As Bend begins a major update of its transportation plan, city councilors understand that they’ll have to agree on whatever they come up with before asking voters to approve a bond.
But as councilors laid out their visions for the future of transportation in Bend at a recent City Council meeting, divisions emerged between those who favored designing more for cars and those who wanted to focus on other modes of transportation.
Mayor Casey Roats said Friday he was “very pleasantly surprised” by the discussion because it showed several major themes. Councilors generally agreed the final transportation plan needed to relieve traffic congestion and improve capacity, include geographic equity in how projects are considered and include some form of investment in multimodal transportation, such as biking, walking and using buses.
Roats said he wants to see genuine discussion from the council and a citywide committee working on Bend’s transportation plan before settling on what he supports. While he’s still “very auto-dependent,” experiences like meeting a young girl who has trouble getting around Bend in her wheelchair have changed his thinking on transportation issues, he said at a recent city council meeting.
“I have been and I’ll continue to encourage my colleagues to not be positional as we go into this,” he said Friday. “We have a lot of information to gather.”
Councilor Bill Moseley, meanwhile, said Friday that general agreement among council members about addressing problems like congestion falls apart as they come up with solutions.
“At a very high level, I think that there’s some agreement as to what the direction should be, but if we get down to details there’s a difference in what we’re saying,” he said.
The city’s current transportation plan is “really designed to reduce the use of automobiles,” Moseley said. He said he agreed that new streets should be built as “complete streets” — a planning term for roads that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities and buses as well as cars — but that the city should be cautious about spending money on bike or pedestrian improvements in places where they might not be used.
The city should collect data from Bend, not use academic studies from other cities, to determine where more bike and pedestrian infrastructure is needed, he said.
Bend should be planning for the future as well as addressing current transportation problems, Councilor Barb Campbell said Thursday.
“The idea that we’re only going to build what people are using is absurd,” Campbell said. “If we did that, we’d never move forward. We’d still be using horse paths.”
Making Bend a more accessible place for children to walk to school, for young families to get around or for people who struggle with the costs of a car to commute to work doesn’t require a lot of expensive new pavement, Campbell said. It just requires “clever little bits of infrastructure” — like protected raised crosswalks and pedestrian refuges so walkers only have to cross one or two lanes of traffic at a time.
Working with the Bend Park & Recreation District to develop a network of asphalt paths bikers and pedestrians can use that aren’t on or next to roads will also help, she said, as will turning low-trafficked residential streets into bike greenways, where cars can drive but bikes and pedestrians have priority.
Providing safe routes that let even a small percentage of Bend residents use alternate means of transportation will ease congestion on crowded streets, Campbell said.
Another way to reduce congestion — and the number of miles vehicles travel — is to focus on connecting roads that aren’t connected, Councilor Justin Livingston said. This includes extending Murphy and Empire roads, as well as connecting lesser arterials like extending Chase Road to Brosterhous Road. Bend is riddled with roads that abruptly end instead of continuing a few blocks to connect with other streets.
Because city code calls for all new roads to include sidewalks and bike lanes, making these connections would allow people to choose to bike or walk a shorter distance as well, Livingston said.
The state has extensive rules on reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled and a lot of language about reducing a reliance on automobiles, said Nick Arnis, Bend’s growth management director. Providing options for biking, transit and walking and connecting large streets so drivers don’t have to drive out of their way help reduce those vehicle miles, he said.
“It’s really about options for people,” he said. “We can’t force people out of their cars.”
As Bend continues to grow, the city is trying to equitably distribute jobs and services throughout town, creating small centers that allow families to walk to a restaurant for dinner or to run other errands, Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell said. For a small investment, she said, the city can make it safe for a lot of people to get around without cars if they so choose.
About 90 Bend residents applied for the citywide transportation committee, and councilors have until Monday to send Roats a ranking of applicants to narrow the list to about 40 people. Roats and two councilors who have yet to be selected will then interview the applicants and create a final committee of 20 to 30, which will then work over the next year to develop Bend’s long-term transportation plan.
All of the 90 applicants have a car and know what it’s like to drive in Bend, and many are also interested in other methods of getting around, Roats said. Applicants also come from all parts of the city.
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