Active Transportation in Eugene

Introduction/Background

A stretch of the North Bank River Path along the Willamette River

The city of Eugene is a welcoming place for those who seek alternative transportation. The 2010 American Community Survey reported that Eugene has the second highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the nation, with more than 7,000 residents riding bikes to work every day.

The Harlow and Cal Young neighborhoods are situated north of the Willamette River and just west of Springfield, a section divided by interstate highways and heavy car traffic.

“Safety and connectivity are two issues that are primary for North Eugene,” says Jennifer Smith, chairwoman of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, “North Eugene has been designed with the automobile in mind.”

A view of a bicycle and pedestrian bridge that connects North Eugene residents with the rest of Eugene.

The Harlow and Cal Young neighborhoods are connected to the rest of Eugene through a complex series of on and off road bicycle paths. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee works with the city planners to ensure safe and accessible pathways for North Eugene residents to reach places such as the Valley River Center, University of Oregon campus, and recreational parks along the Willamette River.

The BPAC plans to ensure safer bicycle and pedestrian commutes in the Harlow and Cal Young neighborhoods by working to slow down auto speeds, widening bike lanes, and providing a more complete sidewalk network.

Within the public school system, organizations such as the Eugene Safe Routes to School Program aim to promote and educate students on safety while bicycling and walking to school.

Paul Adkins: Living to Ride

Paul Adkins spent the week after Thanksgiving peddling his parents around on a tricycle rickshaw while they visited Eugene. This is not out of the norm for Adkins, as he and his family have lived car free for three years. The bicycle activist and his wife moved to Eugene with their four children to live their desired lifestyle and rely on alternative transport for all of their daily needs.

“I’ve lived in some places that are really good for biking, and also a few really bad places,” says Adkins, “Bicycling has been part of what I thought was a great idea for a long time, so Eugene was a great place for us.”

Adkins admits that while he is a devout advocate for alternative transportation, it is an acquired standard of living that is not easily attained. The Adkins family has made some changes and compromises to make their car free lifestyle work.

“It certainly isn’t possible for every family to do it as easily as we are. We work really close to home. We purposely moved into this city’s inner area, so that the distances to the places we need to go aren’t very far.” explains Adkins.

Adkins demonstrates his passion for cycling within his own family life, and is also dedicated to promoting active transportation throughout Eugene. Adkins is a member of Greater Area Eugene Riders, a local bicycle advocacy group. Once exclusively a bicycle recreation club, three years ago GEARs merged with the Eugene Bicycle Coalition and broadened their initiatives.

“The main mission is just to promote bicycling of all kinds,” explains Adkins, “It sort of has become the primary or main advocacy, education, and recreation club here in town.”

Adkins’ four children ride their bikes to school everyday rain or shine, which Adkins believes holds valuable lessons in their upbringing.

“I think it’s taught my kids a lot about traffic and participating in society- things that they wouldn’t learn sitting inside a car.”

Adkins promotes the education of bicycle transportation to all children, and helped to create Kiddical Mass, which organizes community oriented bicycle rides for Eugene families. Adkins is says that once families begin to ride bikes more regularly in Eugene, they will quickly learn of the many benefits.

“I think of it as a great way to help kids to realize how fun it is, but I think most kids already realize that,” says Adkins, “It’s really a way to get parents to realize how much fun they can have with their kids by doing this.”

Adkins says that the Harlow and Cal Young neighborhoods have been focusing on building a better network of bike paths, and a major improvement is the recent construction of the Delta Ponds Bridge on the Willamette River.

“It will allow the Cal Young neighborhood specifically to connect with the river path” says Adkins, “I know families that live in the Cal Young neighborhood whose children go to my kids’ school that will be using it all the time. This new bridge really connects everybody nicely. “

Adkins encourages other Eugene residents to become involved with the future of active transportation in the city. He mentions the Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, a city project currently underway, as a great opportunity for residents to voice their concerns and ideas for the development of active transportation in Eugene.

“It’s a great way to engage in what’s going on, to put in input and give them some feedback” says Adkins, “This city is very receptive, but if they don’t hear of problems they won’t know to do much about them. This is the time to talk about it.”

The Adkins family is not alone in their cycling lifestyle, the Bicycle Federation of America estimates 2.8 million regular bicycle commuters in the US. With his work in community outreach and bicycle advocacy in Eugene, Adkins hopes to increase this number.

“It certainly is something that we are inspired to do, and we feel good about what we are doing.”

Eugene Safe Routes to School

The Eugene Safe Routes to School Program has been established throughout the public school system, promoting safe commutes to school by bicycling and walking. Bicycle advocate Shane Rhodes, the SRTS district coordinator for the Eugene 4J School District,

“The Safe Routes to School Program in Eugene came out of the national Safe Routes program” says Rhodes, “The Federal Highway Administration gives money to every state’s Department of Transportation, and those DOT’s put out the funding to communities.”

The program focuses on the encouragement and education of young pedestrians and cyclists in Eugene, two elements that Rhodes says are the cornerstones of their program.

“In Safe Routes to School there are what we call the Five E’s” explains Rhodes, “They are education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.”

Rhodes points out that the enthusiastic participation of the students involved are proof of the program’s success.

“Kids really leave the program knowing how to drive their bikes. They really learn about cycling as a vehicle.”

In an effort to encourage students to walk or ride to school, some Eugene middle school have implemented a program called “Voltage”, in which students receive radio frequency ID tags to chart how frequently they arrive to school on foot or by bike.

“If they walk or bike to school 90% of the time throughout the year they can earn a big reward, like a camera or an iPod.” explains Rhodes.

Eugene SRTS has recently received a $490,000 grant to do infrastructure changes, which Rhodes says will be used in part to improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation in the Harlow community.

“We are working to improve crossings in Oak Way. There’s going to be two crossings that will have a mixture of pedestrian islands, painted crosswalks, and flashing beacons.” says Rhodes, “We also want a lot more way finding signage in the Harlow neighborhoods. There is a good amount of bicycle and pedestrian cut throughs, and people don’t necessarily know that they are there or how to use them to get to places.”

Rhodes hopes to soon have the funding to implement a travelling bike fleet that would be available throughout the school district for educational purposes in elementary and middle schools. Eugene SRTS also plans to sponsor a pedestrian safety program to be held in elementary schools.

Q & A with Jennifer Smith, Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee

What are the main goals of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee?

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee advises the department of Public Works on issues pertaining to creating, maintaining and updating infrastructure, design, and policy that facilitates a greater percentage of people who chose to bicycle and walk to their destinations and for recreation.

Are there specific goals for the Harlow and Cal Young communities?

Safety and connectivity are two issues that are primary for North Eugene. These issues are primary for almost every other place also. North Eugene has been designed with the automobile in mind. Slowing down auto speeds, widening bike lanes, providing separated multi-use paths, creating access points (at the end of culdesacs for instance), and completing the sidewalk network are all important elements of a walkable and bikeable North Eugene.

What is the impact of the Delta Ponds Bridge? What was involved in the process of funding and constructing the bridge?

The Delta Ponds Bridge allows residents of North Eugene to finally access their own world-class river path system. The river path connects users with Valley River Center, recreational opportunities along the river, access to downtown, and easier access to jobs. The Delta Ponds Bridge was funded with a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Transportation Enhancement Grant. The FHWA sets aside a tiny amount of money (percentage-wise) in the form of the Transportation Enhancement grants for non-motorized mode facility enhancements. There was a demonstratable need to provide transportation options to the opportunities on the other side of Delta Highway.

Why do you feel that people should seek alternative transportation in Eugene?

Eugene needs to prepare for economic and climate realities that are already here but will be felt more acutely in the near future. Designing and retrofitting our city with facilities and policies that provide transportation options is, what I believe to be, the most important and inexpensive action that a community can undertake for its own future resilience. Obesity is a looming health crisis in this country. We must provide safe and comfortable opportunities for youth to form healthy mobility habits.

What are some of your priorities in upcoming months as far as city planning in concerned?

Currently, there are several major guiding transportation planning documents being generated in the city and county. Several members of the BPAC are on a citizen advisory committee for the Bike/Ped Master Plan. This document will provide the backbone for future areas of focus and funding. It is very important to me that future modes (biking and walking) receive more than just the crumbs left over from road projects. The tiny amount of money spent toward providing walkable and bikeable communities reflects an outdated model of auto-centric planning. With modest funding, and properly pricing the costs of driving, we could truly have the greatest city of arts and the outdoors. Healthful, community-focused, economically vital.

Why did you get involved with the committee?

I am a mother of a 5 year old. I hope that he finds Eugene to be a dynamic city of the future and has every reason to stay here when he is able to choose. I think advocating for transportation options is the way to create the Future City which is all about access access access.

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