Steve Novick wants to hear from
“suburban car commuters” before
proposing a road diet on SW
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
So far, most of the attention has been focused on the Oregon Department of Transportation because they own and manage Barbur (except for the portions adjacent to downtown Portland) and they’ve been reluctant to significantly improve safety on it. But while ODOT has final say, the City of Portland can play an important role in this discussion. If the Portland Bureau of Transportation and/or Transportation Commissioner Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales wanted to, they could increase pressure on ODOT to move forward with a road diet or other measures that would have a dramatic impact on safety.
We haven’t asked Mayor Hales for a comment about Barbur yet; but we have reached out and gotten replies from Commissioner Novick and PBOT.
I initially asked PBOT for a comment from new Bureau Director Leah Treat. When I heard back from spokesperson Diane Dulken, Dulken made it clear that the comment was, “from PBOT, not specifically from Director Treat.” (Perhaps Director Treat still isn’t well-versed enough in local transportation issues to weigh in.) Unfortunately, the PBOT statement was really more of a non-statement. Here’s what they said:
“This serious crash is a reminder of how important it is to improve safety along stretches of road that are designated as High Crash Corridors and how important our cooperative relationship is with the Oregon Department of Transportation, which is the agency that manages Barbur Boulevard. The City is committed to working with ODOT and other agencies to improve safety for all travelers. We have a plan that identifies improvements needed and will work to continue to see needed improvements made. This crash, like other serious crashes, will factor into the City’s short and long term planning.”
This comment is much different than the tone taken by PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller when the Barbur road diet idea came up in a meeting back in January. Geller said doing a road diet on Barbur was an “obvious” solution. Then he offered to an analysis of it because PBOT has “a lot more experience than ODOT at doing road diets.” Geller also spoke to the urgency of action, and not waiting for something to emerge from Metro’s SW Corridor planning process. “I think the idea of waiting for the SW Corridor project as a way to analyze the whole corridor is missing the most important point,” Geller said back in January, “That those bridges are terrifying. It [a road diet] just seems like such a simple opportunity to improve conditions dramatically.”
While PBOT tries to find its place on this issue, Commissioner Novick’s comment made it clear he’s aware of the need for a road diet on Barbur.
“My heart goes out to the victim in this hit-and-run,” wrote Novick in reply to our request for comment. “I hope that the Portland Police are able to make an arrest of the perpetrator of this crime very soon.”
Novick said he’s concerned about the conditions all of the city’s designated High Crash Corridors and he toured Barbur on Monday with neighborhood activist Marianne Fitzgerald to get a closer look at what it needs. Novick expressed a desire to work with ODOT to make Barbur safer “for all users” and said that, “a road diet has to be considered.” As for waiting for the Metro planning process to materialize, Novick echoed Geller’s comment by saying, “I don’t think we put all such ideas on hold until we reach the end of the Southwest Corridor Planning process.”
As for the potential for a road diet to move forward, Novick said he intends to be sensitive to concerns from some users of the road who don’t want anything to change. In other words, he wants to make sure “suburban car commuters” get a chance to weigh in. Here’s more (emphasis mine):
“I’m not sure we can assume that “everyone but ODOT” [a reference to a question I asked him via email] agrees we need a road diet; I suspect people who commute from Tigard and points south might raise concerns (just as people in Lents raised concerns to me about the proposed Foster Road diet). I can’t just dismiss those potential concerns without at least talking to folks. If we could drop the Washington, D.C subway system into Portland and the suburbs overnight, so people in Tigard and Tualatin and Sherwood had that option, it might be a different story, but since we can’t, I’m not prepared to ask ODOT to just ignore the “suburban car commuter” perspective. That doesn’t mean that perspective always has to be the decisive perspective; I just think it has to be considered.”
Certainly if a road diet project moved forward, there would be an opportunity for everyone to weigh in. The problem so far is that no one has taken the bull by the horns and committed to making the road diet happen. We’re still waiting for ODOT to make that move — and we’d love to see PBOT do even more to encourage them.
— Read more of coverage of SW Barbur Blvd in our archives.