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Four To Three Lane Redesign Could Be Safer

Willamette Street, one of Eugene’s most collision-prone roadways, will get a makeover in 2018. The city’s community meetings to consider reengineering the street to work better have been packed to the brim. When the Eugene City Council considers alternatives later this summer or in early fall, it will choose from three options: the four-lane street’s current configuration; three lanes, including a center turn lane, and bike lanes in both directions; and three lanes with wider sidewalks.

Consultants from DKS Associates, a traffic-engineering firm the city hired for the project, say the average delay on Willamette Street, if redesigned to include three lanes, would be about 30 seconds. Between 100 and 500 drivers per day could reroute themselves if looking to rush through the corridor. 

Senior Transportation Engineer Scott Mansur says that similar “road diets” in places like Washougal, Wash., caused many of the same concerns that some residents have regarding Willamette Street, but the Washougal conversion has been successful in reducing accident rates without disrupting businesses.

According to the city, Willamette Street has approximately double the rate of collisions of similar Oregon streets. Mansur says a redesign in Washougal solved a similar problem on a 12,000-vehicle-per-day corridor (Willamette sees 16,000 vehicles per day). He spoke to Washougal’s police chief after the redesign was in use, and it turns out the four-to-three conversion saved time (and ergo costs) for emergency responders, as well. “Since the conversion happened, he said he can’t recall any collisions that occurred that he’d had to send crews to on that corridor,” Mansur says. He says the city’s public works coordinator reported that business owners on the corridor, who were skeptical of the redesign, have been surprised by its functionality.

A 2012 PSU study found that adding conveniently located bike lanes is good for business because bicyclists spend more money at bars, restaurants and convenience stores than drivers do, but cyclists are less likely to travel in corridors that aren’t bike-friendly.

Eugene’s fire chief told the R-G that he’s concerned three lanes might cause difficulty for emergency responders, but Mansur says that a redesigned street would require the same driving tactics as a four-lane street: vehicles moving to the right to make room for emergency vehicles.

“As an engineer I think of it as physical space, and if you’ve got 42 feet curb-to-curb and there’s four travel lanes or you’ve got 42 feet curb-to-curb and three travel lanes and bike lanes, there’s still the same amount of physical space,” Mansur says. “If cars are moving over to the bike lanes, it’s still the same amount of room for emergency vehicles to get through the corridors.”