Eugene’s meanest streets: The River Road connection

A reader calling himself “freddy” left a comment on the post in which I asked what people thought was the worst stretch of road for cycling in Eugene.

“Freddy” wrote:

The Hunsacker/Beaver route under the Beltline to get from the River Rd area to the waterfront paths is pretty terrible.

Understatement of day, Freddy.

I don’t often find myself out in this part of town, and it all started enjoyably enough. I ended up on a lovely section of the Riverbank Trail that I had never experienced before — the way northwest stretch — west of the river, north of the Owosso Bridge.

And by God, if I didn’t discover Pluto! After all these years. I’m constantly going past the damn sun down in Alton Baker Park. But I’d never happened upon Pluto before. It was an unexpected joy to complete the solar system tour on this day — finally, encountering the outermost, icy-cold rock.

Shortly thereafter you start passing by the wastewater plant. This is where the city’s sewer sludge goes. It’s gotta go somewhere.

You bear right at a fork in the path and eventually are spit out onto the easternmost end of River Avenue. You follow this it bends under the Beltline right near the Willamette River and then heads back west, where you make your way through a bunch of loose gravel and merge onto another street with very little shoulder. This would be the beginnings of Division Avenue, I believe.

It was at this point that I encountered a roadie wearing a white jersey heading toward me on my side of the street. He looked like an experienced cyclist, and I wondered what the hell he was doing riding against traffic on the wrong side of the road. I pulled off the pavement and stopped to let him go by.

“Be nice when they get the bike path in, huh?” he said as he passed. I took a shot of him as he receded into the distance on the left side of the road.

Little did I know, this would all become crystal clear in just a few minutes.

Soon, I reached the corner of Division and Beaver. I stopped to take a look around. I decided this would be the place to begin the adventure proper:

I would ride this same route back the way I had come — which is what Freddy had suggested was “pretty terrible.” So far, I was thinking it was bad, but not “terrible.”

Here is the route I planned to take, from Point A to Point B, where you can get on the bike path:

See those little arrows on the map. Yeah, that would be a hint to the problem here.

Suddenly, I noticed another cyclist coming south on Beaver toward me, as I was still sitting at my starting point. He stopped, and by God if he didn’t ask me if I knew how to get to the Riverbank path from here.

“Well,” I said, “I just came from there. And I’m headed back. You go this way, I think. It’s a little sketchy.”

Talk about the blind leading the blind. I had no business offering these directions.

“Man this is the most bike unfriendly …,” he sputtered. And then he took off. Being neophytes to this route, we both instinctively took to the right side of the road, the same road that I had just come along, unlike the mysterious roadie in the white jersey.

At first the shoulder on the right was wide and spacious, although it quickly dawned on me, of course, that there is not a proper side of the road to be riding on here when you are traveling east, as we were, because in fact this is a one-way stretch of road with traffic heading west.

Actually, what it really is, is an off-ramp from the westbound Beltline. Excuse me. Randy Papé Beltline. Cars are just ripping off the highway and coming straight at you. It matters not which side of the street you are on. It sucks. To make matters worse, the luxuriously wide shoulder gradually narrows as the hillside, grass and blackberry brambles begin encroaching from the right, pushing you closer and closer to the oncoming auto traffic.

That guy up ahead? He’s the fool who asked this fool how to get to the Riverbank Trail.

The good news here is that you only have to ride the wrong way on this road for a couple of hundred yards. The bad news is, you have to cross the road, making a left turn across the oncoming traffic onto the little road that will take you under the Beltline — otherwise you’ll be heading right up onto the Beltline itself. The wrong way.

We had to wait for quite a while for a break in the off-ramp traffic to make it across, sitting there on a what is essentially a freeway offramp, having our hair ruffled by the wind of oncoming traffic flying past.

It was at this point that I understood, of course, why the roadie in the white jersey was on the other side of the street. That technique, sketchy as it may be, at least allows you to avoid the left turn across oncoming traffic.

Assuming you make it across, you pass by the Delta Sand and Gravel operation, which explains why the road here is full of loose gravel and battered with potholes. Though it was closed when I went past, I’m guessing one should keep one’s eyes peeled for lumbering dump trucks during business hours.

Soon you approach the river, where there is a blind corner heading into the underpass that goes under the Beltline. Here you should keep your eyes peeled for lumbering pickups towing boats, rafts, fishing gear and big coolers of beer as people head down to the rocky beach on the Willamette.

You then are ready to head through a low, dark, nasty and nearly shoulderless underpass. Another blind corner awaits at the other end.

Once through, you’re just about home free. It’s just another 100 yards or so of what you might call “normal road” back up to the start of the path. I caught up with my partner in this asinine ordeal there. His assessment: “F—ing crazy!” So, “pretty terrible” or “f—ing crazy” — take your pick.

Anyway, I can’t believe this whole thing is even legal. Actually, it’s probably not — at least the part where you’re going the wrong way on the Beltline offramp. This is not shown as a recommended route on the city bike map.

So, if we are here to judge the worst stretch of road in Eugene, this certainly gets high marks, with a sphincter pucker quotient of moderately to severely insane. But that rating must come with an asterisk, because I’m not really sure I can say this is a bad stretch of road.

It’s like saying, “Man, riding up the Jefferson Street offramp of the I-105, the wrong way, is really bicycle unfriendly. They really need to do something about that.”

On the other hand, I see why people use this “route.” And people are using it. There isn’t another nearby way to get across the Beltline. It is the most direct route between our Point A and our Point B.

The officially sanctioned route would be to head west on Division, instead of east, out to River Road, under the Beltline there, back east on River Avenue  to the place where you can connect with the path by the wastewater plant.

(Actually, you don’t have to go all the way to Point B on River Avenue. The Riverbank trail makes a Y and you can pick up the western part of the Y.)

This adds a mile or so to the trip — compared to the wrong-way adventure. A mile or so that may be well worth the time.

But, my question regards the cryptic comment the white-jerseyed roadie made: “Be nice when they get the bike path in.” Is a path planned for this area?

UPDATE (Aug. 30, 2010):: There is a path planned! As is discussed below in the comments. I later received the following image — showing the planned new path in black — from Lee Shoemaker, the city of Eugene’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. He asked me to point out that “the exact alignment is conceptual but it will be an off-street, shared-use path with a tunnel under the busiest sand and gravel driveway.”

UPDATE (March 5, 2011):: The path is under construction.

Eugene’s meanest streets

To see the other posts in the “Meanest Streets” series, go here.

6 thoughts on “Eugene’s meanest streets: The River Road connection

  1. There is in fact a plan for that! I believe it is supposed to happen this year in fact, though I’m not sure where the project is, maybe someone from the City can chime in and let us know.

    I do know that it was in the local MPO’s (Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is LCOG) plan. It states:

    Construct a 12′ multi-use path from the Lane County project
    at Beaver Street under the Beltline Road Willamette River
    Bridge to the existing river front trail at the wastewater
    treatment plant. Approximately 4050-feet in length.
    Construct a portion of the West Bank Trail from the
    wastewater treament plant to the existing trail segment at
    Formac Avenue.

    Now the County had something in the STP-U funds at one point to improve Beaver/Hunsaker but for some reason they pulled it off. There is a piece about STP-U funds including the missing Beaver-Hunsaker project here:

  2. Here is the latest I have heard from the City:

    They are buying land and doing some environmental work along the river this summer then this fall they will do the tunnel work that will need to be done to go under the Delta Sand & Gravel driveway. Finally the path work will most likely be done next summer.

    The $2 million dollars for the project will come from a combination of TE (transportation enhancements), STP-U (Surface Transportation Planning-Urban), and SDCs (not sure).

    Here’s a link to a draft design. I have another one that breaks it down a bit more if I could find it in my BPAC (Bike/Ped Advisory Committee) files! A few designs came to the BPAC and we gave our input last fall & winter.

    Feel free to add to the story:

    Click to access WBTproj%20Map.pdf

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