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Barbur road diet addressed at Portland City Council meeting

Posted by on October 10th, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Novick in Council chambers yesterday.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

City Council took up a resolution yesterday to endorse the SW Corridor Plan, a regional planning effort to determine the best way to implement high-capacity transit through the Barbur Blvd corridor in southwest Portland. Thanks to a concerted push led by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance that included groups like Friends of Barbur, Oregon Walks, City Club of Portland and others, this hearing was pegged as an opportunity to speak up for two projects in the Corridor Plan that would study the impacts of a “lane diet” on SW Barbur Blvd. But transportation Commissioner Novick took some of the wind out of advocates’ sails when he addressed the road diet issue on his website Friday afternoon.

“I would suggest you amp up the level of urgency.”
— Chris Smith, citizen activist

Even though Novick took the official amendment to study the Barbur road diet proposal off the table and the Barbur road diet played a relatively minor official role, the hearing still offered some important takeaways to keep in mind in the coming months…

ODOT was a no-show
No staff from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) attended the hearing. This is interesting given the fact that ODOT is one of three official partners on the plan. Both Metro and TriMet — the other two transportation agency partners — had staff members that gave presentations and were available for questions. Not only is ODOT a SW Corridor Plan partner, they also own and manage SW Barbur Blvd — the road that’s at the center of the entire discussion.

City of Portland Freight Advisory Committee objects to the road diet concept
We’ve heard from ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell that the idea of re-striping lanes on Barbur to create space for bike lanes comes with “strong objections from stakeholders.” However, despite our requests, ODOT has still not shared with us who these stakeholders are. Yesterday at Council, Commissioner Novick shared one of them: the City of Portland’s Freight Advisory Committee. Novick mentioned that he received a letter from that group on Tuesday that detailed their opposition (we have the letter and will share more in a separate post).

Key activists aren’t gung-ho about a road diet
Two highly respected southwest Portland neighborhood activists seemed cool on the road diet idea. Southwest Neighborhoods Inc President Marianne Fitzgerald said her group “doesn’t have a position” on the road diet and only asked for a study. Don Baack, the president of Southwest Trails and an ardent supporter of biking and walking in the area, said he’s “very ambivalent” about the road diet. He told Mayor Hales and council members that, “The road diet might not be the answer” because of possible impacts from traffic diversion onto adjacent neighborhood streets. Baack also called out the need for “really good data” before moving forward.

The BTA brought signs.

Advocates heap praise on Novick
Nearly every advocate that testified (as per instructions from the BTA) gave profuse thanks to Commissioner Novick for his decision to study road diet impacts during ODOT’s upcoming bridge repair project (set for “early 2014”). This thanks came despite the fact that very little is known about the nature of the promised study, what role PBOT staff would take in it, when exactly it will start, whether Metro would be involved or not, what (if any) public transparency there would be, and so on.

Chris Smith asks for more urgency, shorter timetable
While the BTA (and others) declared “victory” and offered “profound thanks” to Novick for committing to a vaguely defined study, Chris Smith (a respected citizen activist who also happens to sit on the City’s Planning and Sustainability Commission) offered a detailed course of action and said PBOT should take a more aggressive stance. Smith, who rides Barbur regularly in the location where road diet is proposed, said for Barbur to to live up to its potential, PBOT should take ownership of road away from ODOT.

“Today, ODOT manages Barbur like an overflow valve for I-5,” Smith testified, “I see that akin to setting parking requirements the day after Thanksgiving and having all that capacity unused the rest of the year. We’re doing the same thing with Barbur’s potential as a community place.”

Smith also urged City Council to speed up their timeframe on the road diet study and implementation. “I would suggest you amp up the level of urgency,” he testified. Instead of waiting for ODOT’s bridge repair project to do the study (as Novick wants to do), Smith said the study should start right away and then, “We should have our plan figured out by then and the ODOT construction project should be the opportunity to implement whatever striping we decide is best for the community.”

Amanda Fritz didn’t like receiving 667 emails
Commissioner Fritz said that she has received 667 emails in favor of the Barbur road diet and study (she also Tweeted about it here and here). She expressed that the volume of emails was “really hard” to deal with and that trying to wade through all of them makes it “very difficult” for her to respond to other important constituent concerns (she usually gets about 50 emails a day). Given the flood of emails she received, she couldn’t reply to them all, so she decided to “defer to the Commissioner in charge [of transportation]” on the Barbur topic. In the future, Fritz would rather get one email that includes a petition with many signatures. (On that note, Friends of Barbur volunteer Kiel Johnson delivered a petition with 503 signatures during his testimony yesterday. “A road modernization project would be the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective way to make Barbur safe for everyone,” he said, “Paint is much cheaper than hospital beds and funerals.”)

While there wasn’t any official movement toward the Barbur road diet proposal at Council yesterday, all the council members heard testimony about the urgent need for safer biking conditions. Also worth noting was that, prior to the final vote on the Corridor Plan, Novick was asked by Commissioner Fish to clarify his stance and timeline on the road diet proposal. “That’s something I’m committed to doing in the coming months,” Novick replied, “and I think the fact that ODOT is doing some work… that will give us some helpful data.”

Then, Novick offered a reality-check for people who want to see the road diet move forward. “Everybody should understand that just as there are people who people passionately in favor of a road diet, there are also people who are concerned about it.”

— Read our complete coverage of Barbur Blvd here.

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  • Dave October 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    So, basically, nothing is going to happen until ODOT does the bridge repair, a time when it would be ideal to *modify* the road, but instead will just include a study, which will gather unrealistic data, due to the construction, and will lead to another year of analysis of the unrealistic data and political fighting, followed by ODOT continuing to not care at all, and Portland continuing to say “we’re committed to improvement” and showing it by watching person after person get injured or die while endlessly trapping any improvements in an impossible loop.

    I can’t even begin to articulate how tired of this I am.

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    • Pliny October 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      You forgot the part were grinding off the road surface and replacing it suddenly doesn’t count as “reconstruction” (triggering the bike bill) anymore, even though ODOT’s own website says different.

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  • Chris Smith October 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Fear of diverted traffic often causes neighborhoods to hesitate on actions that otherwise are beneficial. In most cases I’ve found that actual diversion is minimal. In cases where it does happen we have tools (traffic diverters, etc.) that can be employed.

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    • i ride my bike October 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      Yeah what neighborhood diversion? Isnt that the whole issue with SW Portland is the lack of a redundant street grid and where instead all traffic must go on one or two arterial roads? Barbur is the only option not just for bikes due to grade but motor vehicles too due to lack of connectivity.

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    • Barbara October 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      I think that’s especially true in SW Portland, where there a not a lot fo alternatives, and those are slow and windy like Terwilliger. I don’t really think that people will move to those as they take more time anyway.

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      • Paul Souders October 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm

        This. For the proposed road diet, there is exactly *one* cross street. SW Drivers have nowhere to divert to, and adjust their habits accordingly.

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    • Chris I October 10, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      I think traffic diversions are a total red herring here. I grew up on SW Corbett, which would be one of the 2 possible diversion routes. Barbur would have to be an absolute parking lot for Corbett to make sense as an alternative. You have to travel south and then east, before heading north on a slow, meandering neighborhood street, down the Corbett hills, and back up on the other side to get to Hamilton. With no traffic on Barbur, I would estimate an extra 5 minutes to divert on Corbett; so it would have to be seriously congested for this to make sense.

      Terwilliger would be another option, but is generally highly congested with hospital traffic during commuting hours. Diversion is not going to be a problem.

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  • Scott October 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Of course Fritz didn’t like it. She’s never shown any sign of understanding that she’s an elected representative.

    As for traffic diversion, uh… where exactly would trucks and cars go? Off road through Markham Park? There are three alternative routes in the area- Macadam, Avenue, Terwilliger Boulevard, and Interstate 5. I’m reasonably certain that none of them are neighborhood streets. That’s a completely fabricated argument.

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    • Todd Hudson October 10, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Suggest that a Barbur road diet will help the homeless, and then Amanda Fritz will respond quickly. That’s the constituency for whom she’ll bend over backwards!

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      • Dave October 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm

        And yet, we have a large homeless population, and not only that, a large mentally-ill homeless population, and all we do with them is kick them from one street to the next, arrest them, keep them locked up overnight, and then plop them right back again. How that helps anyone, I have no idea. It’s not a crime to be homeless or mentally ill – they need understanding and help, not prison time.

        It’s really nice that Fritz wants homeless people to be able to sit at outdoor seating on Ankeny and at street seats, but I think maybe addressing some more fundamental issues would possibly be more helpful.

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      • Erinne October 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

        Since you’re obviously referring to R2D2, I’ll point out that they are actually under one of Fritz’s bureaus, unlike transportation. So it makes sense that she would be working very hard to help remedy their situation.

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  • Case October 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Nothing more annoying than emails from constituents expressing their concerns about safety on a road that has seen a number of recent, high profile, accidents. Really people, you have your chance to voice your opinion, in the voting booth, after that you need to tone it down.

    Commissioner Frtiz’s tweets are embarrassing.

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    • wsbob October 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      “…Commissioner Frtiz’s tweets are embarrassing.” Case

      On the contrary, it’s your comment that’s embarrassing, as well as thoughtless.

      Read the tweets in question (links in story above.), and comments to them. This story reports the last count of the email she received was 667.

      bikeportland also reports: “…She expressed that the volume of emails was “really hard” to deal with and that trying to wade through all of them makes it “very difficult” for her to respond to other important constituent concerns (she usually gets about 50 emails a day). Given the flood of emails she received, she couldn’t reply to them all …”.

      So now, people will be upset because they sent her an email and she didn’t respond. Maybe you’d like to pony up some money, so she could hire some people to help answer the barrage of email she received, or volunteer some of your time to help with that.

      “…And I really want to like Amanda Fritz, but she can suck it if she thinks it’s not appropriate for an org to solicit their many members to send her an e-mail.” Erinne

      She didn’t say it was inappropriate to do that. I say to you as I have to Case…read the tweets and comments to them, and what this bikeportland story reports Fritz having said at city council with regards to the emails received. Portland probably doesn’t have the money to hire the staffers that would be required to answer in a timely manner, such a massive number of emails received over such a short period of time.

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  • Erinne October 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    The BTA’s call to thank the commissioners was pathetic. Don’t declare victory when there is obviously no victory. They’re not doing anything. Thanking them lets them think whatever bones they’re tossing our way (a study in the next year, maybe) is enough. And yes, I told them that.

    And I really want to like Amanda Fritz, but she can suck it if she thinks it’s not appropriate for an org to solicit their many members to send her an e-mail.

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  • Psyfalcon October 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    So who gets to be in charge of setting up petitions?

    Even if BP sets up the link no one else gets to email? Does Oregon have recalls?

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  • Spiffy October 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    strong objections from stakeholders

    I’m tired of them abusing the term “stakeholders” as if the only people that have a stake in this are businesses… it’s always businesses… in my mind the area residents vastly outnumber the business owners and their safety should come before profit… if you want to make a profit do it safely or don’t do it at all…

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  • mran1984 October 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Amanda cannot manage her email. That is so sad. Maybe somebody from Tigard could drive into the city and assist her. Do these “stakeholders” sit on the board for Goldman Sachs? Strange place we live in. Hey Amanda, please quit watering Front Avenue every morning. It is a waste of water and quite “inappropriate” as well.

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  • PNP October 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I think the term “stakeholders” should include everyone who uses the road. After all, users–regardless of their mode of transportation–have a vested interest in getting from point A to point B safely.

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  • Gerik October 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    This was a important effort on behalf of the BTA and hundreds of our members and supporters and dozens of community partners, as we acknowledge here: http://btaoregon.org/2013/10/a-victory-for-safety-on-sw-barbur/

    I am proud of this work, proud of elevating the issue to the level of media coverage we have achieved, proud of the outcome to date, and looking forward to doing more.

    We thanked Commissioner Novick so prominently because he stepped forward to do what we asked for, study the road diet. He didn’t take the wind out of our sails, we won this step in our campaign. We asked for a study because ODOT was previously unwilling to entertain the notion, now they are getting quoted in the media saying otherwise: http://www.katu.com/news/local/ODOT-considers-how-Road-Diet-for-Barbur-Blvd-will-affect-traffic-227172671.html

    Ultimately, at the BTA, we will continue to work on safety on SW Barbur until it is a safe place to travel for everyone, regardless of their age, their ability, or their vehicle of choice. Yesterday’s victory was a step forward and our continued diligence is required if we want to win.

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