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No Bike Lanes for Hazardous Willamette

No Bike Lanes for Hazardous Willamette

A draft “Concept Plan for South Willamette” by city planning staff has left out one of the top safety priorities for the city’s bike plan — bike lanes on Willamette Street. 

Willamette ranked as the third most dangerous street in Eugene for cyclists in a recent city study. Bike lanes on the street were the top priority among more than 600 comments for the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, and the lanes were included in a draft plan accepted by the Eugene City Council. 

But the city’s planning department appears disconnected from the city’s transportation planning and has not included the bike lanes. 

“I was absolutely amazed,” said bike shop owner Paul Moore of the lack of bike lanes. “That’s what everybody has been after for a long, long time.”

Moore runs Arriving by Bike, a shop on south Willamette emphasizing bike commuting. Instead of bike lanes serving the many destination businesses on Willamette, the plan designates a winding bike route on side streets one or two blocks away. “What they’re showing on there already exists,” Moore said. “It adds absolutely nothing for bicyclists.”

“It’s as if whoever put that in there is not clued into the fact that bicycles actually are transportation,” Moore said of the plan’s car emphasis. 

Patricia Thomas, the city planner in charge of the Willamette Plan, was evasive about why the planned bike lanes were excluded from the city’s plan for south Willamette. She would not say whether she had read the bicycle/pedestrian plan or its many comments calling for the bike lanes. “There are many ideas that come out of the community,” Thomas said.

Moore said that at a meeting presenting city plans for the area, the city called for increasing car traffic on a side street connecting Willamette to Amazon Parkway. “People were like, what, are you crazy?” he said. “They’re thinking differently by a long shot from what I’m thinking and what I’m hearing the community thinking in the meetings.”

Bike, pedestrian and livability advocates for decades have called for reducing Willamette to two travel lanes and a center turn lane to allow space for sidewalks and bike lanes while maintaining traffic flow. But a “design workshop” in October was apparently dominated by business interests who opposed bike lanes on Willamette or the three-lane solution, according to a city “summary” of the event.

In an online city slideshow, Thomas said the plan features “vehicular oriented commercial areas” in a “all-business area” near 29th and Willamette. Farther north is the “walkable heart of the district,” she said. 

The vague plan apparently includes some eventual widening of existing narrow sidewalks in the “walkable” area. But it’s unclear when even that would happen. “We are talking about a long-range plan that might get implemented over decades —10, 20, 30 years or even more than that,” Thomas said in the online presentation.

The city plan would allow a huge increase in development in the area. The plan has tall apartment buildings next to existing single family homes. The plan lines Willamette and 29th with apartments and calls for conversion of adjacent single family neighborhoods into higher densities. 

The city plan calls for converting the old Willard School site at 29th and Lincoln into tall apartments and row houses. The city leaves about a third of the large site for a park.

South Willamette “seems to be on the verge of an exciting resurgence,” Thomas said online.

But the city’s plan could set up the area for choking car traffic if the massive development the city envisions is not served by attractive sidewalks and bike lanes that will encourage alternative transportation.

The city plans to finalize its plan for the area in March and conduct a traffic study this spring. “If the community prefers,” Thomas said, it’s possible she may include the Willamette bike lanes in the final plan. “This plan is not final; it is out there for comment,” she said. 

View the plan online at eugene-or.gov/Swillamette and comment by email to patricia.thomas@ci.eugene.or.us  — Alan Pittman