For the past decade, the concept—and its faint shadow of reality—of public transportation in Bend and, more generally, Deschutes County, has been notoriously pitiful, with anemic service. But, Cascades East Transit (CET) is stirring to bulk up the level of public service—and not a moment too soon.
With current funding, CET is able to support its current level of operation—which is minimal and inadequate for the coming demographic and population changes. For example, in the upcoming year there are major developments in Old Bend—the sprawling neighborhood south of downtown roughly sketched out by Bond Street and Colorado Avenue. A Market of Choice plans to break ground adjacent to Hwy 97, which will provide a magnet to pull together some of the pieces of the residential neighborhood. And moreover, several major recreational developments are imminent—an outdoor ice rink at the old park-and-ride lot, and a water park by the Colorado Avenue Dam, which will keep the area busy in summer and winter. These developments will coalesce a neighborhood and also drop into place a major puzzle piece to connect downtown with Old Mill.
Yet, the transportation infrastructure is not set to flex or change to accept this growth. Those roadways already are vulnerable to anything beside current traffic flows. On recent snowy days, traffic has backed up nearly a half-mile, and slowed to a pace that would be frustrating for even an L.A. commuter. While those traffic backups are currently outliers, as the neighborhood grows, they are likely to become daily occurrences if nothing is done.
And let's not even start on the inclusion of a few thousand college students as OSU-Cascades settles into the westside.
The need for alleviating traffic has not yet become critical, but soon could and most likely will be. Building up public transportation is the obvious solution to reduce some of these pressures—and maintain what Bendites most treasure (no, not stout beer and skiing, but livability and affordability).
In the upcoming state legislative session, it is expected that the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIT), which manages CET, will work to clarify its governing rules so that they may seek revenue and financial support from local taxes. Already, the City of Bend has expressed support for these changes and, if greenlighted by the state legislature, COIT could begin to structure ways to find more local funding for public transportation in the next year or two. Although that mechanism is not yet identified, what is certain is that one way or another, Bend residents will pay—whether by financially supporting public transportation, or by spending more time in bumper to bumper traffic.
Prompted by a recent cleanup of homeless camps at Juniper Ridge, on Monday Deschutes County commissioners hosted a work session to consider whether to amend the county code to allow enforcement tools for the sheriff to more easily remove homeless people from county land.
But instead of simply signing off on this law enforcement tool, county commissioners agreed that a more kind and reasoned approach is needed to manage the entrenched problem of homelessness—and opted to continue the conversation and look for more comprehensive solutions.
"It's a bigger problem than what the ordinance was going to address," explained County Commissioner Alan Unger in an interview with the Source the following day. Unger says the County is open to creative solutions, and even considered taking cabins from the old Rajneeshee compound in Antelope (apparently the new property owners didn't want them) to use to house homeless people. Unfortunately, Unger explains, the 6-by-8-foot cabins were not up to code.
He added, "We need to find a holistic solution to this problem."