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Possible cuts to Amtrak service raise stakes of Salem’s transportation limbo

Possible cuts to Amtrak service raise stakes of Salem’s transportation limbo

Bikes on Amtrak

The Cascades line is arguably the bike-friendliest
in the country.
(Photo: Will Vanlue)

One of the country’s most-ridden Amtrak lines could have its southern tail chopped off unless Oregon legislators find another $5 million to keep it whole.

The state-sponsored Amtrak Cascades service between Eugene and Portland, with stops in Albany, Salem, Woodburn and Oregon City, is likely to be eliminated unless the state is willing to cover the one-third of the line’s operating costs, $28 million annually, that aren’t covered by ticket revenue.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has already found $18 million from non-general funds, and the legislature’s working budget framework reportedly adds another $5 million from general funds. That leaves about $5 million left to find.

The Cascades line, which also runs north to Seattle, Vancouver BC and other cities, is maybe the country’s bike-friendliest train line; for $5, it lets you add a bike to any trip, rolling it on and off the platform yourself to hang it in the luggage car. This has proved popular; the line has been adding more bike parking hooks as its existing ones fill up on weekends.

The passenger rail service is just one of many transportation decisions caught in the crossfire of a fight between Republicans and Democrats over creating a low-carbon fuel standard in the state. Republicans have been blocking all action on a proposed gas tax hike unless Democrats kill the fuel standard, which would add an estimated 4 to 19 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline by 2025.

The City of Portland, meanwhile, has put its own search for transportation revenue on hold in hopes that Salem will hike gas taxes.

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Three Cascades trains currently run south of Portland each day. The Coast Starlight, a different line that is less reliably on schedule, adds a fourth run.

On Monday, the Wallawa County Chieftan reported that State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) was saying there is “no story here” because legislators would not fail to find $5 million.

Johnson suggested to the Chieftain that in order to get its state subsidy, the Cascades line should adjust its schedule to capture more commute traffic between Portland and Salem.

The Portland-to-Eugene route has been discussed as a future high-speed rail corridor, too. But ridership demand for that segment falls far short of those for the Portland-to-Seattle corridor, one of the nation’s most popular city pairings and the key segment on the Cascades line.

However, passenger rail advocates say that cutting Willamette Valley cities out of the network would hurt the entire line’s viability.

“If you think of it as a system, any change to one part of the system is going to affect all other parts of the system,” David Arnold, president of the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates, told KOIN last month. “So this line is really critical.”

Meanwhile, Amtrak Cascades has faced private competition from BoltBus, a low-cost bus line with runs to Eugene, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC. BoltBus relies on the Interstate highway system, which is paid for by a combination of gas taxes and general funds, including its exemption from property taxes.

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Bike share is coming to Eugene thanks to state grant award

Bike share is coming to Eugene thanks to state grant award

BTA in Eugene

Where you at Portland?
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation just announced that the City of Eugene has been awarded a $909,066 grant for its bike share project. That means bikes could be on the ground and rolling in about a year, according to the city’s Transportation Planning Manager Rob Inerfeld.

The grant comes from the Connect Oregon, a Lottery-backed program dedicated solely to “non-highway projects.” This was the first cycle of the grants that where biking and walking projects were eligible to compete for the funds.

This grant will pay for nearly all of Eugene’s bike share project, which has a total cost of $1,136,333. The remainder of the needed funds will be paid for through urban renewal dollars the city has already committed to. Once up and running the entire system will have 28 stations and and 210 bikes, which includes integration with a four station, 40-bike system already up and running that is planned at University of Oregon.

Here’s more about the system from the official project description:

“The City is committed to making this system a success and will provide a match of about $227,000 from the Riverfront Urban Renewal District. Bike sharing is an innovative transportation program, ideal for short distance point-to-point trips providing users the ability to pick up a bicycle at any self-serve bike-station and return it to any other bike station located within the system’s service area. Eugene’s downtown area has the density, existing bicycle and transit infrastructure, and public support needed to launch a successful bike share system. The bike share will create efficient connections between transit stations, commercial districts, close-in residential neighborhoods, and the UO and reap the economic, environmental, social, and health benefits that bike share has to offer. By providing an integrated bike share system throughout downtown Eugene and the UO, the City will be expanding on a convenient transportation option in bicycling that is already a widely used mode in the community.

The bike share system will increase mobility options for short trips of less than 2 miles, and provide an active transportation option for the first and last-mile of transit trips. In addition, a bike share program will cost-effectively relieve pressure on the transit system between downtown and the UO, which is currently at overcapacity during peak hours. Bike share systems are very scalable and the prices go up, the number of bikes or stations can be adjusted.”

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Potential station locations from, Eugene Bike Share Feasibility Report (City of Eugene)

As we reported back in January, Eugene is really lucky to have even been considered for this grant. After awarding $42 million in project grants back in June, the Oregon Transportation Commission gave applicants a second-chance due to some unallocated funds that popped up.

Inerfeld told us back in January that he thinks bike share will help boost the local economy and give the city an identity as an attractive place to live.

Reached today in his office, Inerfeld shared that their next step will be to contract with a consultant to help track down potential sponsors. This grant gets the bikes and stations on the ground, but the city will need to find more revenue for the ongoing maintenance and operation of the system.

Inerfeld said he sees the system as a citywide asset and he’s already engaged in talks with University of Oregon and the Lane Transit District to find a funding strategy. Another step the city will now take is to decide whether or not to have a non-profit run the system. That was a recommendation given to them by Toole Design Group, the firm that completed their bike share feasibility study.

As to the type of bikes Eugene will use, that too is up in the air. Inerfeld said they’ll put out a new RFP to find an equipment provider. He said they’ll take a close look at the more traditional fixed-station systems used in large systems like Citibike in New York City and Capital Bikeshare in D.C., or new, untethered systems like Social Bicycles.

Portland meanwhile still doesn’t have a bike share system — despite years of planning and false starts. PBOT staffers still say they are committed to the project and we’ve heard a date of 2016, but at this point not many people around here are holding their breath.

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Eugene students’ proposed downtown-to-campus bikeway moving forward

Eugene students’ proposed downtown-to-campus bikeway moving forward

Rendering of 13th at Oak Street in Eugene.
(Image: LiveMove)

A student-driven project in Eugene, intended to create a “more comfortable and intuitive” link between the University of Oregon campus and downtown Eugene, seems to be on its way to construction and just scored a statewide planning award.

We’ve ventured south of our usual coverage area to track this project a bit because it’s such a good example of community-driven planning in a city with close Portland ties.

UO graduate student David Minor was killed in a car crash while riding his bike on East 13th Avenue in 2008. His parents have put up $150,000 in his memory to support this project.

“This goes beyond the norm of these kinds of student groups do, and they’ve taken it on their own task,” professor Rich Margerum, head of UO’s Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management, in a university news release congratulating the student team, called LiveMove, for winning the Student Achievement in Planning Award from Oregon’s chapter of the American Planning Association.

As we wrote in December, the project looks to reduce wrong-way biking on the 13th Avenue corridor by creating a two-way buffered or protected bike lane.

The project required some on-street parking removal to make room for the facility. Students took inventories of which spaces were being used most heavily and took steps to preserve those.

LiveMove members will receive the award May 30 at the annual OAPA conference in Portland’s Oregon Convention Center.

First-ever Oregon Bicycle Adventure Summit set for January 21st

First-ever Oregon Bicycle Adventure Summit set for January 21st

Oregon has a lot of backroads and more and
more people are setting out on bikes to discover them.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

In the latest sign of surging interest in endurance, gravel, and adventure riding, a new event dubbed the Oregon Bicycle Adventure Summit will take place in Eugene later this month.

The event is the brainchild of Eugene resident and co-owner of Co-Motion Cycles Dwan Shepard. Shepard, a veteran of Oregon’s bike industry who has been active as a sponsor and participant in rides and races throughout the state for many years, felt it was time to organize the enthusiasm for “gravel grinders“, gran fondos, and rides like the Oregon Outback.

Adventure-minded bike riders are increasingly looking beyond the standard fare to find new challenges and discover new places. This summit is more evidence that event promoters, the bike industry, and other organizations are beginning to cater to this exciting new market. As we shared back in November, even Oregon’s statewide tourism development agency, Travel Oregon, is devoting resources to collect, map, and promote Oregon’s best undiscovered logging and gravel road routes.

Event organizer Dwan Shepard at the
Tour of Aufderheide in Oakridge.

At the Bicycle Adventure Summit later this month, Shepard says he’s lined up a series of presenters and will have an expo area where attendees can learn about how to prepare for the upcoming season of rides. “It will be a special event that gets people excited about the year ahead,” wrote Shepard in an email to supporters and volunteers, “We’d like people to find out what kinds of adventure they can get involved in, how to prepare and train for the events, what to expect, and so on.”

Among the presenters will be promoter Donnie Kolb of VeloDirt. Kolb has been promoting unsanctioned and unsupported adventure rides in Oregon for several years. What started as a simple website to catalog new gravel road routes in eastern Oregon has blossomed into a popular brand with hundreds of eager followers. The Oregon Outback event — a 360-mile mostly off-road ride through central Oregon coming in May sold out quickly and is his most ambitious undertaking yet. Another presenter will be Steve Cash of Dark30 Sports, the promoter that put on the first annual Tour of Aufderheide back in August.

Other presenters include

The event is free to attend and organizers will accept voluntary donations of canned food for Food for Lane County.

Here are the details:

    Oregon Bicycle Adventure Summit
    January 21st from 5:00 – 9:00 pm
    Cozmic Pizza (199 SW 8th Ave, Eugene)
    Facebook event page

See you there!

Student project could become two-way buffered bike lane in Eugene

Student project could become two-way buffered bike lane in Eugene

Rendering of 13th at Oak Street in Eugene.
(Image: LiveMove)

When we explored four reasons college towns tend to be bike-friendly last month, we left one off: they produce lots of technical experts who are passionate about improving their communities.

It looks as if a group of Eugene students is likely to do exactly that. After nine months of volunteer planning, the University of Oregon group LiveMove has unveiled a plan for their city’s second two-way bike facility, and the city government is officially considering it.

The plan is for 13th Street, a one-mile one-way corridor between the UO campus and Olive Street in downtown Eugene. The east-west route has a bike lane, a bus line and various commercial storefronts.

“We were biking down 13th every day and we were sort of noticing that there seemed to be a lot of people biking the wrong way or skateboarding the wrong way,” said Alex Page, a spokesman for LiveMove who gets to campus on a bike himself. “The corridor between the campus and downtown doesn’t work for most people, whether or not they’re driving, whether or not they’re riding transit or biking. People find it unsafe and not direct.”

LiveMove’s alternative concept would use solid green paint with stripes or green bike boxes at intersections, plus a yellow-painted buffer zone to separate bike and car traffic.

LiveMove’s conceptual design for Pearl Street to High Street.

The proposal got a boost over the summer when Susan and John Miner, whose son David was killed in 2008 while riding his bike at 13th and Willamette, offered to put up $150,000 to support the project.

“On their own, they approached the mayor and said, ‘You should look at this,'” Page said.

LiveMove was funded several years ago by the same federal grant that created OTREC at Portland State University. It’s organized by a multidisciplinary group of interested planning students who Page said focus on “alternative modes of transportation, more livable communities, however you want to define that, and just leading people off of automobile dependency.”

Page said the group tweaked its design by observing which parking spaces on 13th were actually being used heavily and which were not. They took steps to preserve the most popular ones.

“For us, it’s not about bikes. For us it’s about a sensible use of public space.”
— Alex Page, LiveMove spokesman

“Each year we tend to do a few small programs or projects around campus or around the community,” said Page, 29, a community and regional planning graduate student. “For us, it’s not about bikes. For us it’s about a sensible use of public space. … There’s a balance that we can strike where we use the roadways equally and fairly. Part of that comes from, I would say, our philosophy as planning students saying that this is a public space. It should be for everyone.”

The 13th Street bikeway would have a dedicated bike signal phase at its downtown end, and would meet the campus (and the similar, perpendicular two-way buffered bike lane) at Alder Street.

On its website, LiveMove explains that their design “is not only for the current bicycle commuters who feel the roadway does not work for them, but for those “would-be” cyclists who have legitimate fears about bike commuting.”

We’ve seen similar efforts here in Portland such as the Swift Planning Group, a team of PSU students who early this year came up with a plan for redesigning North Lombard Street, but I’m not aware of any plans of this scale that have been successfully adopted by a government here in Portland. The City of Eugene plans to return to the public with a proposal in February.

In one way, this effort highlights one of the biggest barriers to better bike infrastructure in the United States: it takes work. Custom-designing 10 intersections to be safe for separated bike and car traffic required nine months of part-time unpaid labor from a team of near-professionals. Though seasoned traffic engineers could do this work far more efficiently, a bikeway like this isn’t something a planner can dash off in a day or a week. If bike projects like these are going to become common, we won’t be able to count on talented volunteers to provide the labor. We’ll need to be willing, as a society, to pay for the work required, which of course is far cheaper than a car project that would move a similar number of people.

Page said he thinks cities can prioritize projects like these if they choose to.

“It took a lot of our collective effort,” he said. “But it’s not like they’ve never been done before.”

In any case, let’s congratulate LiveMove on their success so far and hope it adds up to an idea that turns out to be right for Eugene and its increasingly public streets.