PBOT works around diverter debate in 50s Bikeway project

Posted by on September 29th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

The 50s Bikeway project
is at City Council today!
(Map: PBOT)

The 50s Bikeway project will be up for a vote at City Council today. While it’s expected to get the required three votes of support, you can also expect some loud opposition to one specific piece of the project — a diverter planned for SE 52nd just north of Division.

Before I get into that, here’s a quick reset of the project: The $1.5 million, federally funded 50s Bikeway will create a 4.5 mile bike-friendly corridor on 52nd/53rd Avenues from NE Thompson to SE Woodstock. The public process for the project began back in January. Since then, the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has held a robust public process (41 public meetings) that wrapped up with the second of two open houses at the end of June.

“When the Mayor’s office gets a petition from 200 people on any project, it requires us to do a more of our due diligence, and try to understand, are we missing something here?”
— Mark Lear, PBOT

Every one of the 10 neighborhoods the project passes through voted to support the project and it will bring changes to the street that have been on the wish list of PBOT and advocates for over a decade.

For a project of this size and scope, most observers have applauded the PBOT project team. The project boasts what is likely one of the most significant conversions of on-street auto parking to bikeway space the city has ever done. On the entire eastern side of 52nd between Woodstock and Division, PBOT will re-allocate space currently used for parking 200 cars and will use it instead to make room for bike lanes in each direction. And it happened without any controversy at all (Mayor Adams chalks this up to the presence of Sunday Parkways in the neighborhood, which he feels has helped soften general bikeway opposition).

Now. Let’s get to the diverter issue.

PBOT’s proposed diverter at 52nd and Division

While the project (with the diverter) was supported by a large majority of residents at the final open house on June 29th (86 out of 134 comments received were in support), strong opposition to the diverter has caused City Hall and PBOT to take more time to address the issue.

The project was initially slated for a City Council vote on September 1st, then date was pushed back to September 22nd, and pushed back again to today.

Residents that live on SE 51st and 53rd (streets adjacent to the proposed bikeway) are concerned that if the 1,500 cars that currently travel north on SE 52nd across Division to SE Lincoln can’t continue to do so, they will simply spill over onto their streets.

A resident on SE 51st started a petition letter to Mayor Sam Adams that ended up with 200 signatures.

That petition — started by 51st Ave residents Amy Larson and Julie Rhodes — got the attention of City Hall and led to a series of meetings at the end of July and beginning of August between Mayor Adams’ staff, PBOT planners, and residents both for and against the diverter.

PBOT feels a diverter is neccessary at Division because the street narrows at that location and there’s no room for bike lanes unless both sides of on-street auto parking were reclaimed. That’s a”political impossibility” according to PBOT spokesperson, so the solution is to install a semi-diverter (bikes could go in both directions, but autos couldn’t go north) that would prevent auto traffic from continuing north on 52nd past Division.

In order to reach their standard of a comfortable bike street, PBOT needs to reduce the number of auto traffic north of Division from the existing volume of about 2,500 cars to about 1,000 cars or lower.

What happens to all that traffic? That’s what the opposition is worried about.

According to PBOT spokesperson Mark Lear, “When the Mayor’s office gets a petition from 200 people on any project, it requires us to do a more of our due diligence, and try to understand, are we missing something here?”

To answer neighbor concerns, PBOT performed traffic flow models to make sure that the main north-south streets in the area — SE 50th and SE 60th — could handle the extra auto traffic. “Indeed it can,” says PBOT project planner Rich Newlands.

Unfortunately, PBOT says neighbors opposed to the diverter simply don’t believe the City’s analysis. PBOT estimates that around 150 additional cars will use adjacent streets, which is well under their threshold for success (300 cars) when they do diversion.

But even that number of cars isn’t acceptable to some residents.

Among their objections are that Division itself can’t handle the extra traffic. They also feel adjacent streets are too narrow to accept the overflow and that PBOT’s own stated measure of success — an additional 150-180 cars on adjacent streets, “isn’t acceptable to residents.”

Rhodes and Johnson, the women who are behind the opposition to the diverter, circulated an email to their supporters yesterday. The email encouraged people to testify against the diverter at Council today — but to also make it clear that they support the project overall.

Here’s an excerpt from that email:

“… it is CRITICAL that you show up and be heard by the City Council members before they vote. If we as neighbors can speak with one loud voice saying “NO DIVERTER at 52nd” and ask the city to not have neighbors pay such a high price for a two-block stretch of bikeway, we remain optimistic that the city will be forced to listen.”

In many ways, PBOT has listened to the opposition. In response to concerns raised by the neighborhood, they have proposed a detailed process to test the changes they plan to implement.

Typically, they would have installed the diverter as planned and then done some analysis to make sure it didn’t have unintended consequences. If it did, they could have rolled out a number of mitigation measures as needed until the conditions improved.

However, now they’re prepared to implement a host of measures at the outset. In addition to the diverter, they’ll add “capacity improvements” to SE 50th (signal timing and a right turn lane), they’ll add new stop signs on 53rd and 54th to calm cut-through traffic, they’ll add a curb extension on Division at SE 51st (to prevent northbound cut-through when 50th is stopped), they’ll consider a bike box at Lincoln and SE 50th, and they’ll consider speed bumps on SE 51st, 53rd, and 54th.

These are all things that were in their “back pocket” the entire time, says PBOT, but now they’ll implement them all at once.

Four months after implementation, they’ll check back in with residents to see how things are going. And then, in a first for PBOT, if after eight months the volumes of cut-through traffic on 51st, 53rd, and 54th “exceed the impact threshold” they have agreed to remove the diverter entirely.

Even with this testing plan on the table, Rhodes and Johnson still oppose the diverter. “‘Testing’ the most drastic option first,” they wrote to their supporters yesterday, “is not good policy. PBOT’s solution of a diverter has far-reaching consequences and is widely unpopular among the residents most directly affected by it.”

On the other side of the coin are many local residents in support of the diverter. The fact is, of all the tools PBOT can employ to reduce auto volumes on a street, hard diversion is the one that works best. Without it, PBOT and supporters feel, SE 52nd won’t be a nice street to bike on.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is strongly in favor of the diverter. They plan to bring a petition of their own to City Council today signed by 113 people.

Stay tuned for coverage of how things turn out. You can learn all their is to know about this project by checking out a sneak peek of the presentation (PDF) PBOT will present to City Council today.

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

18 Comments
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    John Mulvey September 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    The really shocking thing about this is that Ms. Larsen and her friends –and by extension the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association –are so casually throwing residents of 52nd Ave under the bus.

    That street has been handling huge amounts of traffic it was never designed for, and the neighborhood association should have shown unequivocal support for addressing the problem. Instead they were cowed by a few rude loudmouths who believe their kids’ safety is more important than that of their neighbors’ kids.

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    9watts September 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I have to ask, is anyone at the City extrapolating traffic volumes into the future when it comes to this sort of contentious micro-local opposition to a bit of infrastructure?
    I can appreciate that some would rather not have “an additional 150-180 cars on adjacent streets,’ but let’s be clear: there is no reason to believe that the level of automobile traffic we now find normal will continue into the indefinite future. Quite the opposite. Discretionary short automobile trips are almost certainly going to diminish and probably vanish altogether in our lifetimes. Our planning should reflect this, and I’m afraid it doesn’t (yet).

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    are September 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    many thanks to sarah and rich (and to the SAC) for their hard work on this project. how they handled the public engagement pieces of this should be a model for other PBoT projects.

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    Matt F September 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    One thing that’s kind of strange about the diverter is that the bus will still be able to head north through the intersection.

    Also, we’re talking about two blocks (Division to Lincoln) here (correct me if I’m wrong). All this for two blocks…seems a bit much.

    On the other hand, there does seem to be certainly some overreaction by nearby residents and an unwillingness to compromise. I mean, sheesh, speedbumps, stop signs, curb extensions, bike boxes…all of this may mean less traffic on the nearby streets, not more…

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    deborah September 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    John Mulvey
    The really shocking thing about this is that Ms. Larsen and her friends –and by extension the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association –are so casually throwing residents of 52nd Ave under the bus.
    That street has been handling huge amounts of traffic it was never designed for, and the neighborhood association should have shown unequivocal support for addressing the problem. Instead they were cowed by a few rude loudmouths who believe their kids’ safety is more important than that of their neighbors’ kids.
    Recommended 2

    I unknowingly sat right across from these ladies at a comments table during the last open house meeting on the project. While I sat there I noticed that they were filling out comments left and right using what appeared to be other people’s names. Though I didn’t outright confront them about the grip of comments they had made up, I made it clear that I saw what they were doing and that it seemed dishonest, to say the least.

    I applaud the city for trying to be proactive with communities, but it’s frustrating to see a couple of ‘busy bodies’ throw a wrench in the entire process.

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      John Mulvey September 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      Whenever there’s been an opportunity for both supporters and opponents to present their ideas, those present have overwhelmingly supported the project and the diverter. Ms. Larsen’s support comes exclusively from people who only heard her side, during her door-to-door petition gathering.

      Having witnessed the screaming match she led against PBOT staffers in the hallway outside the neighborhood association meeting, I don’t have much confidence that she gave a balanced presentation during those private doorstep meetings with her neighbors.

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    rain bike September 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I hope the diverter is more effective at diverting than the one at SE13th and Spokane. I see cars roll over that one on a semi-regular basis, presumably to get around the 13th and Tacoma intersection.

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    A.K. September 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t have anything to add except that I saw a very brief mention of this project on the Fox 12 Oregon 8 or 10 o’clock news last week, and the anchor couldn’t figure out how to say the name of the project. Instead of “Fifties Bikeway Project”, she sort of stumbled around and said “the five oh ess bikeway project”, and I had a good laugh.

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    Chris September 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    I live on 52nd just south of Division, and I really hope this goes through. It all sounds like an improvement to me.

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    Spiffy September 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    whine whine whine! so those residents are ok with the extra traffic being on somebody else’s street? I think John Mulvey got it right… these people aren’t very neighborly at all, they’re very NIMBY instead…

    and a right turn lane won’t work at 50th and Division, there’s no room for it because the right side of Division is used to get around the people stopped to turn left at the light… a right turn lane would just back up traffic even further up Division and block the cross streets…

    I bike up 50th often and it’s tight right there after you cross Division going north… it’s a narrow road and cars and buses are always moving over to let each other pass… I say take out the on-street parking since most of those houses have a driveway… even without a bike lane they need to remove parking on at least one side just to accommodate the current traffic levels…

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    laura September 29, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I walk and/or bike through the 52nd and Lincoln intersection daily, and welcome the proposed project. Northbound drivers (including TriMet) on 52nd regularly roll thru the stop sign and refuse to acknowledge pedestrians crossing 52nd. They also mis-judge the speed of westbound bikes, creating some scary scenes.

    IMHO, the City should make a seamless transition for motor vehicles between 50th and 52nd using Foster, keeping higher volumes off 52nd north of Powell (buses included).

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    Dolan Halbrook September 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Just got back from the first hour of the city council meeting. The bikeway overall seems like a slam dunk. Either the anti-diverter folks stayed home or spoke after I left, which is entirely likely. Luckily the pro-diverter crowd make some very well put points.

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      John Mulvey September 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      There have been several antis speaking over the last few minutes, but hardly the pitchfork-wielding mob we thought we might see.

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    Spencer Boomhower September 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    This diverter thing comes down people on streets with daily car traffic in the low hundreds objecting to the potential for up to a couple hundred more cars per day. That’s understandable – who wants more cars on their street? But they object to it at the expense of reducing car traffic on neighboring streets that currently experience counts in the low- to mid-THOUSANDS. So while I can hardly see the streets neighboring the diversion welcoming an increase in traffic, spreading this congestion around a bit seems fair.

    And as someone who shortcuts via car via 52nd north of Division (to my home on 52nd near Hawthorne), I can only stress that 51st and 53rd are not my idea of alternative shortcuts. Too bumpy, too narrow, no fun. I’d just drive up to 50th instead.

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    John Mulvey September 29, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Voting now.
    Leonard: Extensive experience in east Pdx, regular biker in the area. Tremendous danger, even if bikers are careful –lots of close calls. Diverter issue should = less traffic, better safety. Votes yes.
    Fritz: Implements the bike plan, which promotes safety for all modes w/ sometimes conflicting priorities. Votes Yes.
    Fish: Parkways shows how safe places can be. 98% of this plan has broad support. Couldn’t support w/ out diverter testing. Votes Yes.
    Adams: Thanks federal govt for the $! We’ll monitor the diverter situation, but goal is to get auto traffic onto busy streets and off neighborhood ones. Thx everybody. Votes Yes.

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      Dolan Halbrook September 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm

      Thx for the update John. Good news and nice to see common sense prevail.

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    captainkarma September 29, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I can’t blame citizens for trying to exert influence, but to game the system is tacky, if that’s what they did.
    I applaud PBOT staffers and whoever else has to go before us masses (we masses?) and attempt to instigate (OMG) progress. I’ll bet they didn’t think it was in their job description to have to dodge tomatoes and rotten fruit; but they always seem to handle it with the patience of a zen practitioner!

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    Paulie September 30, 2011 at 10:49 am

    “On the entire eastern side of 52nd between Woodstock and Division, PBOT will re-allocate space currently used for parking 200 cars …”

    That 200 parking spaces figure can’t be right. It’s only about 6 blocks between Woodstock and Division.

    And a question: this project will mean an increase in auto traffic on 50th, where there is already a dicey crossing for bikes on Clinton. Are there any improvements planned for that intersection?

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