“This is an opportunity to help set a new normal, to minimize impacts as travel activity increases in our communities.”
The Portland Bureau of Transportation intends to give Southwest Capitol Highway through the Hillsdale commercial district a makeover to make room for better bus service. The plan is to reduce space for car users and create a bus-and-turn (BAT) only lane on Capitol Highway for a one-mile stretch between Barbur Boulevard to Bertha Court.
The project is part of PBOT’s Rose Lane plan, intended to give buses priority in congested areas to make transit faster and more reliable. Rose Lanes launched in November 2019 under former PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly with the expressed intention of using transportation projects to tackle racial disparities and climate change.
PBOT says the Capitol Highway project, one of 25 projects in the Rose Lane Priority Transit Network announced in December 2020, is an opportunity to seize space for non-drivers on this key corridor, while some local interests worry about spillover impacts.
At a meeting of the Southwest Land Use & Transportation Forum Tuesday, PBOT Senior Transportation Planner Nick Falbo said, “It’s hard to overstate how important transit is on the SW Capital Highway corridor. We’re really excited that this project can help set a foundation for keeping efficient bus travel now and into the future.” In a presentation, Falbo said inconveniences for auto users have been minimized and no auto parking removal is in the plans. People driving will be able to use the bus lane to make right turns or pull into driveways.
The biggest change will be at the intersection of SW Capitol Highway and SW Sunset Boulevard, where PBOT will implement BAT lanes in both direction leading up to Sunset. Planning documents illustrate an eastbound BAT lane from Bertha to Sunset, and a westbound lane from Sunset to Barbur.
Based on 2019 ridership data, PBOT estimates 11,730 riders will benefit from this Rose Lane project. However, estimating the significance a project will have in 2022 based on 2019 figures is like comparing apples to oranges. The pandemic severely impacted TriMet ridership, and although ridership has been improving slowly, it was still down about a million estimated weekly boardings in February of this year compared to February 2020.
Despite gains for transit users, not everyone is eager for changes to Hilldale’s main street. The Hillsdale Business and Professional Association (HBPA) says they support the project’s goals, but has concerns and shared list of several questions in a letter to PBOT.
The letter says community concerns are about the proposed westbound route and how it will impact “livability for our residents, the greenhouse gas impact, the safety of our pedestrians, and bicycle users on the affected streets [and] the economic impact on our struggling businesses and especially our growing percentage of vulnerable seniors.”
The HBPA also asks PBOT to consider focusing on what they say the commercial and residential communities of Hillsdale really need: safe sidewalks or walking space between SW Cheltenham and Terwilliger.
(Slides shown at neighborhood meeting Tuesday.)
“Devoting resources to create this much-needed pedestrian connection is the most effective safety improvement Portland can make to this congested corridor,” the letter reads.
SW Capitol Highway is designated as a high crash corridor by PBOT. Improving safety for people walking and biking on the street has been a stated priority by the transportation bureau for some time, and the Southwest in Motion (SWIM) plan to improve active transportation in SW Portland has multiple suggested improvements for this corridor.
Falbo said building the Rose Lane, which has a budget of $200,000, won’t stand in the way of progress on pedestrian and bike safety projects.
“We could only build about 100 feet of sidewalk for what it costs to build this Rose Lane,” he said.
Falbo also clarified that this project won’t impede the existing bike lane on Capitol Hwy. In fact, he says people riding bikes will benefit from riding adjacent to a BAT lane, because buses don’t travel as fast as the rest of motor vehicle traffic does, not to mention the people driving buses are professional drivers trained to watch out for people biking.
Community members are also concerned that reducing car capacity by turning outer lanes into adding bus-and-turn lanes will cause congestion, encouraging people driving to divert onto side streets. Falbo countered that the Rose Lane will have minimal traffic impact because there aren’t as many cars on the road. Traffic volume on SW Capitol Highway has been down 50 to 80 percent in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“If auto traffic increases in the coming years, people driving may experience an additional 20 to 90 seconds of delay — less than half the length of a typical song on the radio,” PBOT’s project description says.
The HBPA said PBOT is exaggerating the benefits it says this Rose Lane will have for bus passengers.
“Our initial current investigations suggest the passenger time savings being claimed for this improvement are seriously overstated,” their letter states.
“If auto traffic increases in the coming years, people driving may experience an additional 20 to 90 seconds of delay — less than half the length of a typical song on the radio.”
— Nick Falbo, PBOT
But PBOT maintains the Rose Lane will expedite bus travel for passengers. According to PBOT planners, this project will allow someone departing from Capitol Highway and SW 35th at 7:30 a.m. to be able to reach 5% more jobs within 45 minutes thanks to expanded access into NE, SE and SW Portland.
It’s worth noting PBOT is using pre-pandemic numbers to calculate the positive impacts this project will have, while figuring the traffic delays using the reduced current numbers. But Falbo said he sees this as a time to encourage people to change their transportation habits. If people experience benefits from taking the bus now, maybe pre-pandemic traffic will never recover, because more people will be riding transit.
A slide from the project presentation underlines this:
“Travel activity will increase over time. Our choices today inform how it comes back. This is an opportunity to help set a new normal, to minimize impacts as travel activity increases in our communities.”
There will be three more virtual organization meetings for community members to participate in throughout the next month. Construction is planned to begin this summer. You can find out more information about how to engage and the project in general here.
This project needs to happen b/c bus riders, who are trying to do the best thing for the planet, are stuck waiting in car traffic on the hill for 20-30 minutes during rush hour, while cars zoom around them in the lefthand lane. Buses can’t use the lefthand lane b/c every bus has to stop at Sunset, so every SOV has priority over every bus loaded with passengers.
If you read this article (linked on Monday), you’d think Don Baack is the only person in Hillsdale whose opinion matters. Now, Don has certainly done many great things for SW Portland, especially creating the trail network which I use almost daily, but that doesn’t make him an authority on what is best for public transit or the community generally.
If cars have to wait 20-90 seconds longer to climb the hill, so that buses can move more efficiently, that’s a price worth paying – esp if it gets more of those drivers out of their SOVs and onto the bus. I’m not worried about how the rose lanes will impact cycling or walking, since bus drivers generally do a good job of looking out for cyclists and walkers, unlike many distracted drivers.
In the next decade or so as affluent Portlanders increasingly shift to EVs and as funding for electrification of transit fails to keep up*, I think it’s very likely that we will see affluent Portlanders argue that transit is worse for the planet because it belches diesel exhaust (unlike their Tesla model X).
*by “green capitalist” intention
Hear, hear Fred. Huge appreciation for Don’s and other SW Trails volunteers who’ve created an amazing network of trails over the years. However, when it comes to transit and making transit a competitive and desirable alternative to SOVs, the types of improvements proposed on SW Capitol through Hillsdale are desperately needed. I ride through here quite often and would be happy to have additional separation from auto traffic with the occasional bus passing me in the adjacent lane.
I’m not sure how much additional separation it is when the main danger is the cars entering and exiting the parking lots, which they’ll still do.
This claim deserves a bit of examination. I believe that at current ridership levels, if we really wanted to minimize CO2 emissions, we’d stop running buses altogether. That is, I believe the energy TriMet spends per passenger mile exceeds that of a private car (it was roughly at parity with a small single-occupant gasoline vehicle before the pandemic, when ridership was double what it is today; now, with the same number of buses and half the number of passengers, per-passenger emissions have effectively doubled). As private vehicles transition to electric, the math will favor transit even less.
That said, as long as the buses are running anyway, I agree it is “better for the planet” for people to ride them than to drive.
[I’m not trying to refute anything you wrote, just using it to make an interesting and important point.]
Given that trimet ridership has never been particularly high and has been falling for quite some time, the claim is questionable pre-pandemic. The lack of urgency when it comes to electrification of transit has struck me as tragic since I moved here decades ago.
Isn’t she beautiful!
“…the annualized life-cycle cost for each trolleybus is $11.8 million per year, compared to $15.5 million per year for a hybrid diesel-electric coach, a savings of $3.7 million per year.”
Soren,…I am assuming those costs you cite are just vehicle costs…and this misses the additional costs that trolley buses may have for overhead power. (Don’t get me wrong, I love trolley buses…quiet, fast, and no local emissions.)
It’s an annualized life-cycle analysis that includes the cost of power line maintenance and electricity. It was also conducted by an independent org after there were concerns about bias in a previous analysis from SDOT.
Don has wanted a road diet on Barbur Blvd at least in the forested section unlike many people.
I dunno…. Maybe I’m off base here, but admitting that buses are slower than car traffic just doesn’t seem in line with the ultimate goal of the Rose Lane project, assuming that the purpose of improving bus speeds is to improve ridership. “The buses are faster thanks to these lanes, but don’t worry cyclists, they’re still slower than cars so you don’t have to worry….. What? No bus riders, that wasn’t meant for your ears. Keep riding our buses. Don’t go back to your cars!” There have to be other ways to ensure safety for bikes than undermining things for buses. Of course if buses being slower than cars is simply the truth, then I guess I’m not proposing telling lies, but it seems to me that buses should actually be made faster than cars if we’re to make them an attractive option for people. Do we want to keep having public transit be the thing that only environmentalists and less affluent people ride, or something that all people ride because it’s convenient and cheap in addition to being the environmentally friendly choice?
Our green capitalist future says, yes.
PS: I expect many of the “environmentalists” to jump off the bus too as electro-mobility choices diversify (but these alternatives, will remain out of reach for most of those spending >40% of their gross income on rent in the outer-outer Portland metro area).
I hear you, Aaron, but I disagree that buses are slower than bikes. Next time you are downtown on your bike, wait for the #44 bus and then race it to Hillsdale and see who wins. The bus will win almost every time, thanks to the hill going up to Hillsdale – unless that bus is caught in SOV and other-bus traffic, which is why we need the rose lanes.
Oh, I think maybe I wasn’t clear enough in what I said, but I didn’t mean to imply that buses are slower than bikes. I was merely criticizing the notion of saying “buses are slower than cars” as a means of reassuring cyclists, since that undermines the messaging that buses are a viable alternative to cars.
Whether buses are slower/faster entirely depends on the route and rider. Transfers can also be very sketchy, again, depending on the route.
I agree with you — I think there’s certainly some mixed messaging going on here. But I will say I usually do feel safer riding alongside a designated bus lane than a lane with many different cars, because a bus driver’s actions are easier to predict and if you can make eye contact with them in the mirror, it’s better than having to ensure dozens of people driving cars are paying attention to you (and they often aren’t!).
And absolutely we should try to encourage everyone to ride the bus because it’s convenient and cheap and environmentally friendly. However, I honestly am not sure the extent to a minute or two of time savings is going to be what pushes people over the edge to ride the bus.
It will help make the experience more pleasurable, sure, but is it exciting enough to entice non-bus people? Horrible car traffic has not deterred people from driving. We’re going to have to get more strategic here.
At rush hour, I could drive home in 30 minutes. By TriMet it is 1 – 1 1/2 hours. A great deal more than just a couple minutes savings. Why do I waste my time with TriMet? Downtown parking cost and my work subsidises my bus pass. If either of those were different I’d drive in a heart beat.
It’s hugely politically unpopular, but congestion pricing is an essential tool here, especially as EVs slowly proliferate. Car drivers need to start paying for their privilege, and transit and land-use planning BOTH need to be improved for those who can’t afford to pay.
From my perspective there is little support for congestion pricing among active transportation activists in PDX.
For example, a city stakeholder group recently punted on congestion pricing (cordon area pricing) in central Portland and there was nary a peep of dismay over this decision from nonprofit orgs and prominent active transportation activists (including some directly involved in the process).
Given the slow pace of “reform” in PDX it’s likely that congestion pricing won’t be considered again for many, many years.
I can’t think that the lack of passion about it is probably a reflection of the understanding of how unpopular it would be amongst lay people. Nonetheless, this country’s going to need to start making drivers pay somehow.
Cordon area pricing is not a “market-driven” approach* and is, therefore, unappealing to those who believe that markets are the best (only?) way to address the negative externalities of automobile use. For cordon area pricing to be equitable in a low-density city like Portland it also needs to be redistributive** and this is also not in the Overton window of Portland’s establishment politics, ATMO.
*Scary big government regulation (e.g. social democracy)
**Scary big government redistribution
Actually, congestion pricing IS a market-driven approach, making driving more expensive where it’s most in-demand (congestion). It would definitely need to be made equitable one way or another, but the best way to do that is going to be through providing better transit service, and housing near it. These are all pieces to a puzzle which is already put together. Make driving unnecessary, and make those of us who still want to do it pay its true cost.
You are referring to tolling, not congesting pricing. There is nothing new or novel about variable rate freeway tolls.
Congestion pricing is a term that refers, almost exclusively, to the recent use of area cordon pricing in urban centers:
These non-variable fees and/or mandates are designed to markedly reduce entry of SUVs/trucks into urban centers and are, therefore, a far more effective way to create a low-SUV/truck culture then tolling (which avoids charging many who drive the most in urban areas: well off people who live in or near the urban center).
There’s nothing about congestion pricing that really makes it novel. Tolls restrict access to roadways in certain areas unless that access is paid for (and could be tailored to penalize specific vehicle types, as well; heavier commericla vehicles often already are). Whether it’s a rural highway or an urban street doesn’t seem like an important distinction, other than the social value of it, even if the motivation for the use-fee is different. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.
And how does it feel to be allied with a movement that did not support this “rose”?
Modern cordon area pricing was developed based on the desire to lessen the negative externalities (pollution/GHG) of automobiles (as opposed to making it easier to drive — congestion management).
I see cordon area pricing as a step towards banning automobiles in urban centers while the traffic “free market” (e.g. the YIMBY/Schoupista position) seeks to preserve ease of automobile use (for well off people).
Variable highway tolling is to congestion pricing what California’s express lanes* are to Light rail.
*HOV lanes that allow wealthy people access for a fee.
You’d only be against people being able to use cars at all if you were anti-transit. I.e., you have to assume that transit can never be preferable to cars if banning cars is necessary to make people use transit.
There is an element of luxury in driving that will never disappear, just as there was in riding in a horse-and-carriage before automobiles were invented. What the 20th century proved is that cities that have evolved past industry can be much better environments for human flourishing than rural or suburban areas. What the end of the 20th and the start of the 21st century are so far proving is that cities are much better for people when there are as few automobiles as possible in them.
We can get into the philosophical weeds here, but fundamentally I don’t think that car ownership/driving should be illegal, but it should only occur among people who genuinely enjoy those things in and of themselves, and basically never in areas where walking/cycling/transit can serve more people better, and should be prohibitively expensive for anyone who doesn’t enjoy it. As a driving enthusiast who only drives for pleasure (who will otherwise walk or take a bus) I can tell you that is an incredibly small number of people, and–with how America developed through the 20th century–a small number of places. Cars are luxury items, but for too much of the world, they’ve been made into tools.
No one who doesn’t love driving should ever have to do it. Making Americans realize how few of them actually like driving–outside the necessity of it artificially imposed by our urban and transportation planning–is key to affecting the change we need. Along with that affective change will need to be massive reconstruction of American cities to be more serviceable by transit, a fact that you and others of your mindset seem to refuse to accept. There need not be anything inegalitarian about it; I and a lot of YIMBY people are incredibly pro-social housing. You’re fighting strawmen whenever you’re having a conversation with someone who actually cares, only you refuse to see it.
The idea that SUVs/trucks/(cars) should be restricted or banned from the urban center is a cornerstone of Dutch urban transportation policy. Is the Dutch transportation system also anti-transit?
When Eudaly proposed a “tenant opportunity to purchase” which would have encouraged non-market coops (a la “Red Vienna”) YIMBYs were nowhere to be seen. In my experience, Portland YIMBYs say a lot of things but when push comes to shove they always support the “market” over housing decommodification.
My mindset of supporting pervasive dedicated transit routes* and ultra-high density housing is antithetical to pervasive transit and ultra-high density cities?
*at the expense of cage routes, preferably
So you’ve shifted my position from SUV/truck/(car) free zones to banning all cages. That being said a society where cages are illegal seems like a utopia to me.
I think though that part of the problem is that the public transit network in Portland is, by global standards, pretty bad. Horrible car traffic hasn’t deterred people from driving here because the car is still the fastest means for making the majority of trips here despite how bad the traffic is. If a car trip that would ordinarily take 15 minutes ends up taking 40 minutes under heavy traffic in Portland, that sucks, but imagine how long that same trip would take by bus. In such a scenario, no wonder people drive. While speed isn’t the only factor for making people switch over, I still suspect it is a huge factor. There are cities like Tokyo where public transit trips take anywhere from slightly but not significantly slower than driving to faster than driving, and the public transit modal share in such cities is really high (north of 50% in Tokyo).
There needs to be a dramatically expanded bus lane network throughout the whole Portland metro area. Traffic-calming measures that incorporate street redesign along with lowered speed limits are important for public health and safety, and should discourage car travel.
Comparing transit in Tokyo with that in Portland is a bit unfair. Tokyo transit is amazing (at least in the areas I’m familiar with, which are mostly restricted to those places I can access via transit and that I, as a visitor, would want to go).
I lived in another part of Japan for a spell, where urban transit was much more on a Portland level, and doing much of anything outside the city required a car. All the Japanese I knew there had cars and used them regularly.
Sure, but 30% of Japan’s population live in Greater Tokyo, and another 15% live in Keihanshin (Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto). Toss in Chukyo, and over half of Japan’s population live in the three largest urban areas of the country, and all three are well-served by rail and pedestrian/cycling infrastructure. You can look, too, at Korea; half the population lives in Sudogwon (greater Seoul), and rail/pedestrians/cycling are all better-served than in any large American city that holds proportionately much less of the country’s population, and smaller cities in Korea and Japan both have better bus or rail services than much, much larger American cities.
Look, as much as I fantasize about having a Tokyo-style mass rapid transit network with subways in Portland, I’m realistic enough to know that that’s probably not going to happen. I’m not suggesting we copy and paste the entirety of Tokyo’s system to Portland (even if there are some aspects we can learn from them). My point is to demonstrate that yes, speed is a major factor in why people choose transit. Something has to change here in order to get people to want to take transit or ride bikes for reasons other than environmentalism. Because you’re never going to get 100% of people to be environmentalists by ideology. The whole point is to compel people who aren’t environmentalists to also want to take the environmentally friendly choice because it’s more convenient than the less environmental choice.
The environmental argument is a loser because when considering “CO2e” alone EVs are enough to decarbonize low-occupancy transportation. EVs are no where near enough when one considers who has has the income to purchase and drive EVs, who has easy access to EV charging facilities, and who dies from traffic violence.
In the context of Rose Lane benefits for bike riders, I don’t think the bus/car speed comparison is about average travel times, I think it’s about top speeds. Busses don’t generally reach excessive speeds, but SOVs often do. Making the travel lane nearest the bike lane into a bus-only lane benefits bike riders by limiting the number of vehicles traveling at excessive speeds immediately adjacent to, or within, the bike lane.
I think the Burnside bridge got way better to bike on once the bus lane got installed because there’s rarely ever a vehicle in the lane next to you, and when there is they definitely aren’t ripping 60+ MPH 2 feet from your left shoulder like in the old days.
Note that this stretch of Capital Highway through the Hillsdale commercial district is an excessively wide auto oriented roadway. Not only will giving priority to the numerous bus lines here (39, 44, 45, 54, 55, 56, 61 and 64) benefit their current and future riders, but it will also calm one of the least pedestrian friendly stretches of road in SW. Especially important is that lines 54 & 56 function here together as a Frequent Service line; they alone should have in the not too distant future their own lane all the way from Scholls Ferry Road to Downtown!
Bus 56 needs to be rerouted to first start around the Progress Ridge shopping / fishing area and then mostly stay on Scholls Ferry Road to Washington Park and possibly Goose Hollow. Bus 58 or a combined old 57 need an east-bound shoulder lane for highway 26 like what other states allow for a quicker commute to downtown.
LOL what side streets? Not a rhetorical question! Check out the planning map and tell me how you could avoid any segment on that stretch of Capital Hwy without going 3-4x the distance out of your way.
Which, in a way, tells you how important this lane is! Geography makes it completely impossible to build our way out of congestion in Hillsdale
I’m not going to advertise side street shortcuts (or admit to making them) but the area south of Ida B. Wells is porous, adjacent to Barbur Blvd, and allows you to enter Capitol Highway where you wish.
Also, north of Cap Hwy is Cheltanham, which will get you to Terwilliger (OHSU traffic). These are pretty drives; what I’ve noticed in Portland Heights is that an equilibrium is reached between taking the cut-through over the hill to avoid the Hwy-26 tunnel, and actually just staying on 26. Same times, only one route is prettier. So yeah, those sidewalk-less windey roads will get cut-through traffic if there is congestion.
Does this project come with a street name change? Maybe we can just drop the “highway” part??
A little history and context. For decades South Portland residents have longed for the decommissioning of old Harbor Drive that carved up their neighborhood in the 1940’s…thanks to R Moses’ vision; to be replaced by a normal, commercial street. For years commuters out of SW via Hillsdale complained and got that new version of the southern stretch of what we now call Naito Parkway put on hold. Then the new updated interchange at Terwilliger was built allowing a direct connection via Bertha Blvd to I-5 northbound, and that option for SW auto commuters was supposed to make the Capitol Highway to Barbur to Naito less “essential.” South Portland is still waiting…a rebuild of Naito was in the SW Corridor plan…, but at least PBOT is putting a few dollars into converting Capitol Highway between Bertha and Barbur into a true multimodal facility…and still SW residents bellyache!
Not all SW residents, Lenny. Some of us want to see bikes, peds, and transit prioritized over SOVs, but it’s a struggle. Car culture is deeply embedded here, which is reinforced by the majority of bike infrastructure improvements happening in other parts of the city.
Fred, yes. Portland and Multnomah County have been lazy with implementing the bike and walk projects on the busy streets in and around southwest. SW Multnomah Blvd’s east-bound bike lane ends up on what functions as a shoulder of a freeway off-ramp. What drive-thrus are restricted from being built on Barbur outside of the crossroads area by the Barbur transit center?
Do they really have to paint it red instead of just putting “Bus Lane” text? Seattle/Metro/Sound Transit seems to be able to get by with words only. Aside from making the area look like one of those “Let’s Play City” rugs in the kiddie zone at Ikea, wear on these thermoplastic lanes sends a lot of microplastic into our stormwater and ultimately river.
It’s my understanding that the red paint used for most “Rose Lanes” is not thermoplastic but rather paint. Seattle also paints their bus lanes red:
I guess I’m thinking of “old Seattle” circa 2015 or so, when Lake City Way and Eastlake (among others), streets similar to Capitol Highway and outside of the downtown core, had BAT lanes with only words, not cartoon paint-jobs.
The NB bike lane there is cracked, bumpy, and uneven – are they going to fix that up a bit? or is this purely a paint job?
Transit vs. driving:
When Lloyd TMA worked with PBOT and TriMet to engineer the transition from free parking and full fare transit to paid parking and steeply subsidized transit in the district, the mode split flipped dramatically from well over 50% driving to well over 50% using transit.
In my work on Swan Island, when gas prices hit $4/gal around 2008, transit and biking became much more popular, despite free parking throughout that industrial district. Note that adjusted for inflation, gas prices are not as high as in 2008.
Last, I started using Trimet to get to Swan Island from NW during the first Gulf War in ’91. My driving routine had been: do a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood, glance at the morning paper for 10 minutes, fire up my rig and drive over the Fremont Bridge to my free parking at Boise Cascade R&D…10-15 minutes depending on traffic (except when I ran out of gas on the Bridge!). So 30 to 35 minutes. Using TriMet, I walked a few minutes to the 77 bus stop, read the paper as I waited for the bus to Rose Quarter TC (then Coliseum TC); practiced my German with a fellow 77 rider as we cross the Steel Bridge; another look at the paper while I waited for the 1 bus (now 35). Walked down Going Street from Greeley to my work…about 10 minutes. It was about the same 30-35 minutes. Then we got the 85 and it was even faster by transit!
Last, when adidas opened their North American HQ in the old Kaiser Hospital, lots of their employees bought houses in N. Portland. Many could simply walk to work. Where a person choses to live and to work has more to do with commute time than driving vs. transit vs. bike. For example, to chose to live in Clark county and to work in Washington county and then expect your fellow citizens to pick up the tab for shortening your long commute by 10 minutes is the height of arrogance and foolishness.