Don Kahle (Comic News)

wanted a WEP with Bus Rapid Transit

Proposing an express bus to the middle of the West Eugene Wetlands is not going to appease supporters of ecology, fiscal conservatives and those who understand the WEP would worsen the traffic problems.)

Don Kahle of the Comic News wrote in the Register Guard an endorsement of the WEP as long as a Bus Rapid Transit is built along the route. This is essentially the discredited "Crandall Arambula" straw-man alternative from September 2002.

It is ironic that a writer (Mr. Kahle) excoriates people for being divided and then goes out of his way to further exacerbate the division.

At a time when increasing number of WEP supporters are privately admitting the highway cannot be built, this article just obfuscates the issues and makes informed understanding more difficult.

Kahle and some other WEP supporters pretend that the main issue against the highway is just love of wetlands. They refuse to look at the rest of the story: the tremendous waste of money the highway would cost, the fact that it would worsen traffic (according to ODOT's own studies), the existence (for years) of practical alternatives, and federal laws prohibiting paving of conservation parks (those laws apply equally to BRT as they do to a road built for trucks and cars).

Building a bus rapid transit line to drop off passengers in the middle of a conservation park is asinine. When it was first proposed in September 2002 by the Crandall Arambula consultants it was immediately ridiculed, publicly and privately, by nearly all WEP opponents. Even governmental planners from local and state governments were shocked that anyone would seriously propose this idea, since a new transit system through an area with the lowest population density in the city would be a tremendous waste of money. It is a patronizing, uninformed view that pretends that more freeways are OK if they have a token bus going back and forth.

Instead, realistic approaches to BRT would focus on Highway 99 to northwest Eugene (which would be more practical). There is also potential for BRT along part of West 11th, although there is not enough right of way between Seneca and Garfield to accommodate a route. LTD has examined the feasibility of threading a BRT line through buildings slightly to the north of West 11th in that area - but even if they developed a perfect design, there is no money for that.

The 4(f) law that prohibits federal funding of transportation projects through conservation parks is not limited only to expressways - it refers to ANY transportation project, including BRT, light rail, and heavy rail. The only form of federally funded transportation project not subject to 4(f) is a bicycle path (it is a surprise that Kahle's article did not mention the proposal for a WEP bicycle path to try to appease opposition to the highway).

Any transit system serving giant parking lots and big box stores is likely to be a failure without major changes in land use patterns -- changes that the City of Eugene is not interested in implementing. While the City has nice rhetoric about planning and sustainability, the sad truth is the "planning" department is busily facilitating more ugly business as usual. There is no way to make the Wal-Mart / Target combination at West 11th and Beltline transit oriented. Privately, officials at FHWA and ODOT were shocked that the City officials were so stupid as to permit those big boxes -- it is likely that Mayor Torrey pushed for those developments in the hope that 11th and Beltline would get clogged up and create public demand for the freeway through the wetlands to nowhere.

The Piercy administration has declined to change the Torrey policies of permitting more big box stores, even though the Oregon Supreme Court ratified a law passed in Hood River to block a super Wal-Mart -- the City has the legal tools to stop more big boxes, but they are not interested in doing that. The new "liberal" City Council only has two votes to stop more big box stores, which is not enough to protect the local economy from this form of predation.

The main reason the WEP stays on life support is its strongest backers use it as a wedge to keep the community unnecessarily divided.

Register Guard
Include bus rapid transit in parkway plans
BY DON KAHLE
Published: Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy has done half a good deed in taking on the West Eugene Parkway controversy.
Piercy could have waited for the Bureau of Land Management or the Army Corps of Engineers to say finally what they have only hinted at so far: that the current plan doesn't pass muster.

 

note: the BLM and the Army Corps of Engineers have stated this repeatedly for many years. Their opposition is a primary reason why the WEP has not been built, but their opposition has not resulted in ODOT finding a new Transportation Commission for this part of the State who does not seek to profit from Parkway construction.

 

Instead, she chose to confront the controversy head-on, breaking a 4-4 City Council tie and then taking her conviction to the regional body that allocates funding for transportation projects.
Piercy forthrightly says the current plan is disappointing to many in Eugene. She vows to work with anyone who can devise a better plan. Until that better plan emerges, her good deed will remain half done.

 

note: Mayor Piercy has refused to acknowledge the WETLANDS alternative for reasons that she has not made public. Perhaps it is a personal squabble, since she does not like the main co-author of the alternative -- but the issue is the ideas, not the personalities, and even some of her advisors privately think her avoidance of practical alternatives has been a strategic mistake. Even weirder is the fact that the WETLANDS alternative is largely based on the June 19, 2001 "No Build" consensus of the City of Eugene (Mayor Torrey), Lane County, ODOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the BLM -- a consensus that few in government want to acknowledge at this late date, and even Mayor Piercy pretends that it did not happen.

 

Everyone agrees that driving from Eugene's center to its west end has become unpleasant.

 

note: west Eugene's main problem is it is UGLY and getting worse.
Fixing the intersections on west 11th from Beltline to Garfield might cost about $2 million, according to a private estimate from ODOT - roughly the same amount of tax dollars that the Pape administration at ODOT is spending to finish the Environmental Impact Statement.

 

Everyone knows that Veneta plans to continue building houses for people who will work in Eugene, and there's nothing Eugene can do about it. Everyone wants a solution to the traffic that doesn't make Eugene into Anytown, USA.

 

note: Veneta has very little to do with the WEP. Officially, the highway ends more than five miles before Veneta. It would do nothing to deal with hazardous road geometry on 126 across Fern Ridge reservoir. It is designed for intra-City traffic much more than inter-city traffic. The strongest backers of the WEP are those who want Eugene to look like Anytown, USA (as the recently built Wal-Mart / Target combination proves).

 

The road to consensus stops there, with exit ramps to the right and left.
Half of Eugene wants to fix the immediate problem: Build the darn road.
Half of Eugene believes the quick solution simply invites a bigger problem: Los Angeles proved paving paradise won't work.

 

note: It's not a matter of belief. Induced demand is a well documented problem, understood by traffic professional (even as they plan more roads).

 

Half of Eugene wants public transit and alternative modes to be part of the solution.
Half of Eugene insists that even tree-huggers drive cars, often alone.
Half of Eugene believes our West Eugene wetlands are our best civic success story.
Half of Eugene believes the West Eugene Parkway plans already have earned a prize for being ecologically sensitive.

 

note: This article is a good example of propaganda offering strawman visions, not serious understanding of the issues.

 

Merging these visions and convictions require a skill every driver must learn. Two drivers must agree, without ever speaking, to answer a single question: "Who goes first?" Anything less than an agreement risks a collision. And any collision will surely slow everyone from reaching their destinations.
Chicago built the Kennedy Expressway in the early 1960s to link its downtown with O'Hare International Airport, 17 miles to the northwest. But when that road was built, Mayor Richard Daley saw to it that the road-builders condemned enough extra land to have room for an eventual expansion of Chicago's subway line. That extension didn't get built for 20 years, but it was ready to go when traffic congestion required it.

 

note: This has nothing to do with Eugene, since even 20 years from now it is unlikely that the flood plain of Amazon Creek will resemble the dense urban areas of mid-town Chicago.

 

Eugene's bus rapid transit, Em-X , won't start running until next fall, and its expansion plans are set until 2010, but there's an important opportunity available here.
Bus rapid transit everywhere in the region must retrofit current roadways to meet its own needs. Traffic signal preference, passenger platforms, weaving in and out of traffic - all these must take into account businesses and traffic patterns that were in place long before Em-X was contemplated.
Here we have an opportunity to build a road to meet our immediate needs with a design that accommodates rapid transit from its inception. If the road includes land and configuration for a later rapid transit line, both sides get to gamble their vision for the future is correct.

 

note: this propaganda is deliberately misleading, since the side that does not want to waste $200 million on an expressway to enable paving of farmland with more big box stores and ugly subdivisions is not going to be appeased with vague, poorly thought through promises of a potential Bus Rapid Transit line to nowhere.

 

Call it "four and no more," and change the debate from whether a road gets built to where.
Roads produce a certain kind of growth. Light rail produces its own kind of growth. Young professionals snap up houses in Portland when they know they can walk to the train to get to work. Whatever form the West Eugene Parkway or its replacement takes, the vision should include both the people driving by and the people later who will want to stop along the way and call that neighborhood home. Nothing will promote nodal development more effectively than a transit line designed with nodes in mind.

 

note: This also has nothing to do with the WEP. The three neighborhoods of west Eugene -- Bethel (northwest), River Road and the south hills would not be next to the WEP or any alleged WEP route for a bus.

 

Build four lanes of limited access roadway as soon as we can to link West Eugene with the downtown core. But in return, secure enough land to build a pure bus rapid transit line if and when the need arises.
Half don't believe that need will arise anytime soon, so all they give up is a little greenway between or beside the traffic lanes.

 

note: this is an amazing way to redirect public concern about the expressway into an irrelevant discussion of whether the WEP would be four lanes or more (for a bus to the West Eugene Wetlands?).

 

Half believe our congestion problems will return quickly and with a vengeance, but they will have the hardest part of a mass transit solution already accomplished.
If traffic congestion continues to frustrate us in the future, a pure example of bus rapid transit can be built and tested, before the roadway is expanded further.
We can avoid a collision, but each side must know when and how to nod and say to others "you go first."

Don Kahle (shh@dksez.com), a former president of the City Club of Eugene, posts his essays at www.dksez.com.