The city is inviting Willamette Street businesses to be part of a study of whether a road redesign affects sales
NOV. 23, 2014
The sales reporting is being sought as part of a controversial city test next year to determine how changing five blocks of Willamette Street to a bike-friendly design will affect traffic and businesses on the busy corridor.
Businesses would self-report their sales over 18 months to a city website, starting in January. The city would keep the information confidential and later have it analyzed by an economics consultant.
The city has hired the Community Planning Workshop at the University of Oregon to recruit businesses in the next two weeks. The effort began on Thursday with emails soliciting participants.
“The more businesses that we have, the more robust the data will be,” said Nick Meltzer of the Community Planning Workshop. “And the more robust the data, the better the economic model will be.”
Late next summer, the city will restripe the five-block segment to replace the existing four vehicle travel lanes with one vehicle travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane, and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street.
The city will test the design for 12 months to see how the configuration would work before possibly making permanent changes in a major repaving project in 2018. Willamette Street will be restriped between 24th Avenue to just south of the busy 29th Avenue intersection.
The test could start at the end of next August or September, said Chris Henry, the city’s transportation planning engineer.
The monthly reports will allow researchers to compare how businesses did in the six months before the test with how they fared in the 12 months of the test.
It would have been ideal to get business sales for the 12 months before the test, starting this fall, as well as the 12 months during the test, Henry said.
In that way, researchers could compare a year of business activity with the present street design to 12 months with the bike-friendly design.
However, the study was delayed until early next year, partly because the study’s $50,000 cost has to be approved by the City Council on Dec. 8, and officials had to wait to see if there is enough business participation to make the study worthwhile.
The business study is one of three Willamette Street test-related surveys by the city that are expected to cost a total of $150,000.
Some merchants who wanted to keep the current four travel lanes worry the new design will cause congestion and prompt motorists to avoid the area, thereby hurting business.
A city traffic consultant had predicted that 100 to 500 fewer vehicles a day would travel through the corridor under the bicycle-and-pedestrian-friendly designs compared with the present configuration.
“In retail, you want as many cars going by your business as possible,” said David Nelkin, owner of Eugene Coin and Jewelry near 24th Avenue and Willamette Street.
But Nelkin, a vocal opponent of the bike design, said he would be willing to report sales as long as they were kept private.
“Sure, why not?” he said.
Economics consultant EcoNorthwest will analyze the sales figures for the city to determine to what degree the new street configuration would affect commerce.
The sales reports made in the months leading up to the test and during the 12-month trial should answer whether the re-striping “leads to an increase, decrease or no change in sales to businesses along Willamette Street,” Henry said.
After two years of study, the council in a 5-4 vote approved the test of the bike-friendly design last May.
About 90 businesses are on the Willamette Street segment, including stores in the Woodfield Station shopping center at 29th Avenue and Willamette Street.
Other merchants located a block off Willamette within the stretch won’t be formally asked to participate, but they could report their sales if they want, Henry said.
It will be up to the business owners to report their sales honestly.
“This will be a trust relationship between the study participants and the study team,” said Matthew Kitchen, a senior policy analyst at EcoNorthwest.
It’s unclear how many of the 90 businesses would need to agree to participate for the city to proceed with the sales study.
However, Kitchen said he would want to have at least 30 to 45 businesses, and ideally more.
The bike-friendly design test will cost an estimated $900,000. About $750,000 of that amount will pay for installation of a permanent traffic signal for the Woodfield Station shopping center and other changes, such as a slight widening of Willamette Street near 24th Avenue.
These changes would have been needed for any of three proposed designs that were considered by city officials, including keeping the present four through travel lanes on Willamette.
The remaining $150,000 would be spent for three other test-related purposes. About $50,000 would pay to monitor traffic during the 12-month test. A combined $100,000 would be spent on the business sales study, including “intercept surveys” of shoppers, plus public opinion research to see what people think about driving, walking and biking on the new street configuration.
The recruitment of businesses began on Thursday with the emails sent to area businesses. On Friday, Meltzer said he was encouraged by the initial response. Six businesses quickly agreed to participate, he said. Another half-dozen responded with questions.
“We expect a lot more responses to come in over the weekend,” Meltzer said.
Meltzer is a 28-year-old civil engineer with a master’s degree in community and regional planning.
If merchants are reluctant to participate, Meltzer said, he would tell them the study is “an excellent example of a city responding to the concerns of business owners, and your support will help us better understand the issues surrounding south Willamette Street.”
The city will pay the UO $8,500 for the outreach work.
Two other business owners said they would file monthly sales reports if asked. “I don’t mind releasing the information if it’s confidential, but I don’t want it published in the paper and shared with my competitors,” said Al Sather, owner of Play It Again Sports near 27th Avenue and Willamette Street.
Metropol Bakery owner Donna McGuinness, who is skeptical of the bike-friendly design, said she would be glad to report sales if they are kept secret. “Any kind of information is useful,” she said. “I certainly think (city decisions) should be based on facts.”