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Three Lanes May Be Better Than Four

Frequent travelers on Willamette Street between 24th and 32nd avenues know that the corridor isn’t Eugene’s finest for travel, and with the November passage of the pavement preservation bond measure, there’s funding to repave and possibly reconfigure the stretch in the next five years.

 Transportation Planning Engineer Chris Henry says that four-lane, two-direction streets create problems for everyone who uses the street. He says that people turning left often stop in the left travel lane, people turning right slow in the right lanes, and cyclists end up riding lawfully in a lane of traffic or on the sidewalks with pedestrians.

Henry says that planners and community members are considering the option of having one lane of travel plus a center turn lane, then using the extra lane of space for bike lanes, bus turn-outs, widening the sidewalks or on-street parking. “A center turn lane would move those turning movements out of the travel lane, and that frees up the remaining travel lane in each direction to better handle the through movement of traffic,” he says.

Safety is another problem reconfiguration could improve. “What is a little unusual for Willamette Street is that the collision rate is about twice as high as the statewide average for similar facilities,” Henry says. Some of the driveways on Willamette are redundant, he says, and don’t necessarily improve access to businesses on the route. Each driveway is an intersection, and “every one of those driveways creates its own set of conflicts that, if people don’t yield the right of way appropriately, may result in a crash,” he says.

While some community members have expressed concern about the reconfiguration, worrying that it will make the drive more hectic rather than less and drive away business, Henry says that during focus group meetings, business and property owners were all supportive of a three-lane alternative, though they debated what should be done with the remaining space. The cycling community has been pressing for bike lanes on Willamette for years, and given a recent PSU study that shows bikers spend more per month at local businesses than drivers do (read more at wkly.ws/1eq), business owners might be warming to the idea.

“There’s been a suggestion by some that cyclists should take alternate routes and side streets,” Henry says, “but what we’re hearing from the cycling community is that they want to be able to travel to the businesses on Willamette Street, and that means being able to move up and down the street when they’re there.”

While biking on sidewalks outside of the downtown core is legal, Henry says it’s still not a good idea in general. “Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk creates conflicts with the pedestrians and creates a safety problem for both the pedestrians and the cyclists,” he says, “which are further compounded by the 70-some driveways along this eight-block stretch of Willamette Street so that there’s conflicts between the bicyclists and pedestrians and the motorists that are turning in and out of businesses along the street.”

Henry says the South Willamette Street Improvement Plan is still in its early phases, and the next meeting, focused on evaluating the different alternatives, is 6 pm Feb. 27 at South Eugene High School.