What a Eugene City Council recall says about hopes for transportation reform in Oregon

An existing EmX bus station in Springfield, Oregon (Photo: MovingAhead)

— Before joining BikePortland, author Taylor Griggs lived in Eugene for six years and covered the city for Eugene Weekly.


Claire Syrett (Photo: clairesyrett.org)

Eugene, Oregon: 100 miles south of Portland by way of the Willamette River; famous for its population of college students, track and football jocks, pot-smoking hippies, and… NIMBYs intent on overthrowing the city’s democracy because of a public transportation project they don’t like? 

Based on recent politics, local progressive advocates fear that’s where the city’s headed.

Last month, about 2,300 voters in one of Eugene’s eight wards voted to oust Claire Syrett from city council less than six months after she voted with the majority to support a new bus rapid transit (BRT) project in the city. Recall organizers say Syrett misled the public about the project and failed to engage with her constituents who were concerned about the impact this project would have on their ability to get around the city by car. 

Eugene transportation advocates look at what transpired not only as a warning sign for their city’s future, but also as an indication of a problem playing out far beyond the south Willamette Valley. And in order to turn the tide, leaders need to change their strategy – or clever naysayers are likely tosabotage transformative and broadly appealing policies.

MovingAhead

Front page of MovingAhead website.

The transit project in question is MovingAhead designed by the local transit agency, Lane Transit District (LTD), in collaboration with the City of Eugene. At the center of the Syrett recall is the plan to remove two general travel lanes and build out dedicated bus infrastructure on a busy, five-lane arterial.

Eugene has successfully implemented BRT lines (which they call EmX) in the past on three different corridors. This time, the project is planned to run on River Road, a street in Syrett’s ward that follows the Willamette River from Eugene’s urban core to the rural community of Junction City about 15 miles northwest. 

In addition to being a direct route from the city center to the surrounding countryside, River Road is close to some of Eugene’s most industrial, working-class neighborhoods, and the street itself is lined with homes and businesses. It’s also an area of rapid growth, characterized by large affordable housing developments. As Eugene’s population increases, more and more people will need to commute to and from the farthest reaches of this corridor. 

But the MovingAhead plan would not only create BRT infrastructure – it would also be a complete streets project that local transportation advocates say is urgently needed. The City of Eugene identifies the street as one of the most dangerous for people walking and biking and includes it on their Vision Zero High Crash Corridor network

The EmX plan for River Road includes new pedestrian crossings and protected bike lanes that project leaders say would make it safer for all people (a similar approach to TriMet’s Division Transit Project).

River Road in Eugene. A person was struck and killed while walking across this intersection in March.

Members of Better Eugene Springfield Transportation (BEST), a local transportation advocacy non-profit (Eugene’s version of The Street Trust), say they aren’t entirely sold on EmX as the best treatment for River Road. But something has to be done to make the street safer for people walking, biking and taking transit, and the MovingAhead plan has presented solutions they’re on board with. 

Moreover, project leaders from the City of Eugene and LTD are adamant that this project isn’t set in stone – which makes the intense recall effort all the more perplexing. Planning for MovingAhead has been underway since 2015, and though Eugene City Council did agree in March to move forward with the EmX proposal as it was, planners said they were nowhere near complete with the process. BEST trusted they, and other members of the community, would get another chance to share their input. 

“BEST continues to question whether EmX bus rapid transit is the most cost-effective approach for making River Road safe and practical for everyone,” reads their recent newsletter. “We need better answers about impacts before final decisions are made.” 

…or moving back?

Maxwell says people simply don’t want to ride the bus, and the city shouldn’t make residents foot the $72 million bill for a new EmX line that nobody’s going to use. 

While the recall campaign against Syrett got off the ground this past summer, there has been a group loudly dissatisfied with the MovingAhead plan since its inception. One of the main project opponents is a woman named Meta Maxwell, a Eugene resident whose family settled in the city in 1862, less than two decades after its founding. When I called the number listed on the Syrett Recall Campaign website, Maxwell picked up the phone. 

Maxwell owns some commercial property on another Eugene corridor that was previously under consideration for an EmX line of its own, but that project was tabled when council chose the River Road route. She doesn’t reside in Syrett’s ward – the recall campaign was largely led and funded from out of district – but she saw an injustice taking place along River Road and had to do something about it. 

One influence of the recall effort.

The argument from recall proponents against MovingAhead has two main components.

The first is the stance from Maxwell and her peers that mass transit agencies, in Eugene and beyond, are inherently corrupt and want to push pro-bus ideology onto the masses. 

This philosophy is summarized in an article linked on the Syrett recall campaign website titled The Transit-Industrial Complex.’ The author of this article believes there is a well-funded, pro-transit propaganda machine running the United States consisting of organizations like Smart Growth America and Streetsblog. (For the record, this is not true.) Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“All of these groups provide the illusion that there is strong grassroots support for transit subsidies when in fact the groups get most of their funding from a few foundations and public agencies… they promote the idea that transit subsidies exist for noble causes, such as protecting the environment and helping the poor, when in fact those subsidies are mainly to transfer wealth from taxpayers to selected special interest groups.”

Maxwell and her co-organizers used this approach to frame transit projects as anti-populist. Maxwell says people simply don’t want to ride the bus, and the city shouldn’t make residents foot the $72 million bill for a new EmX line that nobody’s going to use. 

“I’ve ridden a bus on rare occasions, but my day would never allow me to just use the bus in Eugene. There’s no way I could do what I do in a day on the bus,” Maxwell told me. “These plans have not taken into consideration any of the new technology for electric vehicles and the alternative means of transportation people can take that are eco-friendly, and that meet their needs better.” 

The second component, which Maxwell says was the real problem, is the perceived lack of public engagement around the project. 

“The number-one thing is there was no engagement. They claimed that there was real outreach and engagement, and that’s a complete farce,” Maxwell said, adding she and her team of canvassers went door-to-door on River Road asking people if they’d heard of the plan, and none of them did. “Reaching out and saying ‘we’re going to talk about what we’re going to do on River Road, and if you want to know what, come to a meeting,’ is not outreach.” 

Broken engagement and weak leadership

“If I worked for the city, I would next time be so in the face of businesses about the projects that are happening that they couldn’t deny it.”

– Claire Roth, BEST

On that last note, even the most progressive transportation advocate may concede Maxwell’s point. Attempts to engage the public on city policies – especially people with lower incomes and people of color – have been scrutinized nationwide, especially by progressive activists. (And Syrett herself has acknowledged this issue in the past on at least one occasion.)

Though transportation advocates think the recall organizers are misrepresenting what happened – MovingAhead project leaders did request public input on multiple occasions – they say the city and LTD should take this as a lesson about the value of extensive community engagement for projects like these. 

“If I worked for the city, I would next time be so in the face of businesses about the projects that are happening that they couldn’t deny it,” Claire Roth, BEST’s Safe Streets Coordinator, told me. “But at the same time I wonder, would that have been enough?” 

Of course, the challenging nature of public engagement isn’t specific to Eugene. Portland policymakers, planners and advocates are well-aware of the tightrope they must walk when attempting to come to community consensus on a project (the failed attempt by Metro to pass a transportation funding measure being just one of many examples).

The auto industry has spent over a century convincing Americans cars are an intrinsic and necessary part of a functioning society – and that the more of them we can fit in our streets, the better. It’s easy, then, to circulate misguided talking points against alternative transportation projects with little data to back them up. 

An April article by CityLab illustrates how this conundrum is holding back transportation projects across the country:  “In city after city…plans to build safer streets sit on shelves, get mired in endless red tape, or are reversed after backlashes — often led by business owners and drivers who fear traffic impacts or object to parking disruptions.” 

To move past this, transportation advocates aren’t pointing the finger at people living in Syrett’s ward who voted for the recall. They concede that Maxwell and her allies led an effective – if nefarious – campaign, and the rebuttal tactics were lackluster at best. They say city leaders should be doing a better job of selling projects to people who would benefit from them and proactively working to combat misinformation.

Letters submitted to local news outlet Eugene Weekly show mass opposition to the recall campaign. One letter penned by Eugene resident Lynn Porter – who supported Syrett and the MovingAhead project – offered a criticism of the former councilor that speaks to the need for stronger tactics from leadership.

Porter wrote that Syrett and the entire MovingAhead team took the wrong approach to publicizing a good policy that working-class people in Syrett’s ward should have every reason to support. The people running the recall campaign, on the other hand, used very effective tactics to convince people this project would harm them. From Porter’s letter:

“I haven’t owned a car since the mid 1990s, because I can’t afford one. I’m also too old to drive. I’ve spent years riding buses in Portland and Eugene. Most of them are very inconvenient because they run every half hour, which discourages people from using them, especially in the winter cold and rain. EmX is much better because it runs so much more often and gets you there faster. Working-class people like me have every reason to support it. People in local government need to understand that they have to defend their policies in local news media, through letters and columns, and they need to focus on what we really care about.”

Porter’s testimony stands in the face of the anti-EmX argument Syrett recall organizers used to justify their campaign. Yet Syrett’s team didn’t use this to their advantage, and they lost in the end. 

Roth said she thinks policymakers and planners need to get serious about their approach if they want to implement the bold transportation projects needed to prevent traffic fatalities and curb carbon emissions. 

“I think it’s going to be important for there to be closer working relationships between advocates, leadership and city staff for more transparency,” she said. 

What’s next?

“In the face of the reactionary disinformation campaign that led to Claire Syrett’s recall, it’s critical that Council doubles down on the progressive policies their constituents support.”

– Dylan Plummer, Sierra Club

As of now, Eugene’s MovingAhead plan is still, well, moving ahead. But now that other councilors see the potential repercussions for getting on the Syrett recaller’s bad side, advocates think it’s very possible it will get watered down. And there are whispers that the people who ousted Syrett have already started efforts against other councilors who voted to support this plan and other progressive policies, like zoning changes, housing reform and building electrification. 

Local environmental advocates are concerned they lost their best ally on Council, and are urging the other councilors not to back down. 

“In the face of the reactionary disinformation campaign that led to Claire Syrett’s recall, it’s critical that Council doubles down on the progressive policies their constituents support, including greater access to public transit, affordable housing, renter protections and climate policy,” Dylan Plummer, Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative and Eugene resident, told me. 

Syrett’s old seat is currently vacant, and advocates are working to fill it with someone even farther to the political left. But the seeds of distrust –in democracy and public transit projects – have been sown.

“If no one trusts the experts with public dollars, I’m worried that this is going to just keep on compounding and becoming more and more of a NIMBY monster,” Roth said. “If people say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re a senior transportation planner, but I just don’t trust you. I just don’t think that you have my best interests in mind’ – what do we do?”

Lessons for Portland

“This is a useful example of the danger of small, single-member districts.”

– Michael Andersen, Sightline Institute

Michael Andersen, an affordable housing advocate, journalist, Portland-based researcher for the Sightline Institute, followed the politics in Eugene and thinks transportation advocates everywhere should take heed. 

Andersen pointed out that Eugene’s district-divided City Council made this recall easier to carry out. Only residents of Ward 7 were polled on whether Syrett should stay in office, so people like Maxwell were able to carry out a very targeted campaign against her. This is a form of government similar to the one Portland Commissioner Mingus Mapps hopes will sway people to vote against charter reform in November.

“This is a useful example of the danger of small, single-member districts. They were able to leverage this hyper-local issue in a way that is still going to shape citywide policy,” Andersen said. “The fact that it was so easy for people to do a super-targeted recall on this issue is a good example of the ways that it could be dangerous.”

Andersen agreed with those who suggest a messaging shift in Portland and elsewhere can push through the limitations of their local government.

“Transportation reformers always have a challenge to locate our agenda within other people’s agenda,” he said. “The winning formula is to show how reducing our dependence on the car is good for all the other things people care about, like a prosperous economy, affordable housing, pleasant neighborhoods and connected communities.”


CORRECTION, 10/14 at 8:05 am: This story initially claimed the recall campaign received a sizable donation from Paul Conte. That was a mistake. Conte was reimbursed by the recall campaign as a volunteer. We regret the error.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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JaredO
JaredO
1 year ago

Didn’t Syrett spend most of her money raised against the recall on attorney fees?

Maybe if she’d spent it doorknocking, GOTV and on mailers she may have prevailed.

That said, I don’t understand the critique re single-member districts. Seems like the Portland proposal has the districts va citywide problem just as in Eugene. It’s not so much multimember vs single member as citywide vs district.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  JaredO

Hi JaredO, the proposal currently on the November’s ballot, measure 26-228, proposes forming four large districts in Portland, each with three representatives on council, for a total of 12 council members. These are multi-member districts.

Michael Anderson is criticizing a possible alternate restructuring proposed by Mingus Mapps. Mapps wants to divide the city into severn small districts, each with one representative. Anderson is saying that this design could lead to problems similar to the Eugene recall.

JaredO
JaredO
1 year ago

What Andersen said was:

“They were able to leverage this hyper-local issue in a way that is still going to shape citywide policy… The fact that it was so easy for people to do a super-targeted recall on this issue is a good example of the ways that it could be dangerous.”

The Portland proposal still cuts the city into districts – hence possibility for local-focused recall. I suppose one could argue the 7 vs. 4 district issue means that’s less likely, but the current city-wide system feels less likely to local capture than the 4-district issue. I support the reforms, but yes, the proposal will still be more likely to be subject to local vs. good of the city overall problem of districts.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  JaredO

Hi JaredO,

The sentence before what you quoted was, “This is a useful example of the danger of small, single-member districts.”

Mapps’s proposal is for 7 to 9 districts, about double what the reform measure on the ballot proposes. Also, the “multi-member” part is crucial.

JaredO
JaredO
1 year ago

Why is the multimember part crucial? Wouldn’t any of the three members be targeted just as Syrett was?

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  JaredO

Hi JaredO, thank you for continuing the conversation, I think the topic is really interesting. I’m not sure anyone is reading this thread anymore, but what the hell, I’ve got a response.

The arithmetic of how many votes a commissioner in a larger, multi-member district needs to win means that any given multi-district winner gets elected with more votes than the winner of a smaller, single-member district.

Let’s keep the arithmetic simple. Say you have a 3-person, multi-member district in which 100,000 have voted. Each “winner” will need to have passed the threshold of 25,001 votes.

Now contrast that with three, smaller, individual districts. Each district will have 33,333 voters in it. To win a seat, a candidate will need over 50% of the vote, or about 17,000 votes. That’s less voter support than the 25,001 in the multi-member district.

But it gets worse.

The proposal on the ballot does away with primaries. The turn-out for spring primaries is only about 1/3 of registered voters. (General is about 80%.) But a candidate in a small, single member district can skip the general if they win over 50% of the spring primary. So that lucky duck can win a seat with about 15% of registered voters in the district.

Because of that weaker initial support that candidate is more vulnerable to recall.

There’s more, though.

From what I understand, recalling a candidate in a multi-member district requires over 50% of district voters to vote to remove. Given that at least 75% of the voters selected the full slate of three, 50% to remove seems reasonable to me.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Given that at least 75% of the voters selected the full slate of three…

That’s not my understanding of how things will work; someone can get elected with no more than 25%+1 of the votes, but will still require 50%+1 to be recalled. Can you explain your 75% number?

Also, on a different topic, you mentioned that turnout is lower in the primaries. Have you given thought to why that is? One reasonable explanation is that there are too many choices and not enough information, so the task of voting seems overwhelming. If that’s the case, we might expect that rates of participation in elections would fall, not rise under the proposed system, especially since ranking is much more cognitively difficult and exhausting than simply picking a favorite.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

Hi Watts,

You got me on the 75%, I wasn’t thinking clearly.

With your second paragraph, we can move away from speculation. A lot of studies show that ranked choice voting increases participation.

I read that 66% of city council races are decided at the May primary. So about two thirds of city council members are taking seats with votes from only about 20% of the electorate.

Measure 26-228 would improve those numbers.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

I did a quick google search and picked the first study that wasn’t obviously trying to make a point.

From the abstract:

We find that RCV helps reduce the substantial drop in voter participation that commonly occurs between primary and runoff elections. Otherwise RCV does not appear to have a strong impact on voter turnout and ballot completion. In a case study of Minneapolis we find similar levels of socioeconomic and racial disparities in voter participation in plurality and RCV elections. 

https://www.umsl.edu/~kimballd/KimballRCV.pdf

That suggests we’re both wrong.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

Public engagement is increasingly becoming an insurmountable challenge for both communities and us advocates. In the age of smart phones and catered news feeds, most folks simply tune out. The few who engage are focused on limited and highly biased news sources, typically either on the far left or the far right – long gone are the neutral days of Walter Cronkite – and so attention spans are very limited and sound bites need to be controversial or even outrageous.

The days of using surveys, voting, or Doodle Polls is gone. 20% survey responses is so 80s that even getting a 1% response rate is now hard. One idea from some colleagues in Durham NC is to reach out using old-fashioned radio, but on hip-hop stations, or poll folks as they are coming out of the local Subway sandwich shop. And then there is the awful national trend of using city and agency employees as a substitute for “public input” for projects, regional transportation plans, MTIP, and the TSP – after all, the public employees live in the community, so why shouldn’t they give their input? – even when public agency staff are so obviously incompetent in collecting other community input from a community that doesn’t know or care.

In this apathetic state of the nation, is it any wonder that so many people sincerely believe in Elvis still being alive? Or that the guy with orange hair won in 2020?

Zach
Zach
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Public engagement is basically marketing, even though government agencies pretend it isn’t. It can be done way better. Marketing sold the world on cars in the 20th century, and it can sell the world on bikes in the 21st. Currently working on http://transformyour.city to solve this problem.

soren
soren
1 year ago

As cities become wealthier and more economically exclusive, NIMBY reactionary politics will tend to dominate. (The YIMBY solution of building more luxury housing only adds gasoline to this raging fire of spatial inequality.)

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

That’s why I’m moving to West Linn.

RipCityBassWorks
RipCityBassWorks
1 year ago

Man, NIMBYs are completely insufferable. Just because some people drive, others shouldn’t be able to get around without unnecessary hardship?

“This is a form of government similar to the one Portland Commissioner Mingus Mapps hopes will sway people to vote against charter reform in November.”

Rather intentionally I bet.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Man, NIMBYs are completely insufferable.

So are people who complain about them rather than trying to find politically palatable solutions to our problems.

Jack Dis
Jack Dis
1 year ago

It wasn’t all about “punishing people who don’t drive” and if you don’t drive, do you not recall what happened when we got the first EMX lines? How many subsidiary lines got cut, how many food deserts created? And now they want to make more EMX? Meanwhile, the damage EMX did to the corridors it is on should be obvious.

don’t even get me started on River Road.

A lot of people who supported and voted for the recall are on the far left, not the right, or any kind of NIMBY, just people who recognize a godawful plan that was designed with rich liberals in mind, not the vulnerable.

Bill
Bill
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack Dis

Can you say more about “what happened when we got the first EMX lines? How many subsidiary lines got cut, how many food deserts created?”

Kyle
Kyle
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack Dis

I am also curious to know more about how EmX created food deserts in Eugene. Where are the areas you consider to be food deserts? I live here and I’m not convinced “food deserts” accurately fit ANY part of town… especially those parts served by EmX. And wouldn’t a main function of BRT lines be to ameliorate issues around access to healthy foods and other services?

Some data for Lane County food access from 2015-2016 if anyone cares to dig through a 92 page graduate thesis submitted to USC by Shanna Bressie

https://spatial.usc.edu/wp-content/uploads/formidable/12/Shanna-Bressie.pdf

Joey Campbell
Joey Campbell
1 year ago

Thanks for this write up, its great to see coverage of the Eugene-Springfield area. Since that area actually ranks well across a number of important measures related to a l low-car lifestyle (sprawl, commute share, transit service levels) what happens there could be instructive to Portland. In fact, the 2 city’s agencies should collaborate more than they do but they don’t and that slows progress in both cities. Covering at least the big stuff like BRT, BP would help further low-car lifestyles across the state. Anyway thanks for this story and it was great coverage but you didn’t mention the last anti-BRT movement Our Money Our Transit. The Weekly did a some work on it and it was likely orchestrated by BIG out of state money but I’m not sure anyone even knows. Agree with the sentiment that the agencies have to play offense and ‘tell a better story’. You guys got the facts/benefits on your side but just gotta get that out there more.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  Joey Campbell

What the real story should be, is that in most communities dealing with rampant vehicular violence, communities have very few good tools for dealing that violence, particularly from an engineering and street design perspective. Eugene traffic engineers have taken the missteps in Portland to heart and have learned from them; and now they are dealing with the long-expected political backlash.

For example, the purpose of a painted bike lane is not to protect bicyclists – paint is no barrier – but to funnel car drivers away from the curb and towards the center of the roadway where the pavement is strongest.

Similarly, the purpose of public buses is not to move people – a bus in traffic is as slow as the slowest traffic – but to control the speed and congestion of the other traffic. To carry it further, if a community creates exclusive bus lanes (or MAX light rail surface lines as the case may be), such lanes further reduce the space that cars and freight are allowed to occupy, which should further slow traffic and give communities greater control over actual local traffic speeds (rather than the “posted” type.) And of course the purpose of on-street parking is to further restrict the space that car and freight drivers have to maneuver.

With a combination of exclusive express bus or transit lanes, local buses in traffic, bike lanes, and on-street parking, city traffic engineers can begin to control traffic speeds without having to resort to expensive and problematic police enforcement.

In other words, if your aim is to ultimately end the homicidal traffic chaos in Portland, you would do well to study what Eugene is experimenting on.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I’m really interested in those statements. I’m open to the notion that ‘bike infrastructure’ is not so much intended to forward the movement of bikes as to get bike riders out of the way–Plan A for Portland is to shunt us to side streets with crappy pavement and lots of traffic conflicts.

I’d like to see your support for the ideas about moving MV out to stronger pavement, as well as using bus routes to regulate traffic speeds. Who else says that? I think that people who care about traffic violence could operate their occasional car use in such a way as to moderate the speed and general safety of MV traffic but that’s just my opinion.

Jack Dis
Jack Dis
1 year ago

I am one of the radical leftist reformers, and frankly, I sat this one out entirely, because so far, I haven’t seen any reform, only more proposals for liberal, garden city bull that would have immensely hurt a lot of vulnerable people in this city.

Reform is not reform if it keeps killing the poor ***portion of comment deleted by moderator***

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack Dis

If a reform does not help the poor more than the upper classes, I will not support it.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Agreed. Something that benefits everyone would be a tragedy.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Something that benefits everyone would be a tragedy.

Under ‘murrican capitalism “something that benefits everyone” is code for dehumanizing inequality.

Charlie
Charlie
1 year ago

Prior to voting to advance EMX plans earlier this year, Claire Syrett stated she had not heard of any opposition to the EMX along the River Road corridor, which is in her wardt. That was straight up not true. Prior to her vote to advance EMX, EMX opponents had gathered, and given her and every other council person, nearly 500 petitions, approximately 150 from Syrett’s ward alone, indicating adamant opposition to a failed bus system. Yup, a failed bus system. Despite Taylor Griggs stating that “Eugene has successfully implemented BRT lines (which they call EmX) in the past on three different corridors,” the EMX has been a failure. Upon a public information request for EMX ridership data, Lane Transit District, which manages Eugene’s bus systems, released metrics indicating the EMX never came close to benchmarks and projections for ridership established prior to its 2007 rollout. Not only did Claire Syrett misrepresent her constituent’s sentiments, she also failed to do her due diligence in finding out if the EMX was failure or not. It was her incompetence, and lack of honesty, that got her booted.

Eugene and LTD are doing nothing but a smokescreen in claiming that the plans aren’t ‘set in stone.” The engineering firm, CH2M Hill, was given nearly $2 million to create EMX plans in 2015. They presented the finished designs in 2017. At no time were residents along the River Road corridor ever shown Ch2M Hill’s work, nor citizens involved in the design of what was projected to have been done in their community. Eugene and LTD had five to seven years to have approached all residents in the impacted area, most especially those that would suffer the most damage and harm. Instead, it took private citizens finding out what was taking place, to pry CH2M Hill’s work into the open. When presented with the massive destruction which EMX would entail, Ward 7 residents mobilized to recall Syrett. If Eugene and LTD wanted actual citizen engagement, they would have notified the public as far back as 2014 their intent to give away nearly $2 million in public funds for a bus that runs consistently empty. No-one spends that kind of money for preliminary plans. Eugene is not considering any other designs, nor have they made any adjustments to CH2m Hill’s work since 2017.

It’s very simple, EMX is a failure. Anyone could see it’s the EMPTYX. Eugene, LTD, Lane County knew that to be the case. Instead of acknowledging their failed leadership, the political-administrative apparatus of Eugene and Lane County decided to EXPAND a junk bus system into five corridors. Public outrage is mounting, and proof of that exists. A few weeks ago, the results of a survey commissioned by Eugene City Council to gauge what the public thought of council members indicated a total repudiation of their leadership. Less than 5% of respondents said they had complete faith in city council. No need to wonder why Claire Syrett was thrown out of office by such an overwhelming amount…

Janet Ayres
Janet Ayres
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

Thank you Charlie. Your response to Ms. Griggs and others is FACTUALLY TO THE POINT(S). The City, LTD, AND COUNTY interested in public relations and NOT listening to the people and following the will of the people. This recall of Syrett was based and succeeded based on Syrette’s incompetence and lack of honesty.

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

I lived in Eugene for 6 years, and took the EMX often from around the Chambers and 7th stop. It’s not empty, I promise. It’s frequently got a good number of riders even in the far out areas and it gets very crowded around the school and downtown.

I would have had a much harder time getting around Eugene without it. It’s maybe the only good bus line in the city. The rest are far too infrequent.

Charlie
Charlie
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben

CSA Planning, based in Medford, does analysis of urban designs and public transportation projects. They did a MovingAhead study of EMX plans, as well as a general overview of LTD, which was published in 2019. According to their data, since 2009, LTD ridership has DECREASED by 29% from its peak. Keep in mind these statistics were garnered PRIOR to lockdowns of 2020-2021, indicating LTD patronage is even more abysmal..

In terms of the EMX specifically, the West 11th EMX lines were projected to carry 7,399 patrons per week. It is actually falling short by 57%, with only 4,245 patrons per week. What’s even worse is the Gateway EMX line, which in 2016, was utilizing only 10% of its capacity, and was 60% less than projections. Anecdotally, I can verify CSA conclusions. Up to three months ago, I used both the 51-52 lines to get to the downtown station, where I caught the EMX to Riverbend. That was three days a week, twice a day, for a total of six rides per week. The only portion where the EMX was well patronized was from downtown to UO, passengers primarily students. It was a colossal waste of resources to have put in a dedicated BRT lane for what could have easily been handled by any conventional bus, or even a shuttle system that could have been adjusted for the various student passenger loads, which varied throughout the day or school year.

Thens the numbers. That’s all that matters. As a public asset, EMX has been a failure. Claire Syrett voted to expand a boondoggle, So did five other councilors. That is the quality of the political and administrative apparatus of Eugene and Lane County…

Roberta
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

There are very few places in Oregon outside of Portland that have the demand to support a BRT. The downtown section of Eugene, sure. But this comment is good, just not enough demand in outer Eugene, seems like an obvious conclusion to me and consist with the PDX red line sections. The numbers aren’t good enough in suburban rainy Eugene and hiring CH2MHill, like all the other giant engineering design conglomerates, don’t give AF about local communities and appears to have done a community outreach hack job on behalf of LTD. Procurement is a problem in all transport agencies, consultants do whatever they want and keep getting bigger jobs despite delivering multiple failures across the state.

This is how to better understand why multi member districts are important. Thanks

Alex
Alex
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

The CSA report on Gateway you cite actually reports ridership at 31% of EA projections averaged across the 4 Gateway stops they studies. Only the Sacred Heart station was at 10.9% of the EA projections. The CSA report itself notes “Sacred Heart station is one of three Gateway EMX stations at Peace Health/Riverbend. The original EA only planned two stations at the hospital. As such, one might expect a portion of the rider utilization projected in the EA to be diluted due to the extra station in this area that was ultimately constructed.”

I can’t find the CSA report on West Eugene Emx, can you link to that?

Frankly, though, ridership forecasting (and indeed, AADT forecasting for roads) is obviously not an exact science. I think a lot of transit advocates would prefer that forecasting be better, but in this country we probably have the worst transit in the world in terms of frequency and coverage (and that includes most impoverished countries, in which private transit operators are often ubiquitous, if not enviable in terms of safety or passenger comfort) so a lot of people just want to see more transit. In a lot of cases, the ridership forecasting is really just box-checking for the EA and not a justification for the line itself, and that is certainly the case for Gateway, which was going to be built due to regional politics and not necessarily due to transit demand.

Joseph E
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

Re: “damage and harm” … “massive destruction”

This refers to changing 2 lanes to business access / transit lanes?

Will there be “massive destruction” due to slower car traffic at peak times, or are you referring to something else?

Charlie
Charlie
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph E

I would suggest you look at CH2M Hill plans yourself…

G.e.
G.e.
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph E

I think it really boils down to traffic. The places where emx went first didn’t have bad traffic. It’s much worse now in those places. River road already has the worst traffic in Eugene and they want to take away 2 lane. I’m surprised she wasn’t recalled by a larger margin

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  G.e.

You’d rather everyone who takes the EMX contribute to traffic by driving?

Alex
Alex
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

Your statements about the work that has been done to plan for EmX on River Road indicate a misunderstanding of how transit infrastructure is planned in the US. The existing “plans” for River Road were 15% designs created solely for the purpose of developing cost estimates so that high-level alternatives could be compared. This is a normal step of transit project development that happens all across the US. It’s very typical for designs to change significantly between 15% and 100% design, and policymakers in Eugene gave every indication that would happen for EmX on River Road (as it did for West Eugene Emx, which was originally intended to have exclusive guideway for its entire length but only ended up with it for about half its length).

It’s also bunk to claim that no one rides EmX, or that it hasn’t met its ridership goals. In 2019, EmX carried over 8 million passengers, more than 1.5 million more than were forecast in the 2010 alternatives analysis. Just the West Eugene EmX stations had some 1.2 million boardings in 2019, twice the forecast in the 2010 alternatives analysis. This is all from data that LCOG has made publicly available for years, so the claim that LTD was somehow hiding the numbers is more fearmongering lies from the recallers. More meaningfully, LTD has much better ridership than other agencies its size in the USA. According to the FTA, in 2019 LTD had 20-30% more riders than transit agencies in cities like Reno and Ann Arbor, and twice as many riders as transit agencies in cities like Santa Cruz and Bellingham. Since EmX is by far the most ridden route in the system, it is undoubtedly a big part of why transit in Eugene is so much more popular than in peer cities.

Kyle
Kyle
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex

Excellent points. It’s very helpful to keep our comparisons to peer cities like the ones you mention.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

This isn’t completely up to the local voters or politicians, there are state land use policies and transportation goals supporting these programs, too bad the policies and goals are toothless and the politicians themselves are spineless. Here’s to the extinction of the human race, well before it’s time, at it’s own hands.
🙁

Luke
Luke
1 year ago

Man, I wish every person who’s interested in this and feels they have a say would watch Joe Minicozzi’s Urban3 analysis of Eugene’s city finances. These car-bound NIMBYs can have their luxury…if they’re willing to pay the full price of driving everywhere and living in their overfed SFHs, instead of having poorer and/or more urban areas subsidize their luxurious lifestyles. Truth is, most people would be aghast at what a photo-negative the entire American image of an “independent” suburban life is of reality…and, one hopes, embarrassed at how hoodwinked we’ve all been for so long.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Luke

instead of having poorer and/or more urban people displaced to the suburbs subsidize their luxurious lifestyles.

Fixed it for you.

Luke
Luke
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

You’re obscuring the link, there, friend. Poorer people being displaced to car-dependent suburbs is part of why you hear absurd claims of dense urban living being anti-poor, despite the fact that the material efficiency of living in denser urban environments making life easier for those whose low income makes SFH, car-dependent living a major financial drain. It makes us stakeholders in a system which is impoverishing us disproportionately, and which will act against our interests whenever our interests don’t align with the capitalists.

If your point is that people who aren’t poor aren’t displaced, I agree that that’s a problem, too. Wealth shouldn’t be a factor in access to legal defense against displacement, but nor should poverty be a factor in preventing the production of enough housing for everyone. Whether you’re a central planning socialist or a market socialist, it’s always going to be material efficiency which wins out. That means either a sprawling suburban hellscape in which everyone is forced to pay for a luxurious lifestyle they may not want, or dense city/non-American-style suburbs where people have the option to live without a car.

steve scarich
steve scarich
1 year ago

I have a bit of perspective, because I lived on River Road from 2000-2002. I walk and bike everywhere and at that time it was very safe. Besides, cyclists have a bike path right along the river, running parallel to River Rd., and do not need to ride along it to get Downtown or to any other part of town. Good sidewalks, too. I don’t think Syrett had a clue about her constituent’s opinion. River Rd is several miles long, running through medium density business and residential. It is nothing like a ‘city’ environment. Mass transit will never be popular there, especially if it takes away car lanes. No way people want to adhere to a twice per hour bus schedule, stop and go mass transit, when Downtown is only 5 to 10 minutes away, depending on where you live on River Rd. I was and avid bus user in three years in Portland, and several years in the Bay Area, but I never took the bus in Eugene; it just was not appropriate there. Again, things might have changed in twenty years since I left.

Joseph E
1 year ago
Reply to  steve scarich

> “things might have changed in twenty years since I left.”

That’s true. Eugene has grown 26% since the 2000, faster than most cities its size.

>  cyclists have a bike path right along the river, running parallel to River Rd

Only for 1.5 miles and it’s 1/4 mile away.

steve scarich
steve scarich
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph E

Uh, No…it goes North to the Owosso Bridge, and South to the University….6+ miles. You clearly do not use those paths; I remember that much from 20 years ago. I do agree with you that traffic has surely increased on River Road, as much of the population growth has occurred in that area.

Joseph E
1 year ago
Reply to  steve scarich

There is only 1.5 miles of River Road which parallels the bike path: https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=15/44.0887/-123.1280&layers=C

North of Howard Avenue the river swings to the northeast, while River Road continues straight Northwest. And there is no bike path at all north of the Beltline.

The proposal for bus service and bike lanes runs all the way north to Irving road at least.

Charlie
Charlie
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph E

What has grown in Eugene is an increase in poverty. According to the Consolidated Plan for Eugene-Springfield published in 2020, page eight, 21% of Eugene households, meaning tens of thousands of residents, live below Federal poverty benchmarks. That was from data accumulated in 2017, meaning the number of poor Eugenians has increased a great deal. Eugene and Lane County consistently fail to include basic demographic metrics in their so called planning. The EMX has required allocations of taxpayer resources due to a lack of revenue cause by poor ridership. Instead of acknowledging the EMX boondoggle, Eugene and LTD decided to expand plans for a worthless transportation project into FIVE corridors. Does Eugene, LTD, and Lane County WANT to go bankrupt??

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

Just out of curiosity – how are those 21% of Eugene residents supposed to get to jobs and groceries?

If EMX isn’t the way (and I don’t know that it is) – what is?

Because if you answer “private automobile” then you really don’t understand the financial constraints poor people operate under.

Ben
Ben
1 year ago
Reply to  steve scarich

It’s definitely changed since you left. I mostly rode my bike to get around when I lived in Eugene, which I did up from about 2016 up until a month or so ago when I moved back to Portland. But I did also take the EMX. Nearly every bus route in Eugene sucks and takes too long, but the EMX comes every 10 to 15 minutes and is quite direct and often has good ridership. It’s a genuinely good bus. I’m sure people would take it, even down river road

Alex
Alex
1 year ago
Reply to  steve scarich

I’m glad that you felt that River Road was safe, but objectively it was not. In the period from 2007-2015, River Road had the 2nd most crashes for people biking, the 5th most crashes for people walking, and tied for 5th most crashes for people driving of all roads in Eugene. Your other points about transit in Eugene are more germane, but of course EmX would triple bus frequency, and there is no reason to think that people wouldn’t respond to greater frequency by riding transit more often, as they do everywhere in the world, and indeed have done with other EmX lines in Eugene.

Christopher M Dunn
Christopher M Dunn
1 year ago

what this leftist propaganda behaving like Trump failed to tell you…River Road was heavily congested. the city of Eugene confiscated land to expand RR into 4 lanes. Now the progressives decoupled from reality want to take 2 of these lanes, turn them into bus only for a route NO ONE rides on, and create an even worse congested problem for those of us who ride bikes on River Road.

Luke
Luke
1 year ago

You know what would probably help your congestion? One more lane. Just one more lane. Bro, I swear, just one more lane. Dude, please, just one more lane.

See you at the Katy Freeway.

More roads and lane-miles can never fix congestion, outside of economic and demographic decline. Hasn’t worked for 80 years, isn’t going to work unless things head south in a permanent way. Nor has your lifestyle ever been sustainable–financially. You’ve never paid for it in full, and you expect us all to support your wasteful, luxurious way of life, and you complain when the rest of us just try to get by. No sense, and worse, no shame.

Christopher M Dunn
Christopher M Dunn
1 year ago
Reply to  Luke

to address your strawman drivel, bro, adding two lanes, one in each direction, greatly reduced the congestion problem, bro. as for the rest of your deluded strawman drivel, get back to me when you can up your game beyond juvenile babblings, bro.

Luke
Luke
1 year ago

Someone doesn’t know about the meme.

The ultimate point is, that cars and their associated infrastructure are very materially inefficient, and the only way to fix traffic is to have fewer people driving. If two extra lanes fixed it, then a few different things may have happened, but they all point to some kind of stagnation or decline: of population, economic activity, or both.

If traffic didn’t stay the same or get worse by adding two lane, all that’s been done is infrastructure costs have increased without any potential increase in the ability to pay those costs. “Sidewalks, bike/bus lanes, and rail aren’t free, either ”, I hear you say. Yes, but per dollar of economic activity, ceteris paribus, they are a much, much higher ROI.

Your imagining that your car-centric lifestyle is financially self-sustaining is just a product thereof; there’s no substance to it. I’m tired of paying for people like you to live like you do.

Kyle
Kyle
1 year ago
Reply to  Luke

@Christopher M Dunn…. BOOM

Michael Gilbert
Michael Gilbert
1 year ago

This is a very nice piece of one-sided drivel. This corridor is already served with bus routes. Buses that are mostly empty. It is a main corridor that is already a bottleneck that can ill afford to lose a traffic lane to be devoted to a few. When politicians are caught in lies and go forward with what they want, failing to listen to their constituents, a recall is what our system of governments permit to give voice to the people the government in this country is supposed to be “of”, “for”, and “by”. I get it, you are on the side this person was representing. Clearly she was not on the side the majority of her constituents were on, and she was caught in a number of lies. You have a voice in this publication. We only have the voice of our votes. These developed corridors have not been shown to provide a good return on investment. I have been asking for those numbers for years, and they have yet to provide them. I can only assume from their silence on that score, they either don’t know, or they know this has been public money poorly spent. Your disparagement of those of us objecting to the project makes clear you support a more authoritarian form of governance. One that doesn’t have to be honest. I know you don’t agree with everything the government does, how do you feel when your voice is ignored on an issue? How do you feel when your representative has been caught lying to you? What do you propose you should be able to do about a politician representing you that you find was not honest with you and just does what they want? We are the taxpayers and voters in this district, and our majority spoke loudly this time. It’s your right to criticize, and even call us names. That’s America. And we have names for you too. We expect to be heard too and as you now know, we will not be silenced in the name of this new green authoritarianism.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago

> Buses that are mostly empty. It is a main corridor that is already a bottleneck

geez, I wonder why no one is willing to take the bus when it gets stuck in traffic

Charlie
Charlie
1 year ago

Following up on your point that buses already serve the River Road area, at certain times of the day, the RR buses are either hybrid, or electric. The EMX only uses diesel. For all of Eugene’s ‘green’ virtue invocation, LTD and Eugene want to replace environmentally supportive machines with one causing the climate problems they bemoan.

Also, creating two EMX only lanes will require the removal of up to 150 mature trees. That alone created a great deal of outrage among River Road-Santa Clara residents. So much for Eugene claiming it’s fighting global warming. The political-administrative machine that runs Eugene, LTD, and Lane County don’t want to be confronted with their abject hypocrisy….

Joseph E
1 year ago

The current bus service is only every 30 minutes. Would you ride a bus that only came every 30 minutes? The main improvement with EMX is the service pattern of a bus every 10 to 15 minutes, providing 2 to 3 times more service than today.

Paul T. Conte
1 year ago
Reply to  Joseph E

I live in Washington D.C. for awhile and 100% of the time I rode the bus to and from work, the location of which changed several times. Service varied — frequent (~15 minutes) in the weekday mornings and evenings. Smart, right because my convetional buses were always SRO with paying riders.

The frequency was fine because you just caught the bus you needed. And there were lots of buses that served the right point, i.e., where people lived and downtown and other major comcentration of employees.

EmX in Eugene is not evidence-based — it’s $$$$ from the Feds based. (See me recent post.) Eugene has only one major concentration of riders — the UO campus, but anyone on the proposed River Road alignment would have to go to the “hub downtown” and change buses. Plus, River Road is not an area with a significant number of students.

Further, students don’t concentrate their travel the way office employees do. To reduce student VMT, improve bike lanes in “spokes” out from campus for evidence-based distances. (For my two years as a UO grad student, I used my bike instead of car almost every trip.)

The EmX model is based on replacing the availability of taxis at a lower cost. But the problem is that it’s not competitive with even taxis because it won’t provide point-to-point trips for enough trip needs.

That could, of course, change with increased concentration of downtown employees at locations along River Road. But implementing EmX with no development plan isn’t just “cart before the horse” — it’s all horse with no cart.

Finally, the probably hundred million+ cost would do so much more if invested otherwise, e.g., charging stations, evidence-based bike paths additions and upgrades, and development incentives in “hot spot” locations on the exist, underutilized EmX service on the W. 6th and 7th Ave. couplet.

If bicycle and climate advocates want to rail at something, pick LTD and the Feds numbnut, wasteful approach to TOD in small cities.

Alex
Alex
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T. Conte

You say that “anyone on the proposed River Road alignment would have to go to the “hub downtown” and change buses” but how do you know that when the service plan for River Road EmX is still years from development? It seems highly unlikely that LTD would go to the trouble of double tracking the EmX guideway on Franklin and then not increase frequency, isn’t it? I know that you think civil servants are all idiots, Paul, because I’ve read the childish emails you write to City of Eugene staffers, but I don’t think LTD staff would be so stupid as to turnaround River Road Emx buses half a mile shy of the University.

Also, it’s not true that “River Road is not an area with a significant number of students.” The entirety of Eugene is an area with a significant amount of students. On top of that, downtown Eugene is the largest job concentration in the metro, not the University.

Maybe the “numbnut” isn’t “LTD and the Feds” but someone who fires off comments online without checking their facts?

Dave
Dave
1 year ago

This is why the price of gas in the US needs to at least double, suddenly and permanently.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave

The gas price definitely needs to increase, but gradually and consistently. Unless your real goal is to create mayhem and backlash rather than encourage necessary transition and change.

Dave
Dave
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

No–needs to be a shock treatment.

Karstan
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I agree with Watts here. As much as our environment/climate needs drastic change, backlash is real and we need to get buy in from folks or it will be ugly.

 
 
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave

The gas price already has already increased substantially since 2021 due to multiple factors, including the war in Russia and the greed of big oil/gas companies. And it’s gotten us absolutely nowhere in terms of people taking transit, biking, or the like. I don’t know enough about the EMX bus in Eugene to have any sort of informed judgment on this specific issue, but this comment misses that such an increase has already happened recently to the benefit of nobody except those who were already racking in the cash.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to   

those who were already racking in the cash.

That would be the Saudis and other big oil producers. By gradually (and predictably) increasing the gas tax, we would be getting some of that cash ourselves, which we could use to help people transition to using less gasoline, which would result in less cash racking by unsavory (or savory, if that’s your taste) nations and companies.

It’s not so much “greedy companies” that are the problem as it is strong demand and a supply that is regulated by OPEC, which is a cartel in the worst sense of the word.

We can’t control OPEC. However, we can control our demand, which we are working on reducing, but we could work harder/faster. Higher gas taxes would help.

AndyK
AndyK
1 year ago

This is fascinating and well-written.

Psmith
Psmith
1 year ago

Great points about the dangers of small, single-member districts. Imagine if every road diet or bike lane project had to be approved by the neighborhood’s City Council representative. The charter reform proposal for larger multi-member districts is much better and should cut down on that kind of gate-keeping.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

The fact that it was so easy for people to do a super-targeted recall on this issue is a good example of the ways that it could be dangerous.

An interesting take, given Andersen’s desire to give small, targeted groups greater representation. Probably a good argument for keeping our at-large voting system.

Psmith
Psmith
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

In multi-member districts you get the advantages of district representation without as much of the issues with single-member district reps acting as gatekeepers for any changes in their district. It’s very unlikely the three reps from a district will act as a voting bloc, since they all ran against each other in the election and are likely to have different ideologies and perspectives.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Psmith

It’s very unlikely the three reps from a district will act as a voting bloc, since they all ran against each other

The pro-amendment talking points assert that candidates will be more cooperative and form voting blocs in order to get elected, so there seems to be some disagreement on that front.

Regardless, there is an asymmetry in that it takes 25% of the vote to get elected, but 50% to get recalled. I’m not a big fan of recalls, but I do like symmetry.

But none of this is relevant anyway because this isn’t about gate-keeping, but rather a small group recalling a leading supporter of a citywide project, and Andersen’s contradictory views on districts. He seems to think that districting is good when it supports outcomes he thinks he wants, but bad when it doesn’t.

Karstan
1 year ago

From the looks of the comment section, it appears that the NIMBYs found this article, lol! 🙂 To the NIMBYs I say this: I know change is scary, but it is inevitable. More of the same will not save us or improve our lives.

Anyway, this quote seems poignant:

“I’ve ridden a bus on rare occasions, but my day would never allow me to just use the bus in Eugene. There’s no way I could do what I do in a day on the bus,”

Sounds like Maxwell needs some BRT!

Excellent reporting! I love the direction that BP is taking these days with more and more of deep dives like this.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Karstan

Calling people names with whom you have a policy disagreement is not a sign of being right, nor is it a strong argument.

If you have a substantive argument about why this particular project is a good one, or why those supporting the recall are wrong, I’d love to hear it. I have no dog in this fight, but always enjoy more insight. If you don’t have anything to offer, why are you insulting the people who are expressing their point of view? Not all ideas about ways to use BRT are good ones, and the less familiar you are with the details, the harder it is to distinguish good from bad from could work but needs improvement from solution looking for a problem.

Agree about the recent reporting.

Karstan
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I think NIMBY is a fair characterization of the arguments I’ve seen in this comment section against the EmX. But you make a good point about using inflammatory language, Watt. It’s something I’m trying to do less of, so thanks for the reminder.

As for the substantive arguments, I believe that Maxwell made them for me in that snippet I quoted. Bus transit is too slow. BRT does that and River Road seems like an ideal place for it. Perhaps the proposal needs to be tweaked a bit? But there will always be naysayers who will say “no” to change that affects their perceived convenience/superiority/viewpoint of the world/etc. no matter what the proposal is.

That said, as mentioned in the article and the comments above: the big failure here seemed to be in the marketing/messaging from the City and proponents here. It’s can be an uphill battle when you’re fighting entrenched, moneyed interests. Those folks are REALLY skilled at fanning the flames of reactionary outrage (the current outrage about transgender youth is an excellent example, as is the attempt to oust the sole progressive member of Portland City Council for the failures of the more conservative majority). But it’s the reality we face right now and an problem advocates are going to have to figure out how to solve if we’re going to get anything done.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Karstan

I don’t know much about the workings of Eugene, nor anything about whether River Road would be a good route for BRT (would it attract sufficient ridership to be a smart investment?), but I can understand why the removal of a large number of mature trees would energize an opposition.

Were you around when ODOT wanted to remove a handful of pretty pathetic trees along Powell Blvd to improve safety? People (including me) were up in arms about that… the same people (including me) who are criticizing ODOT for safety conditions on Powell today. That is to say everyone hates urban tree removal, especially when done on a large scale, even for a good cause.

If Syrett hid the ball on an unfavorable CH2M report on the project (as alleged in the comments and alluded to in the story), I can see why that would make people in her district angry. Perhaps, if she failed to engage with the community* and had tepid public support, feeling deceived about the project would be enough for folks to support a recall.

I can see how, given what’s on this page, a reasonable person might vote to recall Syrett. That wouldn’t make them a NIMBY, which is what you call someone when you want to dismiss them and delegitimize their views so you don’t have to address them. It would just make her contituents feel like they were misled and had lost confidence in Syrett’s leadership.

People get recalled for less.

*Take Rep. Nosse as a counter-example… he does a fantastic job of engaging the public, and is hard for me to imagine what it would take for his constituents to recall him.

Paul T. Conte
1 year ago
Reply to  Karstan

Please forgo your uninformed palaver. You know nothing about the voters or the technical elements of the proposed EmX on River Road.

Karstan
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T. Conte

“Uninformed palaver” is a wonderful phrase. Thank you for that. 🙂

Jack Dis
Jack Dis
1 year ago

I have to ask, btw, how is USING THE INSTRUMENTS OF DEMOCRACY somehow now “overthrowing” it? I thought the point was to have mechanisms in place to change course at the will and discretion of the people? Are you suggesting the vote was rigged somehow, OR DID PEOPLE JUST VOTE A WAY YOU DIDN’T LIKE?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Jack Dis

Democracy is great when you win. Otherwise, the other guy is illegitimate. Works for the Supreme Court as well.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

Oh come on Watts. What do you call it when McConnell refuses to even consider Merritt Garland because it’s an election year, but then jettisons all those fake concerns in a rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett a week before a presidential election (with her nomination a mere 30 days previous)?

There is a reason the Supreme Court’s integrity is tarnished.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

McConnell is a hypocrite for sure, and I really have nothing nice to say about him. But he did act legally, and if we start delegitimizing institutions because we don’t like the way the politics played out, then what are we left with? An illegitimate president and illegitimate courts… Where does it end? No place I want to go, that’s for sure. Making delegitimizing legitimate is a dangerous game.

You may not be happy with the current composition of the court (I know I’m not), but it is still the Supreme Court, and its rulings are still binding.

It is my opinion that keeping a tally of those who have wronged you and what it will take to “even the score” (perhaps with interest) is not a healthy approach to life.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

What MM did apparently was not indictable but it was a shocking diversion from every notion of fairness and good government that I have received in my few decades of political consciousness. It was a raw power play constructed on bald faced lies. MM is a liar and the truth is not in him. The same goes for other members of his party too numerous for this space.

Other issues
Other issues
1 year ago

Did people actually vote for the recall because of the transit proposal? I haven’t seen any scientific surveys of those who voted. There are far better reasons for the recall (many mentioned in a recent citywide survey). The unpopular council has failed on a host of issues including not sheltering the homeless, tearing down the old city hall without a replacement, a huge freeway plan for Beltline, no meaningful police reform, passage of a highly regressive payroll tax, tax breaks and subsidies for developers, and on and on.

Paul T. Conte
1 year ago

Just a few observations from “ground zero.”

Readers should discount all the comments here that attempt to denigrate and dismiss over 2,000 Eugene Ward 7 voters who supported the recall by labelling them as “NIMBYs.” As far as I can tell, none of such comments are from a person who knows the demographics of the ward or its voters.

The 18 point thrashing of Syrett — despite more money and the entire battalion of Democratic Party officials railing against the recall, Syrett was recalled by obver 18 points. The turnout was comparable to primary elections.

Syrett’s imperious treatment of her own constituents regarding “EmX on River Road” was the spark that lit the tinder, but the virtual firestorm against Syrett was her anti-democratic behavior and repeated denigration of anyone that disgreed with her “I know best” opinions.

Syrett was and is widely loathed across Eugene, including by solid progressives because her actions are predominantly “virtue signalling” without engaging the community for evidence-based solutions.

FWIW, I have reasonable expertise and fairly deep knowledge about LTD’s EmX strategy, and it is fatally flawed for Eugene. The two fundamental mistakes are that is based on an outdated “hub-and-spoke” plan, instead of “linear service.” and it’s a mythical “if we build it, they will come” philosophy instead of integrated with concrete development planning to ensure that the riders will be there. Portland transportation planners have recognized their early mistakes with Max and even gave a talk to Eugene planners and citizens regarding this issue.

Finally, EmX on River Road would not be the most “bike-friendly” approach by any means. If River Road were to be reduced to 3 lanes for vehicular traffic, there would be room for protected bike lanes on either side.

Biking advocates should become informed, and most would also oppose this flawed plan. Instead, we see simply uninformed “woke” propaganda by this author who couldn’t even get her facts right.

Psmith
Psmith
1 year ago

Recalls should not be allowed at all except for cases of clear and obvious corruption. If you just disagree with an elected official, you can vote against them in the next normal election. That’s a healthy democracy.

Danay Wells
Danay Wells
1 year ago
Reply to  Psmith

Yeah! You can’t have a healthy democracy with all this damn VOTING going on!

Alex
Alex
1 year ago

While I appreciate the attention to Eugene issues and a depth of reporting on this recall that I haven’t seen even from Eugene outlets, I feel like this article elides the real issue of this recall, which is that Oregon election law allows for a very small portion of the electorate to recall elected officials. In this case, the 2,323 votes in favor of the recall are not only less than 20% of registered voters in Ward 7, they are far fewer votes than Claire Syrett received in any election so far — 2-4 thousand fewer votes than she received in the general elections in 2016 and 2022.
I don’t have any particular fondness for Claire Syrett or anyone else on the Eugene council for that matter, but it is simply undemocratic to allow such a small portion of the electorate to recall an elected official.

As for anti-transit sentiment in Eugene, I don’t think this recall is a sign of it, and I think there is actually more statistically valid evidence that there is support for transit improvements in Eugene, or at least in Lane County as a whole. The recall effort was based on lies and fear-mongering — LTD commissioned some very high-level designs for a BRT concept for the purposes of cost comparison to a non-BRT alternative as part of an “alternatives analysis” portion of the project. Not only is this phase of the project way before any actual design is set in stone, even these designs show only a limited amount of impact on properties, just some encroachment of sidewalks and bike lanes into what is now parking lots and lawns. The recallers, apparently motivated by a fierce and paranoid disdain for government (they accused the transit planners of being on the take by “contractors” — unclear who these contractors are as the project is years from being out for bid) spun these extremely preliminary designs as being a government plan to raze properties up and down River Road. The basically defunct media in Eugene didn’t look at the claims of the recallers with any level of scrutiny or bother to explain to the public why these designs likely didn’t resemble the eventual project in any way (not least because the elected officials, in approving BRT for River Road, explicitly said that they would prioritize avoiding property takings and ensure that the protected bike lane programmed in the TSP would happen). Frankly, this article also does too little to make clear the utter baselessness of the recallers’ claims around plans for EmX on River Road.

So no, a recall based on lies and paranoia with essentially no organized effort to refute it, with an election scheduled for the day after Labor Day with absolutely nothing else on the ballot, is not a referendum on transit in Ward 7 of Eugene, much less the state of Oregon. A statistically-valid survey of the Eugene metro done in 2020 for the Regional Transportation Plan found that “expanding bus transportation” was the top transportation priority for residents — rated most important by 12 points higher than the next priority, which was to “improve traffic congestion.” I think this is a more convincing barometer of public opinion than an off-off-season ward election, and is the more appropriate method for public input on project planning and prioritization.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex

 it is simply undemocratic to allow such a small portion of the electorate to recall an elected official.

Elections are decided by those who show up. I think it’s reasonable that recalls be conducted according to the same rules as other elections, which, to my understanding, they are. (Though if charter reform passes in Portland, this will no longer hold here, with the threshold for election being much lower than the threshold for recall.)

Alex
Alex
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

“Elections are decided by those who show up” is a strange thing to say in a country with active voter suppression.

You do not have a correct understanding that “recalls be conducted according to the same rules as other elections.” The state recall statue sets election dates based on when petitions are submitted. Decades of research has shown that local race turnout is lower the fewer state or federal elections are on the ballot. The recall statute guarantees that recall elections are the only question on the ballot, as it was for Syrett’s, and sure enough, the turnout was far lower than it was for any previous election she’d stood in, and the recall succeeded with far fewer votes than she’d received in any general election or even primary.

In contrast, an initiative petition is scheduled for the next state or local general election. What do you think would happen if votes on initiative petitions were scheduled 40 days after the petitions was submitted, as happens for recalls? The vast majority of people who vote in those elections would be the people who signed the petition, & most would pass. Not very democratic, if by democracy you mean an outcome that reflects popular sentiment.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t particularly care for Syrett, although she was part of the progressive majority in the Eugene council that has passed some good policies in the past few years, particularly the affordable housing trust fund. But the bar for recalls in Oregon statute is too low, & now that this succeeded there will be a lot more time & money wasted on them unless the legislature fixes it.

Kravin Moorhed
Kravin Moorhed
1 year ago

How to say that you are pro-Trump without saying you are pro-Trump.