Wearing a yellow vest and a headset microphone, Dan Burden of the Blue Zones Project led about 50 community members and city and state officials along the downtown Roseburg sidewalks Wednesday morning. He stopped occasionally to pull a measuring tape across a traffic lane, point to traffic lights and crosswalks and evaluate how friendly the city is to bicyclists and pedestrians.
The Blue Zones Project, a health and well-being initiative, considers different elements that make people in a community live longer, better lives. During the walking audit portion of the Blue Zones Built Environment Summit, Burden discussed ways Roseburg could improve its infrastructure to make it easy for people to choose to bike, walk and live more active lifestyles.
As members of the general public, city staff, local Blue Zones team and Oregon Department of Transportation followed Burden from the Roseburg Public Safety Center down Douglas Avenue, he told them traffic lanes should be made 10-feet-wide by default. This would leave extra space for passersby, and the potential for bike lanes.
After measuring Stephens Street near its intersection with Douglas Avenue, Burden said the 12-foot-wide traffic lane and 4-foot-wide bike lane provided minimal protection for the cyclists.
“If you rework this road you can add a buffer so the cyclist is better protected,” Burden said. “It sends a stronger message to the motorist, and speeds tend to go down.”
Instead of traffic light fixtures that hang over the cars below them, Burden said he prefers vertical traffic light posts next to crosswalks that bring a driver’s attention to the spot where pedestrians would be standing.
Burden said for the past century, transportation policies have focused on how to make it easier for motorists to make their way through town, but now the focus is on cyclists and pedestrians.
“The solution is not to build wider roads but to give people more chances to walk, bike or use other forms of transportation,” Burden said.
Roseburg city manager Lance Colley said he’s thrilled that the Umpqua region was chosen as a Blue Zones community, and there was a great turnout Wednesday.
“It’s really important when you’re developing your programs and policies that you get that community input and community buy-in,” Colley said at the summit.
“One of the really important things they bring to the table is expertise on active, healthy lifestyles and how you can incorporate that into the built environment,” Colley said. The city recently started a transportation system plan with resources from the Oregon Department of Transportation and a citizen advisory committee.
While the plan takes motor vehicles into account, it also considers bicycles, walking paths and other forms of transportation. Colley said the local Blue Zones team, ODOT staff and city staff will be working together to implement Blue Zones philosophies and policies into the plan.
“It’s a great opportunity to get national support and national expertise involved in our local planning,” Colley said.
The city used urban renewal funding for the most recent downtown Roseburg project and ODOT funded the Highway 138 Corridor Solutions Project, both of which used concepts of active transportation.
While Colley said there is not a lot of funding available right now for making changes to existing infrastructure, the city will evaluate how to incorporate Blue Zones policies into its future projects.
Last year, he added, the city’s Public Works Department applied for an ODOT grant that would include narrower streets, a median, sidewalks and bike lanes through Douglas Avenue.
The city would also go over the policies with future developers as well.
Stuart Cowie, community development director for the city of Roseburg and co-chair of the Built Environment Blue Zones team, said it depends on the developer.
“As they’re developing, they’re going to include that infrastructure that would have been built in through our zoning coordinates as a result of our policies,” Cowie said.
Nick Buettner said safety plays a key part in considering a built environment. Buettner has traveled to all the seven original Blue Zones, the places his brother Dan Buettner had determined to be where people lived the longest, most balanced lives. He said the Blue Zones Project gives a community ideas and principles upon which to base its own policies.
“It’s your community stepping up and saying ‘this is what we want,” Buettner said.