The city of Eugene is a vibrant area that, while being a college town, has slowly been growing as more and more people decide to stay or move here for one of the other various opportunities that can be found in this unique area. The city is getting large though and has started to face the difficulty of deciding how to accommodate future growth while keeping the surrounding areas pristine and available for nature and farming.
According to the Oregon Employment Department, Eugene can expect up to 35,800 additional jobs by 2032, which means that the city can also expect an increase in the need for housing, schools and shopping. This problem has become important enough that the city has created a group to determine community-wide desires, problems and opportunities. This group, started in 2010, is called Envision Eugene.
Envision Eugene, in their own words, is a “multi-year community dialogue about how Eugene grows to accommodate 34,000 more people in the next 20 years.” The main difficulty with attempting to fit that many more people into Eugene is that Eugene has an urban growth boundary, or UGB, that the city cannot grow outside of.
An urban growth boundary, in professional terms, is a regional boundary within which high-density urbanization can occur, and outside of which only lower density development can take place. High-density urbanization refers to businesses and high-capacity compact housing, while lower-density development refers to farming and larger, family homes.
The only states that require UGBs for cities are Oregon, Washington, Tennessee and California, but they have been used for many other cities around the world to cut down on urban sprawl. The city of Eugene hasn’t had to expand the UGB significantly since it was established in 1982 according to EE, but the city is nearing its growth boundary, and Eugene has now taken measures to decide how to redevelop the land we already have, to grow in a compact area and stop sprawl. Six main areas are being viewed as likely areas for redevelopment, including the S. Willamette District, Franklin St. and 13th Ave. near campus, lower River Rd. and Downtown.
Currently, the primary location being evaluated is the S. Willamette area located between 24th and 32nd Avenues to the north and south, and from the base of College Hill at Charnelton St. to Amazon Park for the west and east. This area faces distinct difficulties with traffic incidents, walking, biking and mixing businesses with residences.
The area has the dubious honor of being one of the more dangerous stretches of road in Eugene and has been the setting for many accidents involving bikers or walkers and cars. In fact Willamette St. has been noted for being accident-prone all the back in 1946, when the Register-Guard found that 33 people were injured in 635 accidents in 20 blocks on the road.
The neighborhood has changed and grown since then, but it is still a dangerous stretch of pavement that experiences many incidents every week according to police logs. A major factor of this is that there are no bike lanes on that stretch of Willamette and the sidewalks are narrow and old. The transportation issue however, “will be the subject of a special study… scheduled to begin late this summer,” according to Patricia Thomas, manager of the Envision Eugene Project.
Other issues that face the planning commission include integrating more places to live into the pre-existing area, creating design guidelines for neighborhood and business growth and supporting travel modes other than driving. Envision Eugene is in fact attempting to create a “20-minute neighborhood” as Patrica Thomas calls it, where “people will be able to walk to services and jobs with less reliance on the automobile.”
To create this vision, the planning and development department at city hall has been hard at work drawing up potential housing options, including apartments and row houses, and figuring out where the most ideal locations to combine living and business into multi-story buildings are. By combining multiple residences, or creating areas where a local business can flourish on the 1st story while college students and budding families live upstairs in affordable luxury, the area can accommodate many more people and shopping opportunities.
To determine exactly what the surrounding community wants for each area Envision Eugene is looking at, E.E. has been steadily collecting input through surveys, workshops, meetings and contests since 2010. The group has also worked closely with a Community Resource Group that is made up of a number of knowledgeable, thoughtful community members that live in the neighborhoods being contemplated.
E.E. then drafted proposals about what areas need to be dealt with first, and what the land needs were for each unique location. In March, 2012, a comprehensive Draft Proposal was published (which can be found online at http://1.usa.gov/LKVjVr) that outlined the tenets of Envision Eugene and how our city could handle the problems and create opportunities for growth and development in the upcoming 20 years.
The proposal explains how Envision Eugene is dedicated to providing ample affordable housing, economic opportunities, new and renovated schools and parks, and more efficient transportation options within the already established UGB. The group has found through community outreach and input that the most logical move is to create “20-minute neighborhoods”, which include parks, schools, shopping, dining and jobs within walking distance of residences, and are well-connected with transit service, safe crossings, more lighted paths and sidewalks, and slower roads.
Envision Eugene has found that though the city will need to expand by about 3%, most of the new growth can be contained in already developed areas by infilling and replacing inefficient buildings with new, energy and space-saving structures. These plans are always being reevaluated and are open to input though, as E.E. expects the need to identify and respond to future regulations, programs and unexpected problems.
It won’t be easy to renovate Eugene into a more compact, higher-density city while keeping the green, lush vision that the area is known for, but through community input and a strong desire to lead the way into a cleaner, better future, Eugene can become a guiding light for the rest of the United States. The city is already recognized as one of the most bike and pedestrian friendly places in the world, but this community knows they can do better and is excited to create a home where all age groups, all levels of affluence and all types of people will be welcome. Through the work of Envision Eugene, the city is on track to become a much more efficient, green and community-oriented place than it ever has been before.
If you want to stay in the know or get involved with the process, you can go to Envision Eugene’s public meetings (calendar found at http://bit.ly/OEvs0c) or email comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proposed Bike/Pedestrian Access Through Amazon Park
The Willamette St. area is an interesting mix of businesses, houses and natural areas such as Amazon Park, which borders the area and serves as the natural boundary of the Friendly Neighborhood. Currently, Amazon Park has few established routes or trails for bikes that cross Amazon Creek, leaving commuters with no choice but to travel a circuitous route around the park to get from one side to the other. During Envision Eugene’s study of what the community wanted and hated, this problem, as well as difficulties facing bikers and pedestrians trying to cross Amazon Pkwy and Willamette St. showed up as key areas for redevelopment. The most talked about locations for changing included improving access at 24th and High St., 27th and Amazon Pkwy., and at 29th and Amazon. The community also has expressed interest in creating a pedestrian path from Amazon Park to 28th Ave. and a new raised walkway across Willamette between 28th and 29th Avenues. Creating these new paths and walkways will improve accessibility to the Willamette St. shopping area, and will help cut down on the amount of traffic incidents involving cars and people walking or biking. It is likely that the area will eventually try to cut down on motor vehicle traffic by replacing car lanes with bike lanes, and adding new paths, lights and crossings to create a more pleasant pedestrian environment.
The Dangers of the Willamette St. Area
According to the Eugene Police Department’s incident logs, the Willamette St. area faces many hit and runs, and accidents involving cars, bikes and pedestrians. As one can guess, the cars always come out of the deal with nothing more than bumps, scratches and chipped paint, but the men and women who are hit by the cars aren’t as lucky. In the last 6 months, there have been 5 vehicle-bike related accidents, 3 vehicle-pedestrian accidents and 2 hit-and-runs in a 14-block stretch of Willamette St. between 10th and 24th Ave. The majority of these incidents occur at crosswalks and intersections where it is difficult to see pedestrians and bikers because of poor lighting and a 35 mph speed limit. Catie Draney, a UO student who has been in a traffic accident on Willamette St. says she “wishes the road could be made slower, smaller and easier to navigate. I stress out and worry every time I’m on Willamette, whether I’m in a car or on foot.” The neighborhood has been very vocal about their desire to make the area safer for pedestrians and bikers, and how they want to cut out the large amount of thru traffic that occupies the same road space. With the proposals that Envision Eugene is making, it is likely that Willamette St. will look completely different, and be much safer for all forms of transport, in the next 10-20 years.