Community Conversations Report
After the Eugene City Council approved construction of EmX West, BEST conducted a series of community conversations. Updated in November 2016, download our full report:
- BEST Community Conversations Report 2016 – screen (4.0 MB PDF)
- BEST Community Conversations Report 2016 – print (6.3 MB PDF)
Or read our executive summary and conclusions below…
An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.
— Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogotá, Columbia1
BEST Listened to the Community
Better Eugene-Springfield Transit (BEST) set out to ask a simple question:
Why is public transit important to our community?
More briefly: Why transit? Why have public transit at all? What purpose does it serve? What benefits does a strong transit system provide, both to individuals and to the community overall? How does transit support the things we value as a community and our vision for the future?
BEST asked over two dozen local groups—including business, social services, environmental, school, faith-based, community, and neighborhood organizations—about the importance of transit to the community. We listened to community members at the We Are Bethel Celebration, Eugene Saturday Market, and Marketplace at Sprout! We hosted a public forum open to all. For people unable to attend any of the in-person events, we also requested input through an online survey.
Transit Benefits Our Community
In these community conversations, BEST heard that public transit is essential to our community in multiple ways. Much of what BEST heard is backed up others’ research. Key themes include:
- People. For those without access to a car or parking—including seniors, youth, University of Oregon and Lane Community College students and faculty, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities—public transit is often the only practical way to get to work, school, shopping, and appointments. For everyone, frequent and reliable transit provides a convenient option. Research shows that people who get exercise walking or bicycling to and from bus stops generally have longer and healthier lives.2
- Prosperity. Transit gets workers to their jobs and customers to places of business. A typical family with one less car has roughly $6,000 more per year to spend—often locally—on housing, food, and other basic needs.3 A higher percentage of money spent on transit (drivers, maintenance workers, administrative staff, etc.) stays in the local economy compared to money spent on personal vehicles (auto manufacturers, gasoline, insurance, etc.). Because many riders on a bus takes up less road space than if each drove separately, transit reduces traffic congestion for others who drive. Reducing congestion also helps transport goods and services more efficiently. Transit supports local plans to develop more compactly, reducing the costs of public infrastructure and road maintenance. Having an effective transit system and a community that is compact, walkable, and accessible attracts talented workers needed for a strong economy.
- Planet. Public transit helps protect our environment, keeping our air cleaner and slowing climate change, as a bus carrying many people has fewer emissions per rider than the equivalent number of cars. Furthermore, transit assists efforts to develop in a compact manner, limiting sprawl and the loss of farms and forestlands.
Transit Is Good But Could Be Better
BEST heard from many residents that there are significant barriers to entry for those interested in using transit and gaps in service for those who rely on it. A worker living in Bethel spends almost an hour and a half one-way getting to work in Glenwood, including walking to and from bus stops and a transfer. A rider who uses a wheelchair on River Road frequently has to wait for the next bus, as both wheelchair bays are taken on the first one. A University of Oregon student can get to and from campus but is limited in his ability to access grocery shopping and job opportunities without a car. A woman with developmental disabilities has to wait at an unlit, uncovered bus stop at night and in the rain. She feels unsafe and fearful that others will harass or treat her with malicious intent as a result of her disability. The frequent transit stop nearest to the Pearl Buck Center, a social service nonprofit that offers people with disabilities and their families support, is a mile away.
Meanwhile, some business owners struggle to keep up with Lane Transit District’s tax on local payrolls and other requirements, unsure of why they are paying for a service they might not use.
Overall, community understanding of and support for public transit is mixed. Plans to expand EmX bus rapid transit continue to arouse some strong negative reactions. Many question how transit is funded, how public monies are invested, and who decides. Most importantly, we lack a clear and broadly supported vision for the kind of transit system we need—and can afford.4
Looking ahead, Eugene and Springfield are planning for roughly 50,000 additional residents over the next 20 years—within the existing land area. Neither city is currently planning to expand its urban growth boundary to accommodate residential growth. There are no large-scale plans to widen or build new roads: There little funding to do so, and also the community wouldn’t want to demolish broad swaths of existing development to make space for new roads. Thus, the reality is that in coming years, more and more of us will need to get from place to place using the same public rights-of-way we have available today. In this not-so-distant future, BEST believes better public transit and other safe, practical and affordable transportation options will be essential to helping people get around our community.5
Let’s Work Together To Improve Transit
BEST believes we are better when we speak together—when we listen to, learn from and respect different points of view. We can and must come together to understand our community’s transit needs, to decide how to better address these, and to forge a broadly shared and clear vision for the transit system that balances concerns and interests.
Specifically, in response to what we heard, BEST believes the community needs to undertake three key related efforts:
- Learn: There continue to be questions about transit service in our community and specifically about EmX bus rapid transit. Who does public transit serve? What are key differences between EmX and regular bus service? Who decides what kind of service we have? How is it paid for?
- Plan: Our community has a “general concept” of a regional transit system built on the backbone of EmX service along major corridors, but lacks a clear, practical, and broadly supported plan for what such a system should someday look like—the system needed to supported 50,000 additional people in 20 years. The current MovingAhead effort in Eugene and Main-McVay Transit Study effort in Springfield are good steps in this direction. But it is essential to think about the entire regional transit network, including walking and bicycling connections to and from bus stops, to decide on a system that will move people safely, practically and affordably.
- Act: Visions amount to little if they aren’t realized. We need to work together to create plans and then use them to create into a better community on the ground.
BEST looks forward to working with Lane Transit District, the cities of Eugene and Springfield, Lane County, and other community partners to improve transportation options for everyone.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Public transit is essential to our community: It offers people, especially seniors, youth, students, people with disabilities, or people with limited economic means, a good—and sometimes the only—way to get around; it supports a strong economy; and it contributes to a healthy, natural environment.
But citizens have questions about how Lane Transit District is governed and structured, how it operates, who pays for public transit, and why public monies are invested the way they are.
Moreover, we heard from many, especially those who depend on transit in their daily lives and those who serve such populations, that the transit system we have does not adequately serve their needs.
In response, BEST recommends launching a community-wide look at our transit needs and how to better address these in the future.
For such an effort to succeed, we suggest these twelve guiding principles:
- Listen to the community: Our transit system serves and belongs to the public. To determine our transit needs and how to better address these, listen to the community.
- Provide opportunities to learn: While listening to the community, also provide opportunities to answer questions and improve understanding of the transit system we have today. Better informed citizens can make better decisions.
- Be inclusive: It is essential to include those who depend on public transit, those who pay taxes to support transit, those located along and impacted by transit routes, and others less directly affected by transit. Welcome all ideas about what would make our transit system better.
- Form a coalition: In order to effectively engage different segments of the community, a coalition of public and private entities should work together. Lane Transit District should collaborate with other local governments, businesses, schools, social service agencies, community groups, neighborhoods, etc. Many of the organizations BEST heard from for this report could help with this effort. But as a practical matter, LTD will likely provide most of the support.
- Depend on community leaders: To gain the attention of the broader public, identify respected community leaders to highlight the importance of the effort.
- Start with shared values: To have a better chance of reaching broad agreement, start with our shared values and understanding of why transit is important. The recent Oregon Values and Beliefs survey is a good starting point.
- Think big about what’s possible: When identifying transit needs, look at particulars but strive to move towards larger themes. The aim isn’t to develop a detailed transit service plan, but rather to consider different scenarios and rethink how the transit system could serve the community’s needs better.
- Evaluate benefits and costs: There usually is no free lunch. Evaluate the benefits and costs of different possibilities to enable the public to make an informed choice of the tradeoffs. The “triple bottom line” of sustainability—economy, social equity and the environment—is a good framework for looking at impacts.
- Talk about money—but not too soon: Acknowledge up front that sustaining better transit service will likely cost more money. But suspend disbelief long enough to enable the community to envision and seriously consider different possibilities.
- Recognize other needs: Public transit serves a basic need, allowing some lacking other options a way to get to jobs, schools, doctors appointments, shopping, etc. But the community has other important needs: housing, jobs, health, education, public safety, etc. Recognize that the community must prioritize needs when there are limited public resources.
- Take enough time, but not too much: Take enough time to give the community an opportunity to participate, to consider different possibilities, and to develop agreement on a preferred approach. But be expeditious to maintain the public’s attention.
- Commit to action: Someone once said, “vision without action is hallucination.” Commit to taking whatever actions—including potentially a decision to continue the status quo—the community deems preferable and feasible.
BEST does not have the resources—nor would it be appropriate—to undertake such an effort alone. As noted above, a successful effort will require a coalition of public and private interests working together.
But BEST commits to being part of such an effort. We call on other community leaders—Lane Transit District, the cities of Eugene and Springfield, Lane County, the Eugene Area and Springfield Chambers of Commerce, the University of Oregon, Lane Community College, and others to join us in a community-wide look at our transit needs and how to better address these in the future.
We invite anyone who is interested to join us in working for better transit.
We are better when we speak together.
1. “Why buses represent democracy in action,” TEDCity2.0, Sept. 2013, www.ted.com/talks/enrique_penalosa_why_buses_represent_democracy_in_action.
2. Todd Litman, “Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits,” Victoria Transport Policy Institute for American Public Transportation Association, 2010, 11-14. www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/APTA_Health_Benefits_Litman.pdf.
3. According to data from U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Dept. of Transportation, a typical family in northwest Eugene (near Echo Hollow Pool) spends $13,215 per year on transportation, mainly for an average of 2.2 cars—more than they spend on housing! Source: www.locationaffordability.info/lai.aspx. See also: htaindex.cnt.org/total-driving-costs.
4. The “Bus Rapid Transit System” map in the adopted Central Lane Regional Transportation Plan, last updated in 2011, includes this disclaimer: “The intent of this map is to convey the general concept of a regional BRT system. Routes listed as ‘Fiscally Constrained’ or ‘Illustrative’ assume no specific alignment at this time. The actual location and type of future BRT investments will be determined once detailed corridor planning is undertaken.” www.thempo.org/564/Regional-Transportation-Planning.
5. One of the “seven pillars” of Envision Eugene, Eugene’s 20-year growth plan, is to “promote compact urban development and efficient transportation options.” www.eugene-or.gov/2979/The-Pillars. One of the goals of Springfield 2030 is to “encourage a pattern of mixed land uses and development densities that will locate a variety of different life activities, such as employment, housing, shopping and recreation, in convenient proximity, to encourage and support multiple modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling, and transit, in addition to motor vehicles both within and between neighborhoods and districts.” www.ci.springfield.or.us/dpw/2030Plan.htm.