On Tuesday, Nov 19 the City of Eugene hosted an open house and unveiled design concepts for the Central Eugene In Motion project’s three downtown focus areas. The aim is to improve safety and accessibility for all kinds of traffic in key downtown areas. That includes cars, bikes, pedestrians and other forms of transportation. The changes proposed are big. Tuesday’s open-house was a chance for the community to talk directly with the city about their ideas.
“At our first open house on July 10th, we asked people to tell us how it’s going out there,” said Reed Dunbar, senior transportation planner and manager of the Central Eugene in Motion project. “This open house is putting what they told us on to displays and then evaluating them against each other.”
Eugene is growing. Portland State University’s Population Research Center estimates that over 171,000 people now live in Eugene. The population was 156,185 in 2010, according to the census. With growth comes more people walking, driving, biking and bussing. The city cannot just up and build new streets downtown as the population grows, so it must adapt.
How to adapt is the question. Can streets be widened? Should a one-way become a two-way? Where should bike lanes be? Should they be protected or buffered from automobile traffic? What about parking?
These are the kinds of questions the city asked when it began the Central Eugene In Motion study in 2019. The study looked at Lincoln Street east to High Street, and 5th Avenue north to 20th Avenue.
Tuesday’s event was packed with traffic data, project costs and city staff members to answer questions about the designs.
“We’re getting really good input from folks. People have a lot of opinions about the streets and how they perform right now,” Dunbar said. “We’re trying to be responsive to that with a number of different alternatives that people can take a look at and we want to know if we’ve gotten it right.”
Perhaps the biggest change will occur on Eighth Avenue from Lincoln Street to Mill Street. That stretch of road travels through the Park Blocks at 8th Avenue and Oak Street, where Eugene’s bustling spring through fall Saturday Market occurs weekly.
“Eighth Avenue is definitely going to two-way,” said Shane Rhodes, transportation options coordinator for the City. “The question is how? What kinds of bike lanes?”
Options ranged from shared traffic lanes with on-street parking to replacing on-street parking with fully protected bike lanes.
“We would love it if it was two-way,” said David Fendrich, third-generation owner of Brenner’s Furniture on Eighth Avenue. Parking is a giant concern, Fendrich said, so he prefers the options that don’t remove on-street spots.
Similar designs were put forth for the second major arm of the project, connecting the Amazon and Riverfront bike path systems using Pearl Street and High Street. Options include buffering existing bike lanes, creating physically separated lanes or building a two-way separated bike lane on either High or Pearl Street.
“We want to have more bike lanes everywhere,” said bicycle advocate Tomoko Sekeguchi, “Right now it is looking like a positive direction that we would get protected bike lanes at all.”
The final spot slated for an update is what the city calls the “Willamette Wiggle.” Currently, Willamette Street is one-way from 18th Avenue to 20th Avenue. Northbound traffic is funneled on to 20th Avenue and subsequently Oak Street. That two block stretch is the last remnant of Willamette Street’s one-way history. The city is entertaining the possibility of making it two-way, adding bike lanes or leaving it as-is.
After a period for public input, a selection committee will choose a preferred design for each section. “Design is probably going to take most of 2020 and it’s likely that we’re going to build in 2021,” transportation planner Dunbar said.
For anyone who missed Tuesday’s open-house, there is still an opportunity to comment on the City’s plans at the Engage Eugene website.