Eugene’s Active Transportation Committee is up to its handlebars in projects right now.
The group advises the city’s transportation staff and the Eugene City Council on pedestrian and biking projects and gathers input on other transportation planning decisions. The committee is working on projects from the recently-launched Open Streets program, to shifts in the PeaceHealth Bike Share program’s operation and introducing the new two-way bikeway on 13th Avenue. At the Aug. 13 committee meeting, members of the team shared updates on some of the ongoing citywide plans to increase public interest in ditching cars and taking up alternative means of getting around town.
Shane Rhodes, Eugene’s transportation options coordinator, provided an update on the Open Streets pilot program that was launched in the Bethel neighborhood on Aug. 11. This program is intended to limit motor vehicles on some streets to allow for more space to safely walk or bike. Rhodes says that residents of the Bethel neighborhood have appreciated it so far, especially given the lack of sidewalk space in the area. He said that Bethel’s Open Streets program is planned to continue at least through the middle of September, but could run longer depending on community response.
“We’re not promoting this as somewhere for other people in Eugene to come, these streets are for that neighborhood,” Rhodes said, citing community concerns with COVID-19 transmission should large groups of people from around the city start congregating in Bethel.
Eugene residents in other neighborhoods can look forward to seeing less traffic on some of their streets in the future, he added.
“Now that we have a process figured out, it should be much easier to do more of these. We’re already looking at the next neighborhoods,” Rhodes said.
Even if these streets technically open back up to motor vehicles again, the Open Streets project might subtly encourage drivers to establish new routes moving forward, Cas Casados, the city’s transportation programs coordinator, says in an interview.
“People want slower traffic in their neighborhoods,” she says. “The immediate impact for families and kids has been great. They can walk and bike safer.”
Rhodes said that the committee is looking into launching a similar program in the Northeast Neighborhood, north of the Randy Pape Beltline, with the Northeast Eugene Liveable Streets project to improve biking and walking transportation in that area. The Friendly Area Neighborhood is also on the shortlist.
Reed Dunbar, the city of Eugene’s bicycle and pedestrian planner, said PeaceHealth Rides, Eugene’s current bike share program is “on life support” while the city looks for a new operator. The program has been under the jurisdiction of the city since the bike share’s previous operator, Social Bicycles, left the business at the end of June.
Dunbar said that as other statewide bike share systems folded, the Oregon Department of Transportation convened a meeting with smaller Oregon cities to look into a statewide option. At the Aug. 13 meeting, the Active Transportation Committee expressed interest in a statewide system option run by a nonprofit. The committee also expressed interest in reusing Portland’s BIKETOWN bicycles, as that city will need to dispose of about 1,000 bikes while transitioning to its new electric bike service.
Dunbar said that he will present more information on these options to the ACT at its September meeting, and he hopes that Eugene will have a new, long-term bike share contract by the end of the year.
Making sure Eugene has a viable bike-share system in place is vital right now, Dunbar writes in an email to Eugene Weekly. While PeaceHealth bike ridership is down due to COVID-19, the program is also being used more in areas where Lane Transit District bus service has been reduced.
“Because people can physically distance themselves on a bike-share bike, it is providing a viable transportation service for people that do not drive or want to use active transportation for some trips,” Dunbar writes.
Other active transportation projects are especially important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunbar emails. One of these is the upcoming 13th Avenue Protected Bikeway, a two-way bike lane with a physical separation between the bikeway and travel lanes so (finally!) bikers can safely ride from the University of Oregon campus area to downtown Eugene and back on 13th Avenue. It’s planned to launch at the end of September.
“Due to COVID-19, there has been a national push to utilize public space for exercise, and facilities like the upcoming 13th Avenue Protected Bikeway will enable people to ride bikes safely in a physically separated street environment, which provides separate travelways and signals for people driving and people riding bikes,” Dunbar emails.
Dunbar said at the meeting that he hopes construction for the projects rehabilitating areas on the west and south banks of the Willamette River will be underway this year. These projects are happening alongside the major transformation of Eugene’s downtown riverfront with funding from Urban Renewal, intended to revitalize the area around the Willamette River for community use.
Features of this project, like the Downtown Riverfront Park, are planned to premiere in spring 2021. Dunbar said that the revitalized riverfront paths may be available sooner. The south and west bank rehabilitations are considered Public Works projects and are being done with help from the Active Transportation component of the 2017 Street Preservation Bond, the Parks and Open Space Bond and federal funds from ODOT.
The West and South bank paths will both be shared-use paths, creating more spaces for people to explore alternate active modes of transportation, which Dunbar says is important both in light of COVID-19 restrictions on public space and Eugene’s climate change goals.
“We depend on people using active transportation (walking, biking, busing) for more trips,” Dunbar writes. He says that in order to make that happen, the city has to provide more safe spaces for people to utilize this active transportation, such as protected bikeways and rehabilitated shared-use paths. “It also means providing systems, like a public bike share service, so that folks can utilize these new infrastructure investments. These are the types of projects that ATC is focused on and they are a priority for city staff.”