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A closer look at the opposition to a road diet on Barbur Blvd

Posted by on October 25th, 2013 at 9:00 am

Riding Portland's urban highways-40

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Since early fall, the Oregon Department of Transportation has often mentioned stakeholders who oppose a proposal to re-stripe about 1.5 miles of Southwest Barbur Boulevard, replacing one northbound lane to create room for two bike lanes.

“Over the past several months, ODOT has received both strong messages of support for a road diet and strong objections from stakeholders who feel that reducing motor vehicle capacity on Barbur/99W would create unacceptable impacts for commuters, businesses, transit, and freight operations,” ODOT’s Jessica Horning wrote in a Sept. 5 memo.

The current design pushes bikes and cars into the same 45-mph auto lane as they cross two narrow bridges. Barbur has been eyed for bikeway improvements for many years as it’s the only flat link between most of Southwest Portland and the rest of the city.

But there are many factors at play here, so we wanted to give other views a fair airing and if possible get in touch with these stakeholders to include their comments for our stories. So, on Sept. 11, we asked ODOT to share the messages it was referring to. Two days ago, after a formal records request, the agency did.

Since Jan. 1, ODOT’s records show, it’s received direct communications about the proposal from 29 different organizations or individuals, not counting several repeats. Of those, 23 (including several we’ve reported already, such as Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., the City Club of Portland, Lewis and Clark College, Oregon Walks, the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) supported analysis of a road diet.

The other six letters opposed further work on it.

Of course, there are many people on both sides of this subject who haven’t communicated directly with ODOT, and many thousands more who aren’t aware of the debate at all. But in hope of helping everyone understand each other a bit better, here’s what the six opponents said. Click them to enlarge:

“All lanes are needed for cars/buses etc.” That was the take on Jan. 16 from Patti Waitman-Ingebretsen:

“The vast majority of Portlanders, myself included, rely primarily on automobiles for travel.” That’s from Casey Holdahl, on Jan. 17:

“Any reduction in vehicular capacity is highly undesirable and irresponsible in the long run.” Until this year, a Barbur road diet was nothing but a concept. But according to the Metro traffic engineer on the project, preliminary studies completed this spring and summer showed that re-striping this stretch of Barbur would reduce traffic speeds, especially during the morning rush, by as much as a few minutes, and would therefore divert some traffic onto other streets. The number of vehicles the road can carry in a given hour, on the other hand, would barely change.

“The capacity constraint remains at the signal at Terwilliger at the south end,” Metro’s Anthony Buczek said in a Sept. 11 interview. “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.”

On Sept. 12, responding to news coverage about this tradeoff, Randy Evans sent ODOT this letter of praise for the agency for their “continued resistance from the PDX bike lobby…” (among other things):

“Southwest Barbur Boulevard is a key inter-city road and an important relief valve when Interstate 5 is backed up due to accidents.” That’s from the Portland Business Alliance, the area’s chamber of commerce, in a two-page letter to city officials, and apparently also to ODOT, on Oct. 7:

“The corridor is of regional significance and warrants an increase, as opposed to a reduction, in capacity.” On Oct. 8, the Portland Freight Committee weighed in with a letter to Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick (see also our previous coverage of the full letter):

“One lane each way on Barbur will never work. Too much traffic on Barbur.” That’s from the final anti-road-diet correspondent, Sue Conachan, on Oct. 15:

Conachan’s letter arrived soon after the most recent development about the future of Barbur: Portland City Council’s Oct. 9 decision not to require ODOT to fast-track a more detailed study of restriping Barbur. Novick said at the time that he would make his preferences on the issue public “in the coming months.”

As Novick said at the time: “Just as there are people who people passionately in favor of a road diet, there are also people who are concerned about it.”

True enough.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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9watts
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9watts

And just like Fox News, ODOT treats a handful of opponents, some of whom are individuals who admit to not using Barbur much, as balance to the, apparently overwhelmin, preference for a road diet. Nice work, Bikeportland!

VTRC
Guest
VTRC

It’s pretty clear that these people have never really taken a close look at what’s going on there, they’re still clinging to the notion that those bridges have “sidewalks,” which is something that happens when you only glance at them at 45mph.

9watts
Guest
9watts

We wouldn’t want to promote a seldom-used conveyance. No sir. That would go against Natural Law, God, and who knows what else.

Slammy
Guest
Slammy

Pearl Clutching… lots of hypotheticals they seem to be worried about here.

Also, lots of crafty language basically lumping Barbur and 1-5 together as if they are one road. What’s up with that? Are Clinton and Division “Three lanes of East/West travel”? Admitting that you bounce onto Barbur when traffic backs up on 1-5 seems like a bad tactic. That’s like saying, “Oh, if Division is bad, I just hop over to Clinton.”

Whenever the traffic backs up on I-5, the traffic on Barbur is also horrible. What’s going to change with a road diet?

What’s also dumb is that none of these snarls seem to take place at these bridges. It’s mostly by Barbur Foods, Swan Mart and Fred’s.

jim
Guest
jim

Why don’t they ride on the sidewalk going across the bridge?

don arambula
Guest
don arambula

We have heard these same ‘sky will fall’ arguments recently when Interstate Avenue capacity was reduced from four to two lanes (for LRT) and as far back as when the Harbor freeway was removed from waterfront in downtown. Somehow we have survived. ODOT needs to stop designing our roadways to minimize motor vehicle delay at AM and PM peak periods, it’s a losing battle.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

If they do not want the affordable road diet option, then fine let them have it.

In response, they need to come up with the cash to build a four set of six foot wide one-way paths with railings which would wrap around the exterior of the bridges. These could be bolted to the bridge supports…or there can be an elevated path with two railings above the “Barbur Freeway” they desperately desire to keep that could be a full 8 feet wide.

It certainly would have nice views and would place us above cars stuck in traffic. Oh yes….cycle-track the rest of the bike lane from Hamilton to Terwilliger to no more citizens get run over.

The current situation, or ODOT’s flashing yellow “compromise,” is unacceptable.

VTRC
Guest
VTRC

Wait a minute. There’s just these 6 letters? This is it? This is the opposition to a road diet?! I thought this was a sampling, not the total. This is bogus.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Agree with Terry D. While perhaps it’s not ideal to reduce lanes for motor traffic (I’m all for road diets whenever possible) it seems like at least we can build some cantilevered bike paths on the bridges.

Slammy
Guest
Slammy

To any opponents reading… here’s a danger scenario that plays out almost daily, and has nothing to do with traffic…

A bike will be heading North on Barbur past Kaady Car Wash. There is basically no traffic. The biker approaches the bridge and sees that there is a car 100 yards behind, so they signal and get on the bridge. The car that was 100 yards back happens to be in the lane closest to the railing. Since there is no traffic they are going approx 50mph. I believe there is a desire to hold your line in a car and not merge over to the other open lane so the car basically swerves around the bike with a quick blinker. These drive-by buzzes are what creates a large amount of anxiety to bikers and will end badly soon enough, when two inexperienced bikers and drivers attempt this move on a rainy evening. This has nothing to do with traffic concerns or the desire to “take over” Barbur from cars. It’s just bad design.

As a side note, the most egregious offenders of the drive-by buzz are TriMet, and they give you 0 room to work with if there was like a bottle in the road or something…

So I understand if your commute sucks, but commuting sucks. Let’s all try and not kill each other for starters.

ersatz
Guest
ersatz

My favorite reason is because of accidents on I-5. It’s basically saying, “look, people can’t drive safely and are always getting into accidents, so we need more lanes so people can drive around those accidents. It would be irresponsible to take away those lanes to make it safer for bikes.”

John Lascurettes
Guest

She wrote her email it in Comic Sans. Ignore everything she says. 😛

Erinne
Guest
Erinne

“The silent majority who pay gax taxes.” Yes, car drivers are silent–there’s no auto or freight lobby pouring money into making sure the auto remains king of the road–no billions of dollars being used for all the infrastructure that prioritizes autos. Just that pesky “bike coalition” that just pushes these “ludicrous” road diets! Car drivers are really the oppressed people here.

Cry me an effin’ river.

John Lascurettes
Guest

The argument that there’s “hardly any” pedestrians or cyclists does not demonstrate or prove a lack of people that would want to use this facility. All it proves is that currently the facility underserves those people. Clearly there is public interest in using this stretch for cycling and walking – and clearly there’s an inherent danger to those users that could be mitigated with a road diet which would not affect road capacity.

I also take issue with trying to peg this as the “PDX bike lobby” when it’s really a public safety issue. If there’s any “lobby” being pandered to it’s the same-ol’-same-old club that’s pulling a NIMBY attitude.

Peter W
Guest

Thanks Michael for jumping through the hoops to bring these letters to light. Too often the levers of power are manipulated by operators unseen to the public.

I’m really curious about the Portland Business Alliance letter. Sandra McDonough puts her name on plenty of letters, but how does her organization actually decide when and how to get involved?

Was every member of the PBA board [1] (including PCC, KGW, TMT Development, the Oregonian, PGE, Alaska Airlines, Nike, Intel, Macy’s, Portland Timbers, Kaiser Permanente, CH2M Hill, Columbia Sportswear, Moda Health, OHSU, U of O, TriMet and PSU) in agreement on this?

1: http://portlandalliance.com/about/board-of-directors.html

james john
Guest
james john

I’m concerned that you included the names of individual stakeholders with these comments. Large groups like PBA, sure, that’s fine. What does it add to the conversation to call out individuals that took the time to participate in a public process? Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Is there anyway you can remove the people’s names from this article? I think it detracts from your credibility and makes me, as a citizen, a little afraid of submitting comments in the future.

Slammy
Guest
Slammy

Sue Conachan,

Your desire to chime in on this makes no sense to me as you not only suggested a solution which is already in place, but you don’t even use Barbur. let me take a picture of the drain that you hit going down the first “Ramp” on the first bridge going south, then you chime back in and let me know if that looks safe to you. But I do hope you get your Oak Grove Wal-Mart.

PdxMark
Guest
PdxMark

Further to Michael’s response to James John…
Identifying the citizen commenters who oppose analysis of a road diet gives perspective to the bias in the statement in Jessica Horning’s ODOT memo: “Over the past several months, ODOT has received … strong objections FROM STAKEHOLDERS who feel that reducing motor vehicle capacity on Barbur/99W would create unacceptable impacts ….” To contrast wide-ranging support for the study, Ms. Horning calls out opposing “stakeholders” to bolster the appearance of opposition or the appearance that ODOT is actually balancing comments from the two sides.
Identifying the citizen commenters is a nice way for BikePortland to show directly the basis of ODOT statements about the strength of the opposition. Without editorializing, we readers are free to reach our own conclusions about whether ODOT is being accurate or balanced in its characterization of comments opposing the study. While not literally false, the tone of Ms. Horning’s statement implies a breadth of opposition that doesn’t appear correct to me.

RJ
Guest
RJ

Obviously, the PBA letter is the big one…and I believe you’ll find a lot of overlap between PBA membership and Portland Freight Committee membership.

These groups are stuck on a very understandable — but superficial — view of what the impacts of the northbound lane removal would be. In their view, removing a travel lane cannot possibly be a good thing, so they are opposed. What I would say to the PBA is:

1. Traffic engineers who have looked at this will tell you that the corridor is constrained by the signals at each end (particularly Terwilliger), so instituting a road diet that doesn’t affect lane configuration at the signals will have nearly no effect on motor vehicle throughput. The Terwilliger signal will continue to meter traffic entering the segment in question (“The Woods” per the Barbur Concept Plan) in the AM, which is the congested time period for travel towards the central city.

2. Adding more space for people walking and biking helps ALL modes. Motor vehicles will be able to operate at the posted speed without bicycles entering the travel lane, which causes dangerous lane changes and slowdowns.

3. The road diet would be an interim measure until SW Corridor improvements (to be determined) are implemented sometime in the 2020s. The 2035 analysis of the road diet, which showed significantly higher motor vehicle volumes, high delays, and high traffic diversion, is therefore irrelevant. As far as the interim…we don’t have a crystal ball to tell us whether there will be more or fewer motor vehicles on the road in 2025 (or 2035), but we do know that volumes on Barbur have been decreasing for the last decade.

4. Traffic engineers have traditionally sized roads to be able to accommodate vehicle volumes at the peak 15 minutes of the peak hour (usually PM) of a weekday during the peak month (usually August). Sort of like sizing your parking lot for Black Friday. This is increasingly seen as an approach that leads to bad outcomes for your transportation system and your public space, particularly in a (supposedly?) forward-looking place like Portland. What’s amazing, though, is that freight advocates go a step further than this even, saying that you not only need all of the usual capacity, but then you need a bunch extra just in case there’s an incident on a parallel freeway. This is beyond absurd. Please name me a corridor planning process where providing redundant capacity in order to accommodate a blue-moon event was even a remote consideration. That’s just laughable, especially in the Portland region. You would never do that. When a truck rolls over in the Terwilliger curves, it just means that it’s a bad day to be driving a car, a few freight deliveries are going to be later than usual. You don’t try to solve the problem by overbuilding your roadway system. I’m shocked that that’s an argument that’s being made with a straight face or that it’s being taken seriously by anyone.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

PdxMark
Further to Michael’s response to James John…
Identifying the citizen commenters who oppose analysis of a road diet gives perspective to the bias in the statement in Jessica Horning’s ODOT memo: “Over the past several months, ODOT has received … strong objections FROM STAKEHOLDERS who feel that reducing motor vehicle capacity on Barbur/99W would create unacceptable impacts ….” To contrast wide-ranging support for the study, Ms. Horning calls out opposing “stakeholders” to bolster the appearance of opposition or the appearance that ODOT is actually balancing comments from the two sides.
Identifying the citizen commenters is a nice way for BikePortland to show directly the basis of ODOT statements about the strength of the opposition. Without editorializing, we readers are free to reach our own conclusions about whether ODOT is being accurate or balanced in its characterization of comments opposing the study. While not literally false, the tone of Ms. Horning’s statement implies a breadth of opposition that doesn’t appear correct to me.
Recommended 0

Of course you generally can’t gauge the broader public’s desire for or against a particular project based on public comments. There is usually going to be an imbalance in comments submitted to a public agency whenever you have an issue where there are trade associations, advocacy groups, advocacy blogs, etc. advocating for, urging and sometimes organizing folks to submit comments.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Some common threads in these letters:

– Not enough people bike or walk along Barbur to justify improvements for bikes and pedestrians. Talk about a chicken-and-egg scenario! The REASON not many people bike or walk on Barbur is BECAUSE of this design. Sheesh! I will occasionally ride it myself on the way home from Beaverton, but even I avoid it on most days because of the horrible design. Build it, and they WILL come. SW will never have the same level of bike traffic as the flatter parts of inner and east portland, but it probably has the greatest share of UNMET demand, people who would bike if they could but there isn’t a satisfactory route. And Barbur would provide an option for a lot of those people.

– “Thanks” to ODOT for “standing up” to the powerful “bike lobby”. Once again, the oppressors twist things around to make themselves look oppressed. GMAFB!

As for making the sidewalks usable for cyclists, well it’s not exactly a road diet but it would still surely make my life easier. Although the sidewalks are too narrow to comfortably share with (rarely seen) pedestrians or to walk next to your bike, they are there. Improved ramps on and off the sidewalks, along with higher railings, would at least make Barbur marginally acceptable to me.

BTW, asking people to stop from 25mph, dismount and walk their bikes on the bridge is unacceptable, unless we’re also going to ask motorists to stop, shift their cars to first gear and drive that way all the way across each bridge.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

The All-Powerful Bike Lobby is at it again!

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

These letters show how important a decent traffic analysis would be. We have our opinion about the little traffic in Barbur and the letter writers think that the traffic volume is so high that they can’t possibly go with one lane less. So if we had numbers about traffic on Barbur as well as about a possible impact on the neighborhood streets an informed decision could be made, not just one based on hearsay and opinion.
Also, it is amazing how many misconceptions people have about the road diet idea. It seems some think if will be all of Barbur (PBA for example), others think that it would go from 4 lanes to 2 not to 3. And then most letters writers have misconceptions about the bridges and the feasibility of the “sidewalks”. So with real numbers and some public outreach it could be possible to appease those opponents.

Dmitriy Zasyatkin
Guest

I know that re-stripping is much cheaper than multi-use paths, but why aren’t we asking for a MUP here as our primary goal and better bike lanes as a concession? Riding on a MUP is so much more enjoyable than in a bike lane on fast road, especially with kids, so this would definitely increase the number and types of cyclists. (Disclaimer: I haven’t ridden this stretch yet.)

Ted Buehler
Guest

All of you folks who are posting well-reasoned arguments for bike lanes here — be sure you also send those arguments in to ODOT and other authorities.

A well written argument can sway decisions.

Whenever this issue comes up, fire off another letter. There’s at least a dozen elected officials and city/metro/state employees that have some sway in this decision, make sure their communication lines are getting lots of “pro” letters for every one of these opposition letters that comes through their inbox.

And consider more than email. Print it out on bond paper, sign it with a good quality pen, and send in a hard copy. Give them something tangible.

Ted Buehler

Joe
Guest
Joe

when I see BIKE LANE ENDS my heart drops or skips a beat.