Putting the Brakes on Bend’s Traffic

Originally published in Oregon Business Magazine November 2000

It’s rush hour, and traffic is building along Wall Street, the main east-west thoroughfare in downtown Bend. Some 18,000 cars pass through the city’s narrow downtown streets each day, nearly a third of them during the afternoon rush.

It’s a routine that’s frustrated area communters since Bend began to boom in the late 80s. Relief may be on the way, though, as transportation issues are dominating public debate.

On Nov. 7, Bend voters will consider a $7 million, five-year transportation tax to help fund public transit, sidewalk construction, bike lanes and other transportation-related improvements.

But what’s expected to offer more long-lasting relief is the Bend City Council’s development of a 20-year, $185 million Transportation System Plan – a move that will allow Bend to shed its dubious distinction of being the largest Western city in the United States without a transportation plan.

“It’s very plain that we have a growing transportation problem,” says Bend City Councilman John Schubert. “Unfortunately Bend has behind the goal the last couple of years, overwhelmed by rapid growth. We have been talking about a public transit system, but we have not quite gotten there yet,” he says.

After months of research, a 17-member citizen Transportation Advisory Committee presented a draft plan to the council in May. Employers are being called into action through the plan’s Commute Options program, a 10-year effort to increase car and van pooling in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties.

“We want to encourage businesses to provide a variety of choices o that their employees don’t have to rely on cars for commuting to work,” says Bend development services director Deborah McMahon.

Teague Hatfield, owner of the Footzone, is one of 40 employers who have already committed to the Commute Options program. “I get tired of hearing about the downtown parking issues,” he says. And he’s doing something about it. Employees who walk or bike to the Footzone receive a 25-cent increase in their hourly rate. In addition to relieving traffic congestion, encouraging employees to leave their cars at home also frees up valuable parking spots,” says Hatfield.

St. Charles Medical Center, Bend’s largest employer with 1,300 workers, encourages its employees to use alternate modes of transportation by entering those who walk or bike in a monthly drawing for gift certificates. Councilman Schubert, who serves as St. Charles’ Commute Options coordinator, says the program saves the hospital money by cutting down on the number of parking spaces needed.

Commute Options director, Jeff Monson, says making Central Oregon less vehicle-dependent is also good for business. “The community is going to attract better employers and employees if it can offer better ways to go to work.”