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


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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