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

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.

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