Eugenecycles is a Eugene Weekly effort to better report local bicycle news. To provide bike news tips or guest opinion pieces please contact News Editor Alan Pittman (email@example.com or 541-484-0519).
Can Eugene, already the top city of its size in the nation for biking, become like cities in Europe where half of the people bike, saving huge costs in healthcare, freeways, and global warming while creating some of the happiest, most livable cities in the world?
More than a hundred people interested in the question packed into a meeting room at the Eugene Electric Station Oct. 22 to hear a panel discussion on a "Transportation Remix" for Eugene.
At 11 percent, Eugene's biking rate is more than 20 times higher than the U.S. average, and Eugene is the top biking city of its size or larger in the nation.
But biking in Eugene could go a lot higher. Hugh Prichard, a local developer toured European cities with bike rates as high as 70 percent. Cities in northern Europe have high rates year round despite heavy rain, winter darkness, snow and wind, and Paris and cities in Spain have overcome a bike unfriendly design and culture in recent years to reach high cycling rates, according to Prichard. "The idea that its' Europe and that it won't happen here, is just wrong," he said.
Prichard showed slides of families with multiple children commuting in cargo bikes and separated cycle tracks crowded with all ages and types of people, many riding to work in suits and/or high heels.
In Groningen, a Dutch city about Eugene's size with about 70 percent biking, the cars "get to sit behind delivery trucks for many hours while the bicycles whiz by" in separated lanes, Prichard said. On a street in Copenhagen, there's twice as many bikes going by per day as Coburg Rd. in Eugene has cars, according to Prichard.
Prichard said a key part of Denmark's success has been marketing "to view people on bikes with affection." A pick-up truck driver on Coburg Rd. needs to understand that bikes are reducing congestion and gas prices for him and freeing up parking spaces, he said. "That's good news for someone who will never get on a bike."
Portland consultant Jessica Roberts is working on increasing Eugene's bike rate as part of a new bicycle and pedestrian plan for the city. "We are in an exciting moment," the Alta Planning consultant said of the effort to increase biking. "The number one thing people are asking for is more separation from vehicles," she said.
Ed Fischer, a former state traffic engineer with ODOT, toured Europe as part of a federal trip to look at ways cities have attracted more cyclists by making them feel safer. Some of the new cycletracks in Portland are separated from cars only by paint rather than the curbs used in countries with higher bike rates, he noted. "You would not call this a cycletrack in Europe," Fischer said.
Fischer said data show increased biking can snowball as more people make biking safer due to a "safety in numbers" phenomenon. "There's a real awareness of bicycles and pedestrians out on the street when there's a lot more of them."
With obesity rates in the U.S. about triple that of Europe, there's a strong argument to increase biking here, said Sheila Lyons, the bike and pedestrian coordinator for ODOT. "This is the first generation of 10-year-olds that is not expected to live as long as we do," she said. "The public health society is terrified."
Should the city of Eugene build separated cycletracks to actually increase biking or just paint bikes on the pavement?
The new Eugene bike/ped plan may be headed down the cheap paint approach rather than creating new bike facilities.
Display boards from a plan open house yesterday dedicated about four-times more space to painted "sharrows" than cycletracks.
The city already appears to be moving toward the cheap paint approach rather than bike lanes or cycletracks. The city has proposed removing bike lanes on Franklin Blvd. and a heavily biked section of 13th to make yet more room for driving and parking cars, replacing the dedicated bike space with sharrow paint. By law, cars are prohibited from driving in bike lanes but sharrows have no added legal meaning, cars are already legally required to share the roads with bikes.
The approach of eliminating bike lanes and facilities is favored, however, by a small but vocally aggressive and brave minority of "vehicular cyclists." They argue that bikes are safest when they behave like cars taking up an entire lane. But most cyclists and potential cyclists apparently don't feel safe biking down the middle of the street with deadly cars and trucks screaming by and backed up behind them. Cities that have taken the anti- dedicated bike facility approach have some of the lowest biking rates in the world while cities that have reserved space for cyclists have some of the highest rates.
John Pucher of Rutgers, a leading bike transportation researcher, wrote a critique of the vehicular cycling approach last year:
"While some people, especially young men, may find the challenge stimulating, it is stressful and unpleasant for the vast majority. It is no wonder that the model of vehicular cycling, which the USA has followed de facto for the past forty years, has led to extremely low levels of bicycling use....Clearly, most people will not cycle without separate cycling facilities."
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Eugene has the highest bike commute rate in the nation for a city of its size or larger, according to the U.S. Census.
Nearly 11 percent of workers commuted to work in Eugene by bike in 2009, according to American Community Survey data released this month.
Eugene's bike commute rate increased by a third in 2009 compared to the 8 percent rate in 2008. But a large part of the increase is within the reported margin of error for the Census survey.
Eugene's 11 percent biking rate is almost double the 6 percent rate in Portland, the number one large city for bike commuting. Portland has almost four times the population of Eugene.
Eugene trails Davis, California with a 21 percent rate and Boulder, Colorado with a 12 percent bike commute rate. But Eugene is more that twice the size of Davis and is a third larger than Boulder.
Eugene and Springfield city managers have applied for $2.9 million in federal stimulus grants to plan a $62 million overhaul of Franklin Boulevard with wider sidewalks and street parking but no bike lanes.
The plan would remove about 1,000 feet of existing bike lane along the south side of Franklin Boulevard near the new basketball arena under construction. Instead, bikes would supposedly "share" lanes with cars in local access lanes on both sides of the boulevard with cars backing into parallel street parking.
Here's a look at the new street design:
The "multi-way boulevard" design, perhaps including two lanes of dedicated EmX lanes, would stretch from the UO through Glenwood, where Springfield has planning jurisdiction.
Here's another view:
Both state law and Eugene policies require the inclusion of bike facilities in major reconstruction of arterials. It's unclear if the city could get around those requirements with the shared lane concept instead of dedicated bike lanes.
The area around the UO has heavy bicycle use and bike supporters have called for bike lanes on Franklin for decades. To increase environmentally friendly cycling, many cities are moving toward dedicated, separated cycletracks along arterials.
But it doesn't appear the city of Eugene ever seriously considered such a bike-friendly path for Franklin. The $2.9 million in federal grant funding will pay for a federal Environmental Assessment (EA) for the multi-way boulevard concept. Such EAs supposedly must include alternatives analysis, but its unclear if the city will actually reconsider its no bike lanes or cycletrack approach.
The grant application argues that a boulevard that dedicates most of its right of way to cars and car storage will increase pedestrian, bike and transit use and spark redevelopment.
Earlier versions of Springfield's design concept for the Glenwood portion of Franklin also include traffic circles or roundabouts. Pedestrians and cyclists have complained in the past that such designs with high speed turns across crosswalks and bike lanes while drivers look over their shoulders for cars are dangerous.
The plan includes about $1.8 million to acquire land for two 50-unit affordable housing complexes along Franklin in Eugene and Glenwood.
The cities anticipate that the EA and planning for the boulevard will begin this fall and take about a year. The application is vague on how they'll find the estimated $62 million to actually build the project other than continuing to pursue Congressional earmarks.
The design work also includes about $1 million from Eugene and Springfield urban renewal districts, a controversial source of money that diverts money from state school funding.
The City of Eugene plans to remove one of the most heavily used stretches of bike lane in the city to make room for car parking, according to an application for a state grant.
The grant application calls for removing the one-block bike lane leading to the UO on the south side of 13th Ave. between Alder and Kincaid Streets. The lane is used by a flood of hundreds of UO students going to class and may be one of the highest concentrations of bike commuters in the nation.
The city grant application would replace the bike lane with back-in horizontal parking.
Instead of the bike lane, the city plans to draw "sharrow" lane markings in the car lane encouraging drivers to "share" the lane with vulnerable cyclists. Unlike bike lanes, sharrow markings carry no legal weight for motorists.
Here's the city's design:
An earlier city proposal of an option to replace bike lanes on Alder St. with sharrows drew boos and hisses from the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) at a March meeting. Members expressed concerns for the safety of cyclists forced to share a lane with inexperienced college-aged drivers.
The city's plan would have those drivers backing into parking spaces on a narrow street already crowded with bikes, pedestrians, busses and cars. The city did not provide the BPAC with information about its plans to remove the bike lane at the March meeting on the grant application.
The plan would maintain the existing, west-bound bike lane on the north side of 13th. The plan also calls for centralized parking pay station machines. Lost bike parking at pole meters would be replaced with on-street bike corrals.
The plan would improve space for pedestrians with sidewalks widened by five feet on the south side of the street and a bulb out pedestrian crossing. But most of the right of way would be prioritized for cars and car storage.
Eugene is one of 90 cities to apply for the competitive state grants, one of the few available sources of state funding dedicated to bike and pedestrian improvements. The cities applied for a total of $37 million in funding, but the state has only $5 million to give out.
Eugene applied for a total of $707,000 for its project. The project also includes adding a two-way cycletrack to Alder. The BPAC and the local GEARs cycling group supported the Alder cycletrack, but the grant includes no positive comments from cyclists on removing the 13th Ave. bike lane.
It's unclear if removing the bike lane will now jeopardize the city's entire Alder/13th plan. The city's grant application states that its project cannot be divided into two phases. It doesn't appear that the state has ever given a pedestrian or bicycle improvement grant that included removing a bike lane.
Removing the bike lane could set a precedent for less safe and inviting biking in Eugene. Already, the city has proposed removing planned bike lanes on a future riverfront avenue and replacing the bike space with space "shared" with cars.
Bike and pedestrian advocates have posted more than 140 comments on an interactive map the city set up as part of their effort to draft a new bike/ped plan for the city.
The site will accept comments through Aug. 27. Here's some highlights from what's already been posted:
• Cars leaving strip mall driveways on Coburg Rd. poke through sidewalks and bike lanes while waiting to turn. "This is the scariest section of road I use regularly," said a commenter.
• Convert Grand, Blair and Monroe streets into a bike boulevard/expressway with bike lanes, traffic calming, improved crossings etc. reaching from the fairgrounds to the river.
• Connect the Amazon bike path to the river with a 2-way protected bikeway from South Eugene High School along High Street to the river.
• Make 12th Ave. into a bike boulevard from the University to the Fern Ridge path by turning stop signs and improving crossings with major streets.
• Build a bike bridge to connect the Fern Ridge path to the Target/Walmart shopping area. "Make the developers pay for it!!! How did they NOT?!" said one comment.
• Make Broadway through downtown a bike boulevard.
• Convert south Willamette Street between 18th and 29th to two car lanes a center turn lane and bike lanes. "This is one of the most bike un-friendly corridors that I encounter."
• Build a bike/ped bridge or bridges over Amazon Creek south of 36th where the creek splits neighborhoods.
• Add sidewalks on West 11th and improve connections form the Fern Ridge path to West 11th businesses.
• Build a new riverfront bike path along the McKenzie and Willamette rivers from Armitage Park to Beltline.
• Build a cycletrack on Alder all the way to the River. "This would be a crucial connection for thousands of cyclist everyday."
• Connect Santa Clara to Eugene with a bike/ped bridge over Beltline.
• Improve 15th with bike boulevard treatments including better crossings, traffic diverters, traffic calming and markings.
• Add bike lanes to 13th Ave. "These should have been installed before. The 12th ave. excuse doesn't work, cyclists need a thoroughfare as well."
• Create a "traffic garden" near the Rose Garden for kids to learn traffic skills with "a scaled down city with working traffic lights, signs, crosswalks, roundabouts, sidewalks, bike lanes, work zones, paths, intersections, etc."
• Build a protected two-way cycletrack on 24th from Amazon Parkway to Patterson to reduce the dooring hazard.
• Add bike lanes to Patterson to serve South Eugene High School, Roosevelt Middle School and the YMCA. "Patterson was just repaved and should have had bike lanes put in."
The city expects to report on existing bike/ped conditions by next month, create a funding plan for improvements by February and then adopt a final Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan by June next year.
With only 2 percent of local transportation spending going to bikes, every project counts.
Here's a list of the eight projects totaling $5.4 million in the region's $269.7 million proposed plan for transportation improvements in the next three years (MTIP):
MF Willamette Lp Path - $2,081,461
Construct a multi-use path along north bank of Middle Fork Willamette River from Dorris Ranch to Clearwater Park. Only minimal upgrades to the Doris Ranch to Quarry Creek section will be made. This is Unit 1 of a planned project for a loop path along Middle Fork Willamette River and Springfield Mill race, with a bridge across the river to Mt Pisgah County Park.
Map # 64
West Bank Path Extension- $1,904,640
Project will extend West Bank shared use path under Randy Pape Beltline and west along Division Street to end at Beaver Street. The project will provide the Santa Clara neighborhood with access to the Riverbank Path system. A future Hunsaker Lane/Beaver Street project that is in the Regional Transportation Plan will bring Beaver and Hunsaker up to urban standards and provide further access for pedestrians and cyclists to the regional riverbank path system.
Map # 1
Safe Routes to School Eugene Projects- $555,000
Improvements at 7 schools to include cross enhancements, signage and bike parking. Funded by Safe Routes to School federal program.
Map # 9
Extend South Bank Path Under I-5 - $340,000
Construct approximately 1100' of bike/ped path "viaduct" to connect the South Bank Path west of I-5 to the Glenwood Riverfront Path east of I-5 beneath the Willamette River Bridge this project will use beams removed from the temporary Willamette River Bridge.
Map # 73
Safe Routes to School 4J Program- $167,168
Continuation and development of the local Safe Routes to School program. The Eugene SRTS program is a community approach Bikeway System and to encouraging and enabling more people to walk and bike to school safely.
Map # 9
N Bank Path Rehab - Frohnmayer/DeFazio Bridges- $154,379
Preliminary engineering for a section of the North Bank Path Ruth Bascom River Bank Path rehabilitation. The funding for this is from the STP - Readiness 2010 federal funds with a local match. The Path will be overlaid with concrete in sections where there is asphalt to provide a smoother, more sustainable surface Some concrete will be replaced and the path will be realigned to straighten tight dangerous curves. The project will add path lighting where there is none, as well as add amenities such as benches, bike racks, trash cans and railings.
Map # 38
Monroe Middle School Bike Shelter Eugene- $153,000
Construct bike cage roof and install secure skateboard and rain gear storage facilities. Funded by Safe Routes to School federal program.
Map # 8
Fern Ridge Path - Chambers to Arthur Streets- $61,378
Preliminary engineering for a section of the Fern Fridge Path in order to move it way from the bank of the Amazon Creek. This will minimize the failing of the path due to bank failure such as slumping and allow for the creek to be enhanced to improve the waterway. The design will incorporate current path standards for lighting and sustainable concrete surfacing. The Preliminary Engineering phase will also ensure all the appropriate environmental clearances and appropriate land use permits.
Map # 39
Here's the map of the projects from the MTIP (zoom to see the map numbers):