Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Opinion: Why we should care about ODOT’s I-5 Broadway/Weidler report

Posted by on December 15th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I-5 south where it
goes under NE Broadway.
(Photo © J. Maus)

I hope you’ve read my post yesterday about a report from ODOT on how they see the “problem” and potential “solutions” to bottlenecks along I-5 near the Broadway/Weidler interchange. This area is a key hub in Portland’s bikeway network: We must get this right.

With the N/NE Quadrant planning process kicking into high gear, this I-5 bottleneck issue — which has been studied by ODOT since the early 1980s — has found new life. Without a strong community voice about how to — or if we should — move forward, some of the shockingly highway-centric concepts in that report could gain traction.

That being said, I learned more about the report this morning from Steve Iwata, Planning Supervisor at the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPSS). Iwata is handling the Central City Plan for BPSS and he’s familiar with the report. Iwata confirmed that — contrary to my reporting on yesterday’s story — the concepts were actually developed in November 2007, but the report had remained an “internal working document” until being recently published to the web as part of the N/NE Quadrant planning process.

According to Iwata, the publication of these concepts was done to “Let people know we had done this work in the past but now we’re starting from scratch. There’s no official endorsement of any of the ideas.”

Iwata sees the report simply as a reference guide and that we are starting from a “blank slate” in figuring out how to (or if we should) fix the traffic issues on the freeway and surrounding streets. The report’s authors echo this sentiment in their preface (written last month), “…The following concepts are starting points – not an end.”

Looking at the four concepts, it’s hard for me to think we’re starting from a “blank slate.” “Starting points” — no matter how innocent they might sound — can have a huge impact on what solutions are ultimately arrived at. If we begin this discussion by looking at massive highway widening, displacement of buildings, new freeway ramps, and so on, are we really starting from a blank slate?

When I expressed to Iwata my concerns about the dangers inherent in making this report a “starting point” he said, “Your concerns are reflected by several members of our advisory group… Several people are a little suspicious… They see what’s going on with the CRC (Columbia River Crossing)…” [See the members of the Stakeholder Advisory Group here.]

Critics of the CRC are waging a fierce battle in large part because of the way the problem was initially defined. The definition of the problem and the narrative that planners set in the beginning have limited what solutions can be considered; and, some say, favor the solutions the DOTs have wanted to pursue all along.

Iwata says that he’s confident in the City’s relationship with ODOT staff on this project and that they’re approaching this from a community-based, “bottom-up” style as opposed to the more “top-down” style of ODOT’s CRC project staff.

Even with Iwata’s somewhat reassuring words, ODOT considers any slowdown on a major freeway to be an urgent problem and they’ll take any opportunity to fix it. How they fix this particular bottleneck remains to be seen; but if they choose the 1950s “Just make it wider!” approach, you can’t say I didn’t try to warn you.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Allan
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Allan

“ODOT considers any slowdown on a major freeway to be an urgent problem and they’ll take any opportunity to fix it.”

Jonathan- is this backed up by anything? Thx

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

In things we have read here “Speed limits and ODOT: A primer” and here “A view from other side of the “rogue wall” on 82nd” we have reason to believe that ODOT does prefer moving automotive traffic at high speeds to the detriment of any other users.

If we as citizens are to intelligently and effectively rebuff the “Pave the Planet” agenda that seemingly pervades DOTs then we need to know how to use their design criteria and constraints against them.

Does someone have an “Idiots Guide” to the guidelines that ODOT is using. This could be very useful in heading this off before it gathers momentum. Better than showing up yelling, crying and screaming profanity.

Ely
Guest
Ely

“any” opportunity? really? how about congestion pricing, tolls, mandatory HOV?

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

When I was a little kid, I read a story book where the whole country got paved over and everyone lived in RVs. I thought, that’s so silly….

Gregg Woodlawn
Guest

More lanes = more cars = more climate change.

Widen the lanes here and there will be more congestion down the road and more cars too.

Let’s keep it the way that it is. The bottleneck helps people choose public transit, bicycling, walking, or taking fewer/ shorter trips.

Allan
Guest
Allan

Certainly, widening things is not a viable solution. If widening creates this much resistance, isn’t narrowing the obvious conclusion?

Jackattak
Guest
Jackattak

I agree with Gregg Woodlawn. If you build freeways wider, motorists will simply fill them with their SUVs. We’ve seen it for decades (half a century, actually) and have leagues of data to point at.

That being the case, let’s play a little game with ODoT/PBot.

Instead of “building it wider” (the freeway, natch), let’s capitalize (like good Am’rkans) on my above colloquialism and build cycling/pedestrian facilities for 1% of the cost of the overall project.

Perhaps then people will see the new infrastructure and try to fill that up. At least then the only thing polluting the air would be the people and not their cars.

Spiffy
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Spiffy

the topic indicates you were going to tie this in with bicycles, but there’s no mention of it… I know a lot of these recent stories you’ve published are getting flak for not being bicycle related… I’m sure they are, somehow, but you’re not really getting that point across to the newbies (me)… a paragraph about the impact of the car-centric designs on bicycle routes in the area would be preferred… it’s bikeportland, there should always be something in the story about bikes or how they relate…

Perry Hunter
Guest
Perry Hunter

Paragraph One: “This area is a key hub in Portland’s bikeway network”…

Come on…It’s a transportation issue that obviously affects the bicyclists in the audience. Can you and the few others who are trying this tactic please let it go? Jonathan and his team are doing just fine.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Perry,

Thanks. But just FYI, I added that line after reading Spiffy’s comment.

Spiffy,

Thanks for the feedback. I always try to keep in mind that we have new readers that might not understand how certain stories impact bicycling.

Perry Hunter
Guest
Perry Hunter

Spiffy, Red Five and the rest did achieve one good thing – I finally got fired up enough to pony up for a subscription!

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

Well, putting aside the obvious “it’s his blog and he can write about whatever he wants,” point, I’d say this article is plenty relevant to bikes in Portland.

In talking about bike use in Portland, you pretty quickly find yourself immersed in larger issues of livability, placemaking, land use, and transportation. After all, most riding here is done not on dedicated bike infrastructure, but on a network of streets, through a variety of neighborhoods.

How well those neighborhoods work for biking and walking depend on funding choices and development priorites. Thinking about what could be the right choices naturally brings you to dwell on what seem like the wrong choices.

Development like this freeway widening and the CRC are the polar opposite of what works well for people who transport themselves via bike or foot. Even when, as in the case of the CRC, they throw a little bit of token bike and ped infrastructure into the mix, this kind of development is still a net loss for active transportation.

Beyond that, I think coverage of projects like these are especially interesting to those of us who are interested in active transportation because having gotten out of the habit of thinking of motorized transportation as an absolute necessity of life, we tend to see throwing so much money into the bottomless pit that is urban freeway development as glaringly, obviously, maddeningly WRONG. For whatever reason, that makes it interesting to read about. 🙂

Ray
Guest
Ray

It’s probably safe to say that at least 99.9% of bike trips between North/Northeast Portland and the central city pass through the study area. I don’t know that adding a lane to I-5 in each direction would in itself have much of an impact on cyclists, but the discussion of changes in the street network, freeway ramp, and local connectivity in general is extremely relevant to the bike community. Thanks for publicizing this planning effort, Jonathan.

SE Cyclist
Guest
SE Cyclist

Most people in this country consume much more transportation than those of other countries. Much of that has to do with the fact that our transportation system is underpriced. It costs almost nothing to drive relative to the impacts the driving has on the community. We would all make better decisions about our travels and the modes we used if driving costs were reflected in the price. (I’m in favor of increasing the gas tax by 50 cents a year for the next ten years as a way to get the price to what it should be.)

That said, not everyone can satisfy all their transportation needs by carpooling, bicycling, walking and public transit. Our transportation system has been growing more slowly than our population. We really do need some more facilities for all modes, including highways.

Clearly, we need to protect and enhance the bicycle system, but not every highway project is evil. For those people who really do need to make their trips by auto or the freight that moves by truck, don’t you want them on the freeways and arterials rather than on the local streets where we walk and ride?

I’m tired of the cut-through traffic in my neighborhood. If we don’t provide a reasonable amount of capacity on major facilities, we’ll only have more cut through traffic and frustrated, angry motorists. Let’s not oppose a big, expensive Rose Quarter fix just because. By all means, let’s make sure the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians are accounted for and really improved, but please don’t oppose just for the sake of opposition.

jim
Guest
jim

I would venture a guess that with the new construction, that new improved bikeways would be included, resulting in nicer bicycle facillities in the end, after putting up with more construction that is

are
Guest

the initial drawings do not show anything like what you suppose

jim
Guest
jim

It is really hard to argue against making the necessary improvements on I-5. It is just so bad, all those cars sitting there with their motors running , not moving, exhaust filling the air, not to mention just how dangerous this is right now and how many less people will get hurt after the improvements are made. Lets make it where cars can do their trips in 10 minutes instead of 30

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Yeah, wouldn’t it be great if people didn’t use their cars so much? Then there wouldn’t be nearly as many on the roads, the roads wouldn’t be full, and there wouldn’t be so much traffic congestion.

are
Guest

but let’s not include the interstate as part of the surface grid

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

If you “make it where cars can do their trips in 10 minutes instead of 30” what happens is that you encourage even more driving. Let it stay congested and people will find (and have found) other ways to get around. Once you make it easier to drive, people will revert back to driving and you have an even wider highway the same 30 minute trip, only now there are more lanes of traffic stalled.

Dan Hawk
Guest
Dan Hawk

I don’t really think this is how it works. I’d venture to say that most people’s decision on how to get around has little to nothing to do with congestion. It has to do with Things like expensive parking, gas and tolls When these things are priced appropriately for our economy it will encourage people to find other ways of getting around and as long as this stuff is cheap and subsidized, cars will win for most people because it is too easy.

jim
Guest
jim

should we be subsidizing max?

Red Five
Guest
Red Five

Where is the evidence that says more lanes automatically equal a higher volume of cars on the road? Can someone here point me to that information?

jim
Guest
jim

It’s simple math, if you need to move x amt of people crosstown you need x amt of lanes, otherwise its like a big city being placed inside a small city- doesn’t work

JR
Guest
JR

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand
http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Induced+Traffic
and for skeptics:
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/itfaq.htm
At what point do we turn away from a century of making motor vehicles and their special infrastructure toward something more useful? I vote for here and now.
The greenhouse gas goals and the active transportation goals of our city are in direct opposition to building more lane capacity.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Wow, and I thought the CRC would be the end of it….

I would love to see freight and public/active transit advocates get together under the banner of “toll it for non-freight!” Freight is really crucial to non-car-centric urban life. I’m able to walk across the street to buy my groceries because large trucks deliver them to the supermarket. Manufacturing employees can work in the city because trucks bring their goods around the country. That’s why freight and active/public transportation are natural allies against single-occupancy cars and SUVs in advocating for a livable, sustainable city.

It’s so sad to see cultural differences and the perception that single-occupancy cars and SUVs are politically untouchable keep freight and active/public transportation advocates fighting. Toll it, toll it, toll it!

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

JR

At what point do we turn away from a century of making motor vehicles and their special infrastructure toward something more useful?

At what point do we decide to stop investing obscene amounts of money on infrastructure that is serves only one mode?
A travel mode that will lose prevalence as petroleum becomes too expensive to use for anything other than the military fueling fighter jets?

Boston’s Big Dig (another highway boondoggle): A July 17, 2008 article in The Boston Globe stated, “In all, the project will cost an additional $7 billion in interest, bringing the total to a staggering $22 billion, according to a Globe review of hundreds of pages of state documents. It will not be paid off until 2038.”

Do we want to be paying off this “necessary” highway improvement long past its general usage?

Red Five
Guest
Red Five

I know that Portland is the center of the galaxy for some, but please pull your noses down long enough to realize that a good portion of vehicular traffic on I-5 is people passing through who don’t live here and just want to get through this little tax and spend mecca as quickly as possible.

I still don’t see where making a few improvements on the freeway is magically going to make a multitude of cars appear. Should any and all road improvements that are not 100% bike oriented cease to exist?

Then again, I could care less how long people sit on I-5 since I don’t have to deal with the freeway for my commute anyway. Enjoy!

are
Guest

people just passing through (a) do not need to pass through the center of a city and (b) do not need a lot of onramps and offramps.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Any “fix” to this problem will truly cost an obscene amount of money, and that comes out of everyone’s pocket whether the funding comes from the fed or local. Ultimately, this is not the bottleneck of real issue, that’s the CRC , and this one isn’t worth spending that much money on from a cyclist’s perspective or otherwise. If people who must live in Vancouver and work in Portland would find a way other than driving across the bridge to commute, the I-5 corridor in total would be considerably less congested during rush hour. Maybe ya’ll didn’t notice, but we’re in a “jobless recovery” from the “great recession,” and we don’t just have millions of dollars anymore to throw around at a whim. As far as I know, this overpass is structurally sound, and not in need of any fixing.

bramasoleiowa
Guest

If a 3rd lane is added to I-5 between I-84 and I-405, it should be a 24/7 HOV lane.
The idea situation would be to drop I-5 into a tunnel just north of the Vancouver-Broadway intersection and emerging between the railroad tracks and the Burnside Bridge. This would allow for development of the Quarter that is more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Looking into the future and thinking about what kind of city we want Portland to be, its clear the main agenda for a 50 year plan should be developing a “post freeway” city. Freeways wear out; some should never have been built. They should not be fixed or “improved.” They should be removed and replaced with commerce, housing and open space.

BURR
Guest
BURR

another vote for underground in a tunnel with no Broadway interchange at all

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Swap I-5 and I-405 beltway designations.

Meaning:
)) Don’t change any road surface.
)) Have the West side segment of the beltway re-designated as I-5
)) Have the East side segment of the beltway re-designated as I-405
)) Add signs prior to I-5 and I-405 split off at both ends explaining to out of town traffic, especially truckers, that the West side segment of the beltway is 4.2 miles and faster than the East side segment of the beltway which is 3.9 miles, slower and passes through several substandard spaced intersections.
)) Encourage through traffic to take the West side of the beltway.
)) Swap all the I-5 and I-405 shield sign placards on signs.
)) Work to have the current “problem area” 1st re-designated as a non-compliant interstate highway and further de-listed as an interstate highway so that PBOT can regulate the speed there until the user induced safety issue goes away.

With this technique more money would be spent on political maneuvering than wasted on unneeded “improvements”.

Distance measurements taken from paths drawn in Google Earth.