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After tempers flare, citizen committee approves PBOT’s plans for Foster

Posted by on October 24th, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Foster Rd SAC meeting-8

Last night, PBOT asked this committee to
endorse its plan for a road diet on SE Foster Rd.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) for the Foster Streetscape Plan voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Bureau of Transporation’s recommended redesign of Foster Road last night. There was only one committee member who voted against the plan, and none of PBOT’s proposed designs was challenged. However, tempers and emotions flared during the meeting on an issue unrelated to how the lanes and sidewalks should be divided up.

As we shared on Tuesday, after a 10 month public process, PBOT unveiled their proposal for how to turn the notoriously dangerous “Foster Freeway” into a “safe, pleasant, attractive and comfortable place to live, shop and linger.” In short, the design would change the existing, four lane cross section (with on-street parking in some segments), to a more modern lane configuration that would have three standard lanes and two, six-foot wide bike lanes from SE 52nd to 90th.

The reactions to PBOT’s plans here on BikePortland have been mixed. Many people are thrilled that Foster will have dedicated space for bicycling and (most likely) lower speed and calmer driving behaviors. But others were hoping for a more robust bikeway design that would provide some degree of buffer or physical protection.

At last night’s meeting, PBOT project manager Mauricio LeClerc and traffic engineer Lewis Wardrip explained the details of their recommendation and the rationale behind their decisions. They also clarified how the new striping would look at the western end of the project and at a tricky “mixing zone” at SE 82nd.

Here’s the PBOT striping plan for the intersection of Foster and SE 56th:

Foster Rd SAC meeting-1

As you can see, the new bike lanes would vanish suddenly just west of 56th and Foster would return to its existing, four-lane cross-section. One attendee at the meeting last night pointed out how this would “be an awkward transition” if someone was riding westbound and “their lane just ends”. In response, PBOT’s Wardrip said they could put down sharrows or other pavement markings to help with the transition. However, PBOT assumes most people on bikes will turn off of Foster prior to the bike lanes ending. They’ll expect westbound bike traffic to go north at 56th to weave through the neighborhood. For bike traffic coming from the north and traveling eastbound, LeClerc said they could use the future bike lanes on SE 52nd, ride past Foster and then go left (east) on SE Center Street to access Foster.

At SE 82nd, some people were disappointed that westbound bike and auto traffic would mix in a travel lane. Here’s the striping plan for that section PBOT shared last night:

PBOT staff admitted that this design is “not ideal by any means” but that it was the best option available at this time. In order to maintain a dedicated bike lane through the intersection (to the left of a right turn lane), PBOT claims they’d need to acquire several feet of right-of-way from the adjacent bank parking lot. Here’s how that would look (green color would be newly acquired PBOT right-of-way):

Foster Rd SAC meeting-5

Since the design above is beyond the scope of this current project, PBOT said they would include language about pursuing it in the update of the Streetscape Plan. (Note: This Foster striping/redesign is just one project within the larger update to the Foster Streetscape Plan.)

After going over those two issues, LeClerc presented the recommendation and the context behind their decisions (read the draft recommendation PDF here).

One of the projected impacts of PBOT’s recommendation is that average driving speeds during the evening rush-hour would decrease from 19 mph to 14 mph along the 2.3 mile project corridor. Put another way, the new lane configuration (which won’t allow people to pass slower drivers) would lead to a three minute increase in travel timesin the short-term.

“The increase in travel time would go against our goal of equity… I don’t see any people of color around the room… We need to hear more from people with backgrounds who don’t match our own.”
— Nick Christensen, Lents Neighborhood Association

That aspect of the project concerns committee member Nick Christensen. “The increase in travel time would go against our goal of equity,” he shared, via a prepared statement. Christensen, who was the only “no” vote on the recommendation, said people who drive this stretch of Foster would be burdened with an extra 13 hours a year on their commute. “I see benefits to some users and the burdens being shifted to other users.” He also pointed out that the official project goals calling for “smooth, consistent traffic movement” for motor vehicles would not be met with the three-lane/bike-lane configuration.

PBOT’s LeClerc responded to Christensen by saying the design is a compromise of many needs and interests. “On streets like Foster we have to make trade-offs. It’s a balance. This recommendation we believe best meets the objectives.” LeClerc said the city is fully aware of the impact to motor vehicle travel, but said it’s an acceptable trade-off for the sidewalk improvements, bike lane, and the retention of 94% of the existing on-street parking capacity.

Foster Rd SAC meeting-7

PBOT project manager Mauricio LeClerc listens
to Cora Potter (L) and Nick Christensen (R).

When another committee member, Cora Potter, mentioned how the project would place a negative “burden” on motor vehicle drivers, someone else spoke up about the burden the road currently places on bicycle riders and walkers. “I’d say that there’s a burden right now on other users. It takes us more time as bicycle riders and as walkers to cross the street… This current set-up [of the street] hurts a lot of people.”

Committee member Dan Campbell, who said he appreciates the (once controversial) buffered bike lanes on SE Holgate, said that a road diet and other safety improvements PBOT has planned for Foster are “worth making the trade-off” in motor vehicle access.

More support for PBOT’s plans rolled in from committee member Nick Falbo (who’s also a planner at Alta Planning). “I think if we were to put the recommendation on the ground today, it would dramatically transform what it’s like to bike, drive and walk on Foster… I think it will change the whole attitude of what it feels like to move on Foster Road.”

“This process wouldn’t be valid if this was happening on Williams.”
— Cora Potter

A local business owner who sits on the committee, Kelsey Donogoen, said she’s looking forward to the slower auto traffic. “I think it’ll be great to get cars to slow down so they can actually see what they’re driving by.” (The speed limit on Foster is currently posted as 35 mph; but PBOT said they plan to reduce it to 30 once the changes have been implemented.)

It was at this point in the meeting that Nick Christensen raised a concern about the public process and things got a bit heated.

“Look around the room,” Christensen said, “we’re back to the situation where 40% of my community is ethnic or racial minority and I don’t see any people of color around the room. That concerns me that we’re not hearing from a significant amount of our community who have different backgrounds, experiences and values from the people sitting around this table. We need to hear more from people with backgrounds who don’t match our own.”

Committee member Meghan Humphreys responded by saying, “You can’t really at this point say, because nobody fits this diverse community standard, that this is somehow less valid. I don’t believe this process is less valid… I think we need to do more as a community to get people to understand what’s happening here.”

Then meeting attendee and area resident Cora Potter said, “This process wouldn’t be valid if this was happening on Williams.”

“But this isn’t Williams,” Humphreys replied.

“It’s very close to Williams,” said Potter, “There are a lot of people that have been displaced from Williams to our neighborhood and they’re going to see things going on and they’re going to think they’re going to have to move on down the road again and they’re going to be afraid. You need to go them where they are instead of expecting them to come to this meeting.”

At this point, tempers flared and things deteriorated when someone accused Potter of “using the ethnic minority issue to drop a bomb on this project.”

When PBOT’s LeClerc tried to calm things down, by (in part) pointing out that the committee includes Roseva Saa of Portland Mercado (who wasn’t in attendance last night), Potter said Saa’s appointment to the committee was “tokenism” and that Saa had only come to two meetings (out of 10). “When we started this committee,” Christensen then pointed out, “There were no people of color.”

In PBOT’s defense, LeClerc said their plans for Foster, “Benefit people of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities.” He then continued, “I think we’re making it better for everybody. So, regardless of whether we have the representation here or not, I think the recommendation is one that is inclusive of all people… And a higher percentage of minorities use active transportation than the rest of the population.”

“My thinking is that the people of the Mt. Scott and Arleta neighborhoods will make better use of a wide bike lane in this segment than they would of a rarely used parking lane.”
— Nick Falbo, committee member

Before the meeting ended, Nick Falbo presented an idea for how to improve the bikeway between SE 72nd and 80th. PBOT’s current plan is to have a six-foot wide bike lane next to parked cars and a standard lane on the south side and a six-foot wide bike lane next to the curb on the north side. Falbo thinks devoting eight feet of the roadway to car parking isn’t a good use of space, so he proposed eliminating that parking lane, which would allow for a nine-foot wide bikeway on both sides of the street (six for the lane, three for a buffer).

“My thinking,” Falbo explained, “Is that the people of the Mt. Scott and Arleta neighborhoods will make better use of a wide bike lane in this segment than they would of a rarely used parking lane.” Falbo pointed out that this segment is full of popular destinations and that, “The idea that they [nearby residents] could hop on this nice, safe bike lane and end up at the grocery store is very appealing.”

Here’s what the City has planned…

And here’s what Falbo would rather see…

The existing parking lane isn’t needed, Falbo contends, because nearly every business has their own, off-street parking lot.

Reaction to Falbo’s idea was mixed. LeClerc with PBOT said “We’re concerned that businesses will feel an impact,” if on-street parking was prohibited. He and others pointed out that the upcoming Portland Mercado development is expected to attract a lot of customers; many of whom they expect to arrive by car. It wasn’t the response Falbo was hoping for, and it’s not likely PBOT will add his idea to the official recommendation.

With the committee’s full endorsement, PBOT will now continue to present the recommendation to other community groups and eventually plan a public open house. After that, the project will move into the design and engineering phase and it will be officially adopted by City Council later this year. Due to strings attached to the federal funds being used, construction of this project isn’t scheduled until 2016.

— Learn more at our Foster Streetscape Plan story tag or at the City’s website.

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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spare_wheel
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spare_wheel

“but PBOT said they plan to reduce it to 30 once the changes have been implemented.”

Very glad to hear this.
Since bike lanes tend to be successful when the speed differential is lower, I think that a decrease in the speed limit makes the conventional bike lane much more palatable. Nevertheless, a 25 mph speed limit would be more consistent with other 2 lane collecters/arterials in this area.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter
Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter

The point being that people that are appointed in numbers where they represent such a low percentage of the total make up of the group rarely feel supported in expressing their opinions or representing differing opinions that they are hearing in their own communities.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

This is a pretty good compromise. I was stunned that a large arterial would get road dieted at all. If this can be made to work here, it’s a good example for harder nuts to crack (like Barbur).

d
Guest

“construction of this project isn’t scheduled until 2016.” Really?
Then shouldn’t we collectively think ahead and plan for the future twenty years beyond the year 2016?
Getting input from citizens nearing the rest home in age that drive 1970’s cars is illogical.
Duh, the raised cycletracks for bicycles would be a wise investment to plan for now, to be built starting in 2016.
Having a center turn lane and protected medians for pedestrians are also essential.
This plan fails, hard.
#fail

Nick Falbo
Guest
Nick Falbo

Thanks for the write up Jonathan.

There will be a 5th open house coming up in November to share the recommendation with the community at large (that’s right, there were 4 previous open houses dedicated to sharing this planning project with the neighborhoods).

The committee meetings are not the end of public participation on a project like this, they’re the beginning. As committee members, we do our best to represent the interests of our groups, neighbors, and community members.

Most of the public participation is through direct presentations to neighborhood groups, business associations, tabling at every community event they can and well-advertised open houses. The last open house we had sent out notices in multiple languages to everyone living with a 1/2 mile radius of Foster, all the way out to 122nd. Attendees to these open houses are diverse and come from all walks of life.

Despite criticisms of the makeup of the committee itself, I think this process has been admirable – it is certainly the most comprehensive planning and outreach effort to come to Foster in a very long time.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Thanks for showing up and covering this in person Jonathan.
I was a little disappointed that (even with all the debate on here from the previous article) there was still pretty low turn out from the public (lower than most of the meetings I had been to even).

Alex
Guest
Alex

2016, wow! I live at 54th, really bummed that we will see no change, still four lanes and no bike lane. Was dreaming of looking down the street to something other than a highway.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Infrastructure has no ethnicity.

Brett Holycross
Guest
Brett Holycross

I don’t think the committee or PBOT took an official position on the stopping the westbound bike lane at 56th/Center. I took it as more of laying out the issues and potential costs of trying to route bikes through the neighborhood instead (especially the 9′-wide paved section of 56th). I would hate to see a great bike facility end just blocks from the pending 50’s bikeway (@52nd) and the food cart pod just to gain a handful of parking spots.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Is it possible that a hysterical concern for “diversity” will just emerge as an excuse to do nothing? People of all colors get lung cancer from air pollution. People of all religions and nationalities get nailed by hit and run drivers. It seems to me that it’s a whole lot more important to break the car-centric transportation culture than count angels on the head of a pin, here.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter

Dave, they actually apply to both peak travel times. They only modeled the PM peak, but there will also be AM peak delays.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

Of course there will be commute time delays. Anyone who thinks that road diets do not slow down traffic….somewhat…during peak travel time is in denial or is spouting rhetoric to placate commuters from outer districts. The point is that for WAY too long safety has been traded off for speed. We are slowly fixing this. Not counting state highways, there are not too many roads left on the east side that have this dangerous four lane configuration. Hawthorne, which has many crosswalks, Sandy (which may be a high crash corridor but also has signalized crossings every few blocks), Halsey and Burnside.

The next one we need to tackle is Burnside (this process is being worked on). Those that are causing the commute time delay: as in the high volume ot SOV’s (single occupancy vehicles) going to work during the weekdays will have to adjust their thinking. They can park and ride, take the bus, or use Powell or the Banfield. That is what they are for. The era of high speed commuter corridors through “inner city” residential neighborhoods is over.

RJ
Guest
RJ

Thanks for the great coverage, Jonathan. Mauricio has a tough job — you really go into a project like that knowing right up front that nobody’s going to be 100% happy with the outcome.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Todd Hudson
People are going to drive cars whether you like it or not. There is nothing you can do to ever stop that. And they have just as much right to be represented when it comes to the city’s infrastructure.
Recommended 0

People are going to keep molesting children, too–so we should make it easier on them???!!!

Adonia
Guest

If equity is going to enter the discussion here, it seems less pertinent to speak in dehumanizing terms about committee members as “tokens” than to address the shift in property values that will likely occur as a result of road design changes. If rents rising along the corridor force more working families further out, will they benefit from a widened bike lane? What steps can the committee take to ensure that more residents can access active transportation, since that would be the ostensible goal of the redesigned street?

Ty
Guest
Ty

I am a daily commuter and Foster Rd represents an ideal path for my commute in terms of shortening my commute distance. I do not currently take Foster because it is far too dangerous. The proposal in this article does not change that. It is still FAR TOO (as in, not even close to consideration) dangerous to do every day, year in, year out. Even though it would shorten my commute by at least 2 miles, I would still take Springwater trail everytime. The reason should be obvious. Bike lanes on busy thoroughfares simply do not cut it. We don’t put pedestrians in striped lanes, do we? We put them on a protective curb and line parked cars with it. Bicyclists aren’t any less vulnerable than pedestrians, in fact less so, because we cannot dodge cars as easily. I really don’t get this push to put bike lanes on busy arteries. You might as well save your money for when you can do it right – as in, at least curbing, preferrably concrete barricades. It might be great for the local businesses and local pedestrians to slow down traffic, but from this commuter’s perspective, it would be just a matter of time until I got taken out.

This may still be worthwhile for other reasons, especially for the neighborhood, but for commuting, no way.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Adonia
If equity is going to enter the discussion here, it seems less pertinent to speak in dehumanizing terms about committee members as “tokens” than to address the shift in property values that will likely occur as a result of road design changes. If rents rising along the corridor force more working families further out, will they benefit from a widened bike lane? What steps can the committee take to ensure that more residents can access active transportation, since that would be the ostensible goal of the redesigned street?
Recommended 1

Again, this speaks of the need to place absolute limits on property values–acknowledge that it’s a part of the free market that has FAILED!!!

Oregon Mamacita
Guest
Oregon Mamacita

Did anyone mention the sex businesses on lower Foster? They drag the neighborhood down. There is something surreal about the fact that the
existence of the businesses is ignored. Prostitution of young women by ugly old johns (I see them on my way to work in the a.m.).

If there was a time and place to remove street parking- it would be outside of the jack shacks. I would crack up to see bike racks. Make
the johns walk a few blocks.

The PDC looks so foolish when they throw little improvements at that area. Trash cans on the street, litter outside the strip club, illegal A signs, and illegal activity within. How about a safe place for the sex workers’ needles? It is the grossest part of the city.

Spiffy
Guest

it should be noted that Foster between 50th and 52nd is a FIVE lane “freeway”, which often extends that fifth lane east to Bush as people prepare for the existence of the fifth lane…

it seems like bad planning to terminate the bike lane only 2 “Foster” blocks (3-4 city block numbers) shy of where it widens to more lanes…

56th is the nearest cross-street to me, so I would be just getting onto Foster at 56th to go west towards Hawthorne for grocery shopping…

I only turn off of Foster onto neighborhood streets because I have to… I’d much rather stay on Foster… the few times that I have I discovered some cool little shops hidden within the blight…

Charles
Guest
Charles

One more bit of math here. If the time estimates are correct this leads to an increase of 2.6 mins each way. For someone who commutes 250 days per year, that is 10.8 hours in each direction.

9watts
Guest
9watts

I’m curious for an update (from someone other than Joseph Rose) on this.