The Corvallis City Club hosted a presentation by and discussion with ODOT’s Corvallis representative Jerry Wolcott and Corvallis Public Works Director Steve Rogers yesterday to discuss planned solutions to the traffic ‘problem’ at the main (east) highway entrance to the city. I put problem in quotation marks because Corvallis is a small town and, while I am not a regular driver, I have never witnessed anything that I would call a traffic jam in town (except during the 6 or so Saturdays on which there are football games).
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The ideal solution (according to Jerry Wolcott) is a $200 million dollar project that would add an overpass and clover leaf intersection to remove the stoplight intersection just east of the Harrison and Van Buren bridges and connect HWY 34 to HWY 20 via a new bridge north of the existing bridges. This would create a true bypass for Corvallis. Thankfully, funds are short. The stopgap proposal is a 45mi/hr slip lane to allow stop-light-free travel for traffic leaving Corvallis via the southern bypass on HWY 34.
Now, HWY 34 is the only way out of town to the east for bicycles (and pedestrians) as well as cars. Already, biking along HWY 34 is considered dangerous by most and unpleasant for all. While it does have gloriously wide, smooth, paved shoulders and is expressly designated as legal for bicycles to travel on according to county maps, it is a high-speed expressway. I would not recommend it to unexperienced or nervous cyclists. However, like many Corvallis residents, I do not fall in that category. I have biked HWY 34 countless times to get to the Amtrak train station in nearby Albany, OR. To do so, I exit Corvallis via the Van Buren bridge and stop at the above-mentioned traffic light. When the light turns green, I go, along with the rest of the traffic, without having to worry about traffic entering HWY 34 from the south.
Should a slip lane be introduced, my life suddenly becomes much more exciting. In a risk-of-death way. I would exit Corvallis via the Van Buren bridge and again approach a traffic light (which would be present to allow traffic approaching the intersection on HWY 34 from the east to turn south). If the traffic light is green, I would continue straight only to face crossing 45 mi/hr traffic that is merging into the rightmost lane via the new slip lane. For a car in my position, this isn’t a problem. The merging traffic must yield. But as any experienced cyclist realizes, drivers often do not anticipate cyclists. We are small, slow travelling vehicles (compared to cars).
Now, the plan is calling for connections to a new multi-use path on the north side of the highway. Huzzah! But there are problems. The multi-use path, Susan B. Wilkins Way, that connects the south side of the highway to the north side of the highway passes under the Harrison and Van Buren bridges and is subject to traffic-stopping flooding – an unreliable option for bike/ped travel. Further, the north-side multi-use path will extend for less than a mile out of town (to Peoria Rd.), forcing those travelling further to cross back over HWY 34 (in the best case, by way of a lighted intersection). I am not sure how cyclists and pedestrians who need to turn south off HWY 34 between the ‘safe crossing’ endpoints of this multi-use path are expected to safely do so. Never mind the bulk of those cyclists (myself included) who will shirk the added travel time introduced by this north-side detour and risk crossing the slip lane anyway.
Jerry Wolcott was sure to point out that any change will impact all road users. The introduction of the slip lane seems to only benefit drivers; that is, there doesn’t seem to be any negative impact toward vehicular traffic. However, this plan at best, makes bike/ped eastbound travel more inconvenient (by forcing travellers to go out of their way to the north side of 34) and, at worst, less safe (by not providing a reliable alternative and causing bike/ped traffic to cross a 45mi/hr slip lane). The message to me is: bicyclists and pedestrians are second-class road users. We are not. While we may be in the minority, we pay more than our share for road use and are legally entitled to use the roads.
Update: A condensed version of this entry appeared in the Gazette Times.