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October 5: Better Streets for People and Businesses

Only twenty percent of the effort to solve transportation challenges lies in technical issues, according to Rob Zako, Executive Director of Better Eugene-Springfield transportation, a small local non-profit advocate for transportation improvements. Eighty percent of the challenge is getting people to overcome their fear of change and come together on what solutions might be. Mr. Zako told the City Club, on October 5, that BEST is trying to support improving transportation issues in the area by reversing the traditional approach.

In most cases, as a member of the audience said, the government proposes a solution to a problem it sees, often one that won’t occur for five or ten years. This immediately divides the public into those who support the idea and those who oppose it. BEST takes the approach, according to Mr. Zako, of starting from the other end, by reaching out to the public to see what issues they see today, not in the future, and what they see as ways to solve the issues that now exist. It works with communities to find acceptable solutions and then tries to generate support for those solutions among the public, and civic institutions before approaching government.

As an example of that approach, Mr. Zako pointed to a survey they recently released seeking input from the public on Springfield’s Main Street. They are, he said, asking the simple question: How safe, practical, and attractive is Main Street for everyone today? The public can respond to that survey by clicking on Main Street – Better Streets – BEST (

The Main Street survey is the most recent of the projects in which BEST is uivo9vkled. The organization was formed several years ago as a way to help evaluate the proposal to institute EmX service in West Eugene, a project which generated a great deal of controversy before it was actually constructed. More recently they have been involved in studies related to the Franklin boulevard corridor between Broadway and I-5, in Eugene, and the future of transportation efforts in River Road Santa Clara. In response to a question, Mr. Zako said that BEST probably would be taking a look at the current project affecting Frankling from then east side of I-5 to the Springfield bridges. “That project is already well underway, with Phase I being completed, and has already had a great deal of public involvement.”

BEST, Mr. Zako said, does not attempt to develop specific solutions. He pointed to a recent series of books by the University of Oregon Sustainable Cities Initiative which document a number of ways to address transportation issues. Those studies are available to the public at Rethinking Streets.

Rather BEST focuses on building community and consensus about transportation needs. Mr. Zako described the organization’s efforts to address the future of the segment of Franklin Boulevard between I-5 and Broadway in Eugene. He said they had hosted two walking tours of the area and conducted a survey which produced over 600 responses. They hope to produce a preliminary report next week on what people are saying about any transportation needs for that segment. He did note that as a result of the walking tours one businessman, who had focused on his opposition to roundabouts, had come to the conclusion that there were some needs to be addressed – specifically lowering the speed and providing longer times for pedestrians to cross the street. He said BEST had not fully digested the Eugene current plan but hoped to have questions and some recommendations by year end. He expects a similar process to go forward as BEST studies Main Street in Springfield.

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