MLK/Grand couplet has degraded the bicycle
network on the central eastside. That’s one of many
reasons we need smarter planning in this area.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
One of the most important neighborhoods in Portland, the central eastside industrial area, is changing fast and the City of Portland is looking for help to nudge the changes in the right direction.
As tech startups remodel warehouses and the new streetcar and MAX lines bring more housing, offices and retail into the area between the Willamette River, SE 12th Avenue, Interstate 84 and SE Powell, the city is updating its plan for the area and looking for stakeholders to join the Southeast Quadrant Plan Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
Members must “be able to commit 4-6 hours every month, which includes preparing for and attending monthly meetings (typically held in the evening), and attend workshops, charrettes and community involvement events,” according to the city’s application website. Applications are due Oct. 3.
The existing LOS standards and measures, which focus only on motor vehicle levels of service, do not reflect the City of Portland’s current practice which emphasizes and promotes a multimodal approach to transportation planning and providing transportation services.
— From the City of Portland RFP
If you or any of your friends are transportation wonks, then you already know how powerful “level of service” (LOS) standards are. For the uninitiated, LOS is a measurement tool used by traffic engineers and planners to grade how a road or intersection “performs” in terms of traffic flow. If vehicles roll through without delay, the road performs well and gets an “A” LOS grade, if vehicles screech to a standstill and traffic backs up, the section of roadway gets an “F”. (I’m sure someone in the comments can give a more accurate/nuanced definition.)
The issue comes up in nearly every transportation project that includes bicycle access — because as cities make room for better bicycling, they are bound by these LOS standards to make sure a new design doesn’t lower the LOS of a particular street. Recall the considerable heartburn PBOT engineers faced on the N Williams Avenue project as they pondered whether or not they would endorse a one standard lane cross-section for the entire project. PBOT traffic engineer Rob Burchfield wanted to honor the communities desires for a cross-section that would tame auto traffic; but he said the City had to “make sure we have adequate capacity for the volume of traffic we expect,” and that, “there are some pass/fail criteria,” — LOS standards — they had to work with. That’s just one example.
The City of Portland announced a collaboration with IBM today to “better understand the dynamic behavior of cities.”
The initiative is part of IBM’s Smarter Cities project that looks to use computer modeling and data analysis to inform city planning and policies. Or, as IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano puts it, “Thanks to supercomputers, we can turn mountains of data into insight.”
(Concept drawing by Phil Goff)