Dave Reinhard, former Transportation Engineer, City of Eugene, OR
Diane Bishop, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, City of Eugene, OR
This paper describes a unique street project in downtown Eugene, OR. The city staff and the community have moved up a “learning curve” during the past decade in regard to on-street treatments for bicyclists and motorists sharing the same lanes. This project presented an opportunity to combine very narrow lanes and other design elements in a way that resulted in a truly slow-traffic, pedestrian-oriented street in the heart of downtown.
In 2002 a three-block section of Broadway in downtown Eugene, OR, was reconstructed and reopened to vehicular traffic. This portion of Broadway had been part of the downtown pedestrian mall created in the early 1970s. Two other street segments were previously rebuilt and reopened to traffic — a two-block section of Olive Street in 1992, and two blocks of Willamette Street in 1996.
While there was widespread agreement in the community that the pedestrian mall had failed to achieve the goal of revitalizing downtown Eugene, all three street reopening projects were somewhat controversial, and each project went forward only after winning approval at a city-wide election. Now that all portions of the former mall have been converted to pedestrian-oriented streets with slow-moving auto traffic, the overall results have been received favorably. However, the mix of vehicle and bicycle traffic on each street has been the topic of much discussion and feedback. Experience with the Olive and Willamette Street projects led the project team to modify the street design for Broadway, and the results appear to be more agreeable to most of the bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists using the street.
Over the past three decades Eugene has developed an extensive system of bikeways. The network includes off-street paths, on-street striped lanes on busy streets, and designated bike routes on selected neighborhood streets to help provide continuity. Within the downtown area several of the busiest one-way streets have bicycle lanes but there are still some gaps in the network, leading to increased use of sidewalks as well as bicycling on unstriped streets. City ordinances required bicyclists to dismount and walk their bikes on the former pedestrian mall, though enforcement was minimal. For these reasons, when the decision was made to begin converting segments of the mall to reopened streets, city staff recognized the opportunity to enhance the downtown bicycle network by providing for bicycles on these street segments.
The designs for Olive and Willamette Streets were developed with significant input from the general public as well as major stakeholders such as downtown businesses. Early on, it was decided that on-street parking should be provided and the curb-to-curb street width should be as narrow as possible to maximize pedestrian space on the sidewalks and discourage speeding and excessive through traffic. Each street segment was designed as a two-way, two-lane cross-section. The designs also made use of techniques such as brick crosswalks; and, on Willamette, raised mid-block crosswalks to enhance pedestrian visibility and discourage high speeds. Lane Transit District buses also use Olive and Willamette Streets for several bus routes connecting to the central downtown Eugene station, so the design needed to accommodate buses as well as emergency vehicles.
The general treatment for bicycles on both Olive and Willamette could be described as a sort of hybrid “mixing” of vehicles and bicycles without using striped bicycle lanes. Each of the two-block segments begins or ends at a signalized intersection with a three-lane cross section that includes a left-turn pocket. In the middle of each segment (where these two streets cross Broadway) the street narrows to a minimal 6.7 m (22 ft) width for about 45.7 m (150 ft). In between, each street widens to provide parking bays on each side, generally 2.1 m (7 ft) in width, and the travel lanes are widened up to 0.9 additional meters (three additional feet) to provide wider lanes for the mix of autos and bicycles. The overall concept is thus a blend in which cars and bikes share the same lanes at each end and the middle, along with wider lanes in between where cars can pass bikes when the volume and speed of the auto traffic makes this feasible, such as off-peak times of the day.
Earlier Olive Street design (4.3 m (14 ft) lanes along parking, 3.4 m (11 ft) lanes approaching Broadway) is not favored by bicyclists.
As with many situations where a compromise is used to provide “the best of two worlds,” the design used for both Olive and Willamette ends up being the worst of both worlds in the opinion of Eugene’s bicycling community. Widening the travel lanes for several hundred feet tends to produce the unintended effect of “anti-traffic-calming,” particularly at off-peak periods when the volume of auto traffic does not provide enough congestion to prevent higher speeds. Some cyclists report that it feels as if certain motorists intentionally intimidate the cyclists. The overall result is that many cyclists feel uneasy or unwelcome on these two streets. (One other outcome is the continued heavy use of the adjacent sidewalks by many cyclists, which is unfortunate given the good intentions embodied in the design of each street for mixed traffic.)
For these reasons, the design of Broadway was approached in a different way, as described in the next section of this paper.
The design for the three-block Broadway reopening project came together over a period of several months in the fall and winter of 2001–2002. The process involved an unprecedented degree of interaction and cooperation among city staff and private design consultants, many of whom have their businesses along this stretch of Broadway or within a block or two. This enabled the group to use a process that came to be known as a “rolling charrette” in which 10 to 20 people at a time would walk slowly from one end of the project to the other, discussing issues and design options, and seeking agreement on the key design features for Broadway. After several of these rolling charrettes and many other informal and formal opportunities for input and dialog, the following major features emerged:
Travel lanes as narrow as 3 m (10 ft) would be used throughout the length of the three-block segment of Broadway. Unlike Olive and Willamette Streets, travel lanes would not be widened to provide for side-by-side motorists and cyclists. Instead, the expectation of very slow-moving vehicular traffic would be reinforced by having cars and bikes use the same space.
This feature, which was abandoned for the earlier designs of Olive and Willamette Streets, was re-introduced based on its overall success and widespread popularity on several older segments of Broadway and Willamette just one block away from the mall. A raised median island about 1.2 m (4 ft) in width was viewed as having several advantages. It provides more space for landscaping, thereby reducing the glare and related drawbacks to the added “hardscape” of the newly built street. By planting trees and shrubs in the median, the motorist’s view down the street is interrupted. The overall effect tends to reinforce the notion of moving slowly down a narrow street, rather than being able to see uninterrupted pavement several blocks ahead. The median provides a safe landing spot for pedestrians, who are thus encouraged to cross at multiple locations, not just intersections. And the median provides a left edge for each travel lane that helps visually narrow the lane, encouraging slower speeds.
Raised median islands narrow the street and offer a safe pedestrian refuge.
The design for Broadway uses different colors and textures of paving materials, as well as raised crossings, much more extensively than Olive or Willamette. Each block of Broadway features a mid-block crossing raised to the full height of the curb (though with a gradual transition for motorists and cyclists, to avoid a speed hump effect). The intersection of Broadway and Willamette is raised 15.2 cm (6 in) and the portion of Broadway just east of Willamette is paved in brick and raised to the height of the adjacent brick plaza, extending the raised intersection into an at-grade street section. In addition to its traffic calming effect, this enhances the use of the street as an extension of the plaza on those occasions when the streets are closed for major events.
Raised crossing, pavement color changes, street furniture at edge of street encourage slower speeds.
At-grade intersection and street section blend in with adjoining outdoor plaza.
Before the reopening of Broadway, the two locations where Olive and Willamette Streets cross Broadway were not stop-controlled. The fact that Broadway was only a pedestrian “street” meant that warrants for stop control were not met. This led to a number of complaints by pedestrians who felt cars were going too fast, or that too many motorists would not stop for pedestrians at these crossings. During the design process for Broadway, city staff estimated that the traffic volumes after completion of the project would warrant all-way stop control at the two new four-way intersections, along with the intersection of Broadway and Charnelton at the west end of the project. (The intersection of Broadway and Oak Street at the project’s east end is controlled by a traffic signal, since volumes are much higher on Oak Street, a minor arterial). The presence of stop signs at regular one-block intervals is one more feature that tends to reinforce slow speeds along Broadway, and to some extent on Olive and Willamette now that traffic on those two streets must stop at Broadway.
The new Broadway — 10 ft lanes, median islands, and
The combined visual effect of all these features provides significant reinforcement for the concept of a slow-moving, very pedestrian-oriented street. As a motorist, one tends to travel slowly and somewhat uncertainly down Broadway, perhaps because it looks so different from a typical street. It feels okay to be there only if you are going slowly enough to allow for surprises and to share the space with others who are going even slower than you.
Speed studies conducted mid-block at two locations in this three-block project indicate favorable results. The 85th percentile speed was 17 mph at one location and 18 mph at the other. Highest speeds were 23 mph. This compares favorably to the speed studies of Willamette and Olive streets at the completion of their openings where, even with raised mid-block crossings on Willamette, the 85th percentile speeds were 20 mph on Willamette Street and 22 mph on Olive.
Informal feedback from other city staff, downtown businesses, bicyclists, and the general public seems very supportive of the overall design and the specific techniques used to provide a safer and slower mix of auto and bicycle traffic. Some of this positive feedback may relate more to the favorable impression most of the community has about the look and feel of the new street. However, the general impression and community “buzz” about a project are important aspects of the project’s effectiveness and public acceptance of innovative design features.
Encouraging participation by private sector consultants, key stakeholders, and interested public as full participants in the design of the project from the beginning can be a powerful tool for gaining acceptance and moving forward with strong support for the project. By the time the city Planning Commission reviewed and approved the design concept, nearly all the issues had been resolved and the various stakeholder groups all strongly supported the project as presented. Many property owners believed the opening of Broadway to automobiles was critical to their success. Their interest helped sustain the forward movement of the project.
Getting the motorists to slow down so bicyclists can share the space and pedestrians feel safe when crossing the street appears to depend on narrowing the travel lanes as much as possible. The lanes need to be narrow in an actual, physical sense (e.g. 10 or 11 ft wide), and they need to look and feel narrow to motorists. The look and feel can be achieved by a combination of narrow lanes along with conspicuous edges (e.g. use of a median island) and design elements like trees and shrubs at the edges and in the median to eliminate the look of a long straightaway. Other components of the design included parking bays along both sides of the street, minimizing the pavement markings; lane lines and signs along the street, to avoid the look and feel of a major traffic artery; and raising the major intersection of Broadway and Willamette to meet the grade of the adjacent public plaza and create a speed table.
Parking bays, raised intersections, narrow lanes help calm traffic.
While it appears the city has developed a winning design in the case of Broadway, this example also serves to illustrate that there are probably other still-undiscovered “templates” for street designs that can meet these kinds of objectives. The best approach involves being open to experimentation and recombining various design techniques to achieve the best mix of outcomes. Broadway seems to reinforce the notion that the two best ways to provide for bikes on streets are a) striped lanes with adequate, separate spaces for cyclists and motorists, or b) very narrow lanes shared by bikes and autos. However, there are likely to be situations in Eugene and other locations where wider, shared lanes work better, or some other combination of features should be tried, especially in view of the needs of transit and emergency vehicles. Each project provides an example that can be copied or borrowed from to create even better designs for future projects.
Total cost of the project was $2.1 million, including preliminary and construction engineering. Landscaping, irrigation, and street furniture accounted for about $185,500. Accommodating an existing brick outdoor plaza at the center of the project and incorporating it into the street design increased the project cost considerably. A breakdown of project costs is available upon request.
Street furniture, bicycle racks, and landscaping were considered part of the cost of the project.
Generally the city assesses a certain portion of a project’s cost to adjacent property owners. Since this area had previously been a street before it became a pedestrian mall, a second assessment was not possible. However, the business owners along the project were anxious for the conversion back to a city street and donated $200,000. The county provided $1.6 million in road funds and the city of Eugene paid the balance from former Commercial Revitalization Loan funds.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator
City of Eugene
Transportation Planning Engineer
City of Eugene
(formerly with City of Eugene)