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PBOT project will build carfree plaza on Couch, build two-way cycle track across Burnside

Posted by on May 7th, 2020 at 3:05 pm

Detail of PBOT plans for I-405 crossing changes.

Detail shows new carfree plaza coming to Couch between 15th and 16th.

At their meeting yesterday Portland City Council authorized the transportation bureau to bid out a $3,183,401 contract that will fund the construction of the Downtown I-405 Pedestrian Safety and Operational Improvements Project.

PBOT wants to restore sanity and safety to an area where the surface street network was destroyed by the construction of the freeway and its on-off ramps. The project aims to improve crossings of I-405 on Northwest Couch and West Burnside, as well as make major changes to 15th and 16th.

Elements of the project include: Over a dozen new ADA-compliant curb-ramps; full closure of a slip-lane between 16th and 15th; a two-way cycle track on 16th across Burnside; full closure of an existing travel lane between Burnside and 15th; curb extensions, new buffered bike lane and sharrows along Couch west of 15th; a full closure of driving access across 405 on Couch, and more.

Yes you read that right. PBOT will prohibit driving and create a carfree plaza on Couch between 15th and 16th.

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Full plan drawing.

Detail of two-way cycle track planned for 16th across Burnside.

The project will also build a new cycle track on 16th. 16th, which is southbound only, currently has an unprotected, door-zone bike lane that ends at Davis. The new cycle track will be two-way and will go from Couch (across Burnside) to Alder.

At the council meeting last week (when this contract authorization was first discussed) Mayor Ted Wheeler was very concerned about how the cycle track would work in real life.

“As a bicycle rider, how am I separated from southbound cycle traffic during that transition across the ADA pedestrian crosswalk?” Wheeler asked PBOT project manager Gabriel Graff. “That’s confusing to me.” Wheeler was referring to the crossing of Burnside, which (as you can see in the concept drawing) requires bicycle riders to negotiate an off-set intersection.

“If you have a green on SW 16th heading north, you could be going fairly fast through that intersection, particularly people trying to push the yellow,” Wheeler continued. “How are you going to make that quick decision to go right through the pedestrian crossing and then know to immediately turn left without intersecting with someone coming southbound on a bike through the same intersect while at the same time trying not to hit pedestrians in the crosswalks?… I want to acknowledge that bicyclists will have to make a decision to do an s-turn through an ADA crosswalk, then make sure they don’t go into oncoming traffic on 16th. They’ll have to thread that needle and I want to flag that as something that struck me as a potential conflict zone if it’s not done very thoughtfully.”

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Conditions around Couch and 16th today are an unsafe and confusing mess.

Graff assured Wheeler PBOT had it all figured out. Their plan is a new bike signal at Burnside that will separate all modes. Wheeler asked him to “dig deeper” and judging by the votes in support of the project and the mayor’s comments at the meeting yesterday, Graff’s follow-ups did the trick. Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said despite the complicated nature of crossing, they trust PBOT staff to make it work.

PBOT must create quality bikeways to capture the potential of this and another major investment that’s coming soon: The new Flanders Crossing Bridge and associated upgrades to the Flanders Neighborhood Greenway that are also slated to begin construction in 2020.

This project has been in the works since 2012 when it was recommended by the Pearl District Access and Circulation plan. Design and engineering funds came through in 2016. Construction funding comes from a mix of a federal ODOT “Enhance” grant ($2 million) and local match from System Development Charges and other sources. The project was initially slated to be built in 2018, but PBOT confirmed with us today they now anticipate breaking ground later this summer.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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FDUPAsher AtkinsonAnonJohn LascurettesX Recent comment authors
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Kudos to PBOT! This really does look great and I’m excited to (hopefully) see it built soon!

One question though: will there be a 4-way stop at Couch and 16th, or will the intersection be signalized? I hope at least one of these two permutations is true, or I feel there’s going to be lots of accidents at the intersection if only one direction has a stop sign.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I used to live in the apartment building at NW 16th and Burnside, so I’m very glad to see this project move forward. The road network in that area is a total mess, and this will make it a lot easier to navigate the area on foot, or bike (or even in a car).

The one complaint I have is that the 2-way track only goes from Alder to Couch. There’s a separate project to add buffered bike lanes on the 16/17th couplet in Goose Hollow, which may possibly already be built (last I heard, the work order had been submitted). It’s a straight shot for someone traveling north, but requires out-of-direction travel for someone heading south. It’s a shame they couldn’t have built a protected 2-way facility on SW 16th, which has the benefit of a wider than normal right-of-way. To make this possible all they would need to do is convert the angled parking to parallel parking and add contraflow bike signals at 16th and Morrison / Yamhill.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Also, I wish the 2-way facility could have been protected with concrete, rather than plastic wands. I don’t understand how, in a $3 million project with lots of concrete work, they couldn’t have found a way to do something like Montreal does, for 400 linear feet:

https://goo.gl/maps/xxoKRJUbPU9cgtVP7

Anna
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Anna

Any updates on the Flanders Crossing project? I thought construction was supposed to begin early this year but I haven’t seen any signs of anything changing along Flanders.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

@Anna – City Council recently accepted the winning bid, so I’d expect work to start soon.

JR
Guest
JR

This looks like a move in the right direction. What is being done with the new, wider pedestrian spaces? It would be a great opportunity to install pedestrian scale art and trees where possible. For $3+ million, I hope there’s a few trees planted in the ground rather than just some large-scale pots. Things like that have a way of making the place feel much more safe from vehicles than a blank concrete area.

buildwithjoe
Guest

OMG, who likes this?

This is 3 million bucks of Stockholm syndrome. (embrace your oppressors) I’ve made my own picture because I call baloney on this ….( see my picture, figure 1 below)

– New rule. Nothing can be called a cycletrack unless it goes more than 1 mile – In commute hours you will enjoy 2 blocks of famous Chris Warner (TM) “tracks” only to be dumped back into stalled traffic. Thread your bike between stalled cars in the traffic lane and parked cars on Couch St.

– Couch is already blocked for traffic headed West. What’s new? PBOT will add a future block for traffic on Couch headed East.

– After spending 3 million we get what? Yes you get bikes with sharrows playing frogger. Bikes must traverse a crossing with no signals. Bikes will be competing with a freeway on ramp. Freeway on ram cross traffic! Yes really. No signal. Cars v bikes. Cars trying to get on 405 Northbound. Seriously who would let an 8 year old try to cross this even with adult supervision?

– I guess we have to give PBOT some credit… PBOT has deleted the high speed car shortcut from 16th to 15th. ( red zone on my figure 1) This could be deleted now with cones, and should have been done 20 years ago. Same for the tiny shortcut from Burnside to 15th. So not much real credit.

– Do you want to cross the freeway on foot? Only one side of Burnside has a crosswalk for you. Cars and trucks race past you on their 4 lane hellscape. If you make it there alive pay homage to the Tracey Sparling memorial bike box.

In conclusion. Shortly after this 3 million project is “complete” I can expect we will be able to name the 14th and Couch St intersection for our next dead cyclist. This area is just waiting to be named for a bike “accident” victim. Who’s name will it be? When? 2020? 2022? Only time will tell. I seriously think a chairpersons from bike loud had beers with PBOT and signed off on this shady project for three million dollars. What the heck! What is going on in Portland. I want to blow chunks.

Figure 1
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1leAAjE65qTB93P8fXPIzNBFcBPqsFg52/view?usp=sharing

URL Tracey Sparling Bike Box
https://bikeportland.org/2008/07/03/a-bittersweet-bike-box-8103

Doug Hecker
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Doug Hecker

“Graff assured Wheeler PBOT had it all figured out. “

Yikes, wasn’t Gabe the same project manager for that overdone and confusing “protected” intersection on Nw Thurman? Let’s call that one terrible which means he does not have my confidence in yet another odd looking project. What’s wrong with a standard? One that people can all see and quickly interpret instead of looking at it awkwardly and wonder what overpaid city worker with 3 million to spend did? What is even more laughable is the location as it is about 4 blocks past where it should be, on Couch and 12th and/or 13th. At least at those locations one could justify people actually using the plaza portion. I literally have seen a handful of peds at that location over the 4 years that I have used that street.

Social Engineer
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Social Engineer

Don’t be fooled, this is primarily a project to improve traffic circulation by separating the cars coming off the I-405 SB off-ramp from those on NW 16th. The intersection at Couch where they come together can cause pretty long backups during peak times. The “pedestrian plaza” is really an ancillary benefit and not the main goal of the project.

Asher Atkinson
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Asher Atkinson

I completely agree that at first glance this looks like a total kludge. For a 3 million overhaul I don’t understand how we still end up with an uncontrolled crossing of essentially a freeway on-ramp at 14th and Couch. I’m particularly sensitive about that because several years ago my brother in law was visiting Portland for the first time and while exploring downtown he was struck by a car and very seriously injured while crossing 14th on foot. Even with curb extensions, drivers will treat 14th like the northbound on-ramp that it is and not expect cyclists and pedestrians crossing on Couch.

Another Engineer
Subscriber
Another Engineer

Why wouldn’t NB bikes use 14th or 19th? Seems odd to hamfist a cycletrack in when all you really need to accommodate is a southbound bike movement.

Momo
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Momo

No, that wasn’t Gabe’s project. He did the Burnside/18th/19th project, which I think works pretty well.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Have you considered working for PBOT?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

An easy way to improve this area would be to close the freeway ramps in a 4 block radius. Traffic would instantly be calmer and all you’d need is a few jersey barriers and to remove some signs.

The city never takes the easy and obvious route. They only take the route approved by motor vehicle drivers.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Why don’t they want us to bike through to 19th? I don’t want to have to ride on 14th with all the freeway traffic.

Social Engineer
Guest
Social Engineer

@Asher Atkinson

PBOT was asked several times to add a signal where Couch meets the NB freeway on-ramp, which is technically separate from NW 14th, precisely for the reasons you stated. They said it couldn’t be done and pointed the finger at ODOT since the ramp is their facility.

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

I always forget about the PDOT vs ODOT tension, and that explains why the two lanes that Y off of 14th and run between Burnside and Couch don’t have a name on the map and don’t have a signal or stop at Couch. All the more reason the look critically at PDOT’s whiteboard masterpiece that has a freeway on-ramp running through part of it that they can’t even control. I’d rather see the money spent on infrastructure that coherently routes bikes and pedestrians to better nearby crossings, like the coming Flanders overpass, and signaled options for Burnside at 18th and 19th.

Ed
Guest
Ed

Why don’t you write up a work order to close the freeway ramps and get ODOT to stamp it? I’m sure that would be super easy and met with immediate approval.

X
Guest
X

Asher Atkinson May 7, 2020 at 10:21 pm
…I don’t understand how we still end up with an uncontrolled crossing of essentially a freeway on-ramp at 14th and Couch. I’m particularly sensitive about that because several years ago my brother in law was visiting Portland for the first time and while exploring downtown he was struck by a car and very seriously injured while crossing 14th on foot…

Man, I’m sorry about that. It’s really hard to see a place where someone close to you was hurt, or worse. Our streetscape just isn’t very good at telling people, ‘you are now OFF the freeway’ or ‘NOPE, not on the freeway YET’. At NE Broadway people feel entitled to make a rolling right on red off MLK because they are sure there’s a freeway someplace. Maybe they mostly ride bikes and it’s just a habit?

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

$4M for 2 blocks of confusing bike way that goes nowhere and a plaza where you can sit and breath freeway fumes? LOL! Waste of money.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Wow. Quite an ambitious project. At minimum I shout “kudos!” to PBOT for getting rid of that slip lane from SB 405. All slip lanes in a shared-use space should go away (I’m thinking of N. Larrabee and Broadway as needing to be next on the list).

Anon
Guest
Anon

I lived right by there for a few years and crossed through that intersection almost every day. It was such a clusterfuck, esp. with cars exiting the freeway at high speeds (and entering at high speeds on 14th).

The only thing that made it tolerable was that the light cycle was very consistent, so if you went through a lot you knew when you could cross without waiting.

I’m glad to see some improvements are finally being made.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Just close all the in-town Freeway entrances and exits, problem solved!