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Guest post: How OHSU averted traffic turmoil

Posted by on July 20th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Dave Feucht
(Photo © J. Maus)

This guest article was written by Dave Feucht and it originally appeared on his Portlandize blog. Dave, 31, does IT work at the OHSU School of Dentistry up on Marquam Hill and lives in the Kerns neighborhood in northeast Portland.

His story is a follow-up to news of road projects that are currently limiting access to Marquam Hill and the South Waterfront.


The medical university that I work for is largely on top of a hill, with really only two good routes to get to it from the main part of Portland. There are, I believe, thousands of employees here every day, not to mention thousands of patients going up and down the hill each day.

One of the roads that comes up the hill has been cracking and was badly in need of repairs, in order to not slide down the hill, so the City of Portland closed this road off, starting on July 11th, and going through the end of August. That means all the traffic that would normally use this route is going to be diverted to the other route, and it has been clear already in the last week that this is problematic, at best.

In order to try to make this as painless as possible, the university has been offering more encouragement for staff and faculty to not drive to work during this closure. We do have a building and some parking off of the hill, but as you may remember from previous posts, one of the main roads that leads to that area is under heavy construction, and automobile access is also restricted there at the moment.

(All photos by Dave Feucht)

So what’s the solution? Offer larger monetary incentives for those who commit to not driving to work during the road closure, take about 8-10 car parking spots in a parking lot and offer bicycle valet parking at the bottom of the hill, which both adds a large section of parking to the already large offering, and offers secure parking so that people concerned about their bikes getting stolen don’t have to take their bicycles up the aerial tram (leaving it open to haul more people), and in general, encourage everyone to remember that the patients come first, and they need to be served here and have access to the services they need.

The results?

The results on the hill are that traffic has indeed been bad, but passable. If you can imagine those hundreds of bicycles instead being automobiles, and the hundreds of people riding buses also in private automobiles, you can imagine that there would simply be no option but to come to a screeching halt.

It’s a great reminder of how choosing not to drive if you have the option can make things so much better for those who really need automobiles, including our freight into and out of the city. Providing real opportunities and incentives for people to not drive when they are able clears up our roads and makes them passable.

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  • indy July 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    What about Peds? The campus on the hill is near-impossible to get to via pedestrian-only access without switchbacks. The campus at the bottom has arterial issues for *all* transportation needs, especially going South/Macadam.

    2 steps forward, a few still stuck in muck.

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    • Chris I July 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      The campus on the hill is impossible to get to via any mode without doing switchbacks, except for the Tram… Are you expecting a long set of stairs?

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    • dev July 21, 2011 at 7:46 am

      I’m a bit confused by your comment, there are two pedestrian paths that shortcut up the hill from the downtown side with only one switchback, which is necessary because of the terrain and really short. The south route is straight down Terwilliger and the neighborhoods same as for everyone. For south waterfront there’s the tram. Once you are on campus you can shortcut through buildings to avoid switchbacks. I’ve worked on the hill for 9 years and never had a problem with the pedestrian access, though the hill does mean it’s a good workout. :)

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    • davemess July 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

      They are building a pedestrian bridge across I-5 so that Lair Hill can have easy access to the tram. Also there are a set of steps off of Terwiliger that go up to the VA hospital (which can then access OHSU).
      The walk from Dunaway park up to OHSU is really not to hard either (maybe a half mile), there is shortcut through the woods, then take Terwiliger up to Campus Dr. So I wouldn’t call that impossible.

      Also have to remember that not a lot of people going to a hospital are walking there. (yes I know the campus is much more than a hospital), but the topography makes the campus rather difficult to build things up to.

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    • John Landolfe July 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

      It’s true that the Lair Hill neighborhood only has some paths that could best be described as hiking routes. Lair Hill has, unfortunately, not been served very well by urban planning. From downtown, however, peds will find a 15 minute walk on a wide sidewalk and modest incline. An insider tip, for campus foot traffic, is to take the tram elevator from the Casey Eye garage. It will take you from the bottom of campus to the upper tram terminal and 9th floor of the main hospital.

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  • Andrew Holtz July 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    One can hope that the concluding message sinks in and persists after the road reopens: people who need to drive benefit when we make things better for those of us who would rather be on foot, bike or transit.

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    • Joe C July 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      “people who need to drive benefit when we make things better for those of us who would rather be on foot, bike or transit.”

      Perfectly put.

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  • Rol July 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Carmageddon without the hype.

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  • Peter Buck July 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I cycle commute past the entrance to OHSU westbound on Terwilliger in the evening around 5:30PM. The traffic control at the intersection seems to work, with only a slight delay getting past OHSU. In my experience they let cyclists go first before releasing the cars so it’s possible to get across the intersection safely.

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  • Roger Averbeck July 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    At a June 6 meeting (prior to the construction), between PBOT, OHSU, and neighborhood reps, OHSU staff agreed to monitor success of the modal shift and encourage this “behavior” to continue once Sam Jackon Road is repaired and reopened…

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  • Thomas Le Ngo July 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Love the photos! The sheer number portrayed reminds me of Amsterdam.

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  • Alex Cousins July 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Hi everyone! Several of us working with PBOT are going to be out tomorrow (7/21) from 7-9 a.m. for “Treats on Terwilliger”. Stop by and visit with us at a parking pull-off just south of the Campus Dr. intersection to talk about this project, grab a cup of coffee or tea and a doughnut. We hope to see you there!

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    • Madeye July 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

      Where were you this morning? Many of us were looking forward to this.

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      • Alex Cousins July 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

        Sorry we missed you. We were out there exactly as stated – 7-9 a.m. just south of the Campus Dr. intersection on Terwilliger. We hope to be back again. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to see us, and thanks to all of you for bicycling!

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  • davemess July 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I think it also goes to show if you keep trying to build some infrastructure it will encourage more people to bike. I am still disappointed (after a year of going to school at OHSU) that OHSU has such a small amount of covered bike parking (especially at the base of the tram). We do live in a rainy city.

    Overall the traffic hasn’t been too bad. I bike up the hill every day (from SW via Terwiliger). I have been surprised that more people haven’t been using the back way to get to/from OHSU (via Sam Jackson up to Fairmount). This actually the faster way normally to get to my house on the rare occasion I drive in during the weekends.

    PS. The first two pictures is normally how the base of the tram looks (there is nothing extra added there, like the valet parking).

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  • dwainedibbly July 21, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Another illustration of why, if Metro builds a 6th Max line out towards Tualatin (as has been discussed already), it should go under the hill with an elevator to OHSU, etc, like at the zoo.

    I also work on the hill. The tram has been absolutely jammed. Kudos to the tram engineers who are trying some different things to shorten the tram trip time. Not only have they increased the speed to 10 meters/sec, but they’re also experimenting with ways to quicken the loading & unloading part of the process.

    I agree that there should be some permanent increase in bike parking near the tram, covered preferred.

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    • Chris I July 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

      There was a good discussion over at Portland Transport about this.

      http://portlandtransport.com/archives/2011/07/july_2011_open.html

      The general consensus was that a tunnel under OHSU would be the best approach. Running along the surface on or near Barbur south of downtown would miss several high-demand areas (OHSU, Hillsdale) and could possibly even be more expensive than a tunnel, due to the ROW issues, unstable hillside, etc.

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  • davemess July 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

    One other plus of this construction: they actually covered the GIANT expansion joints on Campus Dr. under the tram in front Kohler pavilion. Those things are just plain dangerous, a flat tire waiting to happen. Hope they remain covered!

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    • Dave July 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      They’re now uncovered again. That is the only road “condition” that has ever caused me to crash (so far).

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  • iskabibble July 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Dave is right that OHSU has really done a pretty amazing job with this potential traffic disaster. But the irony of someone who does IT at OHSU promoting or being aware of something called “progress” just kills me.

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    • Z July 21, 2011 at 9:53 am

      How is Dave’s job at all relevant to this matter?

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      • Dave July 22, 2011 at 8:18 am

        I think I understand what iskabibble means :)

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      • iskabibble July 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm

        Relevant within OHSU: The departments managing this infrastructure change have done something forward looking and successful. The IT group, in which Dave works (although his perceptivity and communication skills make him a clear exception) is, in contrast, reactionary, stodgy, and so resistant to change that it threatens to drag the university down…

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        • Dave July 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm

          …since you brought it up, I actually work specifically for the Dental School, not central IT :)

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  • spare_wheel July 21, 2011 at 9:53 am

    “What about Peds? The campus on the hill is near-impossible to get to via pedestrian-only access without switchbacks.”

    I often walk down the hill to pick up my bike from a shop. I take Sam Jackson Park Rd because it cuts about 10 minutes from my trip. But this route is dangerous. OHSU needs a direct ped route that does not involve walking on the edge of a busy twisting road or negotiating muddy goat paths. Its a major failing that there is no direct and safe ped route to OHSU.

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    • davemess July 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

      PLease see above where we listed 3 ways to get to OHSU via walking. We did leave out the 4th that you mentioned, taking the trails down from behind campus (part of the 4T trail). I do agree that a better route to the North side of campus would be nice, but the incline is kind of steep.

      Walking on Sam Jackson is just kind of stupid, and really not that much faster than walking down to Terwiliger and over.

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      • spare_wheel July 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

        I want to get from point A to B efficiently and I really do not care whether you think its stupid.

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        • davemess July 21, 2011 at 6:22 pm

          When they’re scrapping you off the pavement because that was a stupid place to walk, you might see differently.

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    • John Landolfe July 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

      Terwilliger, with a wide sidewalk, may seem longer because it’s actually a much more modest incline but, as Google Maps, shows, it’s actually the shortest route to downtown–almost exactly a mile. Route: http://bit.ly/o6jWYu

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      • spare_wheel July 21, 2011 at 1:37 pm

        Wrong: http://alturl.com/wpqqf

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      • spare_wheel July 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm

        1.5 miles via Terwilliger: http://alturl.com/79nzm

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      • davemess July 21, 2011 at 6:27 pm

        It’s shorter than that if you take the dirt path down to Duniway. Even if you’re going from Shriner’s You can cut through the parking garage at the Dental school, use the downhill path short cut and it’s still going to be a mile at most.

        But it sounds like you just want to validate your crazy choices.

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    • LoneHeckler July 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      As a twenty-some-year OHSU commuter (mostly bike), I’ve often wondered why people choose to bike or walk Sam Jackson — with its lack of shoulder and narrow switchbacks — vs Terwilliger, a pleasant parkway first envisioned by the Olmsted Brothers, with lovely paths and a nice bike lane. And really, if you compare apples to apples, the distance is pretty much equal.

      Beginning at the “eternal flame” outside the main entrance, with a finishing point of SW 6th and Sheridan, the walking mileage is 1.03 miles. Compare that to Terwilliger, which is 1.06 miles (yeah, about 158 feet longer but pshaw, whatever). Oh, and that’s taking the Duniway Park shortcut through the woods.

      If you don’t want to get your little feet all muddy, swap that shortcut with another: Cutting through Hospital South, exiting at the 1st floor. That would make it 1.14 miles. BFD if you ask me, but I’m also the guy who doesn’t feel the need to bike Sandy or MLK; I’ll take a shady, easygoing bike boulevard any day.

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      • LoneHeckler July 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

        Correction: I’ve worked at OHSU too long – they moved the flame years ago. My starting point would be just outside the door leading to KPV and the Tram. One mile to SW 6th and Sheridan, any way you slice it.

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      • iskabibble July 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm

        It’s a bit late to respond here — but Sam Jackson is my “need a wild ride” commute. Head right down the middle, at top speed, when feeling a little wild.

        Not the safest ride by any means. But fun when needed.

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  • Oliver July 21, 2011 at 10:10 am

    ‘traffic turmoil’ ? You’ll never sell any papers that way. ‘Carmageddon!’ Now that’s a headline. Plus, reporter needs more scowling and less waving.

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  • John Landolfe July 21, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Dave, you make some great points. A really great post. I should mention that the bike valet is an even better deal. The 120 spaces actually only required converting FOUR parking spaces. Biking is just a great way to tackle space limitations.

    Also, nice photos.

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    • Dave July 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      Yeah, I noticed after writing that it was only 4 spots – though it does cover a significant amount of parking lot that doesn’t have marked spots, but is just flat space. But still, 120 bikes in that space is a much better use of space than 4 cars.

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  • commuter July 21, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Keep in mind that this is happening in the months of July and August…arguably some of best weather all year. People would be less likely to do this if it were in the middle of winter. The first or second day of the closure they estimated an extra 500 employee cars driving to the hill…it was raining that day.

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    • Dave July 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      That is true to some extent, but it has been rainy on and off most of this week. Tuesday this week it was quite rainy in the morning (I rode in with an umbrella), and I arrived at CHH to find the bike racks nearly full at 7:30am.

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    • davemess July 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Didn’t they attribute those extra cars to the fact that many people’s schedule’s had Monday off? And the closure was only for the evening commute on the first day.

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