If you want to see our libraries succeed and make a positive contribution to our community, then you should vote “no” on the $195 million library bond.
I am a library supporter and want to see our library system continue the excellent level of service it provides to our county. But I oppose the library bond because the proposed location of the new “central” library is just too remote and out of line with our community’s priorities. Out on the highway, with the only practical access being by car, it will be bad for the climate, bad for traffic and bad for transportation safety. The library district can and must do better to serve our community equitably.
Over half of the bond would go toward building this new “central” library. The proposed location at 63405 U.S. Highway 20 on the north end of Bend is being represented as “equally convenient” to all county residents. But in truth, it promises to be equally inconvenient for everyone, and completely inaccessible to many. The parking lots — about the size of three football fields and several times larger than the building itself — illustrate the expectation that everyone will drive to get there. Do we want to pay for books? Or do we want to pay to maintain and plow parking lots?
That means more traffic, while leaving more than 20% of our population dependent on someone else to get there. This includes children, seniors who are less capable or less willing to drive, people with disabilities who are often heavily reliant on transit and the more than 5% of households in Bend without a car.
This location on Highway 20 currently features cars traveling 50 miles per hour and no sidewalks, with the nearest crosswalk a half-mile away. The location poses dangers for anyone trying to access it on foot or by bike. (A man lost his life in a car crash on this same stretch in 2017.) Oregon Department of Transportation’s plan is to widen Highway 20 to a full four lanes at this location which will make it even harder to cross safely, even if a new roundabout is installed nearby.
The library district argues that it has already purchased the land at this location for $1.35 million in January 2020.
Did the voters have a say in that decision? There wasn’t even any meaningful community input. It seems like the library board assumed voters would put a “rubber stamp” of approval on its plan. We shouldn’t.
Instead of voting to contribute to urban sprawl, we should reject the library’s plan. Voters should insist they focus on renovating and expanding existing locations, potentially providing new locations in underserved neighborhoods that won’t require a car trip for every visit.
The Bend Central District offers one possibility for a truly central location accessible to far more people. A new urban library in this area would support and create a major new downtown civic space. The greatest urban libraries are great in part because they are easy to get to, surrounded by lots of people in a thriving bustling environment — not vast parking lots, a large portion of which sit empty for most of the year.
Think of the future if this bond passes. When you’re choking on pollution, and you wonder, “how did we get here” you’ll think of the library bond. When you’re stuck in traffic, you’ll thank the library bond for making it worse. Next time someone is hospitalized at St. Charles in a car crash — something that happens an average of every three days — well, the library bond will make those tragedies more frequent, too.