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Beyond freeway expansion, here’s how local streets would change with I-5 Rose Quarter project

Posted by on October 6th, 2017 at 10:02 am

A visual summary by ODOT of the surface-street changes proposed in the I-5 Rose Quarter Project.
(Images: ODOT and Google Street View)

When they explain their support for spending hundreds of millions to add two new on/off freeway lanes and freeway shoulders to Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter, Portland city leaders have a go-to answer: better surface streets.

It’s true, Mayor Ted Wheeler conceded last month, that more freeway throughput at this interchange would do “very little to arrest congestion.” Instead, more driving is likely to fill any new space that might open up on the freeway, ultimately leaving cars and trucks as jammed as before (though possibly elsewhere on the road system).

But from Portland’s perspective, Wheeler said, the $450 million Rose Quarter project is “mostly a bicycle and pedestrian play.”

OK. So we wanted to know what, exactly, are taxpayers getting in this location that would improve biking and walking?

“We think it has the potential to do a lot of great things … Improvements that the city almost certainly could not afford to do on our own.”
— Dylan Rivera, PBOT spokesman

“We think it has the potential to do a lot of great things for the central city and to reconnect neighborhoods that were disconnected by the original construction of I-5,” city transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said in an interview last week. “Improvements that the city almost certainly could not afford to do on our own.”

We’d asked Rivera and Oregon Department of Transportation project manager Megan Channell to shine some light specifically on what would happen to all the bikeways in this area — arguably the single most important biking crossroads in the city. Four of the five intersections with the city’s highest bike counts are in the project area: Vancouver/Russell, Interstate/Lloyd/Oregon, Williams/Russell and NE Multnomah/Wheeler.

Here’s what they said the city would get.

A southbound connection to Broadway that’s closer to the Broadway Bridge

The Flint-Broadway-Wheeler intersection has been a major trouble spot for years due to Broadway’s blind-spot-enhancing curve, the number of bikes, the number of trucks, and political pressure to preserve access for everybody. The worst of this problem was mitigated in 2012 after then-Mayor Sam Adams personally backed an end to right turns onto Wheeler Avenue.

The state and city say they’ve got a new fix for this problem: redirect the thousands of bikes coming south from Vancouver Avenue each weekday off that curving stretch of Broadway.

Instead of sending people heading toward the Broadway Bridge right onto Russell just south of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, then left onto Flint and finally right onto Broadway, the new project would instead have people stay on Vancouver for a while, then use a new right turn onto Hancock just before the crossing of I-5. (A new traffic diverter at Williams and Hancock would prevent major east-west auto traffic on the new bridge, Channell said.)

Across the freeway, Hancock would become Dixon Street:

Dixon Street (Image: Google Street View)

“The new connection provides an alternate route to keep you out of the Broadway-Weidler interchange with I-5,” Channell said. From Dixon, she said, “there could be any number of connections down that would get you to Broadway.”

A new biking-walking bridge northeast of the Moda Center

The bridge in question is the purple curve in this image.

This would join a gap in the grid created by the freeway by connecting Clackamas Street, east of I-5, to the street west of I-5 and just north of the Moda Center that’s currently called “Winning Way” but due to be renamed “Ramsay Way.”

Clackamas isn’t currently a major biking or walking route because it currently T-intersections into a parking garage a few blocks to the east, but if this bridge were built and that parking garage eventually redevelops — it’s owned by the same folks who recently developed Hassalo on Eighth — this Clackamas-Ramsay bridge could create a useful connection to the Moda Center area that doesn’t require going north to Broadway or downhill on Multnomah and then back uphill. It might also make the Moda Center itself, and the nearby blocks, a more attractive place to live or open a shop, which could bring more activity to this close-in neighborhood at all hours of the day.

The state and city have heard active interest about building in this area if these new connections were built and the freeway caps were to reduce traffic noise somewhat, Channell said.

“There are a number of interested developers for properties within and adjacent to those properties,” she said.

Here’s ODOT’s conceptual cross-section of a new bike-walk bridge here:

“This is also the current route for the Green Loop project, so this would solve a major crossing for the Green Loop,” said Rivera, referring to a proposed series of protected bikeways and walking investments that would join the Park Blocks, redeveloped Post Office site, Broadway Bridge, Central Eastside and Tilikum Crossing. “And like the rest of the Green Loop, this segment has not been designed, we don’t know what kind of structure it would be, etc.”

The freeway caps would allow wider sidewalks and bike lanes without the need to remove space from cars

Broadway and Weidler Street are important east-west routes for biking and could become much more important if the bike lanes on this corridor are ever upgraded downtown and/or through inner Northeast Portland. But Channell and Rivera say the bridges across I-5 (which are ODOT-controlled because they cross the freeway) create pinchpoints that prevent bike lanes and sidewalks from being widened and/or protected.

Rivera said a steel or concrete roof over the freeway between Broadway and Weidler (that is, the block to the left in the image above) would create room to shift the roadway over, making “more width for modern bike facilities.”

“The city would be looking for some sort of protection or at minimum a buffer” for the bike lane, he said.

The sidewalks, too, could be widened and better lit, Channell said. And the caps would reduce the noise and smell from I-5.

Today, she said, “as you’re biking or walking across, it feels very much like you’re crossing an interstate. The highway covers would make it feel like you’re just crossing a city block.”

A more comfortable bike route from the Rose Quarter to Williams Avenue

Channell said the southernmost block of Williams Avenue, between Wheeler Avenue and Weidler Street, would be converted to a “woonerf,” a Dutch word for a street where motor vehicles are guests, biking is welcomed and people walking have the right of way everywhere.

As you can see in the green-tinged rendering of the freeway caps above, there is some concept that the new Clackamas-Ramsay bike-walk bridge, which would land at the south end of this block, could integrate smoothly with a northbound bike route on this block.

In fact, Channell said, the only motor vehicles allowed at all would be northbound buses. (TriMet’s 4 and 44 buses currently run up this street nine times per hour in the weekday peak.)

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Transportation advocates raise concerns

I-5 at Rose Quarter

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

As we’ve been reporting, a coalition of advocates for better transportation, emissions reduction and social justice loudly oppose the project. Oregon Walks, the Community Cycling Center, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon,  BikeLoudPDX, anti-climate-change group 350 PDX, the Portland branch of the NAACP, the Irvington and Eliot neighborhood associations and the east Portland-based Rosewood Initiative are all among the groups that signed a letter from the No More Freeways coalition opposing this project. So have more than 400 individuals (including, I should disclose, me — see note at end of story).

City Planning Commissioner Chris Smith, a convener of the coalition, has argued that even if the investments described above (including longer, less crash-prone on- and off-ramps) are improvements, the region could find fairer and more cost-effective ways to spend $450 million.

For comparison’s sake, that sum is seven times larger than the citywide Fixing Our Streets maintenance and safety program approved by city voters last year — enough to keep that program going at its current dollar level until 2048.

Aaron Brown, a spokesman for the No More Freeways campaign, raised various concerns in an email specifically about the bikeways:

The Hancock-Dixon crossing would have a steep slope for people heading east. “Yes, it’ll be a more comfortable ride going west,” Channell confirmed, noting that most bike traffic here would be heading west on the way from Vancouver to Broadway.

The Clackamas-Ramsay bridge would be “essentially not functional for modern bike transportation planning” because of the climb required to get over a new I-5 onramp. Channell said she’s unsure of the necessary height of this bridge, but that on its east side it “will be hitting at grade with Clackamas.”  “Yes, there will be a touchdown on the west side of I-5, so we’re looking at different options there to make sure it’s an easy and usable connection,” she said. “I don’t think that it would be unusable.”

“At no point in the process did the committee or engineers consider how to make service improvements on the existing infrastructure and the existing crossings.”
— Steve Bozzone, stakeholder committee member

With four-lane streets on both sides and a six-lane freeway below, the Broadway-Weidler caps “will be the most expensive, unpleasant, under utilized park spaces in the city.” Channell said the caps would probably be more important as ways to create new bikeway and walkway space than as parks. “It’s too early to say whether there’s grass, if there’s an active use there, food carts, a plaza,” added Rivera. “That’s one good question for the public.”

Doug Klotz, a co-founder of Oregon Walks and influential pedestrian design advocate who signed the No More Freeways letter, added a critique of his own in an email. According to a poster shared at a project open house last week, many of the street corners created by the project are expected to be rounded off, a design that allows easier turns for semi trucks but also encourages fast-turning cars and makes pedestrian crossings more dangerous.

Here’s the Broadway-Weidler freeway cap area, with north to the right and red arrows by Klotz:

The project’s “design phase” has barely begun, so details like those corners are the sort of thing that might change due to public pressure. But they’re an indication of how ODOT’s staff has been thinking about the project so far.

Steve Bozzone, an Oregon Walks board member and Boise neighborhood resident who served on the Rose Quarter project’s stakeholder committee in 2012 and was one of the few to vote against the project then, said in an interview this week that it was clear throughout that early process that auto movement was ODOT’s priority.

“At no point in the process did the committee or engineers consider how to make service improvements on the existing infrastructure and the existing crossings,” he said. “It was always assumed that ODOT would be allowed to bulldoze all of the bridges and we’d start from scratch. … What we never did as part of the process was look at things starting from the pedestrian perspective, saying, ‘What do we need here?’ The process hasn’t been guided by pedestrian access, pedestrian mobility. It’s been an add-on to a freeway expansion project.”

Want to speak with project staff and see the plan in person? ODOT announced this week that it’ll lead a walk and bike ride through the area at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. Want to comment directly to ODOT? You can let them know what you think here. The comment deadline is today.

— Michael Andersen: (503) 333-7824, @andersem on Twitter and michael@portlandafoot.org

Disclosure: Last month, I signed the No More Freeway Expansions petition in my personal capacity because I don’t think any amount of public money spent to increase urban freeway travel can be morally justified. Climate change will do too much damage to our children’s lives to spend money on almost anything that further encourages urban driving. That said, I also think the public deserves a fair view of the tradeoffs, and that’s what I’ve tried to offer here.

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Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

“The city would be looking for some sort of protection or at minimum a buffer” for the bike lane, he said.

“or at minimum a buffer”.

situation normal.

rick
Guest
rick

$450,000,000 could repair so many orphan highways in and around Portland.

Stephen Keller
Guest
Stephen Keller

By my back-of-the napkin calculations, the Clackamas crossing is going to need climb roughly a height of 25-30 feet between Wheeler and the proposed new on-ramp a couple hundred feet away. The simplest straight-line shot puts that at about a 12% grade. I can’t see a lot of commuters being excited about that. Even if you stretch that out to 400 feet or so with switchbacks, it’s still a 6% grade. There isn’t a lot of room to work with at that location. The conceptual cross-sectional drawing shows this rise but has that section covered with trees, like that somehow helps.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

If the forces of darkness do get their freeway project, how will bike traffic get from the Vancouver bike lane to the broadway bridge during construction, in between the time the Flint ave bridge is torn down and the the Hancock-Dixon bridge is built? This could be a period of years, and this is on of the busiest cycling connections in the city.

wsbob
Guest

Finally, a closer look here on bikeportland, at parts of the Rose Quarter projects that opponents of the project should be emphasizing and encouraging thorough, and possibly more extensive development of, rather than simply objecting to the addition of exits and auxiliary lanes to I-5.

As I’ve written in past comments about this project to bikeportland stories on it, the city can’t really just do nothing about this section of I-5, because it uses this section of the interstate highway together with I-405, and I-84 actually…for travel within the city, back and forth across the river.

Parts of the project offering improved biking and walking infrastructure for better connection across I-5 and through the RQ look like a great step in the right direction. Working for and getting refinements to them provided in exchange for support of the project, could be a very valuable bargaining chip for opponents of the project as is at present.

I think project planners should be asked about costs, engineering and construction involved in extending the I-5 lids to connect them. In the graphics, the two lids already look so close, I wonder if it makes a lot of sense not to make their span continuous.

“…Aaron Brown, a spokesman for the No More Freeways campaign, raised various concerns in an email specifically about the bikeways:

The Hancock-Dixon crossing would have a steep slope for people heading east. …” bikeportland

Difficulty due to climb grade of provided infrastructure is the type of valid concern opponents of this project as is, would be well to persist in have attention paid to. By the way…what would be the grade rate…the rate of climb for the east bound crossing Brown refers to? Initially, some people were concerned about the grade rate on the Tillicum. Are people still having difficulties with it? Would the Hancock-Division be similarly steep, or steeper? Important questions to ask, and get worked out, asap.

SD
Subscriber

If ODOT claims that a part of the budget is going to bike/ped in the RQ project does this diminish other bike/ped expenditures? In other words, do they get to claim a certain amount spent on bike/ped for the rose quarter project to offset bike/ped obligations that may have been legislated or included in planning budgets?

maccoinnich
Guest

I can definitely see how there could be some level of improvement to conditions for cyclists and pedestrians as part of the project. But at the recent council hearings the claim was repeatedly made that half the project’s budget was dedicated to active transportation improvements. Do these improvements look to anyone like $225 million worth of bike/ped improvements? Or put another way: if we really did spend $225 million on the above improvements, absent the freeway expansion, is there anyone at all who would think that was a prudent use of money?

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

You forget to mention that all of these crossings and overpasses will be better it to seismic codes, so should remain intact after the Cascadia Subduction Zone snaps.

Why EVERY project is not through this lens after Japan is beyond me. If we do not start seriously retrofitting our infrastructure now at some point it will all be rubble….and do you really expect a good response from Washington?

Plus, once this is built we can remodel 405, then remove I 5 from 84 to Mcadam in SW. A detailed plan is forming…..this long range vision will give us something to work towards.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Can anyone explain why they would remove the Flint connection? If they are trying to improve connectivity and restore the grid, they should keep that, maybe make it bike/ped only. I strongly agree with Doug Klotz that those eased corners seem like a minor detail but in reality will create a much higher safe, less safe environment for people walking and biking. Also, there is A LOT of greenwashing in this images. We have a very hot and dry summer climate. If trees are going to be considered in a limited soil environment with this much exposure, they absolutely will need permanent, long term irrigation to keep them alive.In addition to this being pretty unsustainable, there is no chance that PBOT or ODOT will keep the water on for more than a couple of years.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“The freeway caps would allow wider sidewalks and bike lanes without the need to remove space from cars”

they probably think this is a good thing… what I see is they keep the current norm and promise peanuts that are never delivered…

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Freeway caps seem like they’d be the first to go when the big one goes off. That would clog not only the freeway but whatever bike/ped facilities were on top.

rick
Guest
rick

Why not build a freeway cap instead of all of the car lane stuff? A freeway cap for a space for people like a public park ?

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

Wait, how is the southern section of Williams Avenue a woonerf if no motor vehicles (except buses) are permitted? Don’t misread my intention. I want woonerf treatments throughout the city but saying that “only buses” are allowed makes it sound like a bus mall where their presence will take priority over bikes using the space. I’m skeptical. PBOT has a way of nerfing these amazing road layout concepts so roundabouts, woonerfs, and “off road” cycle facilities are substandard compared to international examples. Just call it a bus mall with bicycle access if that’s how it will function.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

This was a very nice informational piece, but what really rocks is Michael’s wonderful disclosure statement at the end. That paragraph should be copied and sent to every elected official in the state, perhaps with some photos of Oregon’s fire-ravaged landscape and some of the devastation from this year’s batch of major hurricanes just to make sure they know what continued business as usual is causing even now in the early stages of catastrophic climate change.

Living In Lloyd
Guest
Living In Lloyd

I really just want more walkability in that entire region. It is dangerous as hell currently and would like at least some improvement in the area to bike and get around without driving. Don’t really have people believe me that there are people who live around MODA and the Mall. Lloyd didn’t even have community meetings until about a year ago, so no voices could be heard for what we need or think about any of these surface street improvements. At least now they are asking for recommendation from the community how they can make changes in neighborhood meetings. As long as the area doesn’t end up like the pearl I will be happy. I would kill for some of the bike improvements like South Waterfront around there.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Based on the data available, and the insistence by ODOT to proceed in the face of this evidence, I suggest the project’s goals should be changed to the following:

Goal 1: Spend money on a highway expansion
Goal 2: Provide a feeling the new design will result in less time spent in traffic

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

Good article, Michael.

One example of the large-radius corners is already built, where the I-5 offramp lands west of Broadway and Vancouver. Yes, part of it is concrete surface to “indicate” to cars that they shouldn’t turn so sharp. Even if that works, I doubt the rest of the corners will have that.

And, with all this space on the caps, we’ll actually LOSE a sidewalk. Vancouver won’t have a west side sidewalk across the freeway like it does now. ODOT claims the combination of the I-5 offramp and Vancouver meeting Broadway won’t have enough room between them for the sidewalk to meet the crosswalk at Broadway. But they could shift Vancouver eastward on the “lid” and make it work. They’d have to cut a few corners on the south side of Broadway for the merge onto Vancouver.

Nick Fox
Guest
Nick Fox

Thanks for the coverage. These details are really useful and easy to follow as you lay them out.

A thought: How does all of this play with PPS plans to reopen Tubman as a middle school next year? Demoing the Flint bridge makes access to the school for busses (and parents coming from downtown) especially tough. Could extending the caps towards the Tubman property help mitigate some of the harms of pollution for a school that’s 50 feet from a busy freeway? Is it possible PPS and ODOT haven’t talked at all about this plan?

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Nice article, thank you. Something I could not quite grasp – riding south from Vancouver through this area to get the Steel Bridge or E.S. Esplande – does anything change? Will they maintain this major bike route unchanged, or are there plans for this, also?

PS. Is Woonerf dutch for poo-stained campground?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

For some reason the potential future of this project reminds me of my childhood on the Tualatin River. Washington County Demolished the Old Schamburg bridge ( where Roy Rogers crosses the Tualatin now) to put up a new bridge. Then a budget crunch precipitated by the 72 oil embargo, followed by planning uncertainty caused by the proposed west side bypass caused a 5 year delay in rebuilding the bridge. So suddenly we were cut off from our friends and the grocery store on the Sherwood side of the river. Seems like just our luck that ODOT will pull down all the overpasses across I5 then some kind of recession will set in drying up all the money. Construction will halt and we will be stuck crossing I5 on some kind of third world rope bridge with our bikes, and the cars will be out of luck.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“it was clear throughout that early process that auto movement was ODOT’s priority.”

Hm.

Dylan Rivera: “We think it has the potential to do a lot of great things for the central city and to reconnect neighborhoods that were disconnected by the original construction of I-5”
We can’t solve problems by using the same level of thinking that created them. (Albert Einstein)

Terry: “If we do not start seriously retrofitting our infrastructure now at some point it will all be rubble”

Infrastructure reduced to rubble can be salutary, you know. Autos have much harder time traversing rubble than people moving under their own power.

Scott Kocher
Guest

A lot of people are rightly starting to suggest we try congestion pricing BEFORE we spend $0.5B, but has anyone asked how autonomous vehicles will affect the purported need for this or other freeway expansions? It seems AVs will upend current notions of congestion right around the time the work would be completed. So we get years of construction-related traffic delays, a new lane just as the curtain falls on the postwar Houston infrastructure era, and empty coffers.

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

Don’t be fooled. There are lots of street trees in the design image but when push comes to shove existing city right-of-way policies, priorities and procedures DO NOT prioritize street trees and DO NOT lead to as many or as large of trees as the designs depict.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

Michael, for future reference you really should avoid the use of the word “Freeway.” The term was coined during the Eisenhower build out as a propaganda campaign to encourage suburban growth.

“Your freedom of movement can be assured by supporting the new Freeway through your city. The drive into town will be smooth and quick on our new freeway system.’

Limited Access Highways are not free whether tolled or not, the sprawl they encourage costs society trillions. We should leave the term “Freeway” in the past.

Dan Kaufman
Guest

I reckon this is a step in strategy to reawaken the CRC because one of the most effective arguments against the CRC was the bottleneck at RQ.

We don’t move beyond “free”ways by expanding them.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

If it costs half a billion to fix this tiny section of road, what will be the price of overhauling America’s entire transportation nightmare? Looks like America’s road-building days are over thanks to economics.

MJS
Guest
MJS

wsbobFor bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Portland projects, would you propose for example, 6 percent as a maximum grade the city should be obliged to hold itself to for any such project? Or a gentler grade like 3 or 4 percent?

I did a test commute by bike over the weekend. I’m in good shape but could be in better bike shape. My commute would be fine as a regular bike commute, except I am left with two choices to get to work: either a) 1000-feet at 8% followed almost right after by 1/4 mile at 7%; or b) 4-5% for 2.5 miles. The return trip could include up to 7% for 1-1/4 miles but is more like 4-5% overall.

Neither of those are particularly desirable as a bike commute. I’m actually looking at taking a Brompton and going multi-modal at least in the mornings so I don’t have to deal with it.

My take is that it’ll depend on the distance traveled for an appropriate grading, but I don’t see many people tackling the 8% grades for a short block where I live very often. 3-4% even with a well-geared bike is probably the limit for utility cycling.

ASG
Guest
ASG

Michael,
I’m confused about who would use the bike/pedestrian bridge. I live to the north and east and would never cut through Lloyd Center to use it when Williams is a straight shot. If I were coming from the south, I would take Lloyd Boulevard around the back of the Convention Center. The bridge would provide a direct route across I-5 for those who live in Lloyd District, but all they need to do now is take Multnomah under I-5.

What about this fairly cynical possibility: The bridge was included solely to entice support from bike and pedestrian groups.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Kyle Banerjee
Also keeping in mind that the objectionable grade is the Clackamas-Wheeler connection which would be likely to see the least use of all of them even under the best circumstances. Given what it connects, it’s not going to be servicing many commuters.
In fact, this specific connection strikes me as one likely to work like Failing (which crosses I-5) and Concord (which crosses Going) where chances of encountering “noncyclists” you really don’t want to deal with are high. Who here takes those bridges at night rather than the roads? I sure won’t.
Recommended 0

I use both of those overcrossings on foot and on bike at many hours of the day and night, between 8 am and midnight at least- I am rarely up past 11 these days!

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

The following link is to a pre-I-5, pre-Rose Quarter map of the Albina district.

http://opb-news-interactives.s3.amazonaws.com/news/2016/04April/jazz-town/img/map.jpg

As you can see from this map, there were no historic east-west connections of any of the following streets: Dixon, Hancock, Tillamook, Thompson, or Page. So I-5 never severed these connections and thus there is no such thing as ‘restoring’ them; the bluff was too steep in this area to have ever made these connections in the first place.

Adding a Hancock-Dixon connection ‘for cyclists’ is a just so much hooey, what they really need to do to maintain historic connectivity is to either save or rebuild the Flint Street bridge.