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City Council unanimously supports major re-design, bike lanes on Foster Road

Posted by on June 17th, 2014 at 11:18 am

SE Foster Road-1

The “Foster freeway” will look a lot different once this $5.25 million plan is implemented.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

“We want people to slow down, get out of their car, and notice this is a great neighborhood… You don’t have to speed off to some distant chain store.”
— Charlie Hales, Portland Mayor

By 2016 SE Foster Road will be transformed from the auto-centric thoroughfare it is today to a more humane street where people feel welcome, regardless of how they get around. At least that’s the idea outlined in the Foster Streetscape Plan (PDF), a $5.25 million project that unanimously passed city council last week.

In his remarks of support at the end of a nearly two-hour public hearing at City Hall on Wednesday, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales went so far as to quote famed urban planning philosopher Lewis Mumford. Hales leaned on Mumford’s ideas that American cities were being sacrificed for speed and being trampled by the march of the motorized vehicle. “We want people to slow down,” Hales said, “Get out of their car, and notice this is a great neighborhood… You don’t have to speed off to some distant chain store.”

Headline in The Oregonian last week.

Today, Foster is an urban freeway where people drive dangerously fast. In the last 10 years, there have been over 100 crashes a year and eight people have died while using the road. This plan is the result of community members getting together 18 months ago and saying, “Enough is enough.”

The main talking point of the plan is a redesign of the current cross-section. Even though local media outlets like The Oregonian tried to frame it as a “loss” of lanes in order to promote clicks and critics, the new cross-section actually adds a lane. The plan is to re-design the four lanes that exist today and turn it into five lanes: two standard lanes, one center turn lane, and two bike lanes.

Here’s a before and after rendering taken from the plan:

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In addition to an updated cross-section, the plan will add: six rapid flash beacons and crossing treatments, a new signal and redesign at 72nd, five curb extensions, street trees, new and improved street lighting, and more.

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick said the plan will, “Transform Foster from a high-speed, auto-oriented corridor into a pedestrian-oriented place accessible by all transportation modes.”

To make these changes, Novick and PBOT are well aware that they face critics who prefer the status quo and who are afraid of how the lane re-configuration will impact the driving environment. According to their own analysis, PBOT says the changes will lead to an average increase of about two minutes per trip (during peak times) for car drivers.

“Taking away driving lanes will affect too many drivers… trying to make up for lost time causes traffic violations and hazards.”
— Citizen testifying at City Council hearing

One citizen who came to City Hall to oppose the plan, said Foster is a “transportation artery that gives needed automobile access to the city center and the interstate.” The woman also said that using SE Powell as a substitute isn’t an option “because cars are already backed up there as it is.” Then, referencing a quote by Rex Burkholder in a recent story in the Portland Mercury where he said major commercial arterials need to have better bicycle access to make his trips to the pub and work faster, the woman said, “Don’t we [people who use cars] share that goal of getting to our destinations as efficiently as possible?””Taking away driving lanes,” she said, “will affect too many drivers.” In fact she added, somewhat ominously, that the time increases would lead to drivers getting frustrated and that, “trying to make up for lost time causes traffic violations and hazards.”

Prior to his yes vote, Commissioner Dan Saltzman picked up on that thread. “I do have some worries in going from four lanes to two lanes and fostering erratic behavior by drivers.” Saltzman expressed particular concern for impatient road users who will swerve into adjacent lanes to avoid stopped TriMet buses. “We need bus turnouts, or we’ll encourage bad behavior.”

Another man who spoke in opposition said the new cross-section will “paralyze Foster completely” and that collisions between road users are inevitable regardless of speeds and volumes. “You can’t get away from the accidents” he warned.

But council members weren’t swayed by these concerns. Novick asked people to make the judgment that safety should take priority over speed and convenience and council heard dozens of supportive comments at the hearing and were presented with PBOT information that showed 80% support for the plan from a community-wide survey.

With such broad community support, Hales felt emboldened to illustrate his support by reciting one of Mumford’s more provocative quotes: “We should forget the damned motorcar and build the city for lovers and friends.” But Hales, perhaps not wanting to appear too biased in the “modal wars” PBOT is trying to avoid these days, was quick to follow the Mumford quote with, “Now, we’re not going to forget the motorcar, we’re going to balance its mobility with the ability to walk hand-in-hand down a sidewalk wide enough to do that, to bike safely, and to send our children to school on foot and not fear that trip.

“I think he [Mumford] would have approved.”

While Hales is obviously proud of this plan and the local media see this as a big win for bikes, PBOT definitely didn’t “forget the damned motorcar.”

One of the stated goals of the project was to, “Create a safe corridor for motor vehicle travel with smooth, consistent traffic movement. Provide adequate on-street parking, access opportunities, and encourage the shared use of off-street parking.” In order to maintain those auto “access opportunities” PBOT maintained 94% of on-street auto parking and, as we reported back in March, they opted not to connect the bike lanes all the way to the intersection with the upcoming greenway on SE 52th, despite a majority of people saying they preferred that option.

Construction of this plan is slated for construction and completion in 2016.

Learn more:
Foster Streetscape Plan official project page.
Our report on the new bike lanes.
My thoughts about Foster Road after riding on it in January 2013.
All our past coverage of this plan.

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

“Then, referencing a quote by Rex Burkholder in a recent story in the Portland Mercury where he said major commercial arterials need to have better bicycle access to make his trips to the pub and work faster…”

I looked for this quote in the Mercury piece but could not find it.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Overall great news!

“Don’t we [people who use cars] share that goal of getting to our destinations as efficiently as possible?””Taking away driving lanes,” she said, “will affect too many drivers.”

I wold answer yes, and you’ve had it your way on Foster for well over 50 years. And now the street is very dangerous and businesses and local neighbors are struggling. It’s time to try something different!

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

WILL LOSE LANE FOR BIKES

Great headline, Oregonian.

Andrew Seger
Guest
Andrew Seger

Overall great news, although it’s a shame the only mention of transit is Dan Saltzman’s about getting buses out of the way. The 14 deserves to have its own lanes on Hawthorne and Foster someday.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I may have missed that headline, as I used today’s Oregonian to wrap fish.

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

This is a good example of a multiple neighborhood driven effort. We can replicate it on East Burnside, North Lombard and in other places city wide if we push.

Adron @ Transit Sleuth
Guest

LOVE that this is happening. Was discussing much as I rode with a couple hundred other cyclists down Foster at midnight recently… how nice it’ll be when the absurdity of 4 lanes of roadway are put in check and equity is provided.

However a few nitpicks with other nitpickers… of course, this is likely singing to the choir here.

“Don’t we [people who use cars] share that goal of getting to our destinations as efficiently as possible? Taking away driving lanes, will affect too many drivers.”

She’s wrong, horribly so, and obviously hasn’t been paying attention or is just completely out of touch. Using a car is NOT the most efficient way to get around in an urban environment, which Portland aims to be. As for taking away driving lanes, we all know that this does not particularly equate to increased travel times. Considering how much down time Foster has, this shouldn’t cause much issue, and hopefully will divert unnecessary traffic.

Then she added, somewhat ominously, that the time increases would lead to drivers getting frustrated and that, “trying to make up for lost time causes traffic violations and hazards.” as the article has written above.

This isn’t violations and hazards, she’s threatening other road users. I know I’m no passive aggressive type, but I HATE the thoughts this gives me. Because it paints another soul who’s so impatient with their inefficient auto-dependent life that they’ll endanger others on or around the road (or in houses or whatever else motorists manage to run into, on a seemingly regular basis).

Anyway, I digress, it drives me nuts some of the dumb nonsense people let flow out of their mouths. I’m looking forward to the changes and WILL BE VISITING Foster a LOT MORE in the coming months. There are friends, establishments and other things that I am aiming to make a habit of frequenting. I hope my money is good there as the rest of the city. Needless to mention, I’ll be on bike. 😉

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

This is a great step towards improved safety and more rational street operations (vs. the outdated 4 lane layout that promotes aggressive driving and lane changing) on one of Portland’s important east-west arterials. Foster, like Hawthorne is an arterial that current poorly serves all road users…one that I do not like biking along nor driving / parking.

The successful implementation of this project will be considered a “medium hanging fruit”…very important for reaching Portland’s 2030 modal goal of 25% bike commute traffic and also spread traffic safety and access benefits out to the often forgotten eastside.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I think the person cherry-picked Burkholder’s quote about getting to work faster, because it fits the narrative of speed over safety. Frankly, Burkholder should not have said that. We don’t want improvements like the one we are getting on Foster to make our commutes faster, we want them to make our commutes safer. America has prioritized speed over safety for the past century, and look where we are: over 30,000 citizens dead every year. The new Foster will be measurably safer for all users, and the data will prove it in the coming years.

encephalopath
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encephalopath

“trying to make up for lost time causes traffic violations and hazards.”

Trying to make up for lost time is the perpetual mindset of people in cars. It doesn’t matter what how fast they are going, what the conditions are, or what the speed limit is. They are always looking for some angle to work or some corner to cut to go faster.

The 4 lanes, no median configuration combined with that mindset is a danger for everyone.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

When money fled to the ‘burbs, many urban streets were re-engineered to minimize commute times, and highways blasted into town, and buildings were razed and replaced with parking lots and parking structures.

Now, at last, with more monied interests moving back into town, suburban commuters’ priorities will take a back seat to the interests of urban residents.

Yes, this will lengthen commutes for suburban residents. Maybe/hopefully it’ll also result in more suburban support for improved public transportation.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

This is still a fairly low income area. I don’t see the viability of a bunch of locally owned shops along this stretch of road when a large proportion of people in the neighborhood still shop and Wal-Mart and eat at McDonalds.

Reworking the road is going to make things safer for bikes but it isn’t going to fundamentally change things. I’d much rather see this time and effort spent on SW Barbur.

Craig Beebe
Guest
Craig Beebe

Great project with great potential for the future of this growing and revitalizing part of town. (I live a little south in Woodstock but also lived right off Foster on 56th for a few months a few years ago.)

I attended and testified at the Council hearing last week and despite the tone of the story was actually struck by how little opposition was raised. Of several dozen people testifying, I think I heard only two (the woman quoted above and her husband, who both live in Creston-Kenilworth) that were opposed.

Instead, there was overwhelming support expressed for this project’s potential to make Foster more like a Main Street than a state highway–which will mean more business development, safer crossings for people on foot and turns for people driving, and yes, safer and more direct bicycling connections. Business owners, neighborhood association leaders, families, older folks, etc. etc.–all speaking in favor.

This has been in the works and in the plans for over ten years. It’s about time to move forward on Foster.

don arambula
Guest
don arambula

Having implemented road diets in other cities, I know for a fact that in most instances that the proposed two travel lane + a dedicated left turn lane cross-section is both safer and less congested than the existing four travel lane cross section. This may seem counter-intuitive, but keep in mind where left turns are permitted on a four lane arterial, cars turning left present a hazard (rear-end collisions) and create delay (cars maneuvering around turning vehicles). A dedicated left turn lane removes this obstruction.

Also, we have done this before in Portland. The Interstate MAX project not only removed one lane but two! Car mobility advocates foresaw an motor-vehicle apocalypse. Ten years later, the sky has not fallen.

Thank you Charlie Hales and the Council for making the right decision.

As far as the final design goes… we can do better. No protected bike lanes is not acceptable solution.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

that is it, i’m running against saltzman!

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Land use and public rights of way have different legal requirements. Any examples to critique?

SandyBlvdRider
Guest
SandyBlvdRider

Great! Do the same for the other “diagonals”….Sandy Blvd is screaming for this too!!!!

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Of course the drawings show the only part without car parking.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Portland Tribune published a lengthy opinion piece on this today:
http://portlandtribune.com/pt/10-opinion/225354-87538-our-opinion-road-diet-shouldnt-starve-neighborhoods

“Slower traffic might be desirable in some of these neighborhoods, but as each of these diets is implemented, they serve to choke off outer East Portland residents from downtown Portland. … Neighborhood enhancement is a worthy outcome, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of what streets were originally intended to do: provide an efficient means for people to drive [sic] from one place to another. Such road diets also shouldn’t be allowed to further disenfranchise the people who live east of Interstate 205. They still need basic safety improvements — such as sidewalks — and they are the ones who will suffer longer commutes.”

Ignoring the Trib’s glaring misconception of “what streets were originally intended to do,” basically they are saying we shouldn’t undertake projects to make neighborhoods safer, more livable and more walkable if it comes at the expense of slightly longer commute times for people driving through those neighborhoods.

While they do make some good points, such as the need for bus turnouts in the Foster design, and the desperate need for more investment (including basics like sidewalks) further east, they seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Mt. Hood Freeway: NO neighborhood should have to sacrifice its safety and livability so people in cars can obliviously blast through it unimpeded on the way to somewhere else. But those sacrifices were forced on neighborhoods for more than half a century, and we’re still living (or, in too many instances, dying) with the bad infrastructure created by that mindset. Those of us in the city (and, frankly, that includes East Portland) already have deal with too many people driving too fast through our neighborhoods and treating our streets like highways. If undoing the wrongs of the past increases driving times a bit, too bad.

“Outer East Portland residents who are starving for transportation investments can only dream of the day when they’ll need to consider a diet.”

Gee, I guess the Trib’s editorial staff doesn’t follow BikePortland! Road diets are definitely being “considered” in East Portland.