82nd Avenue is going to change. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And increasingly, it’s a matter of how.
After years of planning, Metro and TriMet are reaching an important decision point on their Powell-Division Transit and Development project that could dramatically alter the future of 82nd. As we reported last year, this $150 million project will include Portland’s first-ever bus rapit transit (BRT) line and the leading candidate for the alignment between Powell and Division is, you guessed it, 82nd Avenue.
Planners prefer 82nd as the north-south route for the half-mile between Powell and Division for three main reasons: It has strong support from local neighborhood advocates who see 82nd as part of the emerging Jade District; it has very high transit ridership with nearly 18,000 daily boardings; and the potential for improving the walking and biking environment (the existing conditions on the street are extremely harsh for anyone not in an automobile).
At a joint meeting of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advisory Committee in City Hall last night, TriMet planners sought feedback on the project. They need to decide on a “locally-preferred alternative” for the transit route in order to take the next step in the planning process.
At last night’s meeting, TriMet presented three possible design options for how the new BRT line could impact 82nd: one “no build” option that wouldn’t make any changes to 82nd (except for a few new bus stations) and two other options that would come with BRT. The BRT options under consideration are a “medium build” and a “high build.”
“This will never be anything other than the urban freeway it’s always been if you’re not willing to touch the lanes.”
— Scott Kocher, PBOT pedestrian advisory committee member
The medium and high builds are essentially the same — except for a bikeway. Both would cut transit time through the corridor by more than half by giving buses signal priority, putting them in a special business access and transit (BAT) lane (a compromise between a dedicated lane and a standard lane) and it would add “chamfers” to the intersections of Powell and Division to make it easier for buses to turn quickly and safely.
The TriMet planners at the meeting last night clearly favor the medium build scenario (which calls for no bikeway on 82nd). It gives them BRT with minimal disruption to the existing streetscape. But it doesn’t sit well with people who think a new bikeway should be included in the project.
According to TriMet, the addition of a bikeway can only come by widening the street. To do that, they’d have to purchase 27 properties in order to claim the right-of-way they need. Not only would something like that have a huge impact on the community, it would also significantly increase the cost of the project. “We really don’t want to buy property,” said TriMet planner David Aulwes last night.
Moving the curbs to widen the street would also trigger Oregon’s bike bill, something Aulwes says would tank the project. When the bike bill was alluded to by a committee member back in May, an exasperated Aulways said, “If we’re both trying to get exactly what we want, we won’t get anything.”
82nd Avenue in this location is a state highway managed by ODOT. It has five standard vehicle lanes (two in each direction and a center turn lane). Carl Larson, a member of the bicycle advisory committee and advocate with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, asked TriMet’s Aulwes if they might consider re-allocating some of the existing lanes toward something other than motor vehicle use. Aulwes said no. There’s simply too much auto traffic and their models show that the “street would completely break down.”
TriMet planners are operating under the assumption that the only way to add a bikeway to 82nd is to widen the street. Managing the existing lanes differently is not even on the table.
“Can’t we just get rid of the center turn lane to get the bike and ped facility everyone wants and that there is such a demand for?” asked pedestrian advisory committee member Scott Kocher. “This will never be anything other than the urban freeway it’s always been if you’re not willing to touch the lanes.”
Aulwes acknowledged that Kocher had a “good point” and then replied. “There are certain things we can do; but we’re not going to make the street narrower.” (Note: Adding a bikeway would change how the street is used, but it would not narrow the street.)
“We’re going to tank this thing just for bike lanes? That’s hard for me to swallow.”
— Rithy Khut, PBOT bicycle advisory committee member
Ian Stude, the bicycle advisory committee vice-chair and director of transportation and parking services at Portland State University, said that without a place for people to bike safely, the project wouldn’t meet the city’s vision zero goals. “It doesn’t seem like this project will bring a vision zero approach to 82nd when it clearly needs it.” “This isn’t just a ‘transit project’, we’d all like to see this as a community project that has potential to truly resolve larger issues for the corridor.” Stude added that he’s concerned TriMet’s approach lacks creativity.
And Heather McCarey, the bicyle advisory committee’s vice-chair and executive director of the Washington Park Transportation Management Association, said TriMet’s preferred option feels to her, “like we’re building something to encourage people to walk and bike more in this area without building the facilities to make them sucessful in that.”
What would a bikeway on this section of 82nd even look like? TriMet said if they purchased the 27 properties (about 474,000 square feet) and widened the road they’d have room for a seven-foot wide bike lane on both sides. That’s very narrow in the context of being adjacent to a state highway on one side and business access driveways on the other. “It’s not exactly attractive,” said Aulwes, “it’s driveway after driveway after driveway.”
Many people think perhaps a better option is to put a bikeway through nearby sidestreets and avoid the sticky politics and debates of 82nd. The city’s “70s Neighborhood Greenway” project aims to do just that. PBOT has requested a grant to build that greenway and TriMet plans to include it in this project.
While there was support for a bikeway on 82nd, other members of the bicycle advisory committee felt it wasn’t the right battle to take on.
Member Rithy Khut spoke up to say, “We’re going to tank this thing just for bike lanes? That’s hard for me to swallow.” He encouraged everyone to ask themselves, “What’s the bigger picture here?”
Member Chris Achterman said we should take into account,”the community we will destroy” if 27 properties are acquired for right-of-way. “It will look like it has been bombed… It seems counterproductive to make the area economically dead for five years.”
In response, Larson with the BTA said Achterman’s comments were “based on a false choice forced by the assumption that 82nd must remain Oregon State Route 213 and has to operate like a highway… I think if we can make a dent in that assumption there might be room to have wider sidewalks and some bike lanes on 82nd.”
Larson has alluded to a legal challenge by the BTA (via the Bike Bill) if this project moves forward without adequate biking facilities. It was brought up again (by a different committee member) last night. “I hope we don’t come to that,” Aulwes said.
If TriMet can’t find the consensus they want on 82nd, or if there’s any threat of a lawsuit, they say they’ll be forced to switch the alignment over to 50th or 52nd. For now the BTA isn’t threatening to sue (at least to our knowledge). Instead, they’re following the lead of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (the non-profit behind the Jade District) to keep the alignment on 82nd and make sure it’s a vibrant and safe area where the community can thrive.
Stay tuned for a public design workshop in January. TriMet says they’ll make a final decision by February or March.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org