Local media is all abuzz about a proposal to reconfigure Willamette from 24th to 32nd. Writing in the Nov. 3 Register-Guard, Jack Billings clearly identified cyclists as the driver of efforts to alter South Willamette — efforts that would remove one car lane and add two bike lanes. Quoting Billings, “The discussion [about Willamette] is only about bicycles. Were it not for the small but organized bike lobby, there would be no debate about reconfiguration.” Billings doesn’t know the half of it.
For decades cyclists have steered debates about road design toward a radical pro-bike agenda. In the early 1970s, RINO Republican Don “1 percent” Stathos pushed a bill that dedicated highway monies for bike lanes, stealing from diminutive State highway funds. Locally, the growing war chest and sense of entitlement provided traction for first female mayor Ruth Bascom, who pedaled her green bicycle agenda on an unsuspecting City Council pressured to approve more bike lanes and bike paths.
Over time city staff has conspired with bike advocates, relentlessly pursuing an aggressive campaign to provide bike access on nearly every road. Justified by so-called community crafted documents such as the Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Plan, Envision Eugene and the Regional Transportation Plan, these documents are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make roads bike friendly.
Not only has the city marginalized motorists, they’re creating bike lane gaps that taunt cyclists. Nowhere else is this more evident than the six block section from Willamette between 23rd and 29th, the half mile of road under debate. The recent addition of bike lanes to 23rd and the earlier installation of bike lanes south of 29th, entice cyclists to “ride the gap” of missing bike lanes.
Gap riders must be stopped. With over 16,000 cars per day on Willamette, gap riders will slow speeding motorists and increase the danger of this section that sees twice the accidents similar roads. And how can any driver peruse storefront windows if they are preoccupied with gap riders?
With cyclists riding on sidewalks as is common now, and an influx of gap riders, it’s time that the City Council take immediate action and prohibit any bicycle riding, any time, on this section of Willamette.
A cycling ban on Willamette is not a hardship for cyclists given convenient access via back streets. Southbound riders can simply turn onto Portland Street, then continue south where they meet two flights of stairs that access the Woodfield Station parking lot. After some quick vertical biking down 25 steps, parents can pause to collect scattered children and diapers. Safe on the lot, they mount their bikes, swerve behind delivery trucks, and journey through a maze of cars. Here, inadvertent collisions provide motorists and cyclists an opportunity to meet, share insurance information, and the location of the hospital receiving their injured.
Going north is even simpler. Just before 29th and Willamette, turn right into the Hawthorn apartments, slalom a couple of residents, then take a left, continuing north on Oak. Where Oak meets 29th, wait just a few or several minutes to cross this busy street, then dart across three lanes of traffic. Safely across 29th, zig-zag further on Oak, turning east on 27th. Arriving at Amazon Parkway, exiting motorists provide a refreshing swoosh of fresh air as they speed by. Nearly home free, bikers then take Amazon to 24th, negotiate the heavy traffic, then hop on the bike path. Even those who don’t bike can see cycling on side streets is a separate, but equal option, negating the need for bike lanes on Willamette.
No bikes, no bike lanes and no center turn lane is a win-win-win. No bikes mean no bike racks, freeing space for parking one customer where seven bikes parked before. Without bike lanes, buses blocking a full traffic lane give stopped motorists a chance to window shop, smell the diesel and finger wave to passersby. And without a center turn lane, motorists pressured to make a hurried left, arrive earlier at their destination — sometimes.
A decades-long cascade of events have conspired to create a false dilemma regarding Willamette. The choice is not between bikes in four lanes of car traffic or bikes in separate bike lanes. Instead, it’s whether people on bikes should be allowed on Willamette at all. Clearly people on bikes can, and should, travel somewhere else.
Let’s go back to a time 60 years ago, when gas was cheap, obesity was rare and bikes were for children. For safety’s sake, let’s ban bikes on Willamette. And let’s rethink pedestrians on this stretch. After all, hardly anyone walks there, and those planned 9-foot sidewalks could be two more travel lanes. With so much traffic, we could pave paradise and put up a parking lot.