compact, walkable and livable growth rather than auto-oriented development that moves farther and farther out to accommodate large parking lots.
Myth: EmX will cut bus routes and increase taxes.
Fact Check: LTD is using federal and state money, rather than local operating/payroll tax money to build EmX, so no routes will be cut to fund EmX construction. LTD projects that the EmX line will significantly reduce operating costs per passenger trip because the larger buses have fewer drivers per passenger and the buses with dedicated lanes will spend less time stuck in traffic. Car congestion increases LTD’s system operating costs by $150,000 per year, year after year. LTD estimates the dedicated lanes on the Franklin EmX route save $300,000 a year compared to regular buses with savings to increase in future years as congestion increases. The West Eugene EmX could cut an estimated 50 percent off future congested travel times, saving $900,000 a year, according to LCOG computer modeling.
If EmX isn’t built, local taxes could increase to build and maintain more roads to accommodate the car traffic that EmX would have reduced. U.S. cities routinely spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new freeways and interchanges to shave just a few minutes off travel time for drivers, but the new road capacity often soon induces greater traffic, eliminating any congestion savings. Portland estimates that public transit helps it save $2.6 billion a year in higher transportation costs.
Widening West 11th for more cars to reduce congestion would take far more property from businesses than EmX, cost far more, be far more disruptive and produce only temporary relief before the added lanes filled with even more traffic.
Myth: Franklin EmX did not increase bus ridership.
Fact Check: Ridership on Franklin EmX between Eugene and Springfield did dip about 4 percent when LTD started charging for the service. But that’s a small change considering ridership in the corridor has now doubled compared to before EmX.
Myth: People won’t ride the EmX to west Eugene businesses.
Fact Check: It’s true that many people are unlikely to ride the bus to many of the car repair businesses that oppose EmX. But they may ride the bus when they leave their cars there for work or come to pick them up. Many people who shop at big box stores use delivery services for large items and/or don’t buy more than a shopping bag full at a time.
Also, many employees of car-oriented businesses and big box stores could ride the faster bus to work. Good public transportation can significantly reduce the big chunk of lower income workers’ paychecks that goes to gas and cars and can increase the available labor pool for employers, studies have shown.
Myth: Many large trees will be cut down for EmX.
Fact Check: The LTD design options will remove 93 to 288 trees that are more than 8 inches in diameter. That’s largely because LTD perceived that city of Eugene staff and businesses prefer removing trees for public transit to removing underused parking spaces and/or underused car travel lanes. LTD says it has tried to avoid many of the city’s oldest street trees downtown. Many of the trees at risk on the 6th and 7th Avenues alignment option were replacements for trees the city cut down to widen the four-lane roads three decades ago. Many of the trees at risk along the 13th Avenue option have already suffered disfiguring topping by EWEB to protect their power lines. LTD will plant at least one sapling for every tree it cuts down.
Myth: EmX will block bike and pedestrian traffic.
Fact Check: The EmX line will reduce crossings at some points, but it will also add many improved street crossings, widened sidewalks and potentially two new bike/pedestrian bridges over Amazon Creek in West Eugene. LTD officials say they are also exploring sharing costs with the city for a long-sought new bike bridge across Amazon Creek connecting Target to the Fern Ridge Path.
Myth: EmX will increase congestion.
Fact Check: Per person, buses can take up 20 times less space than cars. A bus holding 60 passengers takes up the same road space as three SUVs holding three drivers. Most of the proposed EmX system will be built on new bus-only lanes and transit-ways rather than taking lanes from cars. Many of the bus only lanes will also allow cars to use them as turning and merging lanes, reducing back ups. With EmX, buses also won’t stop and go in car traffic as current buses do. EmX has separated lanes for its stops.
Myth: LTD isn’t listening to EmX opponents.
Fact Check: LTD has spent far more time meeting with opponents of EmX than supporters. The public transportation agency has held dozens of public meetings over the past three years and had individual meetings with more than 80 businesses. LTD has substantially modified its earlier plans, dropping a more direct route through a residential area on West 11th and offering to reduce dedicated bus lanes on the West 11th business strip at the expense of the interests of thousands of bus riders.