From July 15 to 24, some of the fastest humans in the world will run and compete in Eugene for the 2022 World Athletics Championships. It’s an event that will attract a large group of people to Oregon, and with time running out to plan, the state, the city and local transit agencies are speeding along to allow fans to spend time in Eugene without a car.
With tens of thousands of people in attendance for the World Athletics Championships, aka Oregon22, in Eugene, the city is trying to get visitors to rely on bikes, e-scooters, foot and mass transit to get around Eugene to avoid traffic jams. And with so many spectators staying in hotels outside of Eugene, the state is arranging for shuttles to and from those areas, as well as the airport.
The city’s and Lane Transit District’s transit plans may have an impact on residents. The city is asking for residents to minimize driving time and offer their bikes to visitors. And Amalgamated Transit Union Division 757 Executive Officer Bill Bradley says LTD’s fare policy benefitting visitors for the championships brings up equity issues.
Eugene residents are familiar with high congestion during sporting events or University of Oregon events, says Shane Rhodes, Eugene’s transportation options program manager, who’s involved with planning for the city’s transit during the games. Although the games will attract a similar number of fans as an Oregon Duck football game, Autzen Stadium is better suited for it, he says; its parking lot is larger than what’s available at Hayward Field.
“We are encouraging people to bike, walk and take transit during that time,” Rhodes says. “It’s its own type of event that we have never seen in Eugene.”
The Oregon22 will have a larger media presence than the U.S. Olympic Trials or football games, Rhodes says. Because many fans will have lodging outside of Eugene, the city has to look for ways to get people to Eugene’s University District from those cities, he adds — without using cars.
Much of the transit planning for the World Athletics Championships began a few months ago, Bradley notes. Gov. Kate Brown’s office brought together a group of people to plan logistics for the international championships, he says. Just six months ago, Bradley adds, many thought that Oregon22 would not have a large attendance due to COVID-19.
To minimize vehicle traffic on highways as well as in Eugene, the state brought together LTD, Salem’s Cherriots and Portland’s TriMet to provide a shuttle service that runs from those cities to Hayward Field, says Liz Merah, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office.
Merah says the Governor’s Office doesn’t know how much that shuttle service will cost, but the state has covered most of Eugene’s and LTD’s services. Rhodes says the state has provided technical assistance with logistics and some financial assistance. At its June 15 board of directors meeting, LTD staff said the agency would seek reimbursement from the state for its increased services, about $60,000.
To encourage ridership on LTD’s EmX, which runs from Springfield’s Gateway area to Main Street Springfield to west Eugene, the agency is increasing the route frequency, spokesperson Pat Walsh says via email. LTD normally cuts the frequency of the EmX during summer when students are gone, but it’ll have a higher frequency during the World Athletics Championships, as the event is an “all hands on deck event for all LTD employees,” he says.
At a June 15 LTD Board of Directors meeting, interim General Manager Mark Johnson said that no employees — especially bus operators — are allowed to take vacation time during the championships.
Walsh says LTD has enough bus operators to deal with the increased routes. But morale of bus operators has been low, according to Bradley. With about 172 bus operators on staff, most are still having to work six days a week, he says, and LTD needs to hire 13 more full time employees to be considered fully staffed.
LTD is waiving fares only for people attending the event; they will need their credentials to board a bus, Walsh says. At the June 15 LTD Board of Directors meeting, Cosette Rees, director of customer and specialized services, said LTD will track usage and seek reimbursement from the state for the free fares.
Bradley says LTD’s Board of Directors could offer free rides for all riders, and that waiving fares only for visitors does bring up equity concerns and that he doesn’t want to have bus operators screening passengers in a way that could lead to issues.
Johnson said at the June 15 board meeting that LTD considered having free fare for all riders, but was concerned about homeless people. “We’ve got a pretty big homeless population that if we give free fares to everyone, they’ll like hanging out on our buses quite a bit,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to control that to a certain degree.”
Although many visitors will be traveling to the Eugene Airport, Walsh says LTD will not have a route that runs out there. But the agency is working with transit partners to provide a bus service between hotels and the airport.
While in Eugene, in addition to LTD bus services, Rhodes says the city has the infrastructure to support people getting around town without a car. And the city is developing a map for visitors that portrays the multi-use pathways similarly to a subway system guide, so they can find ways to visit parts of Eugene, such as the Whiteaker neighborhood or north Eugene.
Rhodes says bike rental programs throughout the city are maxed out already, so the city is asking residents to offer visitors their personal bikes through the app Spinlister. He says the city has added bikes to its PeaceHealth Rides program, and it plans to begin its e-scooter rental program in July.
Rhodes says the city will have its Riverfront Park festival during the World Athletics Championships. To get people from Hayward Field to the recently completed Riverfront Park, the city will enlist transit support from LTD’s EmGo shuttles, which the transit agency paid about $40,000 each and launched in 2020, as well as the pedal-powered shuttle Pacific Pub Cycle.
What’s now a common refrain from the city and Oregon22 planners, from listing personal homes on Airbnb or serving as drivers on rideshare, is asking residents to help out. This time for the safety of visitors during the 10-day event the city wants residents to minimize driving. And if residents need to do errands, they should follow a trip chain style, where activities are done in one trip.
“If we can reduce the amount of congestion on our streets, that’ll help visitors drive if they need to or feel safe and comfortable when they’re walking, biking or taking transit,” Rhodes says.
This article has been updated.