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PBOT moves forward with N Michigan greenway project

Posted by on July 7th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Michigan (in red) is a popular
cut-through for Washington-bound
I-5 traffic.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is moving forward with a plan to create a new neighborhood greenway on North Michigan Avenue between N Fremont and Bryant Streets.

The aims of the project are to improve traffic conditions, make it more pleasant to walk and bike, and to reduce motor vehicle volumes and speeds. Another major issue PBOT hopes to solve with this project is all the traffic that uses Michigan as a cut-through for I-5 north when it backs up during evening rush-hour everyday.

PBOT’s main weapon to thwart the cut-through traffic (over half of which is Washington bound, see below) was a full median island on Rosa Parks at Michigan that would prevent left turns (onto the freeway on-ramp). However, that idea was shelved in favor of a partial median (which would still allow left turns) after some neighbors spoke out in opposition.

After hearing many complaints from residents about people from Washington using the street as a freeway cut-through, PBOT conducted a license plate count. In a two-hour study, the results overwhelmingly supported the anecdotal evidence. Not only is freeway cut-through traffic a problem, but on one block, the majority of cars were from Washington.

Here are results from the license plate count (taken from a two-hour time period of northbound Michigan traffic):

  • Just north of Killingsworth: 191 cars, 67 (35%) from Washington
  • Just north of Ainsworth: 159 cars, 84 (52%) from Washington
  • Just north of Rosa Parks (the last I-5 north on-ramp): 46 cars, 5 (11%) from Washington

As part of this project, Michigan will receive all the standard treatments PBOT uses on neighborhood greenways, including speed bumps, marked crossings, curb extensions, new signage and markings, and so on.

To tackle the freeway cut-through problem, PBOT initially proposed a full median on N. Rosa Parks Way (see it below). The median would improve crossing safety and it would prevent people from turning left from Michigan onto Rosa Parks in order to return to the freeway (a move that over 550 cars make during peak hours each day).

Full median would allow bike traffic to pass through, but would prohibit left turns from Michigan onto Rosa Parks.

However, some nearby residents objected to the full median. At a second meeting for the project held last month, PBOT project manager Ross Swanson said “opposition grew” to the full median proposal. Some were concerned that the cut-through traffic would just be diverted to Mississippi (one block east). Others didn’t like being inconvenienced by the left-turn prohibition. Some simply felt the full median was “too extreme” of a solution at this location.

Even though some neighbors agreed with PBOT that a full median would be the safest solution that will do the most to discourage freeway cut-through traffic, the objections by others caused PBOT to change course and come up with a different proposal.

This is the partial median that will be built because some neighbors opposed the full median.

At a meeting for the project held last night at the Peninsula Park Community Center, PBOT project manager Ross Swanson proposed a two-phased approach. The City would move forward with a partial median — which would still allow left turns, but would provide some traffic calming and crossing safety benefit — and then collect data for four months to asses the impact. Then, if the partial median doesn’t solve the cut-through problem, PBOT will move forward with the full median as originally planned.

While some in attendance (including myself) spoke up in support of the full median, it was agreed that the two phase approach was acceptable. Whether the full median is ever built remains to be seen.

Construction on the Michigan neighborhood greenway is slated to begin this winter.

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  • Scott Mizée July 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I like the full median.

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  • Sam h July 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    A pocket park like the one planned on Holman might effectively handle the non-local traffic.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I like the full median too. I live about five houses south of this intersection and my daughters are scared stiff about crossing it. It’s really too bad that we’ll have to wait and then hope it gets built.

    I tried to share at the meeting last night that we (Piedmont N’hood) were saying “no” to a top-notch safety and livability improvement just because we’re afraid of how it impacts motor vehicle traffic and access.

    To me, the problem is that cars rule too much of our public space and neighborhoods… When we have a chance to tilt the balance a bit toward humans, I feel it should be jumped on.

    I and others in the neighborhood plan to not let PBOT forget about the Phase II and full median plan.

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  • Frizzle July 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Wow, I’m really curious about these people that posed opposition. Would you like your neighborhood to be safer, quieter, less busy? NAHHH- I love 550 cars (most from a different state!)driving through a day…
    So strange to me. “Too extreme”??

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      Much of the concern is that the median would only make people use other n’hood streets.. thus just shifting the problem.

      The “extreme” argument is based on the idea that to go from nothing at all (now), to a full median with turn restrictions is just overkill.

      That argument was made by a woman who actually bikes quite a bit (she also lives next door to me, and I live about 5 houses from this intersection btw).

      Given that the partial median would also come with the full suite of n’hood greenway tools on Michigan, and that it would be an improvement on what exists now, it’s not hard to understand why the n’hood agreed on the phased approach.

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  • BURR July 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    PDOT caved on the median

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm

      I think caved is too strong of word. They heard opposition – most of it from completely reasonable people – so they went with something less substantial yet that will still improve conditions.

      If anyone caved, it was the n’hood. The project was in our hands and if enough people were loud enough about the full median, it might have happened. But again, the people who oppose it, have some genuine concerns and it’s hard to dismiss nice people who simply have a different perspective on transportation policy/infrastructure.

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      • A.K. July 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm

        How many people does it take to impact whether a design gets built on not?

        For example, if 100 people are at a meeting, but maybe five express worry about a “full median”, is that enough to have it be shelved?

        At what point does the benefit to the majority outweigh the objections of a few people?

        On one hand, I’m glad we actually get input on these things, as no one wants unwanted projects shoved down their throat. On the other hand, an organized objection by a “special-interest group” could easily throw a wrench in moving forward with much-needed projects, that as you say actually put people instead of automobiles first.

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        • Chris I July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm

          At the Providence Portland meeting for the NE 50s bikeway, we took a vote on the options. Majority rules.

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          • A.K. July 8, 2011 at 9:09 am

            Ah, interesting, thanks for the response.

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  • Frizzle July 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Also, I’m confused how a partial median calms traffic? I see it has a cross walk, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to stop

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    • Joe Adamski July 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      I initially shared your mistrust of partial medians, however I have seen them in action, and once they are in place, a funny thing starts to happen: some motorists stop for them. Actually, many motorists stop for them, and stop the cars behind them. I think the message is getting to many drivers, (including myself) about intersections and pedestrian rights to cross. The only concern I have,is typically I see these medians on two lane/bidirectional roads. On a four lane/bidirectional road, the hazard may exist where a vehicle stops in the left hand lane, and the the right lane doesn’t. If view is blocked, it could put the crosswalk user in danger.

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  • captainkarma July 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Where was the BTA in this process? Isn’t this right up their bike lane?

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  • 9watts July 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    At such moments I ask myself whether any of PBOT staff are authorized, inclined, predisposed to acknowledge the impending twilight of the automobile? While we can disagree about how quickly the now long dominant car will fade, and some no doubt will assert that the car is here to stay, the onus should be on them to demonstrate why they are so certain.
    But back to PBOT, I wonder what it will take, how long we’ll have to wait, before the writing on the wall (or in the reports commissioned by our own City Council) are read by those in charge at PBOT?
    How can we (PBOT here) fail to include the possibility (to be dangerously conservative about this) that the private automobile will cease to be a viable means of transport in the near future?
    The Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Roadmap includes the following language on p. 42:
    “7. Embed Climate Change in Transportation Planning
    Embed greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation goals into least cost transportation and land use planning conducted by state, regional and local governments.”
    see more here: http://tinyurl.com/3s76voe

    The Peak Oil Task Force Report, http://tinyurl.com/3ohs8gh commissioned by our own City Council almost five years ago now, is considerably more blunt and specific: Under the heading
    Impacts on Transportation and Land Use (T)
    the authors note:

    “T1. Automobile use will decline and people will seek alternative transportation for their needs.
    Rising prices for gasoline and its alternatives will force consumers to choices other than
    conventional single-occupancy automobile travel. Increases are expected in the use of gasoline electric hybrids and other efficient vehicles, car pooling, combined multiple trips into one, and park-and-rides. Car trips will be fewer and shorter, and car sharing will become more common. While biofuels offer a partial replacement of petroleum-based liquid fuels, their scale is limited by agricultural capacity and the need to maintain food production.
    Rising fuel prices will increase the demand for added capacity in non-auto modes. Use of public transit, bicycling, and walking will increase over time as fuel prices continue to rise. Likewise, demand for compressed work weeks and teleworking will increase. The cost of providing alternative transportation infrastructure and equipment, such as light rail, buses and bike paths, will rise as oil and natural gas prices rise. The longer action is delayed, the more expensive it will be. In addition, the operating costs of transit systems will rise.”

    I’ll just include the remaining subheadings:
    T2. People and businesses will relocate to be closer to each other and to transportation options; population will likely shift to city centers, and density and mixed-use development will increase.
    T3. Transportation of freight will become more costly, likely leading to mode shifts from air and truck to rail and boat.
    T4. Air travel may decline significantly.
    T5. Maintenance of road infrastructure will be increasingly difficult because of loss of revenue and reliance on asphalt.

    Hello… Anybody home?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      9watts,

      the fact is that when you are in a n’hood meeting with a bunch of people who rely on their cars every day, you cannot stand up and tell them that we should make decisions as if those cars are no longer viable or relevant.

      if anything, the mistake is that PBOT even gives people a choice to water down these projects. It’s a double-edge sword to be so open to public input… PBOT does a great job, but sometimes it feels like they aren’t strong enough in refuting people’s concerns and sticking to their transportation planning principles. (and other times, I’ve heard them do a great job doing that, so it’s a mixed bag).

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      • 9watts July 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm

        “you cannot stand up and tell them that we should make decisions as if those cars are no longer viable or relevant.”
        Interesting. I will say that I have a different take on this. I think ignoring the fact that the cars on which these folks rely today won’t be viable for them tomorrow (speaking in terms of infrastructure longevity here)–failing to point that out–is the real danger. I completely understand the degree to which we are as a society, a city, dependent on cars. I don’t mean to diminish this in the slightest. But when it comes to *planning* the operating principle shouldn’t be to mollycoddle established patterns of private transport–habits and conventions, investments if you will–if we sense that they may soon be obsolete.

        This is a transition period. Cars may be very relevant today, but dramatically less so in five years. The longer we dilly-dally, and refuse to face that prospect (I’m talking about PBOT as an arm of the government that should be speaking to this issue every day), the harder, more abrupt, and painful the adjustment will be for those who as you say rely right now heavily on their car(s).

        Here’s the last recommendation on Transport by the City Council’s Peak Oil Task Force:
        “Peak Oil Kits to hand out at the DMV
        The City of Portland can internally create or outsource the creation of a “Peak Oil Intro Kit” to
        hand out along with all DMV transactions. This allows the city to track who has received this
        information for measuring awareness and outreach statistics.
        The city could create a requirement that all new and renewing licensed drivers be required to
        watch a video covering the basics of changes people need to consider, and how they can help
        reduce the problems.”

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm

          9watts,

          I think we agree more than you realize.

          I absolutely think, in terms of planning, we should not accomodate the status quo of car use. My comment was more that, in the practical sense of how feelings and emotions go at n’hood meetings, you won’t get very far with that sort of tone. People will listen, some will be intrigued, but most will dismiss you as an extremist.

          not saying I agree with that, but that’s the reality… so you have to balance the reality of where people are at, mix in the art of persuasion and politics, and then figure out how to move forward.

          But i’m with you. We need stronger planning directives and an approach to these projects that make it so we don’t get into positions where maintaining the status quo is even an option.

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          • BURR July 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

            there are also state goals for VMT reduction and use of SOVs that would appear to get routinely ignores as these projects move from planning to reality.

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        • BURR July 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm

          we as a society collectively have our heads in the sand regarding anything to do with change vis-a-vis our energy sources, whether it is for fueling our vehicles and transportation system, or for space heating and electricity generation.

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  • Joe Rowe July 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I was at the meeting. PBOT did cave in here, and PBOT did so without having the “no” votes clearly express solid concerns.

    A full median in no way would do what PBOT and Jonathan say, and I quote: “decisions as if those cars are no longer viable or relevant.”

    A full median would deter some short cut cars and put them back on Interstate 5. The 2 naysay neighbors are correct that some cars would be so stubborn that the full median would detour them from Michigan to another street. So we have 2 people who have a very true but tiny concern. The result is that a significant safety gain is lost.

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    • janis July 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Joe, I just have to say that you were not there for the beginning of the meeting and that there were more than 2 people who expressed concern.

      I don’t believe PBOT caved in. This meeting was set up by the neighborhood association because some of the neighbors expressed concerns after the second open house that PBOT held. The project manager was invited out to come to our neighborhood to hear people’s comments and concerns about the project. I believe that the meeting was a good one. And I hope that we as a neighborhood continue to come together to discuss safety on our streets.

      I think that the 2 phased approach is respectful of the people who are affected by the changes, plus putting in infrastructure for the Greenway. If the part median doesn’t bring traffic down enough in four months then the full median will be put in.

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  • 9watts July 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I’ll return the favor: we agree more than you may realize. I serve as the president of my Neighborhood Association, and appreciate the ‘art of persuasion’ argument very much. I will admit that when I read an article of yours and feel that PBOT (or PDC, or ODOT) needs to be bolder, to stand tall when it comes to some of these decisions, to take the longer view, to take a principled stand rather than one based on inherited power relations, I can get fired up. And I think that a neighborhood meeting and your blog are both really good places to explore these issues, to sort this stuff out together.

    And at no point was I criticizing you or the neighbors who may have expressed sentiments for or against this or that bit of infrastructure. My comments were directed at the City Bureau which in my view needs to get with the program when it comes to the divergent viabilities of the transport modes we’re talking about.

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  • peejay July 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Did PBOT spell out what the concessions would actually result in? If they said: “OK, people, if you don’t want the full median, it means that the risks to your children’s safety continue. Are you all OK with that, as parents? Do you agree to place your driving convenience ahead of the safety and health of all residents of your neighborhood?”

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm

      ummm, no… you don’t go to too many PBOT meetings do you peejay? ;-)

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      • peejay July 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm

        I’d like to, if ever they’d schedule those things when I could attend them. But seriously, when well-meaning people put up half-baked objections, a good meeting organizer should be able to gently, politely, sweetly, throw the implications of those objections back into the faces of the whiners like so much fan-feces.

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  • are July 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    no signalization at the pedestrian crosswalk? HAWK? nothing? rosa parks is posted 35 mph.

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  • Jim Labbe July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I got there too late for the full discussion. I had been there to speak up for the full median.

    Ross Swanson said part of his concern was getting the project done before ODOT pulled the funding.

    If that is true, it is rather frustrating that ODOT does not allow more time for the community to come to a more effective consensus solution… especially since the spill over traffic from the freeway is a problem for which ODOT itself is partly responsibility.

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  • jim July 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Why not just make michigan st local access only and have police give tickets to Washingtonians cutting through. its pretty easy to pick them out with those washington plates and all. It would be cheaper to do and would actually raise revenue…

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    • Chris I July 8, 2011 at 7:54 am

      I don’t think you can legally do that.

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    • Noah Brimhall July 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

      There was a lot of discussion about trying to tackle the problem of I-5 cut-through at the source (the north bound Alberta St. exit) and I think the project manager took those suggestions seriously. Hopefully this idea will get some attention from a traffic engineer.

      Since one of the stated goals of the greenways is to reduce neighborhood cut-through I’m happy that it was part of the discussion, but I do feel that there is a danger that in the Michigan project this goal could overshadow the goal of improved crossings. It is clear to me that the most dangerous crossing on this greenway is Rosa Parks and the best option for improved safety is a full medium.

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  • David July 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    The aims of the project are to improve traffic conditions, make it more pleasant to walk and bike,
    More of our Fuel Tax Dollars being wasted on BS.. Or is it our water and Sewer Dollars?? Probably both Fuel taxes and Weight Mile taxes are for those taxpayers.

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    • Jim Labbe July 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      I am quite happy having my fuel tax dollars go to make safer streets for everyone.

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    • SteveD July 11, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      Sorry but your fuel tax dollars are not going to pay for local streets. That would be mainly property tax and income tax dollars.

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      • David July 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm

        You of course can prove that by citing The law that states it and of course can show where blumenaur gets that money if not from Federal transportation dollars IE Fuel taxes….

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  • Paul Johnson July 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm
  • Ian Scrymgeour May 18, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Was looking around for new information on the Michigan greenway project. As a resident of Michigan (just north of ainsworth), i haven’t seen any activity on this. Did the funding get pulled?

    Jonathan – we should introduce ourselves

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