City studying how to serve carless residents

The city is studying how to better serve Ashland residents who don't own cars after a recent report found that bus, pedestrian and bike routes don't reach many pockets of the city with high proportions of carless households.

"There are obviously spots within the community that are underserved or not as effectively served as one would desire," said Marc Butorac, senior principal engineer with Kittelson & Associates Inc., a Portland firm that released the report.

"The question now is, 'How can we more clearly and easily serve the entire community?'"

The city will use the data to rework its Transportation System Plan over the next year, said Brandon Goldman, Ashland senior planner.

"We want to have transportation choices available to a cross section of all Ashland residents," he said. "This shows us what we need to concentrate on, in terms of accessibility."

Ashland resident David Dickey, who recently sold his car for environmental reasons, said he thinks the city could make small improvements to encourage more people to live car-free.

"I think the city should absolutely add more bike lanes," he said Monday, "as long as it doesn't require major construction. The city should support people who are choosing to get rid of their vehicles."

The report found that the highest proportion of carless residents live near Ashland Community Hospital, downtown or Southern Oregon University.

Between 15 and 30 percent of households north of Coolidge Street and west of East Main Street, near the hospital, do not own a car, according to the Oct. 14 study, which used census data.

The same percentage of carless households is found in the area encompassed by Ashland Street, Tolman Creek Road, Siskiyou Boulevard and Walker Avenue, near SOU.

Meanwhile, in the downtown and Railroad District, between 10 percent and 15 percent of households don't own cars.

In the area east of Hillview Drive and south of Siskiyou Boulevard, also near the university, the percentage is between 9 and 10.

In much of the rest of the city, between 2 percent and 8 percent of households don't own cars. However, in a few pockets — such as south of Siskiyou Boulevard between Beach Street and Hillview Drive, and the area surrounding Granite Street, near Lithia Park — the percentage is less than 1.

In general, areas with high proportions of carless households often also have high proportions of students and seniors, Butorac said.

"Any time you get a community with a university, like Southern Oregon University, you're going to see this," he said. "It was pretty much expected."

If the city wants to better serve carless residents, it should work to improve bus, pedestrian and bike routes near the hospital, downtown and university, Butorac said.

Rogue Valley Transportation District buses run almost exclusively along Ashland's major streets: Main Street, Lithia Way, Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street. The bus routes don't extend into neighborhoods or areas with high proportions of carless residents.

Jake Nash, who doesn't own a car and lives in a neighborhood near SOU where as many as 30 percent of households don't either, said he thinks the city's bus routes should be expanded to include weekend service and the bus fare should be reduced.

"Considering you have to pay $2 to go outside the city and it doesn't even run on weekends, I think it's a little unfair," he said. "It's a big problem that it doesn't run on weekends."

Ashland resident Rael Reif, who shares a car with her daughter, said she thinks the buses should run more frequently.

"I think they should come more than every half-hour, because you don't want to stand out there waiting for it in the winter, especially if it's raining," she said.

It's difficult to find transit routes that serve every group of residents in a city the size of Ashland, said Jim Olson, city engineering services manager.

"That's a real balancing act, to try to meet coverage requirements and timing requirements and fare abilities," he said.

Meanwhile, there are significant gaps in the pedestrian and bicycle networks near the hospital and east of the university, the two areas with the highest percentages of carless residents, the study found.

Kittelson plans to create projections of how the city's neighborhoods will change over time, and whether carless ratios will alter, but that study won't be completed for several months, Butorac said.

However, it's likely the neighborhoods with high proportions of carless residents will continue to seek access to transit routes, he said.

"The question is, 'How can you take advantage of that in your system planning, to service those neighborhoods, but also reduce the need for those people to have vehicles over time?'" he said.

The city's alternative transportation network is lacking in some areas, but is overall better than many similar cities, Butorac said.

"Comparative to other cities, it's actually pretty good, but can we do better?" he said. "We can always do better."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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