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BTA urges Portland city council to study traffic impacts of Barbur Blvd road diet

Posted by on October 1st, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Screen grab of BTA website.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has stepped up their effort to move the SW Barbur Blvd road diet proposal forward. Their chosen tactic is to urge the Portland City Council to pass a resolution next week that would begin a collaborative effort between PBOT, Metro and the Oregon Department of Transportation to perform a traffic impact study.

The BTA — who made a Barbur road diet a key focus of their Blueprint report — posted their “reasonable request” to Portland city commissioners on their website a few minutes ago. They are calling on specific resolution language (see it below) to be included in Council’s vote on the Southwest Corridor Plan that’s on the agenda next Wednesday (October 9th).

Here’s the resolution language:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Council directs staff to initiate a transparent and collaborative process with Metro and ODOT to study the Barbur lane diet option on SW Barbur Blvd. from Terwilliger to Hamilton. (SW Corridor Plan Projects #5006 & #1019)

And here are the two projects from the SW Corridor Plan that are referenced:

5006 – Barbur Lane Diet: Terwilliger to Capitol – Reduce number of northbound travel lanes on Barbur from Terwilliger to Capitol Highway (north) from two to one to reduce speed and improve safety. Adds bike lanes over W Newberry (sic) and Vermont bridges.

1019 – Barbur Lane Diet: Capitol to Hamilton (reduce northbound lanes from three to two with multi-modal improvements) – Reduce number of northbound lanes from three to two from Capitol Hwy (north) to 1/4 mile south of Hamilton to reduce speeds and improve safety, improve ped/bike crossing safety and add protected bike lanes.

Calling for a study might not seem like a big deal, but there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Or at least we think there is. Here’s our analysis…

The Portland City Council is set to vote on the Southwest Corridor Plan next week. The “Barbur Lane Diet” exists within that plan in two (slightly different) forms as project number 1019 and project number 5006. They’re two of about 75 projects currently under consideration in the plan, and they’re aren’t particularly high on the priority list. As we reported yesterday, ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell has already stated publicly that the Barbur Lane Diet project has already been “discussed” and it is “wasn’t chosen for early implementation.”

If the BTA succeeds in their plan at council next week, the road diet proposal could find new momentum because it would become a City of Portland priority, independent of the regional planning process (which is long-range and not very nimble). One of the issues plaguing the project right now is a disagreement over what would happen to traffic if new lane configuration was implemented. ODOT says their initial analysis of traffic data proves that the traffic impacts would be negative and significant. However, other expertsincluding a Metro traffic engineer — dispute ODOT’s framing of the analysis.

Addressing this debate in their action alert, the BTA writes: “Past efforts to study the impact of building safer bicycle lanes and places to walk have been decidedly inconclusive. There is nothing controversial about gathering information.”

It’s worth noting that PBOT, the president of Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Walks, the BTA, and many others feel that a Barbur road diet is a good idea and that it should move forward more quickly than the SW Corridor Plan allows. So far, no one has publicly stated their opposition to the idea, but ODOT says some “stakeholders” in the SW Corridor Plan process object to the proposal (we have filed a public records request with ODOT to find out which stakeholders are opposed).

“Past efforts to study the impact of building safer bicycle lanes and places to walk have been decidedly inconclusive. There is nothing controversial about gathering information”
— BTA Action Alert

This brings us back to the BTA’s action alert and the important City Council action on the SW Corridor plan next week. The Council’s vote on the plan is a standard step in the process; but the unexpected part is that in addition to a vote on the plan, they’ll be asked to pass a resolution with language specifically about the Barbur road diet.

Contrary to ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell’s characterization that the BTA wanted to speed up the road diet project outside of the SW Corridor Plan process, today we see that the BTA is not doing that. The BTA’s position is to prioritize a traffic study on the Barbur project as it exists within the plan. (UPDATE: According to the BTA, this move would make the road diet an explicit City of Portland priority, independent of the SW Corridor Plan).

Since a renewed push for a Barbur road diet began back in January, ODOT has deferred the discussion to the Southwest Corridor Plan. Some advocates and citizens in favor of the road diet (including the publisher of this website) are concerned that keeping the road diet idea solely within that plan would effectively kill the idea. There are two main reasons for this line of thought: The SW Corridor Plan is a long-range planning process set up to choose a high-capacity transit option in the corridor. Given the scope and cost of such major projects, construction isn’t expected to begin for 10-15 years. That’s too long, some say, given the clear and present safety issues that exist. The other reason people are skeptical of keeping the road diet in the SW Corridor Plan is that the process is by nature a regional process (the lead organization is our regional planning agency, Metro). That means that the steering committee that decides which projects get implemented includes mayors and other leaders from cities all throughout the region — some of whom have constituents who commute into Portland on Barbur and who favor keeping it as fast and wide (for cars) as possible.

The BTA knows that the debate on the road diet proposal can’t really get happen until everyone agrees on the traffic impact data. Given that some experts have already said that adding bike lanes to Barbur between (approximately) Terwilliger and Capitol Hwy wouldn’t have a significant negative impact on traffic capacity, it’s likely the study results will bear that out.

Then, with those study results in hand, PBOT, the BTA, and others would likely be in a better political position to push for the road diet.

The risk in this tactic by the BTA and PBOT is that instead of pushing to work on the Barbur road diet proposal outside of the SW Corridor Plan, they are advocating to work on it within the plan. While that’s more politically palatable (you can see how ODOT’s Jason Tell was eager to criticize the BTA for stepping out of the process), it means that the project could be subject to the timeline and regional interest constraints we detailed above.

(Note: I have learned since posting initially that the BTA is seeking to make projects #5006 ad 1019 explicit city priorities that can be worked on independently of the SW Corridor Plan process.)

Stay tuned for next week’s council meeting. We hear injured Barbur hit-and-run victim Henry Schmidt plans to testify.

UPDATE: Portland-based walking advocacy group Oregon Walks has penned a letter of support for this resolution. Read their letter here (PDF).

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Comments
  • Phil Richman October 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I will state again as I have stated many times before, project 5006 should be labeled as SW Miles to Capitol, rather than Terwilliger to Capitol. This mislabeling of the specifics implies that a lane reduction would be helpful from Terwilliger to the light at SW Miles/3rd Ave. Along this section there are separated sidewalks and bike lanes that only need some buffering. Reducing a lane in this short section of road could be seen and proven through tests as a fatal flaw. Traffic tends to back up at the light. Some residents along Terwilliger are therefore fearful that more vehicular traffic would be pushed onto Terwilliger.

    Thank you to the BTA for speaking up though! And of course Jonathan et al thanks for your continuing coverage of the issue.

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    • Alan Love October 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      I was confused by this too. The only section that really needs the diet is northbound just south of the first bridge to just after the merge with Capitol. Then drivers can get all 3 lanes back if that makes everyone feel better.

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  • Kiel Johnson October 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    If something doesn’t happen after all of this I’m going moving to Denmark.

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  • aaronf October 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    From this article:

    However, other experts — including a Metro traffic engineer {Referring here to Buczek} — dispute that analysis and say re-striping the roadway with one less standard lane and adding a bike lane wouldn’t have a negative impact auto capacity.

    From the previous article:

    “Buczek said the “correct” numbers, if any, came from a subsequent study by Metro and the City of Portland, using Synchro SimTraffic software, that found additional auto travel delays of about 10 percent by 2035.”

    “ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton responded Thursday to Buczek’s criticisms by saying that both projections predict auto delays.”

    I think you missed a nuance in your expert’s testimony. Given that current language for major ambulance/freight routes demands that capacity not be reduced without a Really Special reason, the 10% delay predicted by your sympathetic expert is very relevant.

    OK, should really be done commenting for the day. I’ve managed to get myself of the moderation list!

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  • JL October 1, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    If you check out the stretch with the bridges on google maps they have each direction down to one lane for road work.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Will P October 2, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Didn’t Metro and CoP just do a joint study on this? I believe JM/MA reported it two weeks ago when the low level engineers from from ODOT and Metro were bickering on whose spreadsheet was correct.

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    • Carl (BTA) October 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      Exactly. The joint study was inconclusive. The Metro report said that if the road diet was to be pursued, more study would be necessary. That is why we are asking for more study.

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      • Will P October 2, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        Thank you for clarification.

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  • David October 2, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Here’s what I emailed, if people are interested:

    We all know that Barbur is a dangerous road and not inclusive of all roadway users, leaving the most vulnerable–cyclists and pedestrians–in a tough spot.

    Look: nobody likes Barbur. It’s terrible to drive on. It’s terrible to bike on. It’s terrible to try to cross on foot. It’s time to change it, and it needs to happen now because people will keep dying on it.

    Please include the following language in the resolution adopting the SW Corridor Plan:

    THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Council directs staff to initiate a transparent and collaborative process with Metro and ODOT to study the Barbur lane diet option on SW Barbur Blvd. from Terwilliger to Hamilton. (SW Corridor Plan Projects #5006 & #1019)

    Recommended Thumb up 2

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