Working in Tandem
After University of Oregon graduate David Minor, 27, was struck and killed while riding his bicycle on the corner of East 13th Avenue and Willamette Street in 2008, a bike was chained to a post at the intersection in his memory.
The “Ghost Bike” is a somber reminder of David’s fate, and emblematic of the often unsafe conditions for cyclists on 13th – Eugene’s most popular biking corridor and a one-way thoroughfare that many UO students take to get to campus. Zip-tied to David’s memorial is a sheet of paper that reads, “What if there were a safe 2-way buffered bike path similar to the one on Alder St. on the west side of campus?”
Following increased concern over cyclist safety on 13th, UO student group LiveMove aimed to answer the same question.
In 2012, the group — which focuses on transportation and livability issues within the community — began drafting a report to dramatically renovate the avenue. The redesign recommended installing a two-way bike path to streamline the campus commute along the 10 blocks.
The city government has since approved the project, as well as conducted more public outreach, solicited feedback, consulted business and property owners along 13th, reworked the designs and applied for grants to fund the project.
“When the group started this project a few years ago, it came from students’ concerns. It wasn’t even on the city’s radar,” said LiveMove President Dana Nichols. “Now the city has really taken it on as its own project.”
David’s parents, Eugene residents John and Susan Minor, offered $150,000 to support the avenue’s redesign. John and Susan have asked that the bikeway be named The David Minor Bikeway in memory of their son. Eugene’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has also set aside $150,000 for when the project is installed.
LiveMove originally slated the project’s completion for summer 2015, but the grant application process may push the installation to summer 2017 at the earliest, said Rob Inerfeld, the transportation planning manager for the City of Eugene.
Joe McAndrew, a UO and LiveMove alumnus, worked as one of the three project managers on the group’s 13th Avenue concept plan.
“I hope the city and university can work to find the funding needed to improve safety and access between downtown, housing and the university soon,” said McAndrew.
In 2012, 13th & Olive, the massive student-housing complex, was being developed. The apartments would house up to 1,300 tenants, and the influx of students would need an efficient way to travel to and from campus, about a mile away.
Getting to campus on bike on the eastbound 13th Avenue is easy enough, but the return trip is more problematic. Some cyclists leaving campus use the sidewalk at Hilyard and 13th (where the westbound lane ends), instead of heading north to 12th Avenue to go west.
Counts from LiveMove and city government found that 30-40 percent of cyclists do the same.
Not only does this demonstrate the need for easier bike access on 13th, both LiveMove and city officials argue, but it creates a hazard for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, who may not be looking for cyclists on the sidewalk.
Two-way cycle tracks have already been installed in cities across the country, such as New York City and Washington D.C.
LiveMove’s comprehensive 86-page report (which can be read on the group’s website) titled “Downtown-Campus Corridor Concept Plan” recognizes the potential for two-way bike lanes. The report visualized a two-way cyclist track painted in green, separated by a dotted line and buffered from the vehicle traffic.
The Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized LiveMove’s work with the Student Achievement in Planning award in May 2014.
The report determined that 13th would be the optimal route, as opposed to the alternatives. According to public feedback, it’s uncomfortable to ride next to cars and buses on 11th Avenue. 12th Avenue is an indirect route that’s bumpy, crosses busy intersections and is full of stop signs. 13th proved to be right in the Goldilocks zone, with a direct route between campus and downtown.
Inerfeld said that the project will cost roughly $1.5 million to $2 million, and those funds are not available, yet. The steep price tag is because existing traffic signals will be upgraded or newly installed.
The city has applied for at least two grants for the project, including one from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s All Roads Transportation Safety Program for about $1.3 million, and another grant for $1 million from the Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Inerfeld said it’s a high priority to get the project funded, but it’s in a holding pattern until then.
However, the grant application process is complicated, since the city is also applying for finances for competing infrastructure projects around town.
Additionally, Inerfeld claimed the campus area has been decently accommodated in recent years, with the re-striping of Alder Street and concurrent redesign of 13th between Alder and Kincaid in 2012, the re-paving of 18th Avenue in 2008 and improvements made to Agate Street.
“This is a relatively big city, and we have to make sure we’re investing in neighborhoods all around Eugene,” he said.
Springfield Transportation Planner Emma Newman echoed this statement.
“There’s only so much money,” said Newman, who contributed research to the redesign as a UO student and member of LiveMove. “There are so many other priorities across the city that things happen on a slower bureaucratic timeline.”
Newman joined the student group during a consultation with Congressman Peter DeFazio’s staff to request federal finances.
In March, Karen Hyatt, the UO’s director of local community and neighborhood relations, and City Engineer Mark Shoening drafted a letter endorsing the project to Gov. Kate Brown’s Transportation Advisor Karmen Fore. The letter asks for state and/or federal funds for the project.
“The UO has a strong self-interest in ensuring that people who access and leave campus by bike do so safely and comfortably and values that bicycling is integral to the community culture,” read the letter. “We are pursuing many different traditional options for project funding, but many do not seem likely before 2020 and we are anxious to get started.”
Despite this letter of support, the UO has not put any money down to endorse the plan.
“This is a badly needed project and it’d be great to see the university step up and collaborate with the city to get it completed,” said McAndrew. “While not on the grounds of campus, I feel [the UO] has a responsibility to provide students, faculty, and visitors safe access to and from the school.”
You can donate to help the 13th Avenue redesign here. Those interested can also write to Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and the Eugene City Council members.
“The more students know about it, the more they’ll pressure the community, and the more likely it’ll happen,” said Newman.
Follow Emerson Malone on Twitter: @allmalone.
Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.