Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New Eugene Footbridges Will Connect Paths and Bus Rapid Transit

New footbridge across Amazon Creek at Buck Street
(Yeah, that's a paceline in the background on the Fern Ridge path)
With the Minto Bridge in the news this past week, it seemed like a good time to consider a somewhat similar bridge project in Eugene.

It was the top ranked bike/ped project:
Eugene's bridges connect streets and bike paths to transit
You may remember a few years back that Eugene and the Lane Transit District had put together a ConnectOregon application for lottery funding on three footbridges across Amazon Creek to connect neighborhoods, commercial areas, and the Fern Ridge path system to the westside expansion of EMX, Eugene's Bus Rapid Transit system, which opens September 17th.

The bridge project hit some kind of magic multi-modal trifecta, scored very highly, and secured funding easily.

Two of the three bridges are now complete, and this summer construction is proceeding on the third and final bridge.

Apart from the strip along West 11th Avenue, the area is not all highly developed, and there is lots of open, undeveloped land in addition to that land specifically designated for parkland. Bridges that cross Amazon Creek are infrequently spaced for foot or bike travel, and are generally on arterial-type busy streets. So the footbridge connections meet a real need, and are also oriented towards future development. Already some large apartment complexes are going in, and between the bridges, path system, and bus rapid transit, it will be possible to get many places without a car - though the big parking lots, busy streets, pockets of void and empty space, and sprawly development patterns in general will still curb walking and biking from reaching full potential. There's an important land-use shift that will need to happen in addition to the transportation connections.

The Fern Ridge Path at Buck St looking north
11th Ave and KFC in background
At top and just above, that's the bridge at Buck Street, the one closest to downtown on the locator map. It creates a connection to Fred Meyer as well as many smaller businesses along the strip-style development on West 11th.

Richardson Bridge of 1912
Just to the west of Buck Street, the path crosses the creek, and there's a repurposed bridge, the Richardson Bridge. Its plaque reads:
This historic steel diamond truss design bridge, built by the Coast Bridge Company in 1912, has served Oregon traffic in three locations.

Its first location, near Prineville crossed the Crooked River.

In 1956 it was relocated between Walton and Mapleton on the Siuslaw River.

The bridge was moved here in 1986 to carry bicycle traffic when it could no longer support heavy loads.
Very near the Wallis Street bridge, there is a direct connection between the Fern Ridge path and an EMX station, the Sam Reynolds* stop.

Fern Ridge path, weeds, Sam Reynolds EMX station on W. 11th
(The direct path connection in concrete is just off the image!)

"Bus Only" dedicated right-of-way in concrete for EMX

Traffic on West 11th includes heavy trucks and freight
Pedestrian refuge and median with two-phase crosswalk

Before: The same site in 2015 - via Streetview
While crossing busy streets along the Fern Ridge path sometimes requires an at-grade crosswalk, often there are underpasses.

One of many undercrossings - here at Danebo
Mostly they're great, but the path system may not be something that feels safe at night. We passed three people "working" at what looked like a mobile bike chop shop on the path. This kind of petty crime is something Portland is struggling with right now, especially along the Springwater corridor. The greenspace is great, but land uses that provide eyes and ears are too often distant, and the minor grades of miscreantcy can flourish.

Fern Ridge Trail in Blue, about six miles long - via Google
There may not be much to do about this in the more rural reaches of the path system, but inside of the urban area, where the path system is intended not just for recreation but also as an important transportation corridor, the route may not be as inviting to infrequent cyclists.

Approximate same area - Eugene zoning map
It will be interesting to see how EMX functions here. North of Roosevelt and south of 11th Ave there is lots of residential development (that off-white color on the map). But the band between Roosevelt and 11th is very commercial or industrial (purple and magenta), and there are also large pockets of wetland or other green space (lime green and robin's egg blue). Saving green space sometimes means deploying housing and commercial development at car-oriented spacing. There are some real trade-offs. Area for new multifamily development is on the edges in brown, still a ways away from 11th. Even with EMX and the paths, they will likely remain mostly car-dependent because of the distances between meaningful destinations. The bike and bus infrastructure does not always seem to be working in tandem with the land use patterns, and it may be, at least at present, that they still act somewhat at cross-purpose.

Back to Salem

Ultimately, these three new bridges in Eugene have a very different purpose than the Minto Bridge, so the comparison isn't always a strong one. There is no meaningful bike-walk-bus connection made possible by the Minto Bridge, and the reaches of the park are too distant from housing to make a new connection to downtown Salem.

By contrast, the Eugene bridges represent a serious approach to creating a useful walk-bike-bus nexus. You may have noticed that while 11th Avenue was widened for the outer bus lanes, no additional capacity for car trips was created. It's a total approach to mobility and to future growth in West Eugene that is not about the autoist primacy of drive-alone trips.

Puffery with no relation to reality
We're still working on that kind of approach. You may remember from a few years back, when the City was still raising funds and planning for the Minto Bridge, the wild hyperbole for it as a transportation corridor, with "up to 21,700 non-automobile commuters."

It's a highway bridge, for highway speeds and dust
not for pleasant walking or biking
As we also see with the Salem River Crossing, there is little serious thought to developing a complete and robust network for walking, biking, and busing on errands and commutes. Our rhetoric is sometimes grand, but at the level of fully thought-through detail, our commitment is shallow and sparse.

Mostly we harness and grand rhetoric to the service of selling projects we already want for other reasons. Too often it's a form of greenwashing.

Proposal for Core Network, July 2017
(list of corridors added to graphic)
Instead, we should give deep and serious thought to what it would actually take to shift 21,700 (and more!) current daily drive-alone commutes to walking, biking, and busing trips. What will it take to make a bus or bike trip more attractive than driving?

That would mean a much greater financial commitment to things other than road expansion for auto capacity.

Westside EMX is a $100 million project, with about three-quarters of that from the Federal government.

That's still at least one-fifth, more likely one-tenth, of the cost of a giant new bridge and highway.

Detail of Alternative 2A, from the DEIS, Chapter 2
N3B has consistently advocated for Alternative 2A, and if the current UGB and TSP decision is remanded by LUBA back to the City, 2A will deserve a second and more serious look. As it is in the DEIS, it is still very autoist. It needs more refinement. But if it could be combined with improved bike facilities for crossing Wallace Road, a bus-only lane on the bridges, the necessary queue jump lanes at the bridgeheads, and frequent service or bus rapid transit along Wallace Road, Eola, Orchard Heights - maybe there's a way to make it all work, to make it a total approach to mobility. Maybe the City and Cherriots will finally be able to say credibly:
Look, if you insist on the "freedom" to drive alone (or to use your new-fangled robot car), you will wait in line, paying in congestion and in time and in parking. But if you want to travel faster, take the bus! And you won't have to pay for parking. It's your choice!

* About Reynolds, Eugene Weekly says in a timeline on race and politics, in 1943 "another black family, the Reynolds (the namesake of Sam Reynolds Street), arrive. Along with the Johnsons and the Mims, they become the "pioneer" black families in Eugene, establishing themselves in the local lumber industry and founding several local black churches." There is more in the obituary for Sam's wife, Mattie Reynolds. See a previous note on the Mims House.

1 comment:

Walker said...

Done.

"N3B has consistently advocated for Alternative 2A, and if the current UGB and TSP decision is remanded by LUBA back to the City, . . ."