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It’s over: Committee votes to adopt revised PBOT plans for N Williams Ave

Posted by on June 19th, 2012 at 7:21 pm

City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield had
some explaining to do.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s finally over. Seriously. I mean it this time.

After 17 months of meetings and open houses, the stakeholder advisory committee (SAC) for the N Williams Traffic Operations Safety Project finished their work yesterday with the adoption of plans that will transform Williams Ave. from Weidler to Killingsworth.

The majority of the design has already been agreed on; but unfinished business remained on one section — from Fargo to Fremont — that turned unexpectedly contentious at an open house last month.

The committee thought their work was done after they adopted a formal recommendation to PBOT at their March meeting; but when PBOT showed up to an open house on May 22nd with new plans, many SAC members were surprised at what was presented for the stretch between Fargo and Fremont — an area expected to grow busier with the addition of New Seasons Market and other developments in the works.

Instead of the one standard vehicle lane and one shared left-lane concept (that would utilize sharrows), PBOT unveiled a two standard vehicle lane cross-section with a six-foot, un-buffered bike lane that maintained on-street auto parking on the west side of the street.

Here’s a graphic of what PBOT was proposing (basically exactly what we have now except with the bike lane on the left)…

That design upset members of the SAC, not only because they felt it didn’t meet their standards for safety, but also because they felt PBOT failed to vet it with them prior to the open house.

“I feel like at that point, the process became less transparent,” said SAC member Michelle DePass at today’s meeting, “I felt out of the loop.” Susan Peithman, a staffer for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) who sits on the committee, said, “I was surprised by the designs and thought we’d moved beyond the design phase.”

“Clearly some of you feel PBOT missed the mark. If that’s the case, I don’t want to be defensive about that, let’s just fix it. Let’s, with your input, get closer to what you’d like to see.”
— Rob Burchfield, City Traffic Engineer

For their part, PBOT says they were only doing what the SAC asked them to do in the Fargo to Fremont section, which was (according to the recommendation), “to develop a design that makes a safe and comfortable transition from the buffered bike lane to the shared left‐turn lane/bikeway.” PBOT also says they were working on the design right up until the open house and simply didn’t have time to share it beforehand.

Even so, City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield offered his apologies. “Clearly some of you feel PBOT missed the mark. If that’s the case, I don’t want to be defensive about that, let’s just fix it. Let’s, with your input, get closer to what you’d like to see.”

Tuesday’s meeting was an opportunity for PBOT to respond to the SAC’s concerns and to get their final support for a design. (It’s worth noting that SAC members weren’t the only ones peeved by what PBOT showed at the open house. At today’s meeting, we were given a packet with 18 public comments emailed to PBOT on May 22nd. All of the comments expressed disappointment and concerns about various aspects of the design.)

In a presentation to the SAC, Burchfield explained why PBOT feels it’s imperative to have two standard vehicle lanes for the three block stretch between Fargo and Fremont.

In short, Burchfield says PBOT’s traffic analysis shows two standard travel lanes are necessary in order to create adequate capacity for motor vehicles given the boom in development on the horizon. Burchfield shared that he and his staff have met privately with developers and representatives from New Seasons to better understand the issue. Given the auto circulation and trip patterns projected in this area, and with a desire to make sure people can easily access these new stores and residences by car, PBOT feels two standard lanes are a must.

Burchfield made it clear that developers’ projects would stall unless two full lanes were kept in this section of the road. The way our planning code is written, he explained, development permits will only be issued if a certain auto traffic capacity can be maintained.

While the goals and outcomes for the project adopted by the SAC are important, Burchfield pointed out that there are other, real-world considerations in coming up with a design. “In addition to the values and goals laid out by the committee, we do have some basic traffic engineering concepts we have to work with,” he explained, “to make sure we have adequate capacity for the volume of traffic we expect on the street… There are some pass/fail criteria we have to work with.”

By “pass/fail criteria” Burchfield is referring to federal “level of service” guidelines, which dictate how long cars should sit in traffic and often force cities’ hands in maintaining and/or expanding auto capacity.

To help make his case, Burchfield played an animated simulation of auto traffic in the Williams corridor with both the one-lane and two-lane configuration. In the one-lane scenario (with the planned traffic signal at N. Cook), auto traffic would back up in several sections during the two-hear PM peak. With two lanes, auto traffic flowed much more freely.

Fortunately for Burchfield, he faced the skeptical SAC members with more than just an argument for increased auto capacity. He also brought a new design option for the SAC to weigh in on.

Instead of a standard bike lane adjacent to two travel lanes and a parking lane like they showed at the open house last month, PBOT’s new design for the Fargo to Fremont segment would remove on-street car parking (!) and create a larger bike lane. The design would create a seven-foot, curbside bike lane with a three-foot buffer that would come with some sort of protective element. (PBOT showed plastic “candlestick” bollards in their materials at today’s meeting, but SAC members objected to them on aesthetic grounds. It’s not clear what would be used instead.)

Here are a few graphics of the newly proposed design.

First, the plan drawings. Here’s the segment between N. Cook (to the right) and Ivy (Ivy will end into the New Seasons driveway)…

And between Ivy (on the right) and Fremont (on the left)…

And here’s an illustration (courtesy of Fat Pencil Studio) just south of Cook…

And another illustration of the cross-section (with plastic bollards shown)…

I also snapped this image of how the adopted plans will look at the New Seasons driveway at N Ivy Street. As you can see below, left-hooks will be an issue…

After a robust discussion about the merits of the design options on the table, the SAC voted to adopt this new design from PBOT. With that out of the way, the discussion turned to implementation.

PBOT project manager Rich Newlands explained that the $250,000 allocated for this project is nowhere near enough to fully fund the recommendation (which also includes money for an “honoring history” component and work on making N Rodney a neighborhood greenway). Newlands estimated that he believes $1 million is needed to complete the project. Since that funding does not currently exist, Newlands said the City has already begun to apply for a grant through the federal Transportation Enhancement program.

Whether PBOT gets the TE grant or not, construction of this project won’t start until summer of next year.

One unknown is how the Bikes Belong Green Lane Project initiative might impact this project. Portland has been chosen as one of six cities to receive support from Bikes Belong as part of the program and a recent press release confirmed that the Williams Ave. project would be one of the projects PBOT would focus on.

Funding and implementation aside, what matters now is that a design has been agreed on and — except for working out a few small design details — the public process is over.

It has been a very long and arduous road to this point. This is my 38th post on this project and I have to say this has been one of the most difficult stories I’ve ever worked on. While I have a range of opinions about how this has played out, I want to share my extreme gratitude for the citizens who volunteered to work on this project and to PBOT for their patience and flexibility. There will still be more to report in the months ahead, but the heavy-lifting of the public process is done.

Throughout this coverage your comments have played a key role in shaping the conversation. Thank you.

CORRECTION: When originally published, I said that level of service guidelines are “federally mandated.” That is incorrect. For more information about this issue, see this comment.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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Jack
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Jack

“plastic ‘candlestick’ bollards”

Despite having seen these fail miserably twice on the Broadway bridge, we should try them again. The key is to expect a different result.

Jonathan: Have you seen any sort of break down of the costs for various aspects of this new design? With the huge jump up to $1,000,000 I’m guessing there is at least one new traffic signal in there. Hopefully the new plan also includes physical barriers to force left turns only from Fargo & Cook onto Williams.

I’d still like to see PBOT experiment (if only for a couple months) with a redesign achieved only with paint. I would be okay with a solution that is 5% less effective if it were to cost 95% less.

Chris Smith
Guest

If we measured level of service in the movement of people, rather than vehicles, I wonder if we would have gotten a different design? How we measure “LOS” is something folks should pay attention to as we develop the new Comprehensive Plan for Portland over the next 18 months.

kittens
Guest
kittens

Complete and total lack of leadership.

John R.
Guest
John R.

I’m also curious about the role that New Seasons played in all of this. Given their reputation, one might expect them to be advocates for cyclists. Given their silence, one might wonder if they pushed for changes behind the scenes.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

White plastic bollards : maybe we can make them look better?

Just spitballin’ here but what if they could be made to look like part of a stereotypical white picket fence?
Deploy some of that Disney style “fungeneering” to use an on street safety device, in this case plastic bollards, to make an imaginary Mayberry feel to a neighborhood thus socially encouraging people to slow down and be friendly.

Brian Davis
Guest

I’d be very curious to see the nitty gritty details of the intersection analysis and simulation that PBOT performed for the two-lane part of the corridor. Predicting future trips in a scenario like this is a very inexact science, especially on a corridor like Williams, which in addition to the bike traffic has several bus lines with varying degrees of frequency. What deductions, if any, were taken from the number of projected motor vehicle trips to account for this fact? These assumptions are key–assume too few non-car trips and you’re falling into the old traps of providing too much vehicle capacity; assume too many and you’ll get hammered by reviewing agencies. Many folks are also of the opinion that standard trip-generation models, developed with primarily suburban data, greatly overstate the number of trips created by the same land uses in urban settings. Further complicating the matter, despite a stated interest in being multi-modal, Portland actually requires developers to meet _higher_ volume-to-capacity ratios than elsewhere in the state. So there are political fixes that need to occur there, as stated by others here.

All that said, I actually like what is proposed for this section currently much more than what was there previously. Replace those plastic bollards with something significant (maybe planter-type things that we’ve seen in other designs?) and this becomes a very decent facility as long as you can handle conflict at the intersections safely through smart signal design or somesuch (and that part is in good hands).

Otis
Guest
Otis

What about north of Freemont? Does the revised design still call for the shared left lane?

ScottG
Guest
ScottG

Guess I’ll be using Rodney a lot more. With that annoying dog-leg you have to do at Fremont. 🙁

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

Sorry, speaking as someone who has followed this (but no longer lives in the area so I don’t travel this street more than once a month maybe): this whole entire project seems screwed up. I can’t believe this took 17 months, what a cluster-f.

If this is about actually making people who bike along here safer, they’ve failed. They’ve removed right-hooks but have added in left hooks, and it just seems like a garbled mess of ideas that were thrown together to pacify everyone.

The bike lane has simply been moved to the other side of the street – how does this really help anyone? Now it’s next to the “fast/overtaking” lane rather than the “slow” lane.

Everyone who comments here has strong opinions, and are probably the type of riders who have no problems negotiating tricky roads. I would really love to hear what the “average joe summer rider” thinks of all this. Does it feel better, or worse?

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

I have been meditating about the deadly crash at 3rd and Madison last month; the ghost bike there is beautiful and entirely appropriate. There is more than enough responsibility to spread around; specifically, what role did “green paint engineering” play?

Here is an idea: forget about white lines, green paint, and all those lovely bollards; require and enforce vehicular cycling downtown, perhaps re-timing the signals to lower speed a little so cyclists can keep up with motorists.

Just a thought. Might work on Williams too.

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

The primary attribute of a roadway should be safety. Flow & capacity at the expense of life & limb is egregiously immoral and should be framed as such.

Andyc
Guest
Andyc

Ah. I’m reading this as, “It’s over. Finally.” As in, Williams is over as far as a comprehensive commuting option.
Guess I’m one of the ones who has also been moved over to Interstate.
Maybe I’ll try out these new designs sometime, but for my regular commute it will remain Interstate.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Past posts are correct – the existing models are very suburban mid america based – so how about PSU developing more urban based trip generation data? How else will Portland ever reach it’s~25% bike mode split.

Perhaps it’s time to set up some $200 time lapse SD cameras and see the mode split at their existing inner city markets?! I think that the auto mode split would be lower than 90%.

Frank
Guest
Frank

A camel is a horse designed by committee. This one looks like it has three nostrils and a unicorn horn on it! But it has to be an improvement even if all it means is a larger bike lane…

dsaxena
Guest
dsaxena

Jonathan, with all the changes that have been proposed over the months, I’m not quite sure of the full configuration from Broadway to Killingsworth any more. Is there a drawing or presentation available that covers the whole street with all the latest changes?

John Landolfe
Guest

Having attended one of the earliest meetings on this (before it was even considered controversial), I’m glad to hear they’re describing a design as, “final.” At the very first meetings, people were asking for a left-lane bike lane and to remove parking if we were to have two car lanes. It took a while, but I’m glad to see that actually may happen.

sd
Guest
sd

This is a triumph in protecting on-street parking and car traffic!! The money spent on this project should be counted as money to preserve on-street parking and car traffic volume. This should not be paid for with money dedicated to bicycle infrastructure or tallied as money that Portland spends on bikes.

Pat
Guest
Pat

I have missed something in these 38 postings – can someone explain why there are no bike lanes on the right side? What are the options for making a right turn?

liddell
Guest
liddell

“Development permits will only be issued if a certain auto traffic capacity can be maintained.”

Sounds like the official city plan of taking steps to drastically reduce the amount of trips made by car by 2030 is in conflict with the development permit process.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

On which side do you pass in a left hand bike lane?

BURR
Guest
BURR

By “pass/fail criteria” Burchfield is referring to federally mandated “level of service” guidelines, which dictate how long cars should sit in traffic and often force cities’ hands in maintaining and/or expanding auto capacity.

To help make his case, Burchfield played an animated simulation of auto traffic in the Williams corridor with both the one-lane and two-lane configuration. In the one-lane scenario (with the planned traffic signal at N. Cook), auto traffic would back up in several sections during the two-hear PM peak. With two lanes, auto traffic flowed much more freely.

Wow, that’s almost the exact same thing Burchfield said/did 12 years ago when rejecting the addition of bike lanes and a change in the lane configuration on Hawthorne Blvd. during the final discussions of the Hawthorne Blvd. Transportation Plan.

So much for progress….

🙁

JessicaHorning
Guest
JessicaHorning

Jon, there is a minor but vital error in this article. Vehicle level-of-service standards are NOT federally-mandated! The Highway Capacity Manual (and AASHTO Green Book) contain GUIDANCE approved by the Federal Highway Administration and AASHTO. It only becomes STANDARDS if the state or local jurisdiction adopts it as such. For example, ODOT uses a volume to capacity ratio standard instead of level of service. Portland currently uses a level of service standard, but it is a local policy issue whether they use an LOS standard of “D” or “F” or throw LOS out the window all together. This understanding is vital if we are ever going to gain the momentum necessary to change a system that engineers and public agencies have been relying on since the 1950s. To their credit, both ODOT and PBOT have been exploring alternative performance standards that take into account the needs of more than just cars.

HAL9000
Guest
HAL9000

I like how every car in the sketchup renderings looks like a Subaru Outback. This is actually probably a very realistic prediction!

MadKnowledge
Guest
MadKnowledge

What a mess. I ride Williams home every day from work, and will now plan on just taking the right-hand lane the whole way rather than dealing with the dangerous and confusing design being implemented here.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

Let it be noted that too much bickering results in nobody getting what they want.

Zaphod
Guest

How do I put this eloquently? If the infrastructure puts me at risk, I’ll be taking the lane and I doubt that I’ll be alone. The reality is that cyclists shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens. When the culture shifts such that the term “traffic” includes bicycles as the assumed default, then we’ll be getting somewhere. The right-hook/left-hook concerns are real. The entrance to New Season’s will be a very active driveway.

In the potential right-hook-with-a-bike-lane scenario, drivers tend to do one of two things:
Don’t stop, leaving the cyclist to take evasive action or get hit
or
Stop to let cyclists pass but do so at the very last moment, often with wheels just beginning to turn.

The problem with the common 2nd possibility is that the cyclist’s decision to proceed or not is pushed to the very last millisecond and often involves trust and hope where it’s high risk to do so.

With the kind of {bicycle} traffic on Williams and the expected grocery store traffic moving in/out, different cyclists will “read” the turning traffic differently as they approach the same place. I anticipate fast aggressive riders to thread the needle while more conservative or slower riders to hesitate or stop. This creates threats from behind and from the right. This will be problematic.

Bill Stites
Guest

With the sophistication of computer modelling, I wonder if how people actually drive has been algorithmized? Even auto drivers should be considered intelligent, such that as congestion develops to a certain point, they find alternatives.
Ever notice how when there is a sudden and unexpected road closure [bad accident, crime scene], that there is surprisingly little congestion around it? We have a street grid that allows a myriad of alternatives, and people are smart enough to figure this out quickly.
I didn’t see the one-lane/two-lane modelling comparison, but real world reactions of drivers seem to result in clever alternate routes … and avoidance of chronic problems in the long run.
With a known restriction, one could expect even better accommodations by drivers. I have not seen any evidence that quiet neighboring streets become inundated with traffic over the long run, as many fear.

As Jonathan has mentioned previously – and I don’t hear many others saying it – we need to ACTIVELY DETER auto use, not accommodate it, to make real progress toward safe, livable streets. This can be achieved by good design.

And in a nod to 9watts, the end of cheap oil will result in plummeting VMT’s in the not-too-distant future. And yet we’re still bowing to the automobile – more 20th Century thinking.

Unit
Guest
Unit

I am confused about the city’s comments about having vehicle congestion guidelines they have to follow. I don’t believe this is true.

The State of Oregon requires them to meet a vehicle congestion threshold before upzoning, section 0060 of the Transportation Planning Rule. Section 0060 is much maligned because it makes urban density impossible. However, existing zoning is safe under TPR 0060, and I don’t think zoning changes are proposed on N Williams, so TPR 0060 does not apply. Rather they are looking at new development with the existing zoning. PBOT does not require traffic studies for these types of development, and so congestion is not considered.

So are they really talking about PBOT electing to keep more capacity due to negotiations with New Seasons? The details of the decision seem to be misrepresented here.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

If the street is so busy that they have to keep lanes and sacrifice bicycle facilities, then it’s time to remove the parking.

JepLeas
Guest
JepLeas

Here is an alternative to “candlesticks” just posted today.
http://www.cyclelicio.us/2012/rubberized-cycletrack-barriers

dude
Guest
dude

I just don’t see traffic moving away from Williams. Today I saw a 4 block line up of cars at 1 red light on MLK. People are going to still seek alternatives to MLK, Interstate, Greely and especially I-5. Perhaps finding a better way to control traffic speeds would be a better idea. Perhaps they could retrofit the buses with left side doors and put them on the other side of the street? (just trying to think outside of the box).

ScottB
Guest
ScottB

Vancouver and Williams move nearly the same amount of traffic right now. The most significant difference between the two is speed on Williams. It is often 5 mph more than speeds recorded on Vancouver. The difference can be accounted for by the number of lanes on each street. Vancouver is mostly one lane, while Williams is 2+.

Ted Buehler
Guest

This is a big improvement for the Cook-Fremont section, much better than the plan presented at last month’s Open House. Thanks, PBOT!

If you missed it, Susan Peithman’s BTA Blog post did a great job at articulating the problems with the previous Cook-Fremont design, essentially calling it a “no build” proposal, and stating that all along the committee affirmed that “No build is not an option.”

http://btaoregon.org/2012/05/fargo-to-fremont-were-not-done-with-williams/

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
Guest

Jonathan or SAC members —

There were two other major “downgrades” to the corridor from the Committee’s recommendation in April to the Open House last month.

1) “No build” at Graham, with the middle island — bikes would still be in a super skinny bike lane, only now it would be on the left, not the right.

2) “Shared Lane” extended from Skidmore to Alberta. Originally this was just for the high-car-traffic section from Cook to Skidmore (where Williams acts as an eastbound street for traffic going from I-405 to NE Portland). But now its extended all the way to Alberta, almost half of the project area.

Thanks,
Ted Buehler