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Freight Committee: “Postpone any advancement” of Barbur road diet

Posted by on October 10th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Barbur needs more capacity, not less,
says freight committee.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Freight Committee, a group that advises the City’s Bureau of Transportation on “issues related to freight mobility”, penned a letter to Commissioner Steve Novick (and sent a copy to Mayor Hales) that outlines their opposition to the proposed “road diet” on SW Barbur Blvd. Novick mentioned the letter during his remarks at a City Council hearing on the SW Corridor Plan yesterday.

The PFC claims the road diet proposal would lead to a reduction in vehicle capacity and they feel SW Barbur needs an increase in capacity. They also say if the conditions are unsafe, “the cyclist community” should pay for a public outreach campaign and that if people want to ride bicycles they should walk them on dangerous sections or consider using other streets.

“Cyclists could dismount and walk the short distance across the bridges and then resume on the bike path, or cyclists could divert to other streets.”
— PFC letter

The letter (PDF) is dated October 8th and signed by PFC Chair Debra Dunn and Vice Chair Pia Welch .

Before we share more about the letter’s contents, keep in mind that the PFC is essentially the same type of group as the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee. It’s members are citizen volunteers, meets monthly to discuss projects and policies, and has a PBOT staff liaison assigned to it. As an advisory committee, the PFC doesn’t have much official authority. Their activities usually amount to letter-writing and signing off on projects that impact freight. While their opinion is respected (much like the bike committee), they do not hold the same amount of influence as the city’s much more powerful commissions on various topics (like the Planning Commission or the Design Commission).

That being said, when freight interests talk, elected officials listen.

In their letter, Dunn and Welch explain why their committee doesn’t want the road diet proposal to move forward.

Here’s the opening section (emphasis mine):

Debra Dunn at the launch of the
“Street Smart” safety campaign in
June 2011.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Members… have serious concerns about the ‘road diet’ design concept and its inherent reduction in vehicular and freight movement into and through the city. Specifically, we are opposed to the ‘road diet’ on SW Barbur Blvd (Highway 99W) because it serves as a critical north-south corridor connecting Downtown Portland to Downtown Sherwood and all neighborhoods in between. The City’s Transportation System Plan currently classifies SW Barbur Blvd as a Major City Traffic Street, Major Emergency Response Route, Major Truck Street, Major Transit Priority Street, City Bikeway and Walkway and the future High Capacity Transit – bus or light rail route. In Metro’s adopted Regional Freight Plan, Hwy 99W is classified as a Regional Main Roadway Route which is intended to serve regional and state freight mobility needs. According to ODOT and the City of Portland, SW Barbur Blvd is also a Seismic Lifeline Route that experiences double the traffic when an incident closes lanes on I-5. In our opinion the corridor is of regional significance and warrants and increase, as opposed to a reduction, in capacity.

“We recommend a public outreach campaign sponsored by the cyclist community… to help educate cyclists on how they can use the corridor more safely.”
— PFC letter

Just to refresh your memory, the road diet proposal would re-stripe the existing traffic lanes on SW Barbur Blvd to create dedicated space for bicycling. While ODOT claims that the re-striping would result in significant future delays for motor vehicle operator, a Metro traffic engineer (and others) who looked at the same numbers disagrees and say more study is needed before drawing any concrete conclusions.

Continuing with the letter from the PFC, Dunn and Welch contend the road diet also isn’t needed because crash data shows there isn’t a bike safety issue. “The PFC strongly supports investments that improve safety along this corridor and prioritizing transportation improvements based on areas where the safety concerns have been documented,” they write in the letter. And then a few sentences later they continue by stating, “Fortunately to date there are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists on the Vermont and Newbury bridges.”

If indeed the conditions are unsafe, states the letter, the PFC says the “cyclist community” should sponsor a public outreach campaign, “to help educate cyclists on how to use the corridor more safely.”

If you’re not familiar with the stretch of Barbur in question, watch this video created by The Oregonian:

How do they recommend people ride more safely in this section?

“Cyclists could dismount,” reads the letter, “and walk the short distance across the bridges and then resume on the bike path, or cyclists could divert to other streets.”

“While this may not be an ideal solution,” continues the letter, “it is a short-term solution that needs to be further evaluated and considered to take people out of an ‘unsafe area’.”

In their conclusion, the PFC urges the City to move discussion of the idea into the long-term SW Corridor Plan process, which is where they also point out that the road diet concept has already been discussed but “not selected for implementation”. Given that, they are calling on the City of “postpone any further advancement” of the road diet until the Corridor Plan process has taken its course.

Download the letter here (PDF).

— Learn more about this issue by reading more stories in the archives.

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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Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Interesting, I think that semi trucks don’t belong in the central core of our city, the freight lobby seems to think that the problem of trucks running over bicyclists can be solved by simply eliminating bicycles…

Hart Noecker
Guest

I recommend truckers dismount and walk over the Columbia river. Congestion solved.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Has the freight committee met recently? According to the meeting materials, it looks like they haven’t met since May:

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/58371

Chris Anderson
Guest

The “one less car” logic could perhaps convince them that shifting some percentage of commutes along that route to bikes, and what that means in terms of reduced congestion for trucks.

TWSS
Guest
TWSS

The idea that the problem could be solved by removing people riding bicycles (or putting the onus on them to change their behavior) reminds me of people who say that if a woman doesn’t want to get raped, she should simply not go out at night.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Having gotten a big F-U from freight it grows more important that real traffic volume data be acquired. I have a hunch that the traffic volume data for Barbur that is posted on this blog is anecdotal. We don’t know how many cars are on the road on Barbur on a typical day at any given time. We don’t know what the traffic volume is during an event that triggers “overflow“ volume from I-5. We do know that there are frequent crashes in the Terwilliger curves and it is my conjecture that these result in “overflow” traffic on Barbur. We don’t know how big a backup, or how long a wait would occur during an overflow event if one lane were removed for a road diet. It is reasonable to establish base lines and model potential events prior to taking action.

It is indisputable that Barbur is a dreadful bike ride and change should occur. It is not indisputable that the ultimate solution is to removes lane(s) from motor vehicles. Taking stuff from stakeholders, especially stuff that is used, is rarely a winning strategy. If it turns out that Barbur does indeed act as a relief valve for I-5 congestion, then removing a lane will impact motorists more that posters on this blog anticipate. Bicyclists who are in the minority would be taking a useful thing from motorists who are the majority. A retrofit of the bridges to build cantilever bike lane and a sidewalk would be a solution that would accommodate everyone. Sure it would be more expensive than paint stripes, but in an overflow, traffic gridlock event I would bet you a beer that motorists would use the bike lane as a travel lane and say damn you to anyone who said otherwise.

Nik
Guest
Nik

Pedestrians should be advised that this section of sidewalk contains large knife blades that swing swiftly and at random intervals across the path. Only those who are pure of heart shall cross. You are hereby educated that any severe puncture wounds you sustain attempting to use this pedestrian facility are the result of your own insufficient care.

In all seriousness, why should we accept transportation facilities that are dangerous, by design, for any of their intended users?

BURR
Guest
BURR

PFC members could pony up the $s to widen those bridges.

tvcb
Guest
tvcb

BURR
PFC members could pony up the $s to widen those bridges.
Recommended 0

Unfortunately the bridges in question cannot be widened due to their construction and are still considered to be “very healthy” by federal standards so there is no likely hood of replacing them.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

My suspicion that freight owns all the roads in America is continually being confirmed. Thanks for coming right out and saying so, PFC! See ya in hell!

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

The Portland Freight committee is not “citizen volunteers”, it consists of paid representatives of companies who either move freight or generate freight, plus CH2MHill, as I read the huge 32-person roster. It’s a business lobby. As such I’m sure it is listened to more that the BAC or the PAC.

Fourknees
Guest
Fourknees

I’m pretty sure that the existing sidewalks aren’t wide enough to walk your bike anyway.
I drive this 75% of my commutes and I think the only “freight” I’ve seen is a trimet bus. There must be a lot of truck traffic during non-commuting hours, at least on this stretch of Barbur.

Adam
Guest
Adam

“Consider using them on other streets…” – WHAT other streets? There is no connectivity in this neighborhood. None. That is the reason we need Barbur to be safe for all its users.

Also, since when is Barbur a freight route? I have never seen freight traffic on it. The freight traffic tends to be ten feet over, on I-5.

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

The tone and timing of the letter shows veiled panic. It’s not as if pedestrians in black hoodies are going around selectively closing off holes in the air…It’s much more threatening- seeds being planted at city council, press, and public awareness.

danny
Guest
danny

The freight lobby thinks about freight and dollars. They do not think about people or any other users of the roads. Hence the committee’s utterly predictable diatribe. Unfortunately, this letter gives ODOT cover to say that it is just taking the middle ground by not “caving” to the freight people or that pesky “cyclist community.”

I spend quite a bit of time riding this stretch of Barbur, and I’ve almost never seek large trucks. Regardless, whether or not trucks use this street, the notion that we should maintain the extremely unsafe status quo is absurd.

I continue to believe that state law obligates ODOT to put in a bikeway on the Barbur bridges when it works on them. I know ODOT disagrees, but perhaps someone needs to test its interpretation of its legal obligations. A nice little cycling suit.

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Editor

It’s especially strange to see a group who you’d think would have a fair amount of technical expertise about traffic flow at odds with the Metro traffic engineer, who said last month that (contrary to the letter above) lost road capacity is not a major effect of the proposed road diet:

“The capacity constraint remains at the signal at Terwilliger at the south end. 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.”

This isn’t a matter of opinion, it’s just a factual question. Either the traffic engineer is wrong about the capacity impact of a road diet, or the freight committee is.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Just read the PFC letter again. Anyone else notice how it seems to parrot the letter from Jason Tell [1], except it is even more wrong?

Tell: “the road diet concept was discussed, but in the end was not selected for early implementation”.

PFC: “The road diet concept was discussed, however, not selected for implementation”.

Did PFC forgot the word “early”?

1: http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Tell-Barbur-letter-to-novick-.pdf

Cory Poole
Guest

I think it’s fairly clear that a detailed traffic study is required. When I use Barbur in a car, I find that the bottle neck is always at transition into downtown. I cant think of a time when traffic was backed up at the bridge in question. When I ride my bike on Barbur I just try to keep my speed up and hope for the best.

SD
Guest
SD

“Postpone any advancement of” = kill, without further study

Joseph Readdy
Guest
Joseph Readdy

I’m sympathetic to the needs of the freight industry to freely move the goods that we demand as a consumer society. However, when we prioritize for freight movement, the unintended consequence is encouraging increased use of automobiles.
My biggest issue is the continued confusion between capacity and congestion. There is plenty of capacity on SW Barbur Boulevard and that capacity won’t diminish with a road diet. Congestion during peak travel times may increase until people seek alternatives – which just might be the bike, once Barbur has insanely great bicycle infrastructure.
A road diet will increase safety for all modes.

dan
Guest
dan

So, what they’re saying is “we are happy to see people continue to die on this road as long as we can avoid the possibility of a slight reduction in motor vehicle throughput.”

Got it.

Incidentally, I drove Barbur as a reverse commute yesterday – from downtown to Beaverton in the morning, and back in the evening. There was no traffic that direction, and heavy traffic in the oncoming lanes – switching the direction of travel depending on time of day as some people have suggested seems like it would work very well. I have biked some hairy places (Hanoi, Bangkok, Chinese expressways), but now that I’ve gotten a good look at Barbur during rush hour, I wouldn’t consider it a viable bike route…I have much respect / sympathy for the folks who use it as their daily commute.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I ride Barbur Both ways at least 3-4 times a week, and I think the Oregonian video is very telling to what I have experienced. Look at the level (or lack thereof) of traffic on the Northbound lane as Damien Rides North During the first 45 seconds. This road is nowhere near capacity.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“… if people want to ride bicycles they should walk them on dangerous sections or consider using other streets.”

And they say cyclists are arrogant.

Do they realize that in the last couple of serious pedestrian collisions (one a fatality) the victims were walking their bikes?

Do they even consider that while they are complaining about a possible 4-minute delay at some unspecified time in the future, asking cyclists to “use other streets” puts at least a 10-minute delay into those cyclists’ trips right now?

How about this, Freight Committee: no through trucks on Barbur north of Bertha. Use I-5 instead between Bertha/405.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Perhaps there is an opportunity here for a session at the PFC with a presentation of what a “Right Sized Road” / “Road Diet” is and can do for the freight community.

The typical opportunities that many in the freight community are not aware of or forget typically deal with the potential to make improvements in lane widths (going from sub or standard to wider than standard), adding a center turn lane (useful for safer turns or breakdowns), improved visibility with buffer lanes/ bike lanes, pavement preservation (keeping heavy traffic away from catch basins/ roadway edges), and often the most forgotten … the smoothing of traffic flows with a single lane reducing peak speeds and the leap frogging and weaving through freight traffic of smaller faster vehicles.

Here in Vancouver we implemented two road diets on an industrial arterial (lower Grand Blvd) and an old highway (old SR 501 / Fourth Plain) and experienced many of these safety outcomes on corridors with >10% freight traffic in the early 2000s.

Opus the Poet
Guest

So what I gather from this is the PFC extending a middle finger instead of a conciliatory hand to the safety of cyclists, n’est pas? How thoughtful of them. On the other hand I have yet to hear of anyone driving a semi or even a large delivery box van who has been injured in a wreck with a cyclist.

Terry Nobbe
Guest

I like Jonathan’s comment: “That being said, when freight interests talk, elected officials listen.” Elected officials can listen and discuss all they like, none of them has the power to make more right-of way within a thoroughfare like Barbur Blvd. If any of us really feel marginalized by this conundrum, consider the poor in China that STILL bike everywhere after just about every one else has switched to motorized travel over the last 14 years or so. I personally feel sad for that country that was once MOSTLY a country of cyclists. Back then EVERY little boy dreamed of some day owning and riding his own Flying Pigeon.

jim
Guest
jim

Road diet is the most moronic thing that they could do. Look at roads that they have already screwed up.
Interstate Ave. used to be a four lane road before they made light rail. Now at 5:00pm it is a major back up, so is Greely, the nearest alternative to Interstate. It can take 20 minutes to get up the hill on Greely to Adidas on many days. It is the same for Interstate also. These cars are sitting there with their engines running getting zero miles per gallon spewing pollution into the surrounding neighborhoods. Cars are also trying to cut through the residential streets where kids are playing and also speeding on the greenways.
It is obvious that they need to move the cars and trucks more efficiently on the major arterial routes, not stymie them even more.

was carless
Guest
was carless

In 20 years of living in Portland, I can’t remember EVER seeing a transport truck on Barbur on the section in question. Honestly.

bula
Guest
bula

So, I ride this every day.

Why can’t we just get rid of the elevated sidewalks and make those normal bike/pedestrian lanes?

There are barely any ‘freight’ vehicles, ever, on Barbur from north of Terwilliger to downtown.

Northbound traffic gets bad in the afternoon because of the on-ramp to the Sellwood bridge. It has nothing to do with Barbur itself

Southbound gets bad in the afternoon because of the lights at Terwilliger. But they move along just fine eventually.

The bridges in question are totally sketchy – and almost wide enough to add a bike-lane w/o the ‘diet’ plan. It’d be better to take out the elevated sidewalks, re-stripe with a bike and pedestrian lane like on the Hawthorne, and call it good. It would be more expensive than a ‘diet’ but would not cost millions and would leave the lanes which are probably needed.

But the rest of Barbur, is, for the most part, decently safe (except for the crossing of doom to stay on Barbur when it splits into Naito).

So, can anybody say why just replacing the elevated sidewalks with regular bike/pedestrian lanes won’t work?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Besides making room for non-automotive uses, one of the primary benefits in road diets is reduced vehicle speeds and enhanced safety for all road users.

The solo driver of a passenger vehicle was killed in a high-speed crash on Barbur early this morning. Is this the kind of fatality you were looking for, Freight Committee?

Phil Richman
Guest
Phil Richman

Here is a link to the Portland Freight Committee Membership List. For those who care about human safety it is beyond time to start a conversation, rather than continually present a dichotomy.

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/448515