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Planning Bureau unveils design concepts for 7 Corners intersection

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 15th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

One concept on the table is
the creation of a new public plaza at
the end of Ladd Ave.

As I reported last month, the Office of Transportation and the Bureau of Planning have embarked on a project to improve the 7 Corners intersection (where SE Division, Ladd, 20th, and 21st streets converge).

At last night's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, Tom Armstrong from the Bureau of Planning introduced the three design concepts and received feedback on how the designs might impact bike traffic.

Armstrong told us that the two goals of the project are "How can we enhance this area to give it a more distinctive place, while at the same time maintain mobility through the intersection."

The most complicated aspect of this project is that SE Division is a four-lane, high-speed thoroughfare that gets about (according to Armstrong) 13-14,000 cars per day. That type of volume makes planners nervous and makes them worry about things like "congestion management implications" (more on that below).

Here are the three conceptual drawings for the intersection (descriptions from Bureau of Planning in italics, followed by my comments). Please keep in mind that these are just concepts meant to start discussion, no final designs have been approved:

Alternative 1—Ladd Square

This alternative looks at restricting access for cars and buses at the end of Ladd Avenue and using the right-of-way to create a new public square at the heart of the 7 Corners intersection. (PDF, 220kb)
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Armstrong said this option was popular at a recent open house. The idea is to create a public square in the right-of-way that would be open only to bikes and pedestrians. The signal (at Ladd and Division) would also be removed (to take that "green time" and re-allocate it to other streets to provide extra capacity/time in the signal phase).

There were several concerns raised about Alternative 1 by committee members. Of most concern is how bikes would navigate through the plaza to reach the signal at SE 20th. Armstrong admitted that it would be a "difficult movement" for southbound riders and said they'd probably put a bike box at 20th to help.

Committee member Mark Ginsberg expressed concern about what would happen during a green light, when you've got bikes coming across from Ladd onto SE 20th, while motor vehicles on SE 20th also have the green.

The Ladd Ave/SE 20th connection is a very busy corridor for bikes. Roger Geller said last night that recent bike counts at Ladd Circle (just north of this intersection) had the highest, non-bridge totals of anywhere in the city and counts at 21st and Clinton (south of the intersection) were also some of the highest in the city (550 bikes at a two-hour peak).

Geller said he's "concerned" that the level of service for southbound bikes might be "diminished" with this alternative and he urged the committee to "keep a close eye on this project."


Alternative 2—“T” Intersection

This alternative shifts the focal point to the 21st Avenue intersection with urban plazas as an extension of the sidewalk. (PDF, 200kb)
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This alternative would rely more on zoning changes that would (hopefully) spur private development along SE 21st and it would have the least amount of disruption to traffic flow.


Alternative 3—21st Avenue Corridor

This alternative creates a new 2-block long pedestrian-friendly, commercial corridor that connects Division and Clinton. (PDF, 290kb)
--
This alternative brought up some concerns about the quality of biking on SE 21st, especially if it becomes more of a "commercial corridor".


The big elephant in the room with this project is SE Division Street.

Division is a tough street to balance "livability and mobility" on, in part because it's got what are known as "pro time" lanes. This means that during rush hour (when on-street parking is not allowed and all three lanes are filled with speeding cars) there's absolutely zero shoulder space. This makes walking on the adjacent sidewalk unpleasant and according to the Bureau of Planning it, "requires the temporary removal of parking that can be critical to supporting small businesses."

So, why not just scrap the "pro time" lanes and change Division to one motorized lane in each direction? Not so fast, says the Bureau of Planning's website (emphasis mine):

"Removal of the pro-time lanes could increase congestion at the intersections, slow travel times for buses and cause back-ups. The increased congestion could, in turn, result in increased cut-through traffic on adjacent streets, such as Clinton Street, thereby increasing potential conflicts with bicyclists."

They've painted a pretty dire picture of what a reduction of one lane (in each way) of motor vehicle capacity would do.

The website goes on to state that,

"The preferred strategy must balance livability enhancements with mobility and congestion management."

That's a tough order to fill. Is it possible to re-do a busy, high-speed intersection and achieve these goals?

I wonder if planners consider that if an area is made more pleasant and safe for non-motorized traffic, car trips and congestion will be reduced because people will choose other modes. (When I brought this up to Armstrong last night he said the majority of traffic on Division is local, meaning most likely many of the trips could be easily taken by bike).

I'm somewhat skeptical of the ability to truly balance all those needs, without sacrificing the livability component and the safe, efficient movement of bicycles. I'm reminded of the words of the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa (paraphrased); "You must decide. You can either build a city for cars or for people -- but not for both."

I wonder how we're ever going to make non-motorized transportation a viable option if we are always afraid that we might "increase congestion", "cause back-ups", or "slow travel times".

Several committee members last night echoed some of these sentiments. Instead of trying to fanagle bike traffic around motor vehicle traffic, why not use this project as an opportunity to make a statement that bikes have priority? Why not treat bikes as a mode on equal footing with cars?

A follow-up meeting where "a preferred strategy will be formulated for discussion" will be held on November 3rd with the re-design process to begin in earnest in late November.

If you have comments about this intersection and/or feedback on the design concepts, direct them to Tom Armstrong (click name for email).

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Comments
  • BURR October 15, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Jonathan - The 'pro-time' lanes on Division are open westbound in the AM and eastbound in the PM, so technically there are a maximum of three total lanes of traffic at any given time (during peak hours only), not four.

    The pro-time lanes on Division operate very well as de-facto ten foot wide bike lanes and losing them to curbside parking would be a big loss for cyclists, who would then have to compete for space on Division with motor vehicles in a single high volume lane in each direction.

    Final thought - even thought Division is classified as a local collector, most of the traffic is bound for east county. the posted speed limit on Division is also 25mph, but how often do you see it being obeyed? The city should be trying to move all the through traffic on Division onto Powell, into busses or onto bicycles.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    thanks Burr. i've edited the story... but my main point still stands... and that's a hope that a discussion about reducing capacity or doing something to reduce speed on SE Division is considered as part of this project.

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  • Stripes October 15, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I think seeing Ladd Ave closed to through auto traffic, while still allowing for bicycle access, would be the best thing that could happen for that neighborhood.

    Page three of the Ladd's Addition Conservation District Guidelines states, and I quote -

    "Through traffic has been a chronic threat to liveability in the district for over sixty years. The City's Arterial Streets Classification Policy for Ladd's Addition states:

    "Non-local traffic should be routed around rather than through Ladd's Addition on the appropriate classified streets".

    Seems to me closing Ladd at Seven Corners to auto-traffic would achieve this goal in a heartbeat, and improve neighborhood livability, particularly for the children that have to use Ladd Avenue to access Abernethy Elementary School a stones throw away.

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  • Jessica Roberts October 15, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    I would never bike on Division anyway (not at all comfortable or pleasant) so my priority would be capping (well, reducing, but I don't see this project as helping for that) vehicle volumes on Clinton and making the Ladd connection better for bikes. Personally, I love the idea of the bike/ped only plaza at the southeast end of Ladd Ave. I think that if the right people work on it, a solution can be found to connecting to 20th, and it would be such a beautiful symbol.

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  • Whyat October 15, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I think any plan that would increase auto congestion on Division is a terrible idea. Having lived in congested cities, I've seen the detrimental impact that removing 'one tiny lane; can have. I think Bureau of Planning’s take is pretty accurate in regards to the ill side effects. Ultimately increasing congestion on Division can have implications far from the actual street itself. I almost wonder if a better alternative is to create an alternative route into Ladd's Additional that would bypass this somewhat awkward intersection. None of the plans above seem like they would really be making a large difference. Maybe a Walt Disney like sky bridge for bikes that goes over the entire intersection? C'mon... I can dream, right?

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  • Tbird October 15, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    it's interesting that you refer to Division as a high speed street. When the speed limit is actually 25 mph below 82nd. In practice it is high speed, when in theory it is designated as the same limit as surrounding residential streets.
    I like the first concept, but keeping the traffic light at Ladds for cyclists. Why would the city want to remove it?

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  • 3-speeder October 15, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Nice synopsis, Jonathon. I was at the public meeting in early October, and your comments above are consistent with what was presented there.

    I'd like to add one additional point that was voiced often during the public meeting. It is in regard to Alternative 1 (Ladd Square), a variation of which would probably do best for improving the bicycle connection through this intersection. Many Ladd's Addition residents strongly opposed Option 1 because the lack of car access into and/or out of Ladd Avenue would cause increased car traffic on other Ladd's Addition streets. This traffic would be cutting through to get to/from the Hawthone/12th/Ladd Ave intersection.

    Historically, this sort of opposition from folks in Ladd's Addition has carried a great deal of weight in decision making processes. Those who see benefits for bicycling resulting from Alternative 1 would do well to get involved in the process to make us less difficult to ignore.

    A good way to get involved is to show up at the next Community Workshop, which was announced at the earlier public meeting. That announcement mentioned that it will take place on Nov 3 at 7PM at St. Philip Neri Church at SE Division and 18th.

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  • Krampus October 15, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Stripes (#3) - I'm sure the Ladd's neighborhood folks would just (or almost) as likely see cyclists stop using Ladd's as a through street as well based on how often they complain and get the cops out there for stings, and all the "anonymous" complaints from residents in Ladd's about cyclists.

    Anyway, the idea of a plaza at the SE end of Ladd's is a great idea, especially if it has bike parking.

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  • r October 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    what the three plans have in common is to turn the segment of Division from 19th to 22nd into a three-block pedestrian-friendly retail district, putting street-level retail and some residential density right up against sidewalks that are tied thematically from one "gateway" to the other. this could, one hopes, have the effect of discouraging through (motorized) traffic, which would then be diverted to, say, Powell. extending the concept a couple of blocks down 21st to Clinton can only help, but closing the Ladd connection to motorized traffic would be essential. only "alternative 1" accomplishes this. the green light problem might be addressed by including a bike/ped only all-directions light in the cycle.

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  • 3-speeder October 15, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    BURR - According to transportation folks, most traffic (I don't know the percent, but it is well over 50%) on Division close-in are from residents who live close-in, not from folks who live east of 82nd. This is based on observational data using license plates.

    Tbird - The reason for removing the traffic signal phase out of Ladd Ave (as told to us at the public meeting in early October) is that it would give more time to the remaining signal phases at this intersection. This would be the way to get the same amount of east- and west-bound Division car traffic through the intersection after reducing the number of through-traffic lanes to 2. But you do make a good point regarding how bicycles coming down Ladd Ave should safely get through this intersection - this was not clearly expressed to us.

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  • Dave October 15, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I think the first option sounds really nice, as Division seems like it would lend itself well to a public space like that - the overall feel of Division from 39th downwards is pretty small-street, community kind of feel (except at this intersection), it's near New Seasons, so it could be a great area for people to hang out and eat, or whatever. It doesn't seem like there's that much car traffic through Ladd's Addition anyway, so it doesn't seem like cutting off through traffic to Division would make that much difference. I would be concerned about removing that traffic light on Ladd though, as I can see it being confusing and/or difficult trying to get from Ladd to 20th in order to turn left (which about 95% of the bike traffic coming down Ladd would be doing).

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  • Anonymous October 15, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Hi:

    I'm a cyclist who lives in the area and strongly prefer option #1. A couple of points:

    1. Prohibiting car access into and/or out of Ladd Avenue might increase LOCAL traffic on other Ladd's streets, but THROUGH traffic [isn't this what we're really concerned about anyway?] could be reduced significantly. 15% would be my conservative estimate. Motor traffic originating from or destined for 12th/Hawthorne would choose either 20th/Hawthorne or 11th/12th/Division as a through route, rather than trying to navigate an alternate route through Ladd's.

    2. I'd like to see more detail on the proposed bike traffic control device[s] at Ladd/20th/Division. Toggling from southbound Ladd to 20th seems awkward, regardless of the presence of a bike box. Why no suggestion of a bike-only signal on Ladd? If the signal is triggered by button or pressure-pad, I think the goal of increasing vehicular throughput on Division is still met.

    3. I strongly oppose Alternative #3. Efforts should be made to encourage full utilization of existing commercial space nearby on Division. Encouraging commercial development on 21st would seem to be out of keeping with fundamental goals of bike boulevards.

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  • Matthew Denton October 15, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    While I like option 1 on general principle, I don't think they should reroute the #10 bus. Could they narrow the street there, and "close" it with something like this?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fjgq2Bgbc_0

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  • John Russell October 15, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Looking at all of the diagrams, it looks like the block between 20th and 21st and Division and Ivon will be almost entirely redeveloped under this plan. If the building are getting torn down anyway, why not bend 21st around to the west to meet 20th at Division?

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  • K'Tesh October 15, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I'll admit, I have a VERY poor idea of the area, so I don't know if this is even a realistic option.

    I'm thinking of something like what Honolulu did with Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki, change it from two way traffic to one way only, then reduce it by a lane (Kalakaua was 4 lanes in two directions, now it's 3 in only one). Then use a parallel road to create a one way for the opposite direction.

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  • 3-speeder October 15, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    John - I understand why, from the diagrams, you might think that the block you mention is being redeveloped. The planning folks used "artistic license" (my term) to indicate how the area COULD be. But there are no plans to tear down homes/stores to put in parking lots or any similar thing.

    What the planners did indicate is that sometime in the vague future (maybe next year, maybe in 100 years, and even maybe never), each owner of commercial property will decide to redevelop by tearing down their existing building and putting something in its place. The planners would have the city "require" (I wasn't sure if "require" was something legally binding or if it was merely threatening to throw a temper tantrum if they didn't) such redevelopment to fit into this scheme. Thus, any changes would occur in a piecemeal fashion.

    The intersection would certainly be simpler if 21st could be bent, as you suggested. But there's no wholesale redevelopment in the works. We're gonna have to figure out how to make the best of this intersection the way it is.

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  • MCrum October 15, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    As a resident of Ladd's Addition, I think I can play a NIMBY card on option 1.

    There is a stark difference between making bikes a priority and commandeering existing facilities in the name of bicycles. I think the first proposal commandeers Ladd Ave in the name of bikes, instead of using existing facilities to facilitate all modes of transportation. By narrowing a street and forcing auto traffic to now be rerouted onto side streets will only create more congestion on said streets. If you make it no cars on Ladd Ave, then the next most car direct way to get "through" Ladd's Addition would be either to go down Division to 12th OR to go down 20th to Hawthorne. Driving to 12th and Division isn't that "big" of a reroute since most cars cutting through Ladd's will find that traveling down 12th is a lot faster. But what about the cars that go down 20th to Hawthorne? Do we then put a traffic light in at Harrison and 20th to better facilitate crossing cycling traffic at this intersection? Does 20th and Harrison become all way for cars too? Now the influx of cars going that way would require the light at 20th and Hawthorne to be retimed. What about the bikes that use 20th to bypass Ladd's altogether? That road is narrow as is, but the potential to increase car volume could only make this street more dangerous.

    What if cars then go down SE Cypress to cut through Ladd's? Cypress dumps into the diamond at Harrison/Locust. Has anyone addressed the potential conflict between more cars moving at a slightly higher speed coming down a narrow side street where there are no posted traffic control devices that feeds into a bike route? There are enough close calls between cars and bikes in front of my house as is. I guess this redesign is only encouraging me to sit on my front porch more often. What about Tamarack to 16th? Or Tamarack to Lavender to Ladd? Or Cypress to Lavender to Ladd? Oh wait, there is a small circle there; that will stop cars...

    And then we have the bus line. Where would you reroute the 10 to? Down Tamarack or Cypress? Down 20th? So we turn something convenient into something inconvenient because we are trying to make bicycles priority? What about the people that rely on the bus to be in its existing location so that it is convenient for them to get to their destinations? Do we hand them all bikes and tell them to bike to the nearest bus stop?

    So while the first option looks nice to those that don't live in Ladd's, it only makes me cringe. I think the "just hop on a bike" argument is not a practical suggestion for every neighborhood or every person living in the city.

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  • Joe October 15, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    I'm excited to see at least one alternative to re-think that intersection and remove automobiles from one of the streets (Ladd). I wish there were more of these options available. Remaking a community for the better must revolve around humans, not automobiles.. As someone who doesn't own an automobile, I can attest to the unnecessity of automobiles in daily life. I also know many more who would like to do the same, but lament the fact that our city and so many like it are designed to accommodate the automobile at the cost of other modes..

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  • Matthew Denton October 16, 2008 at 1:33 am

    MCrum, the city (and the Ladd's Addition Neighborhood Association) has been trying to stop cars from cutting through Ladd's for 50 years, even since a state highway used to go through the middle of it and you couldn't actually get to the center garden. Really this just strikes me as a continuation of that effort. It isn't just a "bicycle improvement" per say, but more aggressive traffic calming for Ladd.

    The cars can and will go down 12th, or 99E and but many of them will just "disappear," (they'll ride the bus/bicycle/walk/whatever.) You are right, it might cause problems on 20th, but I'm fairly sure the city will make "improvements" to it to slow them down as well...

    If this was going on in my neighborhood, I'd be all for it. Ohh wait, my street already dead ends into a park (with a through sidewalk) after 2 blocks in both directions. (Unfortunately, I can't claim credit for that.)

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  • 3-speeder October 16, 2008 at 7:40 am

    MCrum - Yes, there are many issues to figure out. And yes, we need to find a compromise that balances car needs with bike needs with bus needs with pedestrian needs.

    That's why there's a process going on with lots of opportunity for public input. A Citizens Advisory Committee will be starting up in November, to my understanding, to discuss improvements on Division from 6th to 39th. Many meetings over several months will occur. I'm sure the 7 Corners intersection will get plenty of air time. And I expect that ordinary folks like you can come and listen to what is being done and express opinions.

    I respect your concerns. Keep in mind that the Planning Department's proposal being discussed here is about making a "place" out of 7 Corners, and not merely about making biking safer. So the thing I hope you keep in mind is whether the negatives you are concerned about can possibly be mitigated in order to create a huge positive - a Ladd Square community space.

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  • Michael October 16, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Part of the load on Division at SE 20th is due to conditions at SE 82nd. Division between SE 82nd and SE 60th is a wide 4-lane street with a 35 mph limit. It attracts a great deal of traffic heading into the city. The problem begins at SE 60th where it is funneled into a narrow 2-lane street with a 25 mph limit.

    If SE Division between 60th and 82nd were rationally sized down to match the capacity all the way into the city then much of that load would naturally migrate to Powell or other high capacity routes.

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  • Ron October 16, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Michael, your point is spot on. I commute by bike along Clinton, then to Woodward on my way from my home, just five blocks from 7 corners, to my job "out east". The amount of auto traffic coming in (traveling West) along Division at 7:30 in the morning is astounding for such a limited street - with long lines forming at traffic lights all along the way. I suspect most drivers, if given a better option, would shift over to Powell. We need to make that happen as part of this 7 corners improvement.

    As to concerns about auto congestion in Ladds, Matthew hit the nail on the head. Getting autos off of Ladd avenue will only reduce congestion in the neighborhood. Just look at a map of the area. Any driver stupid enough to think that Ladds is a "shortcut" from Division to Hawthorne (with all the circles and diagonals and narrow streets) is, well, cartographically impaired. 12th and 20th are the only routes that make sense for cars.
    Ron

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  • Aaron October 17, 2008 at 12:07 am

    In response to comment #7 I would like to share a very apropo comment at the October meeting. One woman (who lives along Ladd's addition) mentioned that people "are terrified of driving through Ladd's Addition because it's so confusing" they drive on Ladd because it's the most clear and direct way from southeast to Hawthorne. This blows away the argument about using other streets to get around the closed block. Bring this up with Armstrong and also at the meetings.

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  • Michael October 17, 2008 at 8:47 am

    You have an incorrect email address for Tom Armstrong.

    You have tom.armstrong@ci.portand.or.us

    It should be tom.armstrong@ci.portland.or.us

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  • joel domreis October 17, 2008 at 9:11 am

    going down ladd by car and bike is far my prefered way. i dont think shutting ladd down to cars would solve anyones problems. Ladd is very efficient as a speed reducing street, 25 is easy to keep in a car because of the small circles, but yet ladd is never congested like the intersections of 12thdivision and 20th and hawthorne. however more traffic being diverted onto 20th would be a bummer as 20th is a main bike route to ne portland.

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