Lane County sets ambitious goals of safety, reliability with proposed Bicycle Master Plan

Adam Duvernay
Officials revealed the Lane County Bicycle Master Plan proposed route network at an open house Nov. 3. The network map will be refined before its final version.

Money won't be the only limitation to the 20-year bicycle route build-out Lane County is planning, some of which are built into the rural landscape the plans are meant to serve. 

Lane County planners last week revealed the route network that will form the basis of future bicycle infrastructure upgrades and policy decisions. Covering hundreds of miles from the coast to the Cascades, planners know their vision won't come easy or cheap. 

The Bicycle Master Plan process, the first in county history, is being designed for areas outside Eugene and Springfield. While those cities have their own bike planning, little of the rest of the county does and there is no established countywide route system.

The network map the county revealed at a virtual open house Nov. 3 would change that, providing a 20-year framework for projects to make biking a more reliable option for transit across the region. But the map was purposefully overly ambitious, and planners asked county residents to help them prioritize and trim the number of suggested routes.

"We want to make sure that this is a realistic plan, that it's something implementable that the county can then go out and build," said Derek Abe, a consultant with the company hired to assist the county with the project. "The funding for all of these improvements is going to come at a very large cost."

Lane County is asking the public to help decide priorities on its draft of the Lane County Bicycle Master Plan.

Safe routes essential to success

Future projects designed around the Bicycle Master Plan are likely to include safety and rideability improvements to existing roads. The plan does not call for building new bike routes, rather connecting important places with a marked and well-maintained network.

Some of the routes have few, if any, other options because of the natural topography. They could be challenging to transform into friendly roadways for long-distance cyclists.

Though a large portion of the proposed network runs along county roads, many primary routes run along state-maintained highways heavy with traffic and outside local control. 

"In most cases, riding along a state highway is not an especially pleasant experience," Abe said. "We know that a lot of people simply are not comfortable riding under those conditions. For those to be part of this network, they would have to undergo a level of improvement that would make those conditions a bit more comfortable, a bit more safe."

Greater Eugene Area Riders Board President Karen Goodwin said state jurisdiction on highways has long been a frustrating impediments to improving routes in Lane County.

Because some of those highways are critical to linking all the county routes, Goodwin said she is looking to hear more about the county's work with the Oregon Department of Transportation on route improvements. She said she's proud of the county for taking on such a big project, but said its success has implications for health and the environment. 

A sign marks a bike route near Cottage Grove.

"Providing infrastructure that will make everyone feel comfortable is essential," she said.

Goodwin believes the biggest improvements county bike routes need concern safety. 

"Road expansion is probably the biggest, along with traffic control," Goodwin said. "The faster the traffic goes, the more the potential for fatalities."

She pointed to Territorial Highway as a popular connector for both recreational and transit cyclist, but said it needs regular repair and that traffic is fast on its narrow lanes.

"There has to be more controlled traffic flow and wider routes," Goodwin said.  

The Border Boys Bike Club, founded around the start of the pandemic and focused on expanding cycling in communities of color, now has about 30 members and cycles all around Lane County and Oregon. For its founder, safety is also his primary concern. 

"I definitely would like to see more in the way of bike safety. Expanding the bike shoulders and monitoring things like speeding in certain areas where we know people on Saturday or Sunday mornings go out on a ride," Daniel Padilla said. "We do need to do better." 

But Padilla said he's been reviewing the master plan and wants to assure that its final form fully considers Lane County residents who rely on bikes as a primary transit option.

"Making it available for people who actually need it is something I'd like to see," he said.

Though planning the projects alone will make Lane County competitive for grants that might fund future improvements, Goodwin said it's important also to think small scale.

"We're talking about improvements on these roads, but different improvements cost different things. Could there be some work on all the roads? At least signage, painting," Goodwin said. "It doesn't always have to be road construction." 

Proposed map shows 'aspirational network' 

The network of proposed routes currently in the Bicycle Master Plan could take a rider from one end of Lane County to another, but the ride likely would be a challenging one.

"You can think of it as an aspirational network," Abe said. "This is a network we hope to build someday. The existing conditions, as scary as they might be today, will inform the types of improvements that are going to be necessary to bring them up to a level that we're confident we're going to say will be a part of this network when we build it out."

The hub of the wheel, central Lane County has the largest number of identified primary and secondary routes in the current version of the county master planning bike network. 

Stretching outward from the Eugene-Springfield area, the network map's primary routes include many existing traffic arteries such as Coburg and Jasper roads and highways 99 and 126. Those spokes are connected by other primary routes, such as using Territorial Highway and Cottage Grove-Lorane Road for trips between Cottage Grove and Veneta.

Secondary routes identified for central Lane County on the network map run parallel to many primary routes or offer various ways to bypass main routes. Siuslaw Road is the longest of secondary routes, connecting Lorane and a western stretch of Highway 126.  

"We realize here there perhaps are maybe too many secondary routes: too many routes that might be redundant, too many routes that may not serve the same utility or have the same function as some of their nearby alternatives or nearby counterparts," Abe said.

Abe pointed out many of central Lane County routes are essential to the project despite being on state highways or are too unsafe as they now exist to serve as network routes. 

The western side of the network map can be reached from the central part of the county by two primary routes, highways 36 and 126. Siuslaw Road, a secondary route, links the south central part of the county with Highway 126 around Austa Landing County Park.

The Lane County coast and its towns would mainly be served by Highway 101, identified as a primary route. Secondary routes such as Big Creek Road and Sweet Creek Road would connect primary routes and provide some alternatives to the larger highways.

Abe said secondary routes in western area may be difficult transit options because they are steep or at high elevations and likely will be employed most by recreational cyclists. 

"In a lot of cases, the secondary routes are also going to be fairly constrained. This has a lot to do with, again, the distances we're covering and also the topography," Abe said. 

Primary routes identified on the network map that would take riders from central Lane County to eastern areas include Highways 126 and a route beginning on Jasper Road and reaching Oakridge. A southern easterly primary route extends from Cottage Grove.

Aufderheide Drive is identified as a primary route linking Highway 126 with Oakridge.

The number of secondary routes identified on the east side of the county is small, but some would serve as shorter alternative routes or as parallel or recreational alternatives.

"As you move toward outlying parts of the county, we know that the roadway network becomes less dense. We know that your options for getting between point A and point B are becoming more limited," Abe said. "We're going to have to focus on some particular roads that we all travel today and whose conditions may vary."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Derek Abe is a consultant with the company hired by Lane County to assist with the master planning project. 

Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.