If all goes according to plan, the Hillsdale neighborhood will have a Rose Lane by the fall. In a presentation to the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee on Tuesday, Portland Bureau of Transportation Senior Transportation Planner Nick Falbo shared that the planned “bus and turn” (BAT) lane will be the only Rose Lane in southwest Portland.
It’s also one of the only bus priority projects that has faced organized and sustained pushback from the neighborhood it would serve. Several local community groups oppose the project as planned and want PBOT to delay its implementation. Before we get into that, here’s what I learned at Tuesday’s meeting…
Why is this project needed?
Because of the topography of the west hills, westside bus routes funnel through a couple of key passes, one of which is the east end of Capitol Highway as it connects to Barbur Blvd. Falbo explained that bus lines 39, 44, 45, 54, 55, 56, 61, 64 and 92 all travel this segment. Pre-covid, more than 28 buses per hour passed through the area during peak times.
The purpose of the Rose Lane network is to prioritize buses and street cars so that transit users move more quickly and reliably through congestion. Falbo emphasized that the Rose Lanes are an “interconnected system, and that improvements on one part of the network can have really amazing impacts and benefits with users and lines on other parts of the system.” Riders of bus route 44, for example, pass through Hillsdale on their way to Williams Ave in northeast Portland nearly eight miles away.
In a detailed Monitoring and Mitigation Memo, PBOT explained that it will be rolling out the Hillsdale project using a four-step approach: pilot, monitor, modify and make permanent. The traffic monitoring portion will include locations on both major and local streets. Although post-covid traffic levels have dropped 50 to 80 percent, Falbo made the point that “this is a good time to do a project like this, where people will have time to adjust their behavior as that traffic returns.”
The Hillsdale Business and Professional Association (HBPA), the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association (HNA) as well as Southwest Trails PDX (SWT) and Southwest Neighborhoods Incorporated (SWNI) have circulated a petition requesting a three year project delay which reflects their concerns about both cut-through traffic and reduced car traffic on Capitol Highway leading to a loss of business.
Observers beyond southwest Portland might find it puzzling that SWT and SWNI, two groups which in the past have been quite supportive of walking and active transportation, are aligned with this requested delay.
To better understand what might be the dynamic of the situation, I spoke recently with HNA member and bike activist Eric Wilhelm who explained that, “There are some trust or credibility issues toward PBOT. Neighbors have been complaining for years about cut-through traffic—years before the Rose Lane plan was even started—yet PBOT has not responded to the issues on those narrow local streets with no sidewalks.” Wilhelm does not support the petition for delay.
Other points of discontent I have gleaned from various zoom calls and exchanges over the past year include underfunding of the Southwest in Motion plan relative to other “in motion” plans and a history unfulfilled infrastructure improvements going back decades (for example, a never-built sidewalk along Capitol Highway between Sunset and Terwilliger).
As Falbo and others have noted, criticism of the project is coming from an area focused on the Hillsdale Town Center (where many businesses have signs in their windows supporting a delay) but that support for the project is diffuse across the city.
Even near Hillsdale, though, there are prominent transportation activists who support the new Rose Lane. Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) member David Stein, for example, just commented on BikePortland that “the Rose Lane project proposed in the area would be a marked improvement.” And the BAC has written a letter in support of the project.
PBOT is well-girded to ride out local objections to the Rose Lane Project. Their online materials are extensive and informative. With the Hillsdale project in particular, their March 2022 PBOT memo in response to questions from the HNA and HBPA was impressive in its thoroughness and detail.
The Pedestrian Advisory Committee presentation is the last of an extensive outreach effort made over the past year and a half. Falbo ended the presentation by requesting a letter of support from the committee, which they seemed open to providing.