Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Commissioner Novick, PBOT respond to SW Barbur hit-and-run

Posted by on August 22nd, 2013 at 1:53 pm

SE 136th Press Conference-1

Portland Transportation Commissioner
Steve Novick wants to hear from
“suburban car commuters” before
proposing a road diet on SW
Barbur Blvd.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

After yet another tragedy on SW Barbur Blvd last week, people are once again trying to push officials to make it safer.

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.”

Riding Portland's urban highways-27

Need for a road diet is “obvious” to many.

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.

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  • Kiel Johnson
    Kiel Johnson August 22, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    So happy to see Novick weighing in. When I drive on Barbur it is scary having to change lanes whenever their is someone on a bike crossing those bridges. I’m sure if asked people in Tigard who drive on Barbur would agree.
    Don’t forget they also have I-5!

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    • Adam August 22, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      I don’t understand why ODOT doesn’t just hand Barbur to PBOT, like they did with Sandy Blvd. Once PBOT had control of Sandy, the enhanced ped crossings et al went in immediately.

      Once Barbur is in PBOT’s hands, it’ll be golden.

      If you drive, get on fricking I-5! Or Naito! Or Macadam! Or any one of the gazillion other huge roads that run two blocks parallel to Barbur…

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      • paikikala August 23, 2013 at 8:53 am

        Traditionally, cities don’t just ‘accept’ substandard roadways. They agree to assume jursidictional control provided the jurisdiction handing over the road has fully improved the roadway, or transferred funds to do so.

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  • Rob Chapman August 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I wasn’t aware that Commisioner Novick answers to the people of Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood. Who elected him again?

    Here’s to hoping someone somewhere in the city bureaucracy grows a spine and actually takes action in regards to traffic safety. This continuous talk of “planning” makes me throw up in my mouth.

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    • Robert M. August 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      You can’t just build a road SYSTEM with only your city in mind. Everything needs to flow, and when the road network crosses jurisdiction lines it can get messy. If PBOT takes control and makes changes to Barbur up to the city limit, then what? What happens in the next city? Yes this stretch of road is horrible and needs to be changed. Unfortunately that can’t happen overnight, especially since ODOT doesn’t seem to want anything to do with it.

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      • Chris I August 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm

        I hate to break it to you, but that’s exactly what happens here, right now. Ride through east Portland and see what happens as you get further away from the city. We can’t ignore traffic flow, but that’s clearly not the issue here. It is obvious that this section needs a diet.

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      • Psyfalcon August 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm

        Sure we can.

        And we should when out of town drivers are maiming local residents.

        ODOT will disagree of course but we must not support this road. Even if PBOT can’t touch Barbur, what can we do at the connections to it? I propose making it a very long road with no outlets until ODOT comes around on this.

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  • encephalopath August 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    The residents of Tigard and Tualatin and Sherwood have no choice available to them but to drive their single occupancy vehicles into the urban core on a daily basis. The poor dears.

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    • John Lascurettes August 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Oh my gosh, they might even have to use I-5 – an option not available to a person on a bicycle or on foot.

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      • davemess August 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm

        No joke. This road is INCREDIBLY redundant. There is a Highway parallel to it less than .25 miles away! How do they not see that? People commuting from the suburbs shouldn’t be using Barbur!

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        • 9watts August 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm

          Or they could hop on one of the several Trimet buses that head out that way (and back). Let’s not forget there’s even a Barbur Transit Center.
          I started taking Trimet on Barbur and on Capitol Highway when I was seven years old, by myself.

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        • paikikala August 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

          Look up resilient. relying on one road is like relying on one mode.

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          • John Lascurettes August 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

            Paikikila, if we had a Barbur Road diet people in cars would have the one-lane of Barbur to use or the 3 lanes of I-5. That sounds like options to me. More options than people on bicycles or on foot do or would have. So, what’s your real point?

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            • davemess August 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm

              Not to mention the other dozens of options going through John’s Landing or the West Hills. We’re not talking about making I-5 a single bridge off some island.

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  • Velograph August 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I understand that they have concerns, but do I get a say in what happens in Tigard? I do not. Do something already.

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  • Chris I August 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    This road needs to be transferred to PBOT as soon as this bridge work is done. Paint is cheap. We can eliminate one northbound lane all the way from Brier Place to the Naito split to make room for buffered bike lanes. If people in Tigard and Sherwood want a voice, they can move to Portland. We don’t tell them what to do with their roads.

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    • wsbob August 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Novick is correct to consider intercity commuters’ needs and concerns. Barbur is a county road shared by people from cities’ other that Portland alone. Effectively, through ODOT, Oregon taxpayers do tell cities other than their own, what to do with roads passing through other cities, roads that the state shoulders a big responsibility for managing and maintaining.

      Arguably though,I’d say a road such as Barbur doesn’t need quite the flow capacity it has, at least outside of commute hours. That it is built for such capacity may be part of the roads’ problems. During low traffic hours, the road potentially serves as a prime speedway for irresponsible drivers.

      For aimless drunks, one of which may have been the culprit behind the collision with the Lewis and Clark College student, walking his bike in the bike lane around 1am after getting off work…the roads’ generous width perhaps unnecessarily tempts DUI drivers to think they can safely get home without driving off the road or hitting someone or something. Narrowing the road could possibly help to moderate traffic; reduce speeds traveled, bring people to drive slightly more cautiously.

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  • OnTheRoad August 22, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Until the road is out of ODOT jurisdiction, the people of Tualatin and Tigard DO have a say in a state highway they use.

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    • spare_wheel August 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      That’s what annexation is for…

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  • Spiffy August 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    asking drivers if they want a road diet is like asking a toddler if they want to share…

    when people are dying you don’t ask permission to fix it, you just do it because it’s the right thing…

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    • kittens August 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      … and that is what we call leadership. unfortunately we live in an era of the almighty public opinion poll

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    • Mike August 22, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      It isn’t that easy, nor should it be. This is a city where people hate having the city leaders force things on them(i.e fluoride in the water) You can’t just say screw you to the majority. If that is the case, then say by by to everything that kills. Cigarettes, fast food, booze. The list is long and would you want the government forcing an inconvenience on you even if you knew it would save lives?

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      • davemess August 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm

        Yes. In many cases that is the governments responsibility and mandate!

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  • mran1984 August 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Maybe get a job in Tualatin, Tigard, or Vantucky. Wow, I live in the city where I am employed. If you want to spend your life commuting you should keep your expectations in line with your poor choice. BTW, Barbur is not a freeway, but I-5 is. Maybe the Tigard or Tualatin Police Department should be investigating this “accident”. We should be embarrassed.

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    • Mike August 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Perhaps it isn’t a choice. It isn’t always an option to live where you work. Cost of living etc. Pat yourself on the back for choosing to live where you work. Talk to the millions of people where that isn’t an option.

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      • davemess August 23, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        Mike you’re just being argumentative. Yes, there are many who don’t have that much of a choice, but there are just as many (if not more) who DO have the choice. Why do you think we see the cookie cutter “mcMansions” proliferating in the suburbs? Did those people just HAVE to buy them?

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  • AndyC of Linnton August 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Oh! It took me a minute, but now I understand what they’re saying.
    I took both the quote from PBOT and Novick, and replaced it with a simpler one: “We’re not going to do anything about Barbur” . It’s a lot less verbose and gets right to the point.

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  • mas August 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    The city has been put on notice repeatedly about the unsafe conditions on Barbur and should bear some responsibility for the loss of lives and injuries that have occurred. Their lack of a meaningful response has led to avoidable collisions (in the sense that had action such as a road diet been taken, the collisions would have been less likely or more avoidable – I know this is phrased awkwardly but I’m not sure how else to say that).

    I’ve seen postings about actions taken by bike activists in Seattle where they made changes to improve safety on streets there, and I’ve seen in earlier postings about the need for such action on Barbur. Not trying to claim it as my idea, but I do support it.

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  • Roger August 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    In the Oregon Highway Plan, Barbur Blvd within the City of Portland is classified as a District Highway. The management objective of District Highways is to “provide for safe and efficient, moderate to low-speed operation in urban and urbanizing areas for traffic flow and for pedestrian and bicycle movements.”

    How are we doing?

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  • GlowBoy August 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I understand the argument behind considering the needs of suburban car commuters, but haven’t we already established that the stretch of road in question rarely experiences degraded service levels, and would only occasionally have its throughput significantly reduced by a road diet?

    And while we’re on the subject, if Portland has to listen to suburban car commuters who use our roads daily … can we force Washington County to listen to urban bike commuters (like me!) who ride THEIR roads daily?

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    • wsbob August 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      The money is with the 90 percent of vehicles on the road that are motor vehicles. I’d say that overwhelming balance of road users is why politicians, Novick being one of them, would most certainly feel their ear must be lent to that majority.

      Some people have noted that I-5 roughly parallels Barbur from Tigard to Portland, basically wondering if I-5 could possibly take on a substantial portion of Barbur’s daily traffic volume. If I-5 could functionally do that, maybe a possibility exists for decommissioning Barbur’s role as a high-speed intercity highway, instead making it a low motor vehicle volume route in part through the use of speed limits of say, 25-30mph.

      I’m doubtful that ODOT would have a ghost of a chance of doing any such thing. Too many interests would demand that Barbur continue to be much as it is today in terms of moving numbers of motor vehicles daily.

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      • 9watts August 22, 2013 at 11:16 pm

        “the 90 percent of vehicles on the road that are motor vehicles”

        Hold on just a minute. Why merely take a snapshot of the present? We build/modify/upgrade infrastructure not for the present but for the future. In the (near?) future, 90% of vehicles on the road *will not* be motor vehicles. Period.* Why is it so hard for anyone, politicians included, to see this coming, and act on it?

        No, easier to pretend the looming crises all related to our over-reliance on fossil fuels all don’t concern us. Kick the can down the cars-first road.


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  • Howard Draper August 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Prioritizing preservation of life over convenience doesn’t equate or require ignoring the suburban car-commuter perspective, so that kind of seems like PR cover for delayed action. Maybe it’s just political inclusiveness, though.

    It’s like Barbur is this high-capacity, unsafe elevator. We’re not willing to reduce capacity to make it safer, and we can’t have both.

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  • Alexis August 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Novick’s comment would make more sense if a road diet actually decreased capacity, but on the stretch in question, routine capacity is not much of an issue, and the type of road diet that is being proposed (more or less a 4-3 conversion) usually doesn’t decrease effective capacity (at all, or significantly, depending on the road) and does improve safety.

    ODOT has a separate concern about peak capacity for an alternate route to I-5, which is not really a question about “suburban car commuters” routine concerns. Also, why is he shoving people into boxes? Surely some of the people currently driving would be biking if they felt safe enough. “People who commute via car on Barbur” is a different group from “suburban car commuters”.

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  • voline August 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Let the office-holders who represent the suburbs consider advocate for suburbanites’ perspective. Novick’s job is to represent Portlanders.

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  • Peter W August 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    > “I suspect people who commute from Tigard and points south might raise concerns”

    What might those fabricated concerns of suburban commuters be?

    A 20 second delay?

    If so,

    a) how does that stack up with the concerns that people on foot or bike may find themselves in a hospital if not a coffin, given the existing conditions and

    b) why would people from “Tigard and points south” not take I-5?

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  • Charlie August 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    The citizens of Multnomah County are already paying for the Clackamas County commuters use of the Sellwood Bridge. Time to alter the equation. I could care less if the commuters outside of Portland have to slow down and be inconvenienced so Portlanders can ride in safety.

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  • PennyFarthing August 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    It can’t be that expensive can it be to put Bott’s dots'_dots

    on the lines separating bike lanes from auto traffic…it’s a quick and effective means of keeping the growing mass of distracted drivers on their side of the line. I would feel much safer on roads like Barbur Blvd. and Interstate Ave. with that simple addition.

    I suspect that this latest victim’s hospital bills will more than surpass the costs of placing dots on the most dangerous parts of Barbur. If ODOT won’t redesign for safer roads they could at least make the current layouts more defined and clearly segregated…signage and bright white lines only help when the drivers are paying attention!

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  • Jon August 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I realize it is a state road but I think the money that is being spent on the Vista bridge to keep people who WANT to throw themselves off a bridge should instead be spent on Barbur where riders DON’T want to get killed.

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  • voline August 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    I apologize if I’m being repetitive, but Steve Novick’s statement really rubs me the wrong way. If I’m being sued in court, and my lawyer says to me “I’m not prepared to ignore the perspective of the plaintiff”, I’m getting a new lawyer.

    Commissioner Novick’s constituents are being grievously injured and *dying*. It is out-of-town commuters who are harming them. I expect him to be unconcerned at the prospect that the out-of-towners may be inconvenienced by delay.

    Perhaps Commissioner Novick is too concerned about his next run for statewide office and doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of Washington County voters? Whatever the reason, if he will not be a forceful advocate for Portlanders on road safety issues, then I think he shouldn’t oversee the Transportation Bureau.

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    • Rob Chapman August 23, 2013 at 12:58 am

      Thank you for writing what I was thinking voline. Our career politicians would do well by focusing on their current responsibilities, not on their aspirational ones.

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  • Chris Anderson August 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Any lawyers want to weigh in on the legal options for citizens to restripe this road this Saturday?

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    • paikikala August 23, 2013 at 9:02 am

      I’m no lawyer, but if you want to assume the liability, and pay the cost for city crews to have to come out and remove it, knock yourself out.

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  • gutterbunnybikes August 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    What if PBOT just did it without ODOT input. They did 20 blocks (1 mile) on Division in a little over a week. Surely it wouldn’t be much longer for this stretch of Barber.

    Let the lawyers battle it out on after the bike lanes are put in not before.

    Or better yet, since they don’t want to fix Barber, how about they close I-5 and make it a MUP from 84 to 217. Now that’d be something

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    • GlowBoy August 22, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      Sorry for mentioning this for the third time on 3 threads related to this topic, but why can’t PBOT at least step in adjust the lane widths on Barbur and either widen or buffer the bike lane — when they are doing it on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway RIGHT NOW?!

      They got quite a bit done today, as I noticed on this evening’s ride. On about 3/4 of the stretch between Hillsdale and Raleigh Hils (all of this segment westbound, and about half the eastbound), today’s crew managed to get new temporary striping in place for the markers dividing the car/truck lanes from each other. On this same section today’s work also included grinding off the old lane markings, which were about a foot further from the center than the new ones. This is several miles of roadway, and it looks like the whole job will only take a couple of weeks to get done.

      I know Barbur gives us less width to work with, but I bet there’s still some wiggle room there.

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    • paikikala August 23, 2013 at 9:03 am

      Or even: What if ODOT just redid Division/Rosa Parks/Sandy back to 4 lanes without PBOT input?

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  • Terry D August 22, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    A Washington county voter MIGHT deserve a say in what happens on Barbur since they mostly have been good neighbors and play well with METRO and Portland…..but they did just get $30 million for the Helvetia/26 freeway interchange and that deserves either a BIG favor from Portland or a bunch of small ones…the re-striping of Barbur is a small one…

    Now, anyone in Clackamas county can find a hole to live under since their opinion is irrelevant to any of us in Portland until the Sellwood bridge is paid off….or tolled for Clackamas County residents. They do not care about us, so why should we care about them.

    Hence…road diet…IMMEDIATELY. Novick is just playing politics, hopefully he will understand how important this is soon. If not, I am sure we can persuade him.

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  • jim August 22, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    If they would fix I-5 people wouldn’t have to use roads like Barber and N. Williams to get to the city during rush hour. Look at the license plates on Williams and you will see a lot of WA plates. They don’t drive slow either. Some sort of fix needs to happen on the CRC as well as the Rose Quarter (Moda quarter?), get those cars out of our neighborhoods that don’t belong there.

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    • 9watts August 22, 2013 at 11:17 pm

      Ah yes, a fix. Who doesn’t like a fix? But what if there is no fix for too many cars?
      Not a shortage of lane miles but a longage of cars, eh?

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    • paikikala August 23, 2013 at 9:05 am

      “don’t belong there’, land of the free, huh?

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  • Fourknees August 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

    When I drive to work from Beaverton(practically portland)I take Barbur vs I5, because it getse closer to my office. That being said I’m in support of a road diet. I also believe it would have a negligible traffic impact. You couldn’t pay me to ride on Barbur, and I consider myself in the very experienced category. I did it once and not again until improvements are made.

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