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Metro traffic engineer says ODOT memo overstated effects of restriping Barbur

Posted by on September 12th, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Riding Portland's urban highways-40

(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A state memo that dismissed a set of bike safety improvements on Southwest Barbur Boulevard was “wrong” in its use of traffic data, a traffic engineer who helped prepare the data said Wednesday.

Barbur, the only flat and direct route connecting much of Southwest Portland and the rest of the city, currently forces cars and bicycles to merge into the same 45 mph lane in order to cross two narrow bridges. The Oregon Department of Transportation has been under pressure from some nearby residents to explain its unwillingness to restripe the road after a planned repaving job.

As part of its case against replacing one of two northbound auto lanes with two dedicated bike lanes across the bridges, ODOT had cited a report finding that the change might increase travel times somewhere between 10 and 65 percent on the corridor by 2035. (It comes to something like 84 seconds to 9 minutes of additional auto travel time over the course of the 4.9 miles south of the proposed changes.) Among other things, the models assume that no one will ever change their schedule or mode of travel to avoid that congestion.

But Anthony Buczek, a traffic engineer for regional agency Metro who’s participated in months of negotiations over ways to change the road, said in an interview that those numbers were not the best available and said the two agencies had previously agreed not to release them without agreeing on how to correct their inaccuracies.

“ODOT has done road diets elsewhere in the state. For whatever reason, ODOT Region 1 isn’t on board.”
— Anthony Buczek, Metro travel engineer

“There’s just not enough detail in the model to assess accurately the travel times or the amount of diversion,” said Buczek. “We thought we had communicated that pretty clearly to ODOT, so I think we were a little surprised to see the data released as it was.”

Buczek said the “correct” numbers, if any, came from a subsequent study by Metro and the City of Portland, using Synchro SimTraffic software, that found additional auto travel delays of about 10 percent by 2035, mostly because a restriping would force all northbound cars to drive only as fast as the slowest car.

Afternoon rush-hour travel, meanwhile, might actually be accelerated by dedicated bike lanes, because they would prevent southbound cars from having to share a lane with bikes. No studies have yet looked into southbound traffic impacts.

Meanwhile, as some readers noted in the comments below our story last week, actual auto traffic on Barbur in the relevant area peaked in 2003:

Source: ODOT. Data gathered by Evan Siroky.

This was around the same time that total auto miles traveled in Oregon began falling statewide, and five years before the latest recession.

Even the most dramatic assessments of adding solid bike lanes predict that in the short term, restriping Barbur would increase northbound auto travel time during the morning rush hour by 15 percent, or about 40 additional seconds on the 1.8 miles between Terwilliger Boulevard and Hamilton Street.

Riding Portland's urban highways-30

An organized bicycle ride on Barbur in June.

In Wednesday’s interview, Buczek said ODOT’s memo by active transportation liaison Jessica Horning implied a false equivalence between the two studies by saying that the long-term results of restriping Barbur “would likely fall somewhere in between” the two estimates of additional auto delay in 2035, 10 percent and 65 percent.

“That’s wrong,” Buczek said. “We think the numbers coming out of SimTraffic are the accurate ones.”

Buczek added that replacing a northbound auto lane with one bike lane in each direction wouldn’t reduce the number of cars that can fit on the roadway during rush hour, it’d just slightly reduce the speed at which many of them do so.

“The capacity constraint remains at the signal at Terwilliger at the south end,” Buczek said. “It does slow things down, because the slowest car’s going to dictate the flow of traffic when you only have one lane. But it doesn’t really reduce the capacity, or at least not very much. And that’s why the impacts are at least minor to modedrate, I would say.”

ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton responded Thursday to Buczek’s criticisms by saying that both projections predict auto delays.

“Both the DTA and Synchro models showed similar results, that the road diet proposal would mean delays and diversion.”
— Don Hamilton, ODOT spokesman

“Both the DTA and Synchro models showed similar results, that the road diet proposal would mean delays and diversion along the Southwest Barbur Boulevard corridor,” Hamilton said. “They differed in their projections as to the extent of the delays but these are just models and not expected to produce precise results.”

Buczek, who specializes in assessing the effects of removing auto travel lanes, said he sees an institutional resistance to reducing selected auto speeds not in the entire ODOT institution but specifically in ODOT’s Region 1, which includes the Portland metro area.

“ODOT Region 1 is generally not supportive of road diet projects. I can’t think of one that they’ve done in the region,” Buczek said. “Which is unfortunate, because we know from national studies and the Federal Highway Administration that road diet projects do improve safety where they’re done thoughtfully. But there’s just a resistence from ODOT Region 1. And I think this is an ODOT Region 1 issue rather than an ODOT issue … I believe ODOT has done road diets elsewhere in the state. … For whatever reason, ODOT Region 1 isn’t on board.”

Horning, the ODOT active transportation specialist, disputed that characterization.

“I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to say that Region 1 isn’t supportive of road diets just because Region 3 has done one, but we haven’t done one yet,” she said Wednesday. “If we didn’t believe that road diets can be a useful tool, we wouldn’t have agreed to analyze it as an option.”

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BURR
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BURR

whoops!

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

Hello Mr. Garrett, please comment…

http://bikeportland.org/2012/05/15/an-interview-with-odot-director-matt-garrett-part-1-71580

Maus: At what point will ODOT make sure that the transportation conversation includes bicycle access on highway projects simply as a way of doing business? Is that type of shift a part of this evolution?

Garrett:Yes it is… That is exactly another transition that is taking place.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Excellent work, Bikeportland!

“he sees an institutional resistance to reducing selected auto speeds not in the entire ODOT institution but specifically in ODOT’s Region 1”

Institutional resistance is a polite way of saying this!

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

The article does not identify Buczek very well; I don’t see mention of his first name, only his last name. Please fix. Unless he only has one name.

Alexis
Guest
Alexis

All cars only going as fast as the slowest car sounds good to me. Slower speeds, greater safety. Win, win. The only loser is the crazy driver, and why should they win this?

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Yeah, this is interesting. Does the research suggest that some drivers are going to drive 10% slower than the speed limit, making all drivers suffer, or that many drivers now like to drive an average of 11.1% faster than the current limit, so a 10% slowdown would force them to go the speed limit?

Joseph E
Guest

I would guess that 85% speeds are close to 55 mph, while the speed limit is 45 mph in this section (already much higher than on most of Barbur). Unfortunately, the city doesn’t have any traffic or speed date for Barbur in this section, perhaps because it is under ODOT jurisdiction.

But consider that the average speed on Barbur in 2002 was 42 mph (See: http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/jpodocs/repts_te/14301_files/chapter_3.htm), despite most of the road being signed at 35 mph, and consider that the Barbur Blvd High Crash Corridor safety plan recommended reducing the speed limit to 35 mph along the whole length of Barbur:
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/386469

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Dan Burden calls this treatment: “the rolling or moving speed bump”

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest

thanks for this reporting michael, it is rare to see a government agency so neglectful. In her letter Jessica lamented that “While some have framed the removal of a motor vehicle lane on the bridges as a quick and easy, “noimpact” solution, there are impacts that need to be considered.” What ODOT doesn’t seem capable of considering are the impacts of the status quo and how to weigh the impacts of an unsafe street or a reality of fewer cars on the road.

RJ
Guest
RJ

I don’t even think ODOT R1 is necessarily anti-bike — I just think they are very risk-averse. They don’t like making changes and then getting killed in the court of public opinion. That’s how people lose jobs.

Imagine if this segment of Barbur was already the way it should be: one lane northbound with decent bike facilities, handling about the same amount of vehicle traffic as it does now (at slightly slower speeds), with a lot more people riding bikes there than do today. Imagine that’s what’s on the ground right now. I don’t believe R1 would EVER propose removing the bike facilities and adding a second northbound lane. They would get way too much heat for it. They are much more comfortable leaving things the way they are. And it just so happens that the way things are (at least in terms of ODOT facilities) was designed and constructed in a time when it seemed as if VMT/capita was going to keep going up forever.

The move to right-size Barbur needs good, persuasive arguments to push R1 off the status quo. I think that’s even a big reason why they hired Jessica, who, by the way, does in fact care immensely about active transportation. It’s not just that Jason and Rian need to be convinced (I actually suspect they buy in somewhat already) — they also need persuasive arguments they can take to state legislators, economic development folks, freight folks, etc. Somehow we need to help make these arguments better. (Unfortunately, they’re already citing the lack of bike crashes on this segment, so that makes it hard to play the always-effective “How many more children have to DIE?!?!?!” card.)

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Is R1 throwing Jessica under the bike tire and shutting the garage door behind her? (R1 pleads with her to go talk to those crazy bike people.)

Spiffy
Guest

the impacts that they need to consider are the ones caused by motor-vehicles impacting bicycles…

PNP
Guest
PNP

What I don’t understand is their refusal to do something now in light of something that might happen twenty years from now. Do they really think that a few seconds delay in twenty years is worth the lives lost in the meantime? This is yet another reason why I hate politics.

Paul Souders
Guest
Paul Souders

The fact that they had to project out *22 years* to get an impact reveals the mindset. ODOT used science fiction to justify the status quo. “Well we can’t remove a lane because when we fight The War Against the Machines we’ll need that highway for our hovertanks.” Hey, it could happen!

dan
Guest
dan

LOL. Seriously, if you think this through, you’ll realize we can’t use the hovertanks in the coming War Against the Machines because, well, they’re machines. We’ll have to pull the drive cores on the hovertanks first thing, and give all our troops bicycles. So, just another argument in favor of restriping ; )

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

Making me reconsider purchasing an e-bike in the future….Knees don’t go out me please….

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

A bike is technically a machine too. And levers, and ramps. We really need to be careful which machines we anger.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Sorry, I just don’t buy the Sierra Club argument. 😉

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

The ODOT Region 1 manager is Jason Tell.

Some of his remarks on ODOT’s Region 1 website (http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/hwy/region1/Pages/about_us.aspx):

> ODOT Region 1 is not just about highways and bridges. It is about people. … our mission is to provide a safe, efficient transportation system … We value accountability and innovative problem solving. … We support a balanced multi-modal transportation system—highways, transit, rail and bicycle and pedestrian facilities all have a role in keeping people and goods moving.

> We provide information so Oregonians can make informed transportation choices.

> We partner with other government agencies, stakeholder groups and neighborhood associations to provide collaborative solutions to transportation challenges.

> Many Oregonians volunteer their time and energy to participate in the public processes that help plan and develop current and future transportation choices. We are grateful for the involvement and encourage more people to become involved in our efforts.

Jason Tell can be reached at jason.a.tell@odot.state.or.us.

Leon
Guest
Leon

As a fairly frequent driver of Barbur who has only ridden it a couple times due to reasonable fear of “sharing” the road with people driving highway speeds, I welcome the slowest car effect since the slowest car is usually the one doing the speed limit. I would like to feel comfortable riding on Barbur, but don’t. There are lots of places in southwest that are inhospitable to cyclists (Capitol highway between multnomah village and PCC, for instance), but Barbur is the biggest no-brainier when it comes to having an easy-ish and necessary fix. I know the odot’s claim that they want to keep it open and fast in case of emergency, and I’m sure they could come up with a reasonable plan to open it up efficiently should the need arise. Of course, it’d be nice to have a good way for cyclists to travel in those same emergencies.

Rob
Guest
Rob

Kiel Johnson
it is rare to see a government agency so neglectful.

unless that government agency is ODOT.

Opus the Poet
Guest

Actually you could use just about any state DOT for anything from benign neglect to outright anti-bicycle hostility.

Dave O'Dell
Guest
Dave O'Dell

Are there any estimates of how many lives will be saved by 2035 if this change is made? Whatever the number is lives saved would increase as traffic speed decreases. Maybe traffic delays are not such a bad thing.

steph routh
Guest
steph routh

Anthony Buczek is a thoughtful, smart, gracious person. Whenever I have disagreed with Anthony, I came to understand through further inquiry that I was incorrect. This region is lucky to have him.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Removing one northbound lane just north of SW Brier Pl all the way to Hamilton (widening back to 3 lanes just before the Hamilton signal) will not reduce capacity at all. It will reduce excessive speeding in the northbound direction and greatly improve safety for everyone. If ODOT cannot see this, they are either being intentionally disingenuous, or they suck at their jobs (traffic engineering). I’m not sure which is worse.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Perhaps we should just just step back and reframe this road diet request as being needed for driver safety since the constrained roadway entry points are already functioning as a “ramp meter”.

Joseph E
Guest

Myth: Busted!

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Awesome, awesome work, BikePortland, for continuing to shine sunlight (as always, the best disinfectant) on ODOT’s stance regarding Barbur. I think everyone can live with an average 40 second delay … 20 years from now. Especially given the potential casualties saved, and improved quality of life for SW residents (and through-commuters) by implementing a road diet. We all know the higher delay estimates pegged the BS meter. There is just nowhere near anything resembling a real capacity constraint (for cars) on this section of road.

And speaking of 20 years from now, looking out to 2035 never made sense anyway. There’s no reason to look beyond 2025 or so, when the whole thing is going to be comprehensively redesigned as part of the SW Corridor project.

paikikala
Guest
paikikala

a version of Hanlon’s (?) Razor
Never presume a conspiracy where laziness or incompetence will suffice.

Opus the Poet
Guest

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/napoleonbo130787.html#5ZufsyL0FeQvIbms.99

roger
Guest
roger

It is time for a thorough and open public forum on this concept, with all “stakeholders” in the same room, willing to listen to each other and seek understanding, if not agreement.

BPJ
Guest
BPJ

Maybe it’s time to actually try and increase the time it takes to travel by car in order to decrease the amount of time it takes for other modes. Some people are just stuck in the 1950s.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Why are the state legislators not asking ODOT for some explanations, or pressuring them to make these changes for the sake of safety?

9watts
Guest
9watts

Good question. Leave it to Bikeportland to get to the bottom of this. I am so disappointed in ODOT. I appreciate RJ’s conciliatory stance above, and realize these are just people at ODOT R1, but the smoke and mirrors, the funny math, the contorted explanations, all to make the status quo look reasonable is just galling.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Anthony Buczek, Metro travel engineer
“ODOT has done road diets elsewhere in the state. For whatever reason, ODOT Region 1 isn’t on board.”

The Spice must flow!
cough cough… I mean Nothing Must Impede the Flow of Automobiles!

Jay
Guest
Jay

I happen to know many of the “players” at region 1. They are old school traffic engineers (one in particular actually isn’t old, he just thinks like the others) that believe they serve the people by serving the auto movement – “the silent majority” if you will. They are stuck in a time capsule. They have no ability to see beyond the numbers and really don’t know what the hell they are doing.

The high-profile managers and directors give plenty of lip service to the rest of the region, but they typically defer to their technical people – the traffic engineers, who rarely say anything other than “no”.

ODOT should be divested of all surface streets in the Portland metro area as they can’t behave themselves in an inclusive fashion or think outside of the interstate. Time for this government agency to downsize. I’m sure they can live easier and faster in Texas or the midwest.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

This one of the big differences between OR and WA. WA has devolved more authority to the local government for design and control of aerials away from our DOT. A suggestion for this year’s BTA legislative agenda, perhaps.

Dan B
Guest
Dan B

Some “engineer”… Buczek “who specializes in assessing the effects of removing auto travel lanes” should know that syncro models are for making signals work and do not model operations. PS there are no signals on the bridges… His analysis is faulty and he should just admit he doesn’t know how bad it will be, oh wait, he did in the article “it doesn’t really reduce the capacity” or “at least not very much” And that’s why the impacts are minor” or “modedrate.” Sound like he’s pushing his agenda as a person “who specializes in assessing the effects of removing auto travel lanes”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Care to explain to us, in detail, how removing a lane north of Brier Place and South of Capital will slow throughput? The signal at Miles is the bottleneck in the northbound direction.

Chris Monsere
Guest
Chris Monsere

It is hard to critically evaluate the results and the impacts without knowing where on Barbur the road diet is proposed. If the road diet includes intersections, then the lane removal will have significant effects, especially since the DTA model assumptions state clearly that “signals not re-optimized for Road Diet.” Of course, this would be done if a road diet were implemented so the DTA numbers are worst case, at best. The DTA model also seems like overkill –I don’t think diversion is a significant issue.

But I am more disappointed in the way the analysis is framed – as it suggests that any vehicle delay, even if only in the peak hours and 20 years in the future, is somehow more relevant than the other issues today. Vehicle speeds are way too high on Barbur, safety is poor, and bicycle / ped accommodation is substandard. Road diets have generally been shown to improve safety for all users. Motor vehicle delay at the peak hour shouldn’t be only decision variable.

I can’t help but reflect on the assigned reading I give in class from the father of road safety analysis , Ezra Hauer. He wrote “..is it better to be dead than stuck in traffic?” I think we know the answer to that question.

RJ
Guest
RJ

I can’t upvote this enough. Thanks, Dr. Monsere.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I believe the previous thread made clear that the road diet is just proposed for the segment from Hamilton to either Brier Pl. or Terwilliger. Other than a couple of extremely minor side streets and the Capitol Hwy interchange (and Brier Pl itself), there are NO intersections along this stretch. The “percentage delay” figures cited by ODOT were also applicable only to that stretch, not to the entire length of Barbur.

RJ
Guest
RJ

But it’s not clear from the ODOT memo that the lane removal was modeled as you describe (Hamilton to either Brier “or” Terwilliger) — you need to be very specific about what you’re modeling, because small things have a big impact on the results. If the lane removal was modeled from Brier to the area of the Capitol Highway merge, then you could pretty much take signalized intersections out of the equation altogether — they aren’t really going to affect opertations. But if you’re going all the way to Terwilliger, then you at least have to address operations at the SW 3rd Ave/Fulton signal, and probably Terwilliger too, depending on what you mean by “to Terwilliger.” Tricky stuff.

9watts
Guest
9watts

But in the world I’d like to imagine, ODOT would have in its memo clarified all of these options, and said something like:
…If we go with this version (from milepost X to milepost Y) the deleterious impacts on the autobound will be minimal. But if we add in this signalized intersection our models suggest a disproportionate impact, so we are proposing to leave out this intersection, pending further review and input from stakeholders who we would like to meet face to face in ten days at such and such a venue.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Agreed RJ, and I don’t think it would be necessary to go all the way to Terwilliger. If we can make the two bridge crossings better-protected and reduce vehicle speeds on the desolate stretch, that will accomplish most of what we’ve set out to do, while still allowing two lanes approaching Terwilliger for queue storage.

Anthony Buczek (Metro)
Guest
Anthony Buczek (Metro)

As noted in the follow-up post, the proposed road diet project begins 1/4 mile north of the signal at SW 3rd/Miles/Fulton and ends 1/4 mile prior to the signal at Hamilton. No signals are affected which is why operations are not substantially affected.

JL
Guest
JL

Seeing as how the slowest car is generally going near the speed limit on that stretch of Barbur Blvd I don’t see what the big deal is….

9watts
Guest
9watts

The big deal is that ODOT apparently isn’t keen on giving those who bike a fair shake. But in trying to make that case–shore up autodom one more time–they were caught with their parameters down.

KVC
Guest
KVC

I have so many questions, many of which have already been stated: What is the assumed vehicle speed that ODOT used in their model? Is it realistic / appropriate to use maximum legal speed during peak times in a model like this? How do they justify assuming absolutely no changes in mode share? Do they do any modeling of safety impacts resulting from proposed changes (for motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians)? This includes expected collision frequency and their resulting delays.

From what’s been revealed so far it really seems that ODOT was not simply lazy in setting up the parameters of the model; they appear to have intentionally chosen options that would result in the highest projected delays. I wish their model’s results were because of failure to consider all factors since then there would be the potential for objective staff to acknowledge the model’s deficiencies and improve it. However, if the objective was to crank out numbers showing maximum possible impacts as justification for not making any changes, then it’s completely unrealistic to expect them to make any changes.

I don’t like to drive on Barbur because of unpredictable driver behavior, such as sudden lane changes with no signaling, and average traffic speeds that are clearly unsafe given the road’s character. I’m concerned that improving the quality of the surface is going to increase speeds and actually make it even more unsafe for people.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Classic. Perhaps Portland’s bold new vision for non-auto travel in 2013 could be by creating an “active transportation” organization as entrenched and bureaucratized as any state DOT. Maybe then these highways will change for the better for all users, but only if the right people are getting paid. Make it like the streetcar project or CRC or something.

pdxpaul
Guest
pdxpaul

Isn’t all for naught anyway since we’re gonna be destroyed by an earthquake soon?

Hillsons
Guest
Hillsons

You’ve nowhere to hide now Region 1. You’re actually being held accountable for what you say.

Milt
Guest
Milt

So. I can’t tell from the article or comments. Will a road diet on Barbur/Highway 99 result in increased automobile traffic on Terwilliger (traffic diversions) or not? I fear it will because that is what happens now when traffic on Barbur becomes congested. But I would like to hear other opinions.