Eugene’s meanest streets: South Willamette

OK, let’s make it official: Willamette Street from 18th to 29th avenues has earned itself a Eugene Bicyclist Meanest Streets Lifetime Achievement Medallion.

The problem with Willamette Street itself is obvious: narrow, busy with cars and no accommodation for bicycles. But we hasten to remind you that to win the Meanest Streets designation there also must be a lack of good alternative routes.

So let’s examine the persistent problems here. In fact, we can go way back to this map drawn by the cunning Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, stymied in his attempt to reach the fabled Shining City of Gold, also known as the Willamette Street commercial strip:

(Oops. I see that Hernán misspelled “Straights of Peril.” Apparently he had little education.)

Anyway, you can see that the Shining City of Gold has formidable natural defenses — especially when faced with intruders from the north.

But the City of Eugene is working on this. You may remember that they had announced plans to hire a consultant to study this stretch of the street, in conjunction with a larger urban planning effort for the neighborhood.

We are told the winning bidder is a firm called DKS. It is based in Oakland, Calif., but has offices in Portland and Salem. They will be tasked with drawing up several alternative scenarios for Willamette Street.

Many dedicated cyclists will certainly hope at least some of the scenarios include bike lanes on Willamette Street itself. That would probably require reducing Willamette from four lanes to three (one in each direction and a center turn lane).

Eugene planners are calling this traffic study: “Willamette Street Transformation.” We are a bit of a skeptic, as you know, so I do think the word “transformation” might be grandiose. But let’s hope they prove me wrong.

But as these things go, it’s not a bad name. For instance, consider the official name of the current Transportation bill in the U.S. Senate — the bill that eliminates dedicated federal spending for bicycle infrastructure and safety. They call it the:

“Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.”

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “Isn’t that what they name all the bills?” Yes, it is. In fact, I’m not sure how they know which one they are actually voting on at any given moment.

Congressman: Is this the “Moving Ahead for Progress” bill about child care or the “Moving Ahead for Progress” bill about natural gas fracking?

Aide: No, no. It’s the “Moving Ahead for Progress” bill about soy bean subsidies.

Congressman: Oh, right. So, are we for progress on this one, or against it?

Aide: It’s always hard to vote against progress, sir.

Congressman: OK, then we’re for it. AYE!!

Actually, the U.S. House version of the Transportation bill — similar to the Senate bill but even more egregious — is called:

“The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act.”

You may have noticed that neither of these names mention the concept of transportation. That is because the people in Congress who name these bills believe that you are as stupid as a post.

Yes, I am digressing.

So. The bids for the Willamette Street study apparently came in at about a quarter of a million dollars. The city initially asked ODOT for $150,000, but “(we) understand that more might be available if needed,” says Kurt Yeiter, a senior transportation planner for the city of Eugene.

Yeiter also tells us:

We suggested that a substantial portion (of the grant money) be used for public outreach and facilitation in the hope that we can reach an amenable community decision for this street’s final design. To do that we need to allow all interested parties to participate and we need to daylight all the issues to be addressed.

Ignoring the unconventional use of “daylight” as a verb, we think this means that folks at the city worry that any talk of changing Willamette Street — such as adding bike lanes, say — could provoke a violent crossfire of letters to editor, much angry shouting at public meetings and a Facebook fan page entitled: “Citizens for the Preservation of Life, Liberty, Prosperity, and the American Way: Keep Your Hands Off Willamette Street!” — with several thousand “Likes.”

Yeiter said he wasn’t sure how long this study would take. But we hear something like this typically takes 16 or 18 months. It’s due to start sometime in the spring. So stop holding your breath and go about your business. Still, we will be interested to see what they come up with.

5 thoughts on “Eugene’s meanest streets: South Willamette

  1. Maybe I’m easily mislead by terminology, but I keep thinking that it shouldn’t be presented as a “reducing from 4 lanes to 3” but rather it should be “upgrading the street from 4 car-only lanes with no buffer between traffic and pedestrians to 5 lanes of mixed mode transportation with 5 feet of space between automobiles and pedestrians.”
    Eugene’s consistent portrayal of bikes as a secondary add-on is not helpful, and adding that to the idea that they’re “reducing” traffic is a surefire way to get local business owners to freak out and post signs all over the place and write letters to the witless R-G editors with claims that Kitty Piercy is about to become the new Stalin.

    1. Good point, Max. I will keep that in mind for future posts.

      And you know, a center turn lane would certainly improve the whole left turn situation on Willamette — people coming to a screeching halt behind a car waiting to turn left, and then darting into the right lane to go around.

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