Eugeneans are closer than ever to being able to zip around town on e-scooters following the Eugene City Council’s vote at the July 13 meeting held on Zoom. If you’re a driver, though, you’ll have to slow down on most local residential streets — the council also voted to reduce these speed limits by five miles an hour.
Eugene city councilors voted 7-1 to authorize the city manager to issue licenses to e-scooter companies for a pilot program and approving electric micromobility devices to use shared paths in Eugene, with one complication. Ward 2 Councilor Betty Taylor voted against the motions.
This decision comes after a February vote to begin the process of approving the e-scooter pilot program and a June 15 public hearing on the issue, as well as public support from local transportation experts.
The council also voted unanimously to reduce speed limits on most local residential streets, as well as to adopt an updated Parks and Recreation System Development Charge methodology, increasing the city’s capacity in park and recreation infrastructure.
At the Feb. 26 Eugene City Council work session, Councilors Taylor and Ward 6’s Greg Evans voted against the motions about the micromobility devices, citing public safety concerns. Councilor Emily Semple, who represents the downtown area, also expressed unease about the safety of these devices, saying that she had been hit by a personal e-scooter at a parade and it took months for her to recover. Ultimately, however, she decided to vote in favor of the pilot program.
At the June 15 public hearing, four people spoke in favor of implementing the pilot program and allowing the devices on shared paths.
Claire Roth, the safe street coordinator at the nonprofit Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation, said she sees a role for the shared e-scooter program as part of maintaining necessary social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-scooters are cost-effective solutions to issues around transit,” Roth said. She said people aren’t able to ride the bus as much as they used to due to Lane Transit District’s modified bus schedule and public health concerns about being on a crowded bus with other people, and that the e-scooter program would be a way to encourage public transit while allowing people to stay distanced from each other.
Andrew Martin, a transit planner at LTD, spoke at the public hearing, saying that the e-scooter program would be a vital part of meeting local climate goals.
“We should be supporting all options that help reduce our carbon footprint,” Martin said. “This isn’t going to solve all of our problems, but the scooters may encourage people to try a car-free trip, which is a good start.”
Rob Inerfeld, Eugene’s transportation planning manager, talked to Eugene Weekly about how the pilot program may play out now that the council voted to proceed in implementing e-scooters. He says that he doesn’t know when the program will begin, as the city will need to develop administrative rules. He hopes to have e-scooters on the streets by the fall, especially if UO has in-person classes requiring students to return to the campus area, which it is currently planning to do.
Inerfeld also cites issues with the PeaceHealth bike share, which has been operating under the city of Eugene since Social Bicycles, who was previously operating the service, left the bike sharing business at the end of June. He says that the city wants another organization to take care of the PeaceHealth bikes so that it’s secure before the e-scooter program.
“We see both of these shared programs as equally important,” Inerfeld says. “The public scooters may cover a broader area than the PeaceHealth bicycles do, and we want to cover as big a part of the city as possible.”
You can’t ride your micromobility device, which would include the shared e-scooters but also electric rides of your own, on all of Eugene’s shared paths right now. The Whilamut Natural Area in east Alton Baker Park does not allow motorized vehicles on any of its paths. This is a widely-used area, as it is the only way to get from Eugene to Springfield without having to travel on busy Franklin Boulevard.
Councilor Alan Zelenka put forward a motion at the July 13 meeting to ask the Whilamut Citizen Planning Committee to look at the shared paths in the area and schedule a council work session to look over the possibility of allowing e-scooters.
“The devices don’t have to go everywhere and run amok in the park, but I want them to look at it and get back to us,” he said.
Inerfeld and the city councilors say that they are committed to making the pilot program as safe, helpful and equitable as possible. The pilot would last a year, with licenses available to up to three e-scooter companies, at which point the council would reconsider extending the program and allowing more licenses. Portland’s e-scooter program has included multiple companies, some of which have seats for people with disabilities or who don’t want to stand. The city’s pilot program was well-received and was renewed for a second year.
Slowing Down in Residential Neighborhoods
When the council voted to reduce residential speed limits from 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour, Councilor Mike Clark said that residents of his ward have been asking for this reduced speed limit for a long time.
“I appreciate this finally coming to us, there are a number of my constituents who have been begging for this,” said Clark, whose Ward 5 encompasses suburban north Eugene.
Residents of other wards also spoke up in favor of the speed limit reduction at the June 15 work session.
Duncan Rhodes, who identified himself as a resident of Ward 1, said that he is greatly in favor of lowering residential speed limits.
“My only complaint is that my Prius does not have cruise control that will cut in that slow,” Rhodes joked.
Andrew Martin, who works with LTD, said that he thought the motion to reduce the speed limit was the most important thing on the agenda that night.
“The benefit to drivers while going five miles per hour faster is minimal, but the drawbacks to the community are immense,” Martin said. “Loss of life in the transportation system is not necessary. We have a choice we can make here, and that choice should be to vote yes and reduce injuries and fatalities.”
The new speed limits will take effect on specific roads as the signs change, beginning this fall. $30,000 is currently allocated for changing the speed limit signs around town.
Increasing Parks and Rec SDCs
The council also voted 6-2 to approve the revised Parks and Recreation System Development Charge methodology, which will make it possible for the city of Eugene to fund all of its proposed parks and recreation capital developments over the next 20 years.
This new methodology is intended to incentivize smaller building developments with lower SDC fees. Fees for building developments larger than 800 square feet will increase based on their occupancy rates with the SDC fee increasing slowly from 2022 to 2024 before going into full effect.
Clark, the council’s reliable conservative vote, voted against the proposal. He said that this will be another reason for increased housing costs. Semple, who usually leans liberal, said that she was persuaded by Clark’s argument against the proposal and changed her mind, voting against it as well.
The plan passed, however, and SDC fees for certain new developments going to parks and recreation projects will start to increase on January 1, 2022.