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Bike lanes on W Burnside? Adams unveils new couplet concepts

Posted by on June 22nd, 2011 at 2:10 pm

One of the two new options revealed by Mayor Adams today includes 10-foot bike lanes on W Burnside.


Portland Mayor Sam Adams has made a major announcement outlining his “next steps” for the West Burnside-Couch Couplet project.

Given the controversy that has surrounded this project for nearly a decade, Adams announced today that he’s considering a new direction and that he won’t pursue a streetcar-laden, $80 million plan that PBOT proposed back in 2007. That plan — and the Couplet idea in general — has spurred sharp push-back from critics and even an organized opposition movement.

Cross section detail.

On his blog today, Adams says the 30,000 vehicles per day street has been a “dysfunctional, unsafe, high-traffic speedway” for decades. Still hoping to “humanize” the street, Adams now says, “If we are going to move forward with a couplet proposal, it will be the “stripped-down” version.” That version (PDF of plans here) would cost $18 million and Adams says he has support from over 50% of Burnside business owners to make it happen (it would be paid for through a Local Improvement District assessment tax.)

In addition to that proposal, Adams unveiled to new concepts today (in response to FOIA requests from The Oregonian).

The “Hybrid” would be what Adams refers to as a “Burnside-only” approach (leaving Couch untouched):

Detail of “Hybrid” concept at Burnside and 4th.
Download PDF for full plan=

The “Hybrid” concept reduces West Burnside to three traffic lanes between 4th and 19th Avenues. This provides left-turn opportunities at 3rd, 4th, 5th, Broadway, 9th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th, which could be extremely helpful to business in the corridor. Removing a travel lane and portions of the existing median islands (existing trees would be moved) might also create an opportunity to add some combination of wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and parking to this section.

And the “Skinny Couch” concept would keep eastbound traffic on Burnside and reduce Couch to one lane:

Detail of “Skinny Couch” showing Couch at 10th.
Download large JPG file for more detail

The “Skinny Couch” couplet, is a variation on the original couplet design. In this concept, Burnside would carry eastbound traffic and Couch would carry westbound traffic. However, the Couch half of the couplet would be reduced to one lane between Broadway and 14th. The intent of “skinnying” Couch would be to reduce the traffic volumes moving through this section of Couch, preserving the pedestrian-friendly qualities of the street.

Adams says he’s now looking for feedback on these proposals over the next three to six months. If consensus develops around a single proposal, he says “we will work to move the proposal forward.” If no consensus emerges, Adams will make his own recommendation to council.

To give you a sense of how Adams sees this project, here’s his list of problems that need to be fixed:

  • Traffic speeds make it difficult for pedestrians to cross the street in many places, giving it the highest concentration of pedestrian crashes in Portland.
  • With few left turns allowed, Burnside drivers must circle the block in a series of turns to reach their destination, unnecessarily burning gas and gridlocking adjacent streets;
  • Businesses located on or near Burnside suffer from lack of left-turn access for customers arriving by car; and,
  • Bicycles lack safe accommodation as they come into downtown across the Burnside Bridge

This will be an important project to watch. Read Adams’ full blog post here.

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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Byron
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Byron

Not sure I understand your diagrams with the PDF you link to. It appears the PDF does not have the couplet nor some of the other things. It does make it better for bikes but it does remove lanes of traffic. Could you explain your diagrams and how they came from the plan?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Byron,

sorry for any confusion. I am not an expert on this project, so that might be part of the problem. But I’ve just done some edits that might clarify things.

Essentially, Adams revealed two options. The first is the “hybrid” and “burnside only” approach that would leave Couch as is. the other is “skinny couch” which is billed as a “variation on the original couplet design” that would reduce couch to one lane.

does that help?

Byron
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Byron

Now I understand. Maybe I can’t read as well as I thought. Can’t we make them car-free? 😉

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

we *maybe* can after a feelings poll. but not likely.

Joe C
Guest
Joe C

Give it another 10-20 years.

Amy Ruiz
Guest

Quick clarification – there are three options on the table now (sorry if our blog post was a bit confusing; I’ve updated it to name all three explicitly). The “Hybrid” and “Skinny Couch” options as you laid out, Jonathan, and the “Basic Couplet” (the roughly $18m option supported by 50%+ West Burnside property owners).

Don
Guest
Don

Yesssss!

BURR
Guest
BURR

I completely agree with the Better Burnside Alliance, the West Burnside / Couch couplet is a bad idea. The only thing it’s good for is moving more cars in and out of Portland and it will totally ruin NW Couch.

BURR
Guest
BURR

All those curb extensions will make this area a nightmare for cyclists.

are
Guest

near as i can tell, the buffered bike lane is to the left of parking through park, so curb extensions should not be much of an issue. west of park apparently there are no bike lanes at all, so if you are on the road you will be in a travel lane, again no problem with curb extensions.

BURR
Guest
BURR

curb extensions preserve curbside parking, force cyclists into traffic when they otherwise might not need to be, eliminate important escape routes for cyclists, and occupy space that could otherwise be used for bicycle infrastructure.

Andrew Seger
Guest
Andrew Seger

Whoa the hybrid 3 lane Burnside actually has buffered bike lanes?! Really hope this one pulls through. Hopefully the addition of left turn lanes will sway business owners into keeping this project alive.

NF
Guest
NF

I dig the hybrid design! I know portland traffic engineers have a thing for couplet streets, but I’m not convinced that they are beneficial to commercial districts in general. The best neighborhood main streets in Portland are two-way.

Alex
Guest
Alex

Let’s retire the name “Skinny Couch” immediately, unless we’re looking for a new name for Mary’s Club.

Tim w
Guest
Tim w

It also seems to be a variation of the term “loveseat”.

was carless
Guest
was carless

I think the Hybrid option has a lot of potential… I was kind of skeptical about the whole couplet project back when it was first thought up, but I’ve definitely changed my mind.

For those who claim that adding a new couplet downtown will destroy it: virtually every other street downtown, save 13th and Naito, is also a 1-way. Plus, this hybrid option is NOT a 1-way street.

Talk about a road diet! I just wonder if maintaing 2-way traffic will prevent a smooth flow of traffic, one of the reasons they looked at the original 1-way couplet design.

Plus, really digging the bike lanes.

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

I feel that Couch could use a boost. Plus, it always irked me that Burnside breaks the 15mph-timed, traffic light sequence from the rest of the downtown grid. You could be making green lights via bicycle from NW to SW and have Burnside through off the pace. I never liked that about couriering in the downtown. A couplet would hopefully rectify this and make both Couch and Burnside more easily utilized via bike.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

The traffic changes in both concepts are very complex. Will the turn lanes be signaled? The bike lanes are fine, but on West Burnside, they only go from 2nd to Park Ave.

The ‘Skinny Couch’ concept has traffic moving back and forth from one side of the street to the other. Adds big curb extensions. Visualizing from the graphics, what traveling the street configured this way might be…it seems more dangerous than it currently is.

“…The intent of “skinnying” Couch would be to reduce the traffic volumes moving through this section of Couch, preserving the pedestrian-friendly qualities of the street. …” maus/bikeportland’

That is, skinnying Couch between Broadway and 14th. How do the people that formulated this idea, envision this reduction will occur? Do they figure people traveling the street in motor vehicles and on bikes will decide to take alternative routes once they understand the two lanes to one lane switcheroo?

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

Not to defend evil incarnate, but… where will all the cars go that presently use the 2 through lanes on Burnside? This is a 50% cut. All for right-sizing streets where excess capacity exists, but this is sorta nuts. Don’t touch Couch, it is one of the best streets in downtown for walking. Im’s guessing there are probably more accidents on lower Burn from all the dumb dunks teetering from Thirsty Lion to Barracuda. Put them in cages.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I’m not in favor of messing with couch, but it’s been shown again and again that when you remove capacity from car systems the cars just disappear. People either don’t make the trip or find a different way of getting there. It seems like magic and yet it works. Excess capacity=how much street we really feel like giving over to the car. Every time I’m in LA I really enjoy going to an overpass of I-405 and watching the traffic.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I agree with you. There is no way they are going to reduce Burnside to two through lanes. Like it or not, Burnside is a major arterial, and at no point west of 39th or east of forest park is it less than two lanes in each direction. Reducing it to one lane downtown would be silly. There is plenty of room for two westbound lanes on Couch and two eastbound lanes with a westbound and eastbound cycle track on Burnside.

John Russell (jr98664)
Guest

The bike lanes up to Park look great, but I have to wonder why they’ve decided to end them there and instead have a parking lane for the the rest of the distance heading west. Seeing as there’s not already parking there, I don’t see why it needs to be put in (I can see why businesses might want it though) when the bike lanes could easily be continued instead. Two 11′ lanes, a 12′ turn lane and two 5′ bike lanes would work just fine, I would think.

Additionally, I wonder if some money could be saved on the stretch with the median by extending both sidewalks by 4′ instead of just the north one by 8′. That way, no trees would have to be moved, and the median could stay relatively untouched.

BURR
Guest
BURR

the City interprets the Park Blocks as the Parking Lot Blocks.

The Park Blocks should be completely closed to through motor vehicles and parking from the Post Office to PSU; bicycles and pedestrians only.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

I also wondered about provision for on-street parking west of Park to I-405, and would like to hear an answer about it from one of the engineers associated with the concept.

A key reason the bike lanes end at Park Ave continuing west, may be the reduction of ROW width from 100′ to 60′. Maybe not though. The whole thing is so complex, it’s very hard to figure out how it’s all supposed to work in a way that’s better than the way it currently works.

Burnsides’ biggest problem has been efforts to jam on to it, too many cars traveling too fast on the street. Whether any of the three concepts will really do much to resolve that basic problem is hard to see. Even 18 million is a lot of money. It’s work for some people.

Allen
Guest
Allen

Burnside has always been a major east west street that bisects the city and why can’t we just leave it that way. Wrong answer to push all westbound traffic through Couch. These plans ruin two streets: Burnside and Couch. Why can’t we just save the $18 M for something that really makes sense?

indy
Guest
indy

I say that Portland should focus on couch as a major east/west arterial and make Couch car-free on both sides of the river. Rename it :CycleCouch or something cute (or not) and dedicate it to bikes alone. It is already a major east side arterial for bikers.

alex
Guest
alex

i ride burnside every day and i think it should be left as is. it is a necessary arterial for moving vehicles in and out of downtown. not every street needs to have bike lanes installed. i do not believe that separation makes us safer, but getting drivers used to the given that there will be bike (legally) in the roadway. take the lane or choose a lower traffic street (like couch) if you are not comfortable.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

I’m afraid that most commenters are unaware of one of the primary rationales for the original plan: To produce a better pedestrian environment on West Burnside. Specifically, the section of Burnside west of Park, where the ROW narrows to 60 feet, and the sidewalks narrow from 12′ to 8′. At 8′ from curb to property line, they are wide enough for two people to pass, but that’s it. Streetlights are placed back by the building so they won’t get hit. There’s no room for street trees. Plus, there isn’t even the buffer of a lane of parked cars, like on Hawthorne Blvd’s 9′ walks.

The original plan came up with a way to be able to widen the Burnside sidewalks (park to 14th, anyway), to 12′, equal to most of the Pearl District’s walks, as well as put parking on both sides of Burnside to provide further buffer for pedestrians, and benefit some businesses. Having parking there also makes the sidewalk pleasant enough that more businesses might consider opening their doors on Burnside.

The trade-off, of course, was more traffic on Couch. However, every intersection would be signalized, so crossing Couch for pedestrians would be relatively easy.

The “stripped-down” Couplet leaves the Burnside sidewalks at 8 feet (Park-14th), does have the parking, but wastes space on wide motor vehicle travel lanes. Theoretically, the sidewalks could be widened later.
The Hybrid version has 8′ walks with traffic right next to them on the north side, every bit as bad as the current situation (but at least the south 8′ sidewalk is buffered by parked cars)
The Skinny Couch will probably be vetoed by traffic engineers, and would have to be politically overruled on the “disappearing traffic” grounds.

So, Sam has been secretly ginning up these plans for months now to spring them on the public? Thanks a lot.

Guy
Guest
Guy

I see bike lanes to the right of right turn lanes here. Not a good idea. Can you say right hook?
Why not just paint some sharrows and save some $$.