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Imagining an inner Powell that would actually solve the street’s problems

Posted by on July 26th, 2016 at 2:46 pm

powell vision

When more people use cars on a street, it becomes less and less efficient. When more people use mass transit, it becomes more and more efficient.
(Image: Nick Falbo)

The City of Portland and the State of Oregon both say they want to free more of their constituents from traffic congestion and to reduce planet-killing pollution.

There’s no mystery at all about what this would look like on inner Powell Boulevard. Everyone with some measure of power who has considered the issue knows the answer. But for some reason, the millions of public dollars spent talking about that possible answer have never resulted in a street-level picture of it.

That changed Monday when a Portland-based street designer, Nick Falbo, threw up a rough image of a Powell that would get more and more efficient as more people use it rather than less and less efficient.

Here’s the full before-and-after rendering Falbo shared on his Twitter feed:

powell double vision

Notice how both images feature the same number of cars.

Falbo’s day job is with Alta Planning + Design, but his Twitter feed is his own.

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In March, project managers pulled the plug on short-term plans for a “rapid” bus line on inner Powell because they realized it wouldn’t actually be rapid. There was one basic reason: the Oregon Department of Transportation had silently vetoed the possibility of fully prioritizing bus traffic over car traffic with a dedicated lane, and no politicians in the state, city or regional government had tried to force them to do otherwise.

Would removing cars from two lanes of Powell in favor of buses (plus ambulances and, maybe, trucks) get a lot of people angry? Of course it would. Is it far easier and less stressful for an independent contractor like Falbo to throw up a nice-looking image and enjoy the cheers from like-minded folks on the Internet? Definitely.

But there’s a reason that people cheer for images like this one. Unlike any other traffic plan for inner Powell, including the status quo, it offers a way to actually solve the problems before us, rather than closing our eyes and hoping our grandchildren never ask us why we never got around to making those problems go away.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Spiffy
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I was just over at the Powell-Division Transit Development Project web site (http://www.oregonmetro.gov/public-projects/powell-division-transit-and-development-project) yesterday to see what was going on and I took the survey this morning…

it focused exclusively on Division…

I filled out the forms and felt like they were completely avoiding the issue of non-transit commute traffic on Division…

they stated less stops, better signal timing, and larger buses as reasons it will speed up the street…

what they forgot to account for was the currently congestion level that will never let them realize any greater speeds due to the bus sitting in traffic…

I wasn’t happy…

in the comments section at the end I stated that they needed to move this idea over to Powell and dedicate an entire lane for the bus so it wouldn’t get stuck in traffic…

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I agree that something like this has to be the future of Powell, however, the “same number of cars” caption sort of glosses over the fact that the photo shows a very low-volume time of day. There is no way a redone street could carry anywhere near the volume of vehicular traffic Powell does when it is full (which it is much of the time).

Many people (here and elsewhere) complain about the changes to Division (which were much less dramatic than this proposal). How would a redone street actually function in practice?

Images are powerful, and I hope that these help move the conversation beyond where it has been stuck for approximately forever.

PS A minor quibble: my understanding is that ODOT didn’t veto the idea of a dedicated lane on Powell because no one asked.

m
Guest
m

It’s disingenuous to take a picture during a non-rush hour period and say the “after” shows the same number of cars. Powell is packed with cars during rush hour. We all know that. That said, it makes no sense to install a BRT without a dedicated lane. Car capacity will be cut by 50% but it is worth it to encourage the use of BRT – It has the speed of trains with the lower expense of Buses.

My view is that the “powers that be” never really want BRT all along but would much prefer to wait so they can install MAX down the road. BRT is practical but not sexy. Tri-Met likes sexy.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

ODOT out of Portland!

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Nice drawing. However, it would fail California’s standards for bike lanes since he left the street light pole in what should be the clear zone for the bike lane. The lack of any clear zone on our bike facilities is a constant irritant and safety hazard. It’s long past time for us to raise our game in this regard.

meh
Guest
meh

What’s the definition of efficient here? Is taking twice as long to travel to and from a location an efficient use of my time? Waiting for mass transit is not an efficient use of time.

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

Because I’m clueless; what is the clear zone? What the f does California have to do with this?

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

It is going to need enforcement cameras too or people will just drive down the red lane.

rick
Guest
rick

I’ve taken the Tour d’ODOT and Powell is a mess. It needs to be safe.

David Lewis
Guest

Maybe we should ask why we have these problems to begin with!

Nick Falbo
Subscriber
Nick Falbo

Thanks for the share Michael!

Implementing this would require a dramatic departure from our standard practices with regards to accommodating motor vehicle traffic. Portland is learning where their limit is when it comes to road diets, and this drawing goes so far beyond their limits that it is unlikely to be taken seriously. I do hope however that it can become a discussion point for asking some questions about my future option vs. today:

Which street can move the most people?
Which street produces the highest speed for transit?
Which streets produces the highest serious injury crash rate?
Which street can be more economically prosperous?
Which street can support the future population growth of our town centers on Powell and in Lents?
Which street gets more people to their work on time, reliably?

My take is that the answer to all of these questions is the multimodal version of the street.

eawrist
Guest
eawrist

I think it’s important to note the corridor itself negated the potential effects that LRT would have in connecting the East parts of the metro area. The narrow corridor as it was defined prior to the project precluded any consideration of anything other than Powell-Division. This was both nonsensical and predictive of one impossible solution. A line from the Tillicum down Powell connecting at 205 would not be one line (i.e. it would allow lines on existing track to Clackamas, to the PDX and to Gresham). The effects multiply with connectivity. The narrow corridor mindset made the project essentially worthless from the get go.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Straddle bus. Should be able to buy them in a few years from China.

John Liu
Subscriber

I don’t understand how the rendering fits with the actual dimensions of Powell.

Powell is five lanes wide, currently four travel lanes (two in each direction) and a center turn lane.

The rendering shows four travel lanes (a car and a bus lane in each section), two bike lanes (look like each is 5′ wide), and a center bus stop island that looks about as wide as a lane.

Seems to me the rendering assumes you can squeeze one more 10 foot wide lane into Powell. Maybe you can, but if there is actually room for bike lanes, they are probably not going to be roomy and buffered enough to satisfy many here on BP.

Also, are there a lot of BRT-suitable buses with passenger doors on the left side?

Adam
Guest
Adam

I love it!

But you’re going to have to put one HELL of a lot more diversion on Clinton for THAT to ever happen.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

A lane reduction on Powell is going to be a non-starter. This project needs to be LRT, as it would nicely tie into the Orange line on the west end, and the green line on the east end (with potential extension east on Division). It would be expensive, but would add significant new service options and system flexibility, all on a dedicated ROW. Powell has extra ROW east of 52nd that was set aside for the Mt. Hood Freeway, and we should take advantage of that. Between 17th and 52nd, a few elevated sections would be required (near Cleveland HS and at 39th due to ROW width and traffic impact). A MUP could be built adjacent to the MAX ROW for the length of the project, flying over many busy intersections, safely separated for the entire length.

Lance W.
Guest
Lance W.

I live on SE Gladstone between Chavez and 26th. We’re supposed to be a neighborhood street, but we carry more and more traffic in the form of short cutting commuters. 20 years ago I saw counts that put the volume at 9,000 vehicles/day, typically neighborhood streets are below 1,000. I know these numbers have escalated. Commuters are looking for alternatives to Powell. As traffic slows ever more on Division, has been largely eliminated from Clinton and Holgate is already congested, I’m expecting even more cars on our street! Especially with the upcoming narrowing of Foster! People continue to move out, thereby requiring longer commutes. They move to cheaper housing, they move to escape what they perceive as negative living conditions. They do not recognize the burden this puts on those of us who live ‘in’ the City. The regional town centers have not as of yet grown enough to be significant job centers…will they ever? The pattern of development in outer areas is auto oriented. These people won’t/can’t give up their cars…at least nowhere in the near future. Downtown will remain a major ‘draw’ pulling people in. I fear that our inner city neighborhoods will continue to degrade, not because of some inherent urban malady, but because of the burden all of this traffic creates. Outer city areas demand better vehicular access. We demand a high quality of urban life. The two are in direct opposition to one another. Compromise satisfies neither and perpetuates the problem. A note, the same pattern of suburban sprawl, makes leaving the City for outings outside the City more tedious. This all reminds me of of the Sellwood Bridge finance fiasco in which the bulk of commuters come from Clackamah county who voted to stiff the rest of us with the costs that their choices have put on us.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

It would be nice if ODOT would actually do something like is drawn up here but what is more likely for inner SE is like was done in San Antonio to some of the state highways that were through streets in neighborhoods.
What was done is at the first part of the arterial id to make ramps up to a second level for through traffic. This would start at about 12th to 17th. a second level would go to approximately 92nd. then return to street level for interchange to 205. The lower level would continue. Through buses would take the upper level to Gresham and the lower level would Accommadate local buses and traffic.