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ODOT region 1 manager lays out Barbur road diet position in letter to Commissioner Novick

Posted by on September 30th, 2013 at 5:01 pm

High Crash Corridors campaign launch-4
ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The most powerful Oregon Department of Transportation employee in the area, Region 1 Manager Jason Tell, has now officially weighed in on the debate about a road diet on SW Barbur Blvd. Over the weekend, we obtained a letter (PDF) Tell sent to City of Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick on Wednesday that details Tell’s current thinking about the idea.

The letter was dated September 25th and it was cc’d to the SW Corridor Plan Steering Committee, ODOT Director Matt Garrett, Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Pat Egan, and Governor Kitzhaber’s Transportation Policy Advisor Karmen Fore. This letter marks a significant step in awareness of the road diet with the powers that be within ODOT and among our state’s transportation decision makers.

So let’s look at what Tell wrote. First, some context…

Tell wrote the letter to Novick after the Commissioner spoke about the road diet during a live interview at City Club’s Friday Forum on September 20th. In that interview, Novick was asked whether or not he felt the City of Portland should push ODOT to make safety improvements on Barbur.

“We definitely will push them to study it,” Novick replied, “because we think it deserves serious consideration.” Apparently, that and other mentions of it from Novick spurred Tell to write the two-and-a-half page letter. Tell opened the letter by saying, “There has been considerable discussion and analysis of this issue in recent months that you may not be aware of.”

“Any road diet proposal would have to consider… the use of crash data to quantify and prioritize safety problems… There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”
—Jason Tell

Tell then shared some background on Barbur and explained its progress thus far within Metro’s Southwest Corridor Plan (the Barbur road diet is one of hundreds of project ideas that currently exist within the plan). Tell said the project has been discussed, but that it wasn’t selected for early implementation.

Tell’s central argument in the letter is that any effort to advance the Barbur road diet now, outside of the Southwest Corridor Plan — which is what he claims the Bicycle Transportation Alliance has requested — would, “leave out key stakeholders already at the table and disregard the comprehensive evaluation of high capacity transit options that will begin in October.”

Two things are notable about this aspect of Tell’s position: First, the BTA has never advocated for going outside the Southwest Corridor Plan process. They have simply urged ODOT to work with Metro and PBOT to study the traffic impacts the road diet would have. Also, the idea and concept for a road diet on SW Barbur came along way before the SW Corridor planning process got underway. In other words, there appears to be no technical reason why it must continue to be hitched to the SW Corridor Plan.

Another point Tell makes repeatedly in his letter is that whatever happens on SW Barbur, auto capacity cannot be reduced. “Improving walking, cycling, and transit options,” he wrote, “without reducing the capacity of Highway 99W has been a consistent message we’ve received from stakeholders.” He also writes: “As a state agency, ODOT would need to make sure that any decision that affects the capacity on Highway 99W is consistent with direction from the Oregon Transportation Commission and State Legislators.”

It’s worth noting that, according to their analysis of traffic modeling data, ODOT believes re-striping Barbur to include a bike-only lane on a 1.4 mile segment between SW Miles and Hamilton would lead to an unacceptable reduction of auto capacity (a finding that is disputed by both Metro’s own traffic engineer and an expert at Portland State University).

Along with no negative impact on auto capacity, Tell wrote that any road diet proposal put on the table would have to consider four things: crash data to “quantify and prioritize safety problems”; “the needs of all users”; the effect of traffic diverting onto other roads, and the interests of local leaders, business owners, and so on.

It’s notable that he put the need to demonstrate crash history atop that list. As in many cases where it’s very unpleasant to ride, many people simply avoid riding on Barbur due to safety concerns and those who do ride on it are very experienced “strong and fearless” riders. Nevertheless, Tell finishes his point at the end of his letter by writing, “There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”

Perhaps Tell believes the lack of reported crashes means there’s no safety risk at all and therefore the road diet is unnecessary?

One final note about Tell’s letter. He devotes two full paragraphs about the idea of transferring ownership of Barbur from ODOT to PBOT (known as a jurisdictional transfer). This appears to be a feasible solution if funding could be identified to make it happen.

In the end, Tell’s letter raises more questions than it answers. And on that note, I’m hoping to do some sort of Q & A with Tell to ask them. For now, brush up on your knowledge of this issue by reading Tell’s letter (PDF). And stay tuned. We expect more to report soon.

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  • 9watts September 30, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    “There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”

    “There are no recorded injuries or deaths from people drinking plutonium contaminated Columbia River water over the past 10 years.”

    …therefore Hanford’s leaking tanks are not a priority for us

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    • q`Tzal September 30, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      9watts
      “There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”

      That would be the fault of the government, wouldn’t it be?

      The act of recording collision data only occurs consistently with automobile on automobile collisions.
      With valid road users that AREN’T in an automobile it has been a long hard fight to get the PORTLAND Police Department to acknowledge that a police report needs to be done on the spot when a person outside an automobile is injured or killed.
      The fact that they don’t see data is a function of the chronic and systemic negligence of the Federal and State departments of transportation and their law enforcement divisions.
      We are injured and die every day and are only important enough to be a statistic if we are driving a big metal cage; if you are biking or walking you are same level of importance as a dead deer on the side of the road.

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  • Kiel Johnson September 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Time for Portland Bureau of Transportation to step up and take over this important street. Can we start a kickstarter for funding?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 30, 2013 at 10:22 pm

      I think we should.. But I want to first figure out approximate how much $$ we’re talking about.

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      • Nick Falbo October 1, 2013 at 7:57 am

        It’s a very different street, but the Sandy Boulevard project that led to a Jurisdictional Transfer in 2003 cost $8.3 million.

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        • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 8:08 am

          Nick,
          I’m curious for you to say a bit more. To me this seems like it would be a matter of moving tax payer dollars around. ODOT gets tax revenue. So does PBOT. Why is this phrased as ‘costing’ money or requiring ‘funds to be raised’?

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          • Sigma October 1, 2013 at 8:54 am

            The city will require the street be brought up its standards before it will agree to a transfer. Sandy already had sidewalks so you can assume barbur would cost a whole lot more.

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            • paikikala October 1, 2013 at 10:15 am

              Alternatively, the City usually accepts the required funds from ODOT to bring a street to city standards as part of taking it over. You could say the City is as much to blame, since, once accepted, the roadway could be very quickly made safer and future improvements programmed just like other streets in the City.

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          • NF October 1, 2013 at 9:05 am

            Yeah… it’s a chicken and egg problem. ODOT doesn’t want to improve it. PBOT will not accept it until it is improved. Usually, ODOT and PBOT need to work together to agree on A) how it will be improved B) How will they pay for those improvements and C) How will ongoing maintenance be paid for and D) that PBOT will take it over.

            For Barbur, the first steps of agreeing on how it will be improved is laid out in the Barbur Concept Plan:

            http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/441477

            Here’s the Jurisdictional transfer memo for Sandy Blvd, where I found the $8.3 million number.

            http://efiles.portlandoregon.gov/webdrawer/rec/191835/view/City%20Auditor%20-%20City%20Recorder%20-%20Council%20Ordinance%20-%20177516%20ODOT%20Sandy%20Blvd%20project%20IGA%20Jurisdictional%20Transfer.PDF

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          • Todd Boulanger October 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

            …or the City of Portland organising to have a local gas tax such as some smaller cities have in OR.

            (I do not know the history on why Portland does not. Others on this web site will likely remind me.)

            Report on Local Gas Tax Question
            http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/LOC%20GasTax%20Report.pdf

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        • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 11:18 am

          I wouldn’t get too excited about any Jurisdictional Transfer happening for Barbur, until there’s some fairly certain number estimates known, and until it turns out they’re something the city figures it can shoulder within a budget it can get approved.

          State Jurisdiction: the whole state pays. City jurisdiction: the city pays.

          Barbur is a big long road that is, or turns into 99W some distance west of Burlingame. If Portland were to have jurisdiction over Barbur, what the city of Portland would or wouldn’t do to the road, would have a bearing on the rest of the road. Ultimately how positive or negative the overall outcome would be, and for who, is something to think about.

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          • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

            “State Jurisdiction: the whole state pays. City jurisdiction: the city pays.”

            Yes, we appreciate that. But it is still tax dollars from (mostly) the same people. No one is arguing that the transfer would cause a big shift in the population who use or benefit from Barbur’s (future) upgrades, and to the extent that someone were to make the case it is hard to see how any shift wouldn’t be toward taxpayers within PBOT’s jurisdiction. So I don’t see any reason to spend a whole lot of time wringing our hands over this particular aspect.
            I’m still curious to hear why this isn’t simply a matter of earmarking X funds that ODOT has or Y fund that ODOT is expected to receive in the future for a road that it is not going to maintain anymore for PBOT’s use?

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            • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 11:52 am

              “…Yes, we appreciate that. But it is still tax dollars from (mostly) the same people. …” 9watts

              Barbur under Portland’s jurisdiction, means the city would have to maintain, improve, etc the road. That in turn would mean Portland residents would find themselves having to pay more for that work, than they do now, because the costs would no longer be covered by all the residents and businesses of the state. If Portland residents are fine with shouldering more costs to take full responsibility for Barbur…no problem.

              Portland’s transportation budget is already strapped. This is a city that, in order to catch up on its road maintenance backlog, has turned to the cheaper, short term fog seal repaving method, rather than the longer term hot asphalt paving method.

              ODOT’s sense of obligation as to how to manage Barbur, is apparently different than Portland’s may be. ODOT apparently feels its important to not constrict the roads’ main lane configuration. Some people in Portland seem to feel, that to create a better road environment for biking and walking, doing so is the right thing to do.

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              • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm

                “Portland residents would find themselves having to pay more for that work, than they do now,”

                That is one interpretation. But I’m not sure it is that simple. My math says that a portion of everyone’s tax dollars that *now* go to ODOT to maintain and/or improve Barbur will *after a handover* be
                (a) waived/credited back to tax payers or
                (b) redirected to PBOT.
                Any additional funds that PBOT might feel it needs to do what its constituents want from Barbur would certainly need to come from within PBOT’s jurisdiction (metro area taxpayers?) But before we get all excited about how much we will have to pay in taxes to absorb future responsibility for Barbur, or the stretch of it in question, I think we need to understand first how the monies we all now pay ODOT would be redirected.

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                • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm

                  When you’ve got some more details on how your math plays out in terms of numbers, let us know.

                  If you’re thinking of somehow getting money ODOT spends from its budget, on Barbur for mantenance and management…kicked back to Portland taxpayers in exchange for the city assuming responsibility for Barbur (Portland taxpayers turning around and spending that money on Barbur modifications for active transportation.), you’ve certainly landed on a strategy that wouldn’t be simple. Sounds like an impossibly complex web of red tape and high costs just to sort it all out. But…good luck with it.

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                • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm

                  I don’t see how anything less would make any sense. Or do you dispute that our taxes now are what ODOT relies on to do whatever it thinks is necessary to maintain or improve Barbur Blvd?

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                • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

                  “…our taxes now are what ODOT relies on to do whatever it thinks is necessary to maintain or improve Barbur Blvd…” 9watts

                  Being a state road, Barbur is managed using taxes of Portland residents…plus those of the residents of the rest of Oregon. If Portland were to do assume responsibility for Barbur through Jurisdictional Transfer, it sounds as if it’s only Portland residents that are going to be paying for the roads’ maintenance and improvement.

                  That could turn out to be a hard sell. People are going to think: ‘The city is doing this for what? So it can remove all or part of a main travel lane on Barbur, and replace it with a bike lane? And doing this is going to cost me more money for roads than I’m already paying?.’

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                • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm

                  “That could turn out to be a hard sell.”

                  Especially if done so poorly.

                  Forgetting to mention the money all residents of the state are sending ODOT’s way *right now* to stonewall progress on Barbur Blvd. is hardly accurate or constructive if what we are trying to do is convince City of Portland residents that this is a good bargain.

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                • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 3:47 pm

                  …meant to write:
                  Forgetting to mention the money all residents of the state are sending ODOT’s way *right now* which they are using to stonewall progress on Barbur Blvd. is hardly accurate or constructive if what we are trying to do is convince City of Portland residents that this is a good bargain.

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                • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm

                  “…our taxes now are what ODOT relies on to do whatever it thinks is necessary to maintain or improve Barbur Blvd…” 9watts

                  Being a state road, Barbur is managed using taxes of Portland residents…plus those of the residents of the rest of Oregon. If Portland were to do assume responsibility for Barbur through Jurisdictional Transfer, it sounds as if it’s only Portland residents that are going to be paying for the roads’ maintenance and improvement.

                  That could turn out to be a hard sell. …” wsbob

                  “…Especially if done so poorly. …” 9watts

                  So then, do a better job of selling the idea…without making up a bunch of junk about ODOT’s management of Barbur.

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      • Cora Potter October 1, 2013 at 9:50 am

        We should also think about if Barbur is a higher priority than pursuing the transfer of other facilities, like 82nd or Lombard. Honestly, transferring 82nd would have a bigger positive effect on the city and benefit more people. I’m guessing the same is true of Lombard.

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        • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 9:59 am

          Interesting. What does this list tell us about how ODOT is handling all of this? If the beneficial direction is in all these cases clearly *away from ODOT’s control* why are we still giving ODOT any money for these streets? Let’s hand them over–along with the funds now earmarked for their maintenance–and be done with it.

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          • Terry D October 1, 2013 at 10:17 am

            It seems that all the worst roads to travel on or cross in this city are “maintained” by ODOT. Maybe there needs to be a statewide program to transfer all urban non-freeways over to local jurisdiction with augmented funding to “modernize and meet local needs.” ODOT OBVOUSLY does not understand the needs of urban areas which are different thin in Rural Oregon.

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        • Barbara October 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm

          One shouldn’t necessarily preclude the other. Do you live in SW Portland? Compared to the Eastside of Portland, there is no grid in SW Portland. The hills and the many, many unimproved (gravel) roads, lack of sidewalks etc make it ally difficult to bike here. Barbur is one of the few relatively flat and direct routes in SW Portland. There are not many options to go in quiet neighborhood streets like on the Eastside, because they are either really steep, gravel, or don’t go through (often all of the above). There is a reason why SWPortland has such a low bike ridership and Barbur is only for the strong and fearless males (lowest ratio of women).

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          • wsbob October 2, 2013 at 12:02 am

            “…Barbur is one of the few relatively flat and direct routes in SW Portland. …” Barbara

            Yes, Barbur’s relatively moderate grade is, I would agree, one of the road’s strong selling points for introducing changes to it that would allow it to be better for biking.

            In fact, Barbur to Burlingame could become one link of a marvelous loop ride: Downtown to Burlingame, turn generally north on either Terwilliger or Bertha Beaverton…go to either the the little village of Multnomah, or the bigger Hillsdale…stop, have snacks, beverages, dinner, etc….continue proceeding to Downtown on the next, very scenic segment of Terwilliger.

            The grade is gradual enough that people moderately conditioned for biking could possibly do it fairly comfortably. Plenty of nice places for leisurely drinks and snacks along the way. Could possibly be turned into a nice little opportunity for visitors to the city. Maybe even the coming bike-share system could help make this happen.

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  • Kiel Johnson September 30, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Sounds like ODOT just doesn’t want to take the heat. I love the idea of PBOT taking things over and initiating a 2 year trial of the road diet.

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  • Anonymous September 30, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    “Tell said the project has been discussed, but that it wasn’t selected for early implementation.”

    That’s a meaningless, misleading and even mendacious statement and Tell knows it. There were no early implementation recommendations coming from the plan.

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    • 9watts September 30, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      The letter reads like a bureaucrat’s attempt to bury an issue in jargon, procedures, timetables, committee recommendations, and deliberately lose his audience with talk of incompatibilities across these various categories.

      Why does the need to find funding intrude into the discussion of the jurisdictional question? ODOT is misspending millions right now on purported safety measures for Barbur. How much worse could it be if PBOT took it over right now, without any dedicated funds (which seems doubtful in any case)?
      They just painted some new lines on Division. I mean we could do that overnight, like the folks in NYC did.

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      • BURR October 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm

        I doubt he wrote it himself; it was probably written by an ODOT staff person for his review and signature.

        It sounds to me pretty much like they are digging in their heels, and as you say, obfuscating with jargon.

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  • Adam September 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    “Improving walking, cycling, and transit options,” he wrote, “without reducing the capacity of Highway 99W has been a consistent message we’ve received from stakeholders.”

    I’m sorry – and which stakeholders were they exactly? The bicyclists that risk their lives daily to use Barbur? The pedestrians that are killed every year on Barbur trying to cross? They were consulted, and are against reducing capacity?

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    • eli bishop September 30, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      exactly what i came here to write. WE’RE STAKEHOLDERS, TOO.

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  • peejay September 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Jason Tell. Now we have a name to attach to this criminal negligence. We have a name we can say when the next death occurs, when the next person decides not to ride, because they just can’t imagine feeling safe in Barbur, a name to repeat endlessly as Portland sinks behind other cities across the country that ARE doing something to move out of a 20th century mindset into the 21st.

    When the story of how America recovered from the disease that almost killed its great communities is told, the name Jason Tell will not be on the roll of heroes, but on the list of names that stood in the way.

    Great job, Jason!

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  • Charley September 30, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    ODOT: Capacity First, Safety Second.

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  • Chris Smith September 30, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Is it my imagination or did he just say “we’re going to run it as a relief valve for I-5, but if you buy off our maintenance responsibilities, you can do whatever the hell you want with it”?

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    • wsbob September 30, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      “…but if you buy off our maintenance responsibilities, …” Chris Smith

      Depending on the cost, that sounds like a plan. Sounds like big money.

      Also raises the question of how much of Barbur, which represents quite a long stretch of road, the city would assume responsibility for, and authority over.

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    • Glen Bolen September 30, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Chris, I was wondering the same thing.

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  • Peter W September 30, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    “…ODOT would need to make sure that any decision that affects the capacity… is consistent with direction from the Oregon Transportation Commission and State Legislators.”

    Questions I’d like to see answered:

    1. Is it your opinion that conflicts are not removed, and safety is not improved, by reducing the number of high speed lanes on a roadway?

    2. Does the Oregon Transportation Commission currently direct ODOT to prioritize capacity over safety?

    3. Through what process would you determine “direction from … State Legislators”? Since the decision to date has been to avoid a lane reconfiguration, how have you determined that is the direction State Legislators want you to go?

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    • Nick Falbo October 1, 2013 at 6:43 am

      Unfortunately, there *is* a law:

      ORS 366.215 states the Oregon Transportation Commission may not permanently reduce the vehicle-carrying capacity of an identified freight route.

      http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/TP/pages/freightcapacity.aspx

      Although, there is currently some discussion of what it means exactly to reduce capacity .. Lanes? Width? Is paint “permanent”?

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      • paikikala October 1, 2013 at 10:10 am

        It’s called the ‘hole in the air’ rule. Big loads, extra-wide, extra-long or extra-heavy need to still have a place to go. It means you can’t reduce the space available from what it is today in the future, but there are exceptions. I believe safety is one. also, if you look along the corridor, there are already restricted areas, width, height or weight, so those limits are what need to be preserved. Two lanes of width does not equal two lanes of traffic. I think you can also discount curb heights, so medians might be ok, but trees or poles that can’t be removed, are not.

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      • Unit October 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

        Nick, ORS 366.215 does not apply to Barbur. It only applies on certain designated routes, and Barbur is not on the list.

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  • Barbara September 30, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    The only positive aspect of this is that there is enough public pressure to compell him to write a letter, even though it’s so wishy washy. We have to keep up the public pressure.

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  • spare_wheel September 30, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Jason Tell’s immediate supervisor:

    Paul Mather
    ODOT Highway Division Administrator
    Paul.R.Mather@odot.state.or.us
    (503) 986-3819

    Jason Tell’s supervisor’s supervisor:

    ODOT Director
    Matthew Garrett
    matthew.l.garrett@odot.state.or.us
    Tel: (503) 986-3289

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  • Daniel L September 30, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    I suspect that the real reason ODOT doesn’t want to do anything, and this hasn’t gained much traction in the SW corridor process is that the SW corridor “process” has pretty much predetermined that they will run BRT out Barbur. BRT, real BRT at anyrate, requires dedicated ROW. That means in order to do BRT as cheaply as they are trying to sell it they would just take existing ROW from Barbur, which means one lane in each direction across those bridges.

    If they were to commit to a road diet now they would then be obligated to actually do something to maintain that bicycle capacity once they needed to reclaim those lanes for BRT. No one wants to do that because then they’d have to figure the costs of building a new bridge or something else in with the cost of BRT which would make it less attractive.

    Most of the reason BRT is inevitable is because Tigard, and some other more conservative players in the process, don’t want rail and won’t really budge on it. So the only way we can get any Federal money for the sw corridor is by running BRT through it.

    I feel certain that ODOT knows the capacity argument is bull. Tell as much says so when he implies if Portland took Barbur over (which would likely happen if BRT or LRT was run along it taking away ROW and paid for with a Federal grant) they’d be fine with reduced capacity. They don’t want to rule it out, they just want to play the game as long as possible until those lanes are already committed.

    That would also end up leaving Portland holding the bill for doing any future bike improvement along there, which would also be much more expensive since it would likely involve building a new bridge of some sort.

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    • MaxD October 1, 2013 at 9:13 am

      diabolical bureaucrat!

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    • Chris I October 1, 2013 at 9:57 am

      That’s the silly thing, though. This section of Barbur is never congested, so there is no need to dedicate a lane to BRT. A smart BRT system on Barbur would have dedicated lanes and signal-jumping queues in congested areas, like Tigard, Terwilleger, Capital Highway, etc. He is just using the SW Corridor project as an excuse. We won’t be seeing SW Corridor changes for a decade.

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    • Terry D October 1, 2013 at 10:25 am

      You are probably correct, but even BRT would cost hundreds of millions at least even without the tunnel. Budgeting a million or two to build a side path on the exterior of the bridges similiar to how they rerofitted the one on Marine drive next to Kelly point park would not blow the budget. Hence, it may be his reasoning but is still only an unreasonable excuse.

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    • Ian Stude October 3, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      I believe even BRT (as opposed to light rail) would trigger the need to fully rebuild the bridges.

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      • q`Tzal October 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

        Under what reasoning? ODOT has made a big deal about this route being officially rated and authorized as a freight corridor. This means that beyond being able to handle the occasional 100,000 lb extra wide truck carrying super-sized construction equipment it is also rated for continuous use large trucks that can weight up to 80,000 lbs without a special permit.

        I’d like an excuse to believe that ODOT is on crack and that SW Barbur isn’t rated for freight so it could be downgraded to an urban arterial under PBOT control.
        Cite me real empirical evidence that ODOT is wrong; best I can come up with is the supposition that the geological foundation of the road has been weakened overtime by NW rainfalls in ways that out of state engineers would have underestimated.

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  • Scott Kocher September 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    These attitudes are a reminder to report collisions with the B-SMART tool:
    http://bikeportland.org/closecall/home.php
    Yes it is a black hole but at least it is a record. Unreported crashes don’t count toward the blood quotas that must be met before a fix.

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    • q`Tzal October 1, 2013 at 1:31 am

      Ah, yes… but will they considered as valid counts by the government?
      I can see no reason that a DOT; state, federal or local; would trust data entered by an untrusted third party. There are civil servants, they would say, that are duly authorized and trained to accurately record this sort of information in a dispassionate and unbiased manner. We can’t trust the public to be honest, is what they’ll mean.
      Ultimately, unless the police show up every time, we will be the invisible data set.

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  • aaronf October 1, 2013 at 8:14 am

    “Perhaps Tell believes the lack of reported crashes means there’s no safety risk at all and therefore the road diet is unnecessary?”

    So what you’re suggesting is… perhaps Tell is incredibly stupid, and holds absolute, black/white views on transportation safety. Seems doubtful, and a bit insulting.

    Perhaps Tell believes that among the hundreds of projects in the SW corridor plan, this one isn’t ready for prime time yet. Perhaps Tell has a secret agenda (BRT ROW, Nazi Gold, whatever). Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

    I hope anyone who is confused or upset takes the time to read Tell’s letter. Many of his compelling arguments are unfairly ignored in this summary, in my opinion. Perhaps Tell would be more willing to grant an interview to the less-inflammatory M. Anderson…

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    • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 8:19 am

      aaronf,
      I did read the letter. I still come away wishing, as I’ve said here before, that ODOT would for once get out in front of an issue rather than always playing defense; mustering what come across as weak, mopey, bureaucratic arguments *against* doing anything for the population who bikes now or might bike with a little help from, you know, our state agencies.

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      • Aaronf October 1, 2013 at 8:32 am

        So you wish ODOT didn’t behave like basically every govt agency that can’t satisfy all of its stakeholders. I wish for a lot of things too. Tell isn’t a CEO, he has to follow existing ODOT guidelines. One is reduction in capacity on road designated a Super Duper Freight Route is a no no. He would have to explain the breach in policy to a lot of folks who see monitary value in freight capacity.

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        • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 8:41 am

          I *understand* that ODOT suits see this as the approach they must or should take. But that doesn’t mean I think it is *prudent* or *forward looking* or good PR.

          They push the boundaries, get out in front, write editorials in the Oregonian, use the bully pulpit, etc. for the issues they (upper ODOT mgmt.) see as important. I just decry that it has to be the CRC and not multimodal, complete streets and that sort of thing. I am convinced they will soon come to regret this choice, and am just encouraging them to get with the program.

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          • Aaronf October 1, 2013 at 8:48 am

            I think that your peak-oil-apocalypse bicycle-heaven fantasy is clouding your vision. Perhaps! :-)

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          • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

            that isn’t much of a counterargument, aaronf.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 1, 2013 at 9:08 am

          Aaronf,

          If political will exists to reconfigure the lanes on a major freight route, then it’s possible to make it happen. There are exceptions to that law, and we have an Oregon Transpo Commission and Governor’s office that are very open to more modern transportation policies.

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          • aaronf October 1, 2013 at 9:24 am

            Yes, if political will existed we could build almost anything, practical or not. “Political Will” is a tough concept if you are trying to establish some sort of causality (so you can blame someone). If there was more Political Will, I bet Tell would be doing the tunnels right now, cutting a ribbon or whatever. But there isn’t that much Political Will, apparently. So, is that Tell’s fault? Is this a special case where Tell has misjudged the Political Will, or made an exception? Help me out here.

            Also, even if you don’t address my original point, I’m glad you’re reading the comments. I don’t see why you want to become a Lefty Lars Larson, pardon the hyperbole, who tells mostly just one side of a story, emotionally. Don’t you think it will get harder and harder to get interviews with (or even identify!) people who are serious about improving the city?

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            • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

              I don’t see why you want to become a Lefty Lars Larson, pardon the hyperbole, who tells mostly just one side of a story, emotionally. Don’t you think it will get harder and harder to get interviews with (or even identify!) people who are serious about improving the city?

              aaronf,

              I appreciate your comments and I take them to heart.

              That being said, I think your assessment of me is off a bit. I have not told only one side of the story. This post is about 1,000 words of ODOT’s story and I’ve covered every part of this story from both sides of the debate.

              Obviously I think ODOT is wrong and — as is common here on BikePortland — my opinion does leak into my posts from time to time. That being said, my stories are accurate and fair and are based on the actions and words of the individuals involved.

              This isn’t about me. This isn’t about Jason Tell. He is the top person at ODOT in this region, so I must feature his perspective prominently.

              Again, I don’t think I have been unfair to Jason at all. I have known him for many years and I like to think we have a good rapport. Will this post bother him? Perhaps. But I felt it needed to be published and I am not going to shy away from sharing my opinion about issues when I feel it can be done fairly.

              As for making it harder to “get interviews”.. You are correct that by taking positions and publishing stories like this it does become somewhat harder to get people to speak candidly about things. But that a risk/challenge that comes with the territory.

              I/we are trying to figure out the way this site can have the most impact. I am tired of the foot-dragging and lack of action to match the lofty rhetoric from these agencies. I have tried to remain positive and not upset the apple cart but frankly, I’m not sure that method is the one that will have the most impact.

              Thanks for your comments, this stuff is important to me.

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          • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm

            “If political will exists to reconfigure the lanes on a major freight route, then it’s possible to make it happen. …” maus/bikeportland

            Ah–h-h yes-s-s-s. The little item of political will to remove a main lane on Barbur Blvd and replace it with a bike lane, needing to exist before that idea can move forward.

            Where is that will, and how is it come by. If anyone outside of what yet seems to be a rather small group of people in Portland, care about Barbur not being very amenable to biking and walking, that could help build some political will to make such a change to Barbur.

            So ask yourselves: ‘Is this kind of change to Barbur, something that anyone outside of Portland, actually…people in neighborhoods adjoining Barbur…would feel a great need to make?’.

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            • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm

              (1) bikeportland (today) is chock full of examples of this, wsbob.

              (2) sometimes you just have to get out in front of public opinion and do what is sensible. I’m sure not everyone was in favor of getting rid of Harbor Drive at the time either, or of Pioneer Square instead of the damn parking garage.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 1, 2013 at 9:14 am

      aaronf wrote:

      So what you’re suggesting is… perhaps Tell is incredibly stupid, and holds absolute, black/white views on transportation safety. Seems doubtful, and a bit insulting.

      No. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Please don’t put words into my mouth. I made that comment to point out that Tell has purposely written that crash data is a top priority for consideration of the road diet and then he pointed out that there has been no reported crashes. While not saying it directly, I think it was worthwhile to point out that by framing his position in that way, he is trying to make the case that Barbur is not unsafe enough to warrant urgency advocates and others are giving this project.

      Perhaps Tell believes that among the hundreds of projects in the SW corridor plan, this one isn’t ready for prime time yet.

      Again. This project has nothing to do with the SW Corridor Plan… other than the fact that ODOT is trying to connect the two in order to have leverage to not move forward with it. The idea/concept/push for a road diet was created/developed before and outside the SWC plan. That’s my opinion.

      I hope anyone who is confused or upset takes the time to read Tell’s letter. Many of his compelling arguments are unfairly ignored in this summary, in my opinion.

      I disagree. I linked to the PDF twice so folks could read the entire thing and I think I mentioned almost every aspect of his argument.

      Perhaps Tell would be more willing to grant an interview to the less-inflammatory M. Anderson…

      Perhaps.

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      • aaronf October 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        JMaus wrote:
        “I made that comment to point out that Tell has purposely written that crash data is a top priority for consideration of the road diet and then he pointed out that there has been no reported crashes. While not saying it directly, I think it was worthwhile to point out that by framing his position in that way, he is trying to make the case that Barbur is not unsafe enough to warrant urgency advocates and others are giving this project.”

        I have no problem with Tell suggesting Barbur “is not unsafe enough to warrant urgency advocates and others are giving this project.” I think he stated that (reasonable?) position more clearly himself than your (sort of sarcastic?) suggestion. I’m rereading “Perhaps Tell believes the lack of reported crashes means there’s no safety risk at all,” and I still think it reads like a jab, and am not sure if you made the point the way you wanted to. Tell points out that they recently finished a project where folks WERE actually dying. It’s not enough to say “we want this!” Demonstrate that it is the Most Effective use of limited resources. As pointed out here (and perhaps obliquely by Tell), if the city was going to start maintaining their own highways for the sake of livability, 82nd or Lombard or Macadam might be better candidates. That’s a hurdle someone has to clear.

        JMaus wrote:

        “Again. This project has nothing to do with the SW Corridor Plan… other than the fact that ODOT is trying to connect the two in order to have leverage to not move forward with it. The idea/concept/push for a road diet was created/developed before and outside the SWC plan. That’s my opinion.”

        The foundations of your opinion are very important here. Do any other projects in the SWC plan have roots that go back further than this specific program? Your assignment of a (sort of nefarious) motivation for ODOT’s grouping of Barbur into the plan is unfortunate, imho. It’s also unfounded considering you can’t read ODOT’s mind, right? That’s the sort of “putting words in someone’s mouth” that you don’t appreciate, and is unproductive here. Is there a story I missed where you laid out your reasoning for these assumptions?

        “I think I mentioned almost every aspect of his argument.”

        I’ll treat this as a can of worms you opened, not me. :-) I promise to write something nice at the end.

        The one that bummed me out the most was where Tell addressed the differences of opinion on how much impact a road diet would have. For me it read like a direct response to your two articles on the subject. I can’t cut/paste the pdf, so I’ll say, last paragraph of the first page addresses the issue by saying that while estimates vary, everybody agrees that neighboring roads will be impacted, and traffic will be slowed to some degree. This dovetails his 3rd Road Diet Consideration: impact on neighboring roads.

        You left out the detail about how Barbur is currently used several times each month to deal with I-5 closures, which would be much uglier using a 1 lane Barbur.

        Tell’s list of 4 considerations: you just address the first, because you say it is most important because it was listed first. You’re reaching here, since, if they were all equally important, one would still have to go first. The other 3 look pretty important, and worth consideration, imho. Don’t assign meaning to another’s actions/statement unless you have the psychic powers, right?

        I don’t feel that your “final note” does Tell’s argument justice at all, re: transferring the road to PBOT. I would have given a different background, the way Tell did, explaining how we got in this mess, slowly, over time, in the first place, as dense development was allowed along “Highways.” It’s not as if there was ever a clear day where anyone could say “OK, this was a highway, but now it isn’t. Everybody who depends on using this road for a commercial throughfare should go a different way.” I’m quibbling here, because you did technically mention the aspect. I think a more evenhanded assessment of what a cluster the whole thing is would have been more productive than quibbling about whether “BTA and others” requested the project get a “Advance to Go, collect $500″ card or whether it was just “others” who have made that request, as they have on this site.

        If I was going to give your article a subtitle, I’d consider “Jason Tell wrote a letter explaining why we aren’t getting what I want, and here are my criticisms of it.” The article is almost entirely focused on criticism of folks who will certainly have to be at least part of the solution, and then laced with unfounded suggestions that ODOT isn’t really operating in good faith.

        I appreciate that you are a full time activist, and that you live in a bit of an advocacy bubble. I live in a different bubble. I know that you want to make the site better, and imho, it has gotten much better. Example: your response to my criticism seems to be much more open than in the past. I want you to make the site better too. I know it’s hard to tell the diff between someone sincerely trying to help a situation, and someone who is just picking for problems. That’s my main point here. If you made more of an effort to tell the other side of this story here, you would give everyone involved a signal that you want to be involved in a constructive conversation. Also, your readers would be better informed. It’s apparent (to me at least) from the comments that some people here think that this wouldn’t be an issue at all if “the suits” at ODOT weren’t all stuffy old carheads. Obviously it isn’t that simple. We both know it. You could help with that.

        Thanks for all the hard work. I think it is really paying off.

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        • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm

          Nice post, aaronf.

          “this wouldn’t be an issue at all if ‘the suits’ at ODOT weren’t all stuffy old carheads. Obviously it isn’t that simple.”
          I’ll accept that criticism.
          I don’t mean to suggest it is ‘that simple.’ But I stand by my assertion that this all would be easier, less acrimonious, more productive if they weren’t. :-)

          You make valid points that these communiques can be read in different ways. And that we bring our own biases along when we interpret others’ words. And you aren’t exempt from that. But at the end of the day, plenty of smart people have chosen to weigh in on these lively conversations about Barbur Blvd which Jonathan has kicked off who point out that there are win-win solutions here if ODOT had the institutional capacity to recognize them.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm

          Thanks again for taking time to help me get better at this Aaron. I’m always learning and I got my degree in advocacy journalism right here in these comments over the past 8 years ;-).

          You make some good points here, all of which I am aware of given that I have weaved this treacherous line of advocacy/activist/journalist so many times. Part of the issue going on is that my style of reporting is much different than what you might expect from a more traditional reporter. And my style of advocacy is much different than what you might expect from a traditional advocate. I have my own style that I realize causes concern/confusion/annoyance for some people.

          Am I taking jabs at Jason Tell? Am I being mean to ODOT? I wouldn’t put it that way, but I am not afraid to say that I am disappointed in their decisions around this project thus far. And given that it’s impossible for me to separate that disappointment from my writing, it shows up in some of the ways you’ve detailed above (quite an astute analysis too, it will make me better at this in the long run).

          As for telling the other side of the story.. I’m not sure I understand you on that. We have detailed ODOT’s position since Day One and as of right now, they are the only “other side” to this debate. I can update you that we have filed a public records request with ODOT to find out which stakeholders object to the road diet. Once we find out that information, we can tell more of the other side. I’ll also add that throughout the history of this site, I’m really proud of having highlighting “the other side” many times and at great length. Whether it was detailed reporting about the concerns people had on the Williams project, embracing the perspective of Bob Huckaby (the moving company owner who was going to do a statewide ballot initiative to license/register bike riders), publishing the perspective of a freight advocate following a fatal collision involving a semi, and so on.

          Again. Thanks for your feedback. It makes me better at my job.

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          • Aaronf October 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm

            I want to point out that I’m usually astute, but when I’m a jerk about it I usually don’t get so much thoughtful dialogue for my troubles. Hi ho.

            Sometimes when detailing the arguments of folks who you disagree with, you follow their assertions with counter arguments which I don’t think you would stress as much if you agreed with the positions. Origen rigorously provides the position of Celsus in “Against Celsus” but it’s not logical to conclude that he did so to be fair. He used Celsus’ points to construct an argument against them. I think you do that sometimes. Hard to tell exactly when, of course.

            I know it isn’t impossible for you to keep your own opinion to yourself. I remember the Huckaby interview having a very neutral tone, even though Huckaby is, ahem, probably making less reasonable arguments than Tell. I know you are a big believer in the power of language. When I see you write about the issues in your writing which bother some of your readers, it seems like you almost always use passive language, like the angry/sarcastic tone, or one sided argumentation that makes appearances in your more passionate advocacy pieces just “is” and “seeps in” as if you aren’t in control of your style of argumentation. If I’m arguing with my wife and I make little effort to show any empathy, it is unlikely she will receive my argument very charitably. I can either throw up my hands and say “it just seeps in” or I can blame the man in the mirror for his part in the situation. The variable I can impact most.

            Honestly, I have no idea how I would do your job, as you have constructed it. The good news is, you are your own boss! Back to work for me… But. If you are serious about saving the world (I’d guess Yes) I beg you to read Consilience by E. O. Wilson. Very readable, practical, well argued book about how sciences and advocacy groups and other bubbles of thought will need a much improved communication network if we are ever going to make intelligent, thoughtful policy positions based on humanity’s future self interest. I’d be very interested in your take.
            Cheers!

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            • q`Tzal October 1, 2013 at 5:54 pm

              HEY EVERYONE!
              You see what happened up there?
              The preceding discussion was a civil argument about differing opinions.

              Let’s all try to behave this way in the future.

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  • AndyC of Linnton October 1, 2013 at 8:27 am

    So.
    ODOT is the organization that is holding Portland back from making bold steps for active transportation then, yes?
    I know it’s probably not so black-and-white, but it is certainly starting to look like ODOT is a major blockade for movement off the teat of automobile in the city environment.
    Good luck, PBOT.

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    • Aaronf October 1, 2013 at 8:40 am

      The problem is that some highways (Tell calls them “orphan highways”) are running through dense parts of town, and no longer only serve “highway” functions. ODOT has suggested that the city could “have” the road, but then maintenance won’t be paid for by the state budget. Not sure there are any villains here. Just competing interests.

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  • TOM October 1, 2013 at 10:28 am

    >>”There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”

    that’s essentially the same argument that the City tried to make with me when I asked for help with the Boy Racers on Main St.

    paraphrasing: Well, nobody has ever been killed there , therefore it MUST NOT be a problem.

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  • Don Baack October 1, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I know there was at least one crash on one of the two bridges that went to court over financial issues, a friend was a witness to it. I do not know if it made it into the ODOT crash record.

    I think it is clear both bicycles and motor vehicles would be far safer if we had 1. A road diet or 2. A reversable 3rd lane or 3. Two new bike and pedestrian bridges over the Vermont and Newbury (Iowa) gullies. The rough estimate of the two bridges, both would be around 100 feet high was $12 or $13 million last time ODOT gave us numbers.

    ODOT does nomt want to take $13 million out of their already over committed highway funds. I see them trying to push this to the SW Corridor funding category to get the funds from another pot, and in 10 or 20 years from now when it will be someone else having to deal with it.

    I think we need to focus our attention on our legislative representatives and COP Commissioners to get theses bridges funded immediately (that means in 2-5 years) with funds that ODOT would otherwise spend elsewhere. The last session earmarked some transportation funds for East Portland, as did the prior session with the Dundee Bypass.

    Don Baack

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    • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 11:36 am

      “The rough estimate of the two bridges, both would be around 100 feet high was $12 or $13 million last time ODOT gave us numbers.”

      Right. Another way to discourage anything proactive, good for biking.

      Four clear acrylic tubes 8′ in diameter, and some strapping. Cantilever them over the sides, two for each bridge. I bet it wouldn’t cost more than a million $. Could be a great crowdfunded thing too. A stick in ODOT’s eye.

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    • 9watts October 1, 2013 at 11:38 am

      Maybe BES even has some suitable lengths of pipe left over from the Big Pipe project? That could be even cheaper.

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    • Peter W October 1, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Great analysis, Don.

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  • Kristen October 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I find the language Tell uses interesting.

    He very pointedly and repeatedly points out that Barbur Blvd is also Highway 99W. It’s a highway. It’s a state highway. But above all, it’s a HIGHWAY.

    It’s not just Barbur Blvd, not just an arterial, not just a connector between the City of Portland and the SW Suburbs. It’s a Highway.

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    • wsbob October 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      “… But above all, it’s a HIGHWAY. …” Kristen

      Exactly. Wishful thinking doesn’t change that.

      Growth in population of adjoining neighborhoods may work to bring about a change in the roads status though, i.e., if more people living in neighborhoods near the road expressed that they wanted the road to be devoted to use by biking and walking.

      Talking about highways dominating, as some people reading here know, Beaverton has two big ones, running right down the center of town. Safer than Barbur to walk, bike or cross, but still a major drag…no pun intended…for those purposes. The city wants money to ‘calm’ those highways. Failed to qualify for a 10 mil federal grant to do it. Haven’t yet heard exactly why. Point is, desirable as they may be to some people, it’s not easy to bring about these kinds of changes to highways.

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      • q`Tzal October 2, 2013 at 1:40 am

        It’d be real easy if they’d install unmanned speed cameras every ¼mile, both ways, and issued tickets mercilessly to everyone. The road would last longer just from the people that would swear off ever driving Barbur again.
        Oh, and it would be safer.

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        • Barbara October 2, 2013 at 8:48 am

          Except that they are not allowed in Oregon (only for red lights I think). They have to be manned. Something I never understood. They would help so much with speed compliance without draining police resources. They are pretty standard in Germany (and probably mst ther European countries) and do help a lot in notorious street sections.

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          • q`Tzal October 2, 2013 at 10:28 am

            So the solution is to change the law not say it’s impossible.

            This and other areas need enforcement but no one can afford manned enforcement. It is patently Ludditical that we refuse to use technology to solve this simple problem.

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        • wsbob October 2, 2013 at 10:45 am

          On the highways in Beaverton I mentioned, as often is the case elsewhere, some people do drive over the speed limit. What might be said to be the larger barrier to effectively ‘calming’ traffic on these highways like these, is that they really are…highways…at least parts of it set with a 40 mile speed limit, right through town. Not neighborhood streets or boulevards, but highways…as I understand it, under the jurisdiction of the county.

          The dilemma people wanting to use Barbur Blvd for active transportation, face, bears some similarity to Beaverton’s dilemma with the highways running through town: the situation of an outside jurisdiction feeling compelled to sustain certain motor vehicle traffic volumes and speeds that are counter to basic needs of some of the people within a local jurisdiction.

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  • Don Baack October 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    CITY SWAPS WITH ODOT

    The only state highway swap that I am aware of was the deal then Commissioner Blumenhaeuer brokered trading the ownership and maintenance of Beaverton Hillsdale Highway from Capitol Highway to 65 th for ODOT’s building Terwilliger bridge over I 5 and improvements to Bertha Blvd in 1989 – 1991. BH Hwy still needs sidewalks for much of its length, and water quality improvements.

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  • Greg October 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    aaronf
    So what you’re suggesting is… perhaps Tell is incredibly stupid, and holds absolute, black/white views on transportation safety. Seems doubtful, and a bit insulting.

    I find your twisting of another’s statement insulting. I wouldn’t respond nearly as thoughtfully as JM did.

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    • q`Tzal October 1, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Sadly we live in a world where even if we all spoke the same language 5 people can reasonably interpret something 1 person said a minimum of 5 different ways; often more when they stop to think about it.

      Clarity of communication is the burden of the speaker or author NOT the listener or reader.
      Disagreements about the “True Meaning©” of the written word have historically been the cause of history’s bloodiest wars.
      You may not like or agree with aaronf’s interpretation of JM but he has every right to be wrong as does JM.

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