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ODOT: Closing one lane on SW Barbur would be no big deal

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The Vermont St. Bridge on
SW Barbur Blvd.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

For months now, the Oregon Department of Transportation has been reluctant to embrace the idea of re-allocating space on SW Barbur Blvd in order to improve traffic safety for all users. ODOT sees the road as a major arterial highway that must move as many people in cars as possible at all times (even though Interstate 5 is just a stone’s-throw away).

Back in December, when asked about the possibility of doing a “road diet” on SW Barbur, former ODOT staffer Jilayne Jordan told The Oregonian, “Barbur is the alternate route to Interstate-5, and we don’t like to reduce capacity on those routes.”

But now it appears even ODOT admits that having just one lane for driving in each direction instead of two would really not be that big of a deal.

ODOT announced their construction and detour plans this afternoon for the Newbury & Vermont Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project (which is slated to begin next spring). Here’s the section of the press release that caught my eye:

“… by placing mobile barriers on the bridges which will reduce traffic to one lane in each direction from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m… While the lane closures will cause some traffic congestion on Barbur (especially during rush hour) we feel that traffic will not be significantly impacted – especially over time as motorists adapt to the changes.”

Of course, the context here is that ODOT is trying to alleviate concerns from neighborhood residents about potential traffic impacts caused by the bridge project, so they have an interest in downplaying it. But if they openly admit they can make Barbur just one lane for driving in each direction for a month with “no significant impact” and that people will simply “adapt to the changes,” it seems like they should have no trouble seriously considering a road diet.

Perhaps someone should do modeling and observations of traffic flow during this construction period to see how it goes. Seems like if the sky doesn’t fall, and people simply change their driving behaviors, perhaps this could be seen as a trial period for a more permanent, corridor-wide lane reconfiguration?

As for bicycling over these bridges during the construction period, ODOT’s statement didn’t mention that at all. However, in a follow-up email, ODOT Community Affairs Coordinator Ed Sale said people riding bicycles will be expected to share the lane with drivers during the 30-day construction period. They also plan to reduce the speed limit to 35 mph. Hey, let’s make that permanent too!

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.