by John Quetzalcoatl Murray
All three Ward 7 candidates say they are willing to reconsider the city council vote for River Road EmX.
Lyndsie Leech said she is not opposed to revisiting this topic at council. “More information from LTD to the community is going to be absolutely critical whatever next steps are taken,” she said.
Barbie Walker said that with the “monumental” recall of a city councilor, Ward 7 voters showed “they do not want their personal property or land confiscated by the City or LTD for irresponsible, underused bus-only lanes.”
And Janet Ayres said she would actively oppose River Road EmX until “a legitimate citizen engagement process” identifies a solution with broad community support.
The Ward 7 city council candidates were responding to our question following remarks by LTD CEO Jameson Auten at the Santa Clara Community Organization March 2.
He told SCCO that the same buses used in downtown Honolulu, San Francisco, and Philadelphia are also being used on Pioneer Parkway in Springfield.
“Which environment is different from the other three, right? Springfield is, right,” he said. “So I think the question really is, to the point of what you’re saying: What is the mode that makes sense and what is the preferred mode for the community? That’s the question that we’re going to answer.”
He vowed that Lane Transit District will model world-class public outreach, and the community will not see a repeat of the public outreach as conducted during the MovingAhead study of five transportation corridors.
Unpaid volunteers going door-to-door along those corridors apparently conducted more public outreach than both the city and LTD, as hundreds of property owners signed petitions opposing EmX.
When a city councilor denied hearing any opposition to EmX, Ward 7 residents signed petitions to force a recall election, and the councilor was recalled from office on a 60%-40% vote. The candidates are now competing for the council seat that was vacated in that recall.
Neighborhood groups also raised questions about Lane Transit District’s public outreach during the Transit Tomorrow project, and pointed to a disconnect between the city and LTD. Transit Tomorrow proposed to end two-way bus routes near a new five-story development at the same time that the city was promoting high-density development along bus lines to meet climate goals.
The neighborhoods asked for better public engagement and ongoing monitoring. They asked LTD and Eugene to share data on transit ridership and traffic to demonstrate that the route changes would reduce rather than increase greenhouse gas emissions.
LTD officials told us that since designating the locally-preferred alternative, they have received funding for a NEPA study. As long as that study is completed, LTD and the city can change the locally-preferred alternative without losing any funding.
The next Ward 7 councilor could choose to revisit the River Road EmX decision. The city could designate a different locally-preferred alternative for River Road.
We asked all three candidates: “Given that the new LTD CEO recognizes the public outreach was not acceptable in advance of the EmX vote, would you favor a council revote on this issue? And if the council were to reconsider its locally-preferred alternative, what are you hearing from Ward 7 constituents about what they want for River Road?”
The candidates’ full responses follow:
Janet Ayres: “Yes! Until and unless a legitimate citizen engagement process determines what transportation solution for River Road best fits credible evidence and has broad community support, as a city councilperson, I would oppose the council’s prior approval of EmX on River Road as the preferred alternative.
“Among numerous concerns that have been raised by Eugene citizens, the most glaring flaw is that the council hasn’t developed any specific, concrete, and practical plans for integrating future residential and commercial development with a major transportation infrastructure investment in the River Road area.”
Lyndsie Leech: “There are many diverse opinions about the proposed EmX expansion on River Road, and a lot of fear based on the history of expanding River Road from two to four lanes 30 years ago. Most people I talk to do want to see River Road more walkable/bikeable and with easier access. But many are afraid that this plan will carve off more of their property like it did before, and fear that creating designated bus lanes will further congest traffic. More information from LTD to the community is going to be absolutely critical whatever next steps are taken. I am not opposed to revisiting this topic at council.”
Barbie Walker: “For Ward 7 of Eugene the EmX of Lane Transit District is categorically not excluded from participating in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process.
“Given that the new LTD CEO recognizes the public outreach and transparency was not acceptable in advance of the EmX vote, he newly announced the pledge of ‘world class public outreach and transparency.’ This then could call for participation in a variety of processes as long as any counterpart studies or processes were also participated in equally for such transparency.
“With that said, after the monumental Councilor Syrett recall, I would wonder if the council really still considers EmX down River Road the preferred alternative?
“Ward 7 constituents want proper usage of budgets. They do not want their personal property or land confiscated by the City or LTD for irresponsible, underused bus-only lanes causing dangerous bottlenecking of traffic, amongst other damage.
“Then when discussing the underrepresented of our Ward 7, the River Road working families, first responders and constituents, we want to keep their safe, viable, common sense transportation avenues they use in their daily routes and vital for their living conditions.
“They find irresponsibility in usage of budgets or efforts that once again go towards non-need-based plans when the existing bus stops and bus pullouts are functionally suitable and operational.”
Ballots for the May 16, 2023 election will be mailed to out-of-state voters on April 17 and to local voters on April 27.