Thirteenth avenue between classes is as congested for pedestrians as I-5 is for cars after a Ducks home game. Pedestrians have to weave through bicycles, random facility vehicles and delivery trucks humming down the street in order to survive. Personal vehicles are not allowed from Kincaid Street to University Street, but anyone can drive past Matthew Knight Arena to the Erb Memorial Union, which can confuse drivers and pedestrians alike.
But a new campus planning project has the potential to alleviate the chaos that is 13th Avenue.
The university hired Walker Macy Architects and Gehl Architects to create a conceptual redesign of the street based on feedback from the UO community. Aaron Olsen, landscape planning associate for UO Campus Planning, said the designs will be finalized in late January, 2019. If funding is secured for the project, these conceptual plans could become reality.
“One of the things that this project wants to do is look at the entire [corridor] and really create a vision for the whole [corridor] so it can feel more unified,” Olsen said. “And so some of the positive things that are happening on the western part of the street can translate through campus as a whole.”
The “positive things” Olsen references are primarily restrictions in place to limit vehicle access on 13th Avenue from the EMU to Condon Hall. As of today, only emergency vehicles and golf carts are allowed to use the western corridor of the street. East of 13th Avenue feels more like a typical city street: Personal vehicles are allowed, stop signs are present and yellow lines are painted in the concrete.
Olsen said this project will attempt to create cohesion not only between the east and west sides of 13th Avenue but also cohesion between 13th Avenue and the rest of campus. In the past, Olsen said, projects would be built along the street without much thought as to how they contributed to the avenue and to the campus as a whole.
“[A project] would inform and work with all the things that are happening but there wasn’t really a driving vision that it could tie into,” Olsen said.
In order to create this vision, campus planning, in conjunction with the hired architectural firms, will conduct various studies in order understand how each part of the street is currently used. According to Olsen, the first of such surveys will take place on Oct. 18.
Students standing on 13th Avenue with clipboards will observe how various passersby are using the 13th Avenue corridor. An identical survey will be conducted Oct. 20 as well.
The data collected from the study will be used by Gehl to compare how people use 13th Avenue to other similar spaces across the world. Olsen said the architects will then use the findings to create the conceptual designs for the street.
“The intent would be in early January to have the design team bring three concepts to get feedback from the students,” Olsen said. “There will be an open house in conjunction with that as well.” Olsen added that Gehl will present its findings in a public lecture.
Another goal of this project is to redesign 13th Avenue in a way that better accommodates large, one-off events like the street fair or the graduation procession.
“In order for the project to be successful, it needs to accommodate these events,” Olsen said. “So at the end of the day if we were to come up with a plan that doesn’t accommodate these, then I would think that’s not successful.”
Olsen emphasized that these plans are purely conceptual — to put any part of these designs into action, campus planning would first need to find funding. Then, another round of public engagement would take place before construction would commence. However, as a part of the conceptual plans, each aspect of the redesign will include a cost estimate so they know how much each portion of the project would cost, should they get the green light.
“The end result of this is not something that is necessarily going to be built next year or any time we know of,” Olsen said. “It’s a conceptual design to inform future decision making.”
Students interested in participating in the survey should contact Aaron Olsen via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.