PBOT moves forward with N Michigan greenway project

Michigan (in red) is a popular
cut-through for Washington-bound
I-5 traffic.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is moving forward with a plan to create a new neighborhood greenway on North Michigan Avenue between N Fremont and Bryant Streets.

The aims of the project are to improve traffic conditions, make it more pleasant to walk and bike, and to reduce motor vehicle volumes and speeds. Another major issue PBOT hopes to solve with this project is all the traffic that uses Michigan as a cut-through for I-5 north when it backs up during evening rush-hour everyday.

PBOT’s main weapon to thwart the cut-through traffic (over half of which is Washington bound, see below) was a full median island on Rosa Parks at Michigan that would prevent left turns (onto the freeway on-ramp). However, that idea was shelved in favor of a partial median (which would still allow left turns) after some neighbors spoke out in opposition.

After hearing many complaints from residents about people from Washington using the street as a freeway cut-through, PBOT conducted a license plate count. In a two-hour study, the results overwhelmingly supported the anecdotal evidence. Not only is freeway cut-through traffic a problem, but on one block, the majority of cars were from Washington.

Here are results from the license plate count (taken from a two-hour time period of northbound Michigan traffic):

As part of this project, Michigan will receive all the standard treatments PBOT uses on neighborhood greenways, including speed bumps, marked crossings, curb extensions, new signage and markings, and so on.

To tackle the freeway cut-through problem, PBOT initially proposed a full median on N. Rosa Parks Way (see it below). The median would improve crossing safety and it would prevent people from turning left from Michigan onto Rosa Parks in order to return to the freeway (a move that over 550 cars make during peak hours each day).

Full median would allow bike traffic to pass through, but would prohibit left turns from Michigan onto Rosa Parks.

However, some nearby residents objected to the full median. At a second meeting for the project held last month, PBOT project manager Ross Swanson said “opposition grew” to the full median proposal. Some were concerned that the cut-through traffic would just be diverted to Mississippi (one block east). Others didn’t like being inconvenienced by the left-turn prohibition. Some simply felt the full median was “too extreme” of a solution at this location.

Even though some neighbors agreed with PBOT that a full median would be the safest solution that will do the most to discourage freeway cut-through traffic, the objections by others caused PBOT to change course and come up with a different proposal.

This is the partial median that will be built because some neighbors opposed the full median.

At a meeting for the project held last night at the Peninsula Park Community Center, PBOT project manager Ross Swanson proposed a two-phased approach. The City would move forward with a partial median — which would still allow left turns, but would provide some traffic calming and crossing safety benefit — and then collect data for four months to asses the impact. Then, if the partial median doesn’t solve the cut-through problem, PBOT will move forward with the full median as originally planned.

While some in attendance (including myself) spoke up in support of the full median, it was agreed that the two phase approach was acceptable. Whether the full median is ever built remains to be seen.

Construction on the Michigan neighborhood greenway is slated to begin this winter.

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