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Advocates seek reduction in car dependency in transportation plan update

Photo by Allayana Darrow | As Ashland prepares to update its 10-year transportation system plan, some advocates want to shift the city’s transportation future away from cars and toward bicycle and foot traffic.

As Ashland prepares to update its 10-year transportation system plan, some advocates want to shift the city’s transportation future away from cars and toward bicycle and foot traffic.

A coalition of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now and the Ashland Bicycle Advocacy Group will host a webinar 7 p.m. Thursday titled “Rethinking Streets in Ashland for Safety, Health, Climate, Affordability, Equity, Happiness, Apple Pie and More.”

The coalition “seeks to raise the voices of Ashland residents who believe that people of all ages and abilities should be able to go anywhere in Ashland safely by biking or walking,” said Gary Shaff, climate policy commissioner.

Marc Schlossberg, professor of city and regional planning at the University of Oregon and co-director of the Sustainable Cities Institute, will lead the webinar.

Register for the webinar at bit.ly/RethinkStreetsAshland.

The SOCAN and Ashland Bicycle Advocacy Group collaboration is focused on prioritizing safety and convenience for bicycle and pedestrian traffic in the transportation system plan update.

Shaff said the effort is fueled by a vision in which Ashland essential workers can afford to live in the city despite high housing costs because they don’t need to own a car, street congestion is minimal and commuting by foot or bike is the norm.

Large cars have the most impact when measuring direct carbon emissions from fuel combustion, indirect emissions from fuel production and vehicle construction emissions — about 14 times the amount produced by electric or pedal bicycles, according to a 2020 report by Bend Economic Research, to which members of the Ashland Conservation and Climate Outreach, Transportation and Climate Policy Commissions contributed.

Shaff said increasing the number of cyclists traveling safely on the road, in combination with other actions, would draw the city closer to a net zero emissions goal for transportation by 2050, as outlined in the Climate Energy and Action Plan passed in 2017.

In 2020, in-city transportation accounted for the largest portion of climate-altering emissions, followed by residential gas and commercial gas, according to a Climate Energy and Action Plan progress report by climate and energy analyst Stu Green.

The last transportation system plan was completed in 2012 and incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan in 2013.

“These documents, once they’re set, they lay the groundwork for the coming decade,” said Lorrie Kaplan, chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of SOCAN. “We were inspired to put together this program to just have an opportunity to look at what other cities have been able to do that we could also apply here in Ashland.”

The group advocates for installing protected bike lanes on suitable roadways, reducing speed limits and increasing the availability of bike racks.

“The purpose isn’t to tell people that they can’t drive their cars, but make it less stressful for people who want and are able to make some of their in-town trips by bike or walk,” Kaplan said. “It’s an intersection of climate, livability and safety.”

“Not everybody can afford to buy an electric vehicle — that’s a real equity issue,” she continued.

The Transportation Commission recommended that Ashland City Council approve a professional services contract with Kittelson & Associates to manage the TSP update, with a proposed cost of nearly $250,000.

Contract approval was pulled from the City Council agenda Tuesday, along with consideration of establishing a Vision Zero goal for the transportation system, which “sets the standard that no loss of life or serious injury on a transportation system is acceptable,” according to council documents.

Interim City Manager Gary Milliman said he asked to postpone the items and revisit the TSP in a future study session to allow time to explore alternative funding sources, including new federal funds and programs related to transportation, to avoid any reliance on the city’s general fund.

Milliman said he expects the topics to come back in front of the council within 60 days, and the full TSP update process to carry into 2023.

In response to goals outlined in the Conservation and Climate Outreach Commission annual report delivered Tuesday, Councilor Shaun Moran asked stakeholder organizations to investigate how the prioritization of bike travel might impact Ashland’s tourist-based economy.

“I see it, for our future, to be problematic if we’re going to be expecting our tourists to walk or bike into town,” Moran said. “We’re so dependent on tourists presently for our lifeblood of revenues.”

Schlossberg said the purpose of street redesign is to “get more performance” out of existing roadways and increase the number of trips possible by bike, furthering each community’s ability to meet climate change goals and obligations, and address equity and affordability.

Nationally, transportation is the second-largest household expense, he said.

The existing transportation system places a burden on parents to shuttle their children around, without the security of a safe bike system youth can use independently, he said.

“Design of our streets basically makes it really inhospitable to get around by any way but cars,” Schlossberg said. “We have designed our systems — in Ashland and everywhere else almost over the last 70 years — to make driving the easiest, most convenient and therefore rational choice for almost all, if not all, of our trips. It doesn’t need to be that way.”

For most cities west of the Mississippi River, roads are plentiful, wide and able to accommodate a reallocation of existing road space, Schlossberg said. Costs to install better bike infrastructure are substantially less than constructing new roads, expanding a freeway or redesigning a bridge in a car-based transportation network, he said.

Design strategies include installing protected bike lanes on busy streets, which place a physical barrier between car lanes and the bike lane. Some designs swap curbside parking and the bike lane, such that parked cars serve as the protective roadway barrier, Schlossberg said. Reducing car speeds to 20 mph in certain street networks represents the second core design strategy.

Schlossberg cited research indicating about two-thirds of the general public are interested in making some of their trips by bike, but the existing system “exceeds most people’s stress thresholds” — only about 7% of people are satisfied with a paint-striped bike lane.

Studies show that people who get around by bike spend more at local shops than people who drive, he said, though cyclists may have to take more trips to carry their goods.

“As an economic development strategy, younger people are choosing to move to places where they’re not car-dependent for everything,” Schlossberg said. “They’re increasingly making employment decisions based on location amenities, and being in a car dependent place is less attractive than it used to be.”

Effective street redesign formats have been well established in the U.S. and globally, he said, paving the way for informed decision-making by citizens and elected officials regarding the city’s transportation system.

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.