Highways for Habitats #13: Cascade Street, Oregon

CascadeTransportation planning is tough. Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes. Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit). Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates. We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities. Check out more about our inspiration here.

Sisters, Oregon is a small town of just over 2,000 people, resting at the base of the Three Sisters volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range. What used to be a ranching town has become a modern community with a lively downtown of shops, galleries and restaurants. Sisters is located on OR-20, also known as Cascade Street, a major arterial highway connecting it to nearby state parks, and larger cities like Salem and Bend. While not an issue during the rest of the year, traffic along Cascade is much more congested during summer months, as people travel more and as Sisters has events that bring people to town.

Over time, residents expressed concerns related to traffic, safety and parking, and the Oregon Department of Transportation explored possible solutions. Cascade’s on-street parking downtown meant widening was not an option. ODOT considered using a parallel side street to create a couplet – Cascade would travel in one direction, and the side street in the other, creating two one-way streets. While this seemed functional, residents opposed the plan.

ODOT found a simpler solution. They decided that the two streets that run parallel to Cascade through downtown were to be used as alternatives. Parking was enhanced along both streets with additional spots. Curbs extensions were built to slow traffic and provide shorter, safer pedestrian crossings. To inform drivers of the additional routes available, temporary signs are posted during peak travel times.

The dispersed traffic has worked out well and business owners speak of record sales during high traffic times, indicating that the ability to move through with ease draws people to stop and explore the town. ODOT and Sisters showed that a project solution with public support – no matter how simple or small – can be just enough.

Photo from jjandames on flickr.com