The city of Ashland is encouraging people to make comments on its Open City Hall online forum about two controversial topics in town — the "road diet" that reduced car lanes on North Main Street, and proposed changes that would affect people who rent out their homes to tourists for short stays.
The Open City Hall website provides information about those topics and invites people to read other people's comments and add their own.
The site allows people to provide input to the city without having to attend an Ashland City Council meeting, which might take place at a time that's not convenient for someone who wants to testify on a particular topic, said City Administrator Dave Kanner.
People can educate themselves about the topics by viewing city staff reports, maps, charts and other information relevant to a topic, he said.
Ashland is the first jurisdiction in Southern Oregon to use the online tool, Kanner said.
The Open City Hall service is run by Peak Democracy, a nonpartisan company with a mission to broaden civic engagement and build public trust in government. It serves cities across the country.
Ashland first started using the service on a trial basis in 2010.
Since the city relaunched the service earlier this month, hundreds of people have read information about the road diet and vacation rental issues and dozens have left comments.
The city implemented a pilot project road diet on North Main Street as it comes into Ashland in October 2012.
The road was re-striped to change four car lanes into two car lanes with a center turn lane. That created room for bike lanes.
The changes were meant to increase safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers, while cutting down on speeding and crashes.
To evaluate whether the one-year pilot project has been successful, the city will look at crash numbers, vehicle speed changes, the time it takes to travel the corridor, whether traffic has increased in surrounding neighborhoods and whether more bicyclists are using the area.
City officials also will take into account public feedback, including responses garnered through Open City Hall.
So far, people commenting via the site have offered mixed views. Some say they feel safer and are seeing more cyclists, while others say the changes are backing up traffic, causing people to avoid the area and not helping to boost cycling there.
On the issue of short-term home rentals to tourists, Open City Hall offers a primer on proposed changes, including a proposal to allow vacation rentals in multi-family zones without the owner having to be on site.
At City Council meetings, owners of bed and breakfast inns and motels have spoken against a loosening of rules that would allow more vacation rentals.
Few people who are offering their homes to tourists for short stays — often illegally under current rules — have been willing to step forward publicly.
In contrast, the majority of people commenting on Open City Hall so far have called for loosening rules beyond what the council is considering.
To read information at Open City Hall and leave comments, visit http://ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=13461.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.