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Traffic Comes to Eugene

October 1st, 2021 by dk

Last week was different. I exited Trader Joe’s after my monthly provisions run. Southbound traffic was backed up to P.F. Chang’s. As we inched up the Ferry Street Bridge, I saw traffic snarled to Franklin Boulevard and beyond.

We’ve had traffic jams in Eugene before. We know when to avoid Delta Highway. Duck games can slow I-5 from Salem to Roseburg. But this was different. Slowdowns usually point to one of three things ahead: construction, collision, or crime.

You could argue that the backup on Franklin (which extended to I-5 on the opposite end) was the result of all three. Construction did narrow the options (if not the pavement) in a couple of places. If true, it was criminal that the university had only two working computers to check in thousands of students on move-in day.

Mostly it was a collision — between Eugene’s past and future. A short stretch of Franklin will soon have four very large apartment buildings. Hotels are multiplying. Glenwood envisions a large complex near the Springfield Bridge. If and when all those people want to drive somewhere, things are going to slow down everywhere.

We’ve all sensed our area getting more crowded. Some of us enjoy the expanding options. Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic. We may no longer be in the middle of nowhere, but we still enjoy being able to hike there from here. We’ll never see the tangled spaghetti of California’s freeways, but is there a path forward that won’t take forever? Yes, I think so.

When I could see there was no relief in sight, I exited near the old EWEB headquarters and snaked my way through downtown. I reached south Eugene on Willamette Street, now running north and south without interruption from the Hult Center. The work is not yet finished, but it’s already more intuitive and inviting.

Most of the improvements are in concrete, not asphalt, so they will last three times as long. The sidewalk lighting is built to human proportions. This subtle decision declares designers’ ambition that it become a “complete street,” functional for motorists but welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists.

This ribbon of road has always separated our east from west. It’s once again a straight line, recreating our history. Civic Stadium is at the approximate midpoint of its paved past. The first incarnations of our university and our hospital were near that central knoll. Across the street from Civic, there’s a mural portrait of Wiley Griffon, streetcar driver in the 1890s. The car was pulled by a mule and later electrified. Rides cost a nickel.

Maybe we’ll get another trolley tracing Eugene’s original artery back to its origins. Will there ever be an updated version of “dragging the gut,” which marked Eugene’s coming of age in the 1950s? Streets connect Point A to Point B, but they can also connect what is with what was.

If Willamette Street succeeds, we might glimpse ourselves in the rear view mirror. As a vision for our future, we could do worse — especially if we’re in no hurry to get there.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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