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Going it alone

Seven out of 10 people driving to work in Medford either go it alone for work-related reasons or by preference.

The figure jumps to 92 percent when respondents to a community survey find there are no reasonable alternatives.

The city of Medford is looking for ways to lower those numbers.

In the latest Transportation System Plan draft for 2018 through 2038, submitted by city Planning Director Matt Brinkley to the City Council last month, the planning staff spelled out goals, objectives and actions for the council to consider.

In the 21st of 22 objectives, for example, planning staff recommended adopting policies to reduce vehicle travel, reliance on solo driving and roadway congestion. The draft spelled out five actions to reduce traffic, starting with "parking strategies" that would reduce driving in mixed-use neighborhoods, downtown and other major travel destinations. Further, off-street parking would be modified "to discourage single occupant trips" within activity centers.

The city also will encourage employers to seek other modes of travel for their workers, including carpooling, providing transportation passes, offering incentives for bicycling and walking to work, and telecommuting. Expansion of Rogue Valley Transit District routes was also listed as a potential congestion reliever. The city would develop incentives for developers to implement alternative transportation programs.

Medford has what traffic engineers call connectivity issues created by a series of barriers impeding east-west travel: Interstate 5 coursing through town; Bear Creek flowing northward to the Rogue River; Bear Creek and Hawthorne parks; railroad tracks; and the airport all impede the flow of east-west traffic and force route adjustments to the north or south.

But our commuting snarls aren't so bad, said traffic engineer Kim Parducci of Southern Oregon Transportation Engineering.

"We're not in a worse traffic situation than the bigger cities of Oregon, that's for sure," Parducci said. "Connectivity, especially because of the I-5 location, is a struggle. As a result, a lot of specific streets such as Barnett Road and McAndrews Road are heavily traveled because we don't have a lot of options in those specific streets."

More than 1,000 people responded to the surveys, although not everyone responded to every question.

The thoroughfares most often used by survey respondents were: McAndrews Road, Crater Lake Avenue, Biddle Road, Barnett Road, Main Street, Crater Lake Highway, Riverside Avenue, Central Avenue, Foothill Road and Jackson Street.

Asked what streets drivers avoided en route to work, school and errands, the winner was construction-torn Highway 62. Crater Lake Avenue, which stretches from East Main Street to Corey Road, is No. 2 on the list, while McAndrews Road, Biddle Road and Riverside Avenue round out the top five.

Nearly 90 percent of the respondents said they never used public transportation locally, but 47 percent said if buses were more convenient to access, they might be encouraged to use them. Thirty-five percent said more routes would entice them to hop on board.

Queried about priorities, the largest number of comments cited street maintenance and sidewalks improvements, followed by pedestrian crossing improvements. Reducing vehicle lanes in favor of bike lanes and sidewalks ranked lowest, followed by speed limit reductions. Esthetics and signage also had little support.

Comments centered on safety enforcement, disagreement with lane-reducing road diets, broader bus service, policy disagreements and separating bike lanes from vehicles.

The city planning staff elected to use online responses rather than traditional town hall discussions that can be lengthy, even with minimal attendance.

"Overall, staff is satisfied with the outcomes of the online workshop," Kyle Kearns, a member of the planning staff, wrote. "With limited outreach to the city’s networks and the city’s large employers, a large amount of data was still gathered. Moving forward, this data can and should be used to determine project prioritization and to support decision makers and project staff in determining policy, projects, and other important items within the TSP."

Medford city councilor Kim Wallen said the most recent draft of the Transportation System Play reflects community input.

She anticipates further change as the public weighs in during January ward meetings before the TSP is adopted next spring.

Citizen input can be submitted in any form, via telephone or email to the city manager's office, the planning department, or the city council.

Parducci said Medford will always have transportation struggles, even if another large east-west route is eventually punched through near Old Stage Road.

"What the city is trying to do is great, promoting the downtown area and making it viable again," Parducci said. "Reducing single-occupancy vehicles is a goal all over the state and nation as cities grow; that's what they do to manage growth."

One way that's done, she said, is to reduce traffic at peak morning and evening commute times by off-setting start and finish times.

"For a downtown the size of Medford, I don't there is that much congestion, compared to other areas such as Highway 62. I think the goals and policies they're talking about are a good thing."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31. Listen to his podcast at mailtribune.com/podcast.

Traffic flows at the intersection of Highland Drive and Barnett Road near the south Medford interchange. Barnett was listed in a survey as one of the most frequently used routes in the city. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]