A West 11th Story
By Kenneth Wymer
In our modern fast-paced lives we are always on the go from one place to another, and in order to do this is a quick manner we often use cars. Many people whether it is because of choice to help the environment or due to their economic circumstances, turn to public transportation. This would mean using the services of the Lane Transit District to get them to where they need to go. No matter the reason LTD is a service which many people here in the Eugene-Springfield area use every day. With an increase in the number of riders and the time it takes for a bus to make its route LTD has proposed the West Eugene EmX Extension (WEEE), a proposal which has received mixed reviews from both riders and businesses in the area. Both groups having three areas of concern: construction, the current LTD system, and the cost of the project
The EmX is a rapid transit system which stands for the Emerald Express. Currently the EmX has one route which connects the Eugene station to the Springfield station. Riders can go from Eugene to Springfield in an estimated 16 minutes, with an EmX leaving each station in intervals of 10-20 minutes depending on the time of day.
Of these three concerns construction is at the top of many of the business minds and the reason many object to the proposal. Someone driving down West 11th Ave can see signs and posters lining the road, each saying “No Build.” At some sections of West 11th one cannot go more than five feet from one such sign to another. Clayton Walker, the West Eugene community organizer, says “I think there is consensus that whatever happens it should not further slow traffic on West 11th nor impede access to the businesses along West 11th.”
The latter part of Walker’s statement is what some businesses in the Market Place West shopping center worry about. Suzi Ginter of The Steaming Bean is one who has this concern. “Trying to get in here is hard enough.” “With the construction, [potential customers] will just drive by if traffic is too thick.” Ginter who does not believe the time estimates adds, “Construction is never short term and would cause more traffic problems.”
Andy Vobora, director of Service Planning, Accessibility, and Marketing for LTD has seen that the businesses of West Eugene have this concern about the construction that would take place but he says, “Businesses compare our construction to road construction, and this is not a good comparison. In road construction or repaving, the roadway is opened up for long distances, and this affects many businesses for a long period of time. Our construction progresses in short block to two block segments and can move very quickly.”
There has already been such an expansion in Springfield near the Gateway Mall which Vobora said took about 18 months to complete. Kevin Harper of the Dutch Brothers by Best Buy believes that when the route opens in January, they will get more business. “I think it will bring more walk ups off the bus, more high school aged people. They will be able to get a drink and have it finished in the ten minutes before the next bus comes,” Harper says.
But for Ginter, The Steaming Bean, and the other businesses in Market Place West and along West 11th may not have the ability to wait for the route opens to reap the desired effects that Harper speaks of “Most of our business is from the other businesses. If they don’t have money coming in then they will not spend it, which means we won’t make any money,” says Ginter.
Riders also have concerns about the cost; it is one which goes hand in hand with the current LTD system. Recently LTD has cut routes to save money, and riders as well as businesses have raised questions to why LTD has cut routes but yet plan to do construction on the extension. Ginter says, “I do not understand why they have had to cut routes but will build an EmX. Why not increase the current routes instead?” Riders such as Ryne Sell feel that an increase in the frequency of the current buses would also work, but Sell adds that he would not object to the EmX extension.
Sell is an employee at Pizza Hut and has been riding LTD buses every day for the past month after his car died. Sell spends about two hours a day commuting from home to work, leaving nearly an hour before his shift. Though he finds the LTD bus system to be good, he feels there is room for improvement, and he sees the EmX as one such improvement, “I think it would be great for me and work. I have had a few days where I was late.”
With the ability to not have to wait a half hour to over an hour for a bus, some riders such as Sell feel they would be more likely to take part in local shopping. “I have had times where I sit here and think about going into Fred Meyer’s or one of the other shops around here, but I don’t. I know as soon as I do my bus will be here,” Sell says. “I cannot risk wasting time by missing my bus.” Erik Maberry is a student at the University of Oregon. He does not live or travel in West Eugene, but soon he will be able to use the Gateway EmX for his commute. “I would ride it if it goes near my house. It’s newer, faster, cleaner, and a little nicer. It seems more efficient for riders.” Maberry is like Sell in that he sees the possibility of local shopping.
“It creates a very good regional connection. The West Eugene route will be added to the existing routes to create one seamless connection from west Eugene to north Springfield,” says Vobora. With this extension West Eugene could see business from customer not from the area who will be able to quickly and easily get to the area.
Vobora says, “The route cuts are a result of the poor economy and would happen irrespective of EmX. At this point, LTD has adjusted its operating and capital budgets so that additional cuts are not projected in the coming five years.” Vobora adds that the funds for the extension would come from federal grants.
The different alternatives which LTD is looking at range in the cost of over $100 million; however, LTD believes it would be able to get more than that amount by obtaining federal grants from the Department of Transportation. Vobora says that if LTD does not go with the extension, it would not lower the federal deficit because the money comes from the gas tax money which has been collected from all the states across the country.
Vobora adds, “If our project isn’t funded, then these funds will go to another transportation project somewhere. Why not pump this money into our local economy where local businesses benefits from both the direct employment and the indirect employment that is gained when this money is spent by employees of the contractors working on the project?”
Chris Pryor, the City Council Member for Ward 8 (West Eugene), says that the “EmX could be part of a larger solution to the transportation solution in west Eugene if it is effectively implemented. But it is only part of the solution. We need to consider several issues in properly addressing growth in west Eugene, not the least of which is the expectation that even with rapid transit. We will still need to plan for cars.”
As time continues to pass Vobora says LTD will continue to try to work with local businesses and residents as well as riders to come up with a plan which will work for all. Vobora says LTD, through the meetings and open houses, has taken the full build plan and adjusted it to still meet their operational needs while avoiding the biggest impacts to businesses. Vobora also says that “construction at night is a possibility when access might be affected. This is more costly to the project, but if it’s what needs to happen in specific instances, then we will explore it.”
For now the WEEE is still just a proposal, but LTD is already looking ahead at future projects. “We have interest from both the Bethel and River Road neighborhood groups and from the mayor and city council in Springfield to be considered for the next route. We are looking into developing criteria that could assist in this decision-making process and hope to select the 4th and possibly 5th corridors within the coming year,” says Vobora.
A two part video of the current route of bus 41 through West Eugene
The video has been unedited except for being cut into two parts to fit within YouTube’s upload limit. The total length of the footage is 20 minutes and 36 seconds. This was shot from the back window of the bus using Fujifilm FinePix A610 digital camera.
The 41 is one of several buses which run in West Eugene, but only one of three which run the length of West 11th Ave which the proposed EmX extension would run.
Part one: This is from Monday November 22, 2010 at about 8:42 in the morning. The video starts at Hertz Car Sales of Eugene at the intersection of S. Danebo Ave and West 11th Ave and ends at Seneca Station located near the Fred Meyer’s parking lot.
Part two: The video starts at Seneca Station located near the Fred Meyer’s parking lot and ends at the Downtown Station. This is from Monday November 22, 2010 at about 8:50 in the morning. The bus reached the station at around 9:02 in the morning.
Interview with Chris Pryor about the proposed LTD West Eugene EmX Extension
Chris Pryor is the city council member for ward 8, West Eugene. His term started on January of 2009 and goes till January of 2013. He recently answered a few questions about
Q: Do you see the EmX with the proposed route extensions, namely the West 11th extension, as such a solution to increasing traffic?
A: EmX could be part of a larger solution to the transportation solution in west Eugene if it is effectively implemented. But it is only part of the solution. We need to consider several issues in properly addressing growth in west Eugene, not the least of which is the expectation that even with rapid transit, we will still need to plan for cars.
Q: What is the general reaction to the EmX expansion proposal from businesses? From residents?
A: I could not tell you what the general reaction is because I have not heard from the majority of people and business along West 11th. I have heard from some vocal interests on both sides of the debate, but not a statistically representative sample. That’s why I remain open-minded about my ultimate decision. I am not like some who have made their judgment before they hear all the evidence.
Q: I have talked with several riders of the LTD buses that run in the West Eugene area and they have mixed feelings about the proposed expansion. Some find that the goals LTD is trying to accomplish could be done with more frequent buses. Out of the proposed routes do you think the West 11th option is the most suited for the area? Why or Why not?
A: I am not in a position to advocate for one position or another yet. I will say that it is a very common habit for people to reach a conclusion and form opinions based on little if any hard information. One of the reasons we elect leaders is so they will take the time to learn all they can about an issue before rendering a judgment so that it is well-informed. It’s one of the obligations of public service which I take very seriously.