Not Everyone Pleased About Circle Boulevard Road Diet

  Community members were invited to attend a virtual meeting with Corvallis Public Works staff to speak out about slimming down part of Circle Blvd. on Monday, June 8. A so-called road diet will reduce the number of vehicle lanes and add buffered bike lanes through pavement re-striping.  

Though the primary project goal is resurfacing the road, a study found it is feasible to cut Circle from five lanes to three between 29th and Highland to improve safety while promoting walking and bicycling. The intersections of Highland, Kings, and 29th will remain unchanged. Traffic flow and emergency vehicle access, particularly for the fire station on Circle, were among the concerns raised in the meeting.   

City Engineer Greg Gescher said the road diet study revealed higher than posted average speeds – averaging 5-8 mph above the posted speed limit – occurring in the corridor, along with elevated traffic volume. He said crashes were below state averages for similar roadways in the past decade. After the project is complete, public works will measure the effectiveness of the changes and how traffic reacts, including fire department response times. There is no plan to change the posted speed of 35 mph.  

“We’ll be looking at any increase in crashes, severity, and our response times,” Corvallis Fire Chief Ken McCarthy said. He added that there is some uncertainty concerning how the limited travel conditions under the coronavirus pandemic will affect the post-project study.  

Following staff presentations, around 30 people spoke for more than an hour on the road diet plan. Some were concerned that the plan would cause traffic congestion without improving safety for what they see as a relatively safe stretch of road, fearing a possible increase in crashes. Most of the commenters supported the plan, calling the road too wide and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross even at intersections.   

The plan for repeated changing from three lanes back to four at intersections, as one person called it a “yo-yo road diet” was questioned a number of times as being inconsistent and potentially hazardous. There were calls to uniformly reduce the lanes at the intersections as well. Several people said speeding on Circle is a growing danger and that a combination of confusing lane schemes and speeding drivers could be troublesome.  

Daniel Lowery, owner of Corvallis Martial Arts on Circle Blvd., said he’s happy with the resurfacing aspect of the project, which he feels is overdue given the condition of the road. Noting the college town’s reputation for bicycle friendliness, Lowery said the lane reductions in the road diet are understandable. He is, however, concerned about the continuously tight parking on the street. He already sees issues with parking overflow.   

“They’re a very bike-friendly city, so making that accommodation will probably increase the number of people on bikes, and then obviously less people on the road,” Lowery said.  

Also on Circle Blvd., Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis CEO Helen Higgins said the club’s busy campus already gets its share of cut-through traffic, and on any given day, close to 1,000 people could be there. Higgins believes the road diet will cause bottlenecks, tempting motorists to find shortcuts off the main road, spilling onto neighborhood streets and other areas that aren’t designed for heavy traffic.  

“I think without an alternative east-west route that can handle high volumes of traffic, the 12,400 cars a day that travel up and down Circle are going to go somewhere,” Higgins said. “I actually think that’s going to create a more dangerous situation, because the amount of traffic probably won’t reduce by much, but you’re going to have frustrated drivers, and a frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.”  

Time and data will tell whether the road diet is helpful or not. Higgins emphasized the need for community-defined metrics and publicly available reporting to document the success or failure of the project, adding that data shows Circle is already among the safest arterial corridors in the state. She worries that if the desired outcome is not achieved, undoing the unintended consequences could be difficult or impossible.   

“We are highly concerned about an increased safety risk on this campus,” Higgins said. “And we have experience of it happening during the gas line work.”  

Higgins said the Corvallis City Council should weigh-in on the road diet’s possible effects on the community, and also suggested increased police presence and deterrents such as speed-monitoring equipment could be more effective than a lane reduction. The road diet is a city staff project that did not require a vote of the council, but has been discussed in previous meetings.  

“There will be an unintended consequence of pushing traffic onto any road that has a cut-through… the neighborhoods are going to see those cars,” Higgins said.  

A start date for the resurfacing project was expected to be set in a pre-construction meeting Wednesday, June 10. Work is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks and continue during the summer with striping to follow the resurfacing.   

By Cody Mann