January is America’s diet month. New Year’s resolutions follow holiday party excesses. We look in the mirror and pledge to do more with less. We are considering the same for Willamette Street in south Eugene.
Should the street’s current four lanes between 24th and 29th Avenues be reduced, making more room for left turns and bicyclists? Urban planners refer to the proposal as a “road diet.” It’s an apt term.
If your January diet commitment is to lose 20 percent of your weight, that doesn’t mean that one out of five people just wishes you would disappear. The diet won’t make you 20 percent less of who you are. Your goal is just the opposite. You want a happier, healthier, and longer life. You want to enjoy more activities. Road diets are no different.
Willamette Street is Eugene’s signature boulevard, running between our twin buttes, Skinner and Spencer. The street marks east from west. There is no other street like it in Eugene. As such, it should be the most Eugene-ified street in our city.
Post-diet, Willamette Street will offer healthier choices for more Eugene residents.
Eugene loves its choices. We don’t often enjoy choosing between them, but we do revel in a larger menu of options than most other places. We love to “blue sky” every issue, inventing a verb for unbridled brainstorming. Maybe we’re compensating for the literal blue sky that leaves us for months at a time. But eventually, choices must be made.
Should bicycle lanes be added to Willamette Street, yes or no? There are good arguments on both sides. So far, bicyclists have been better organized and more passionate. They’ve packed the public meetings. Good for them. Democracy is won by those who show up. Arguments and passions both have their place in civic discourse.
If anything, motorists should be grateful that bicycling activists are flooding the meetings about the street and not flooding the street itself. If bicyclists had a mean (and self-destructive) streak, they could begin darting between lanes on Willamette Street the same way hurried drivers do.
Hurry is the issue here, not travel. Some dieting gurus recommend that weight gain comes not from what you eat, but how you eat it. Chew every bit of food 20 times and that first fig newton will suffice. Pop them mindlessly in your mouth and a dozen won’t give the same satisfaction. Slowing down is healthier.
Traffic accidents occur most often where drivers have to make quick decisions. The greater the variation of velocity between adjacent vehicles, the greater the danger. Stopping and starting fuels driver frustration, which also can heighten risk.
I drive on Willamette Street almost every day. My business rented a storefront for three years in the middle of the blocks being reconsidered. I know the area well.
If I hit all three lights correctly and I don’t guess wrong which lane to drive in, those five blocks can be traveled in about a minute. If I get stuck behind a left-turner or even a cautious right-turner, the same trip can take a minute longer. One minute — no big deal — except when I’m late. Then I wish I had picked a different lane which might have gotten me to my destination 45 seconds sooner.
Reducing the capacity of Willamette Street for these few blocks will increase the certainty of travel times. What is now 75 seconds might become 90 seconds, but consistently so. The delays that come from choosing the wrong lane will be eliminated, because there will be only one thoroughgoing lane.
Those wanting to turn left will be removed from the flow. Even right turns will be easier, because the bike lane will add a more generous turning radius to all of the driveways. If we’re lucky and EWEB is cooperative, we’ll also get the utilities buried or at least get the poles repositioned farther from the curbs.
Will a road-dieted Willamette Street get us where we’re going more quickly? No, not always, but it will get us there more reliably, and with less stress. And stress is another reason many people overeat.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs. The City Club of Eugene will be exploring this issue at today’s Friday Forum.