PBOT pushes new Powell Blvd truck detour

Railroad tracks separate the two yards. (Source: BikePortland)

“If a truck driver’s doing ten trips a day, and the additional route causes them to [only] do nine trips a day, that’s a 10% cut in their pay.”

– Corky Collier, Columbia Corridor Association and PFC member

In the wake of an October crash that killed Portlander Sarah Pliner while she biked across Southeast Powell Blvd at 26th Avenue, advocates have pressed for changes. Pliner died after being hit by a man driving a semi-truck north on 26th Avenue as he made a sweeping right turn onto Powell and swiped her with the truck trailer in the process.

The tragedy spurred some safety advocates, freight industry experts and city transportation planners to reexamine truck traffic on 26th Ave. This street is located in an industrial area near both the Union Pacific Intermodal Rail Yard and the Fred Meyer distribution center, and drivers traveling to and from those locations are often toting massive trailers behind them that are difficult to control.

When we talked to people who work in the trucking industry in the immediate aftermath of the crash, some said it is inherently dangerous for semi-trucks to use the corridor, especially when they have to make a right turn onto Powell. With this in mind, the Portland Bureau of Transportation took some initial steps last month to discourage truck traffic from using this route.

At Thursday morning’s Portland Freight Committee (PFC) meeting, PBOT planner Zef Wagner provided new updates how the reroute would work. PBOT’s proposal sparked concerns from some members of the committee who worry that it requires too much out-of-direction travel for truck drivers.

“Union Pacific is open to reorganizing Brooklyn yards to consolidate operations, but right now…they just don’t have space.”

-Zef Wagner, PBOT

According to Wagner, recent PBOT analysis has found that the majority of problematic freight truck traffic on 26th comes from the Union Pacific rail yard. (Truck deliveries to the Fred Meyer distribution center are evidently less common and involve smaller trucks.) Truck drivers meet up with freight trains at the rail yard in the Brooklyn neighborhood and ferry goods back and forth to the Union Pacific Annex for storage.

The main rail yard and annex are just across the train tracks from each other, accessible by car via Holgate Blvd, 26th Ave and Gladstone St. This is just a short distance, but it’s right through very narrow residential streets. PBOT’s suggestion is to trade off the short drive for one that relies more on large arterials, not on local neighborhood streets where people live, walk and bike.

“We looked at it, and we think we have found a better route — even though it’s a little bit out of direction,” Wagner said to the committee.

He said a more appropriate route would be to take McLoughlin westbound until it links up with Powell, where there’s a sizable swooping ramp to make the right turn easier for trucks hauling huge trailers. When trucks leave the annex to carry goods to their end destinations via the US 26 truck route, they can take 21st Ave to get onto Powell (see maps above).

What do truck advocates think?

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

To say the McLoughlin reroute is a “little bit out of direction” is an understatement — it turns a two or three minute drive into a 10 or 15 minute one, depending on the traffic situation on McLoughlin and Powell. But PBOT’s view is that local residential streets were never intended to be used by large freight trucks, and it makes sense to want to send the trucks to the highways, even if they’re out of the way.

Members of the PFC were cautious and warned that truck drivers and freight companies may not agree.

PFC member Corky Collier said if a truck driver’s productivity decreases because of the added drive time, they’ll lose out on pay.

“If a truck driver’s doing ten trips a day, and the additional route causes them to [only] do nine trips a day, that’s a 10% cut in their pay,” Collier said. He added that increased driving times could hamper Portland’s emissions reductions goals, and he doesn’t want the freight industry to be blamed for it.

“The emissions start adding up pretty significantly,” Collier said. “You may still want to do it. But if that’s the case, PBOT should be saying, ‘this increase in greenhouse gas emissions is our fault.'”

Wagner said even though the trucks were previously only moving a short distance, they were stopping and starting often and causing congestion in the neighborhoods — meaning there may or may not be a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And the detour would only apply to outbound trips: once the trucks drop off their trailers, it’s not nearly as intrusive for drivers to just take the cabs back through the residential route.

Containing the problem

A lot of containers at Brooklyn Yard. (Photo: Union Pacific)

But the real problem here goes deeper. The reason Union Pacific freight goods have to be moved back and forth between the annex and the main rail yard so much is because of abnormally high container traffic. Ideally, they’d be able to consolidate operations onto one side of the track, but the quantity of goods is too large right now for that to be possible.

“Union Pacific is open to reorganizing their Brooklyn yards to try to consolidate operations, but right now they have such high container traffic that they just don’t have space for all the containers,” Wagner said.

This is the same reason for the clogged up railroad tracks that have caused so much grief for people traveling around southeast Portland lately. The situation has become so problematic that PBOT is seeking federal funding to find solutions.

Wagner said PBOT will continue to do analysis in the coming months. If they decide to take this approach, it’s unclear how strongly the city would be able to enforce it. Wagner said he wants to put up wayfinding signs discouraging truck drivers to travel on 26th between Gladstone and Powell — but will a sign really be enough to get drivers to take this detour?

This discussion was also yet another indication of just how deep SE Powell Blvd’s safety problems run, and how many different players are involved. It’s going to take a coordinated effort from bike and safety advocates, freight industry reps, and local transportation agencies in order to make change. In the meantime, 26th Ave and similar streets in the neighborhoods surrounding the rail yards — which happen to be home to many families with kids and lots of people who rely on biking and walking to get around — will be unreasonably dangerous.

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Laura
Laura
1 month ago

It’s a relatively short distance across the tracks from the yard to the annex…1000′? Why are they even using trucks and not a crane. Containers to be moved get staged using container forklifts, and a crane transits them across the tracks.

EP
EP
1 month ago
Reply to  Laura

Woah woah woah a crane?! That makes too much sense as UP would have to actually spend some money to solve the problem that they’ve created! It also seems a bit silly that they are blaming all of this on increased container traffic as if it’s beyond their control, but it clearly makes them more money to transport the containers so they keep accepting them. What if they never had the Annex yard to begin with, what would they do? They’d find a solution to store more containers. I bet those same solutions would work if they closed the Annex yard. There are clearly solutions, but UP doesn’t seem to want to pursue any.

Thomas
Thomas
1 month ago
Reply to  Laura

This also seems strange to me. I used in Baltimore, MD. And the rail yards and docks there stack these containers several containers high. Surely, this would save all the space union Pacific requires? The containers at Brooklyn yard in the photo all look to be singles. What’s the deal?

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 month ago

PFC member Corky Collier said if a truck driver’s productivity decreases because of the added drive time, they’ll lose out on pay.

Maybe the freight companies should move away from a pay structure that incentivizes reckless driving?

He added that increased driving times could hamper Portland’s emissions reductions goals, and he doesn’t want the freight industry to be blamed for it.

Aw, its so cute when ODOT and the freight industry parrot each other. They are really getting good at the fake concern over ICE emissions

squareman
squareman
1 month ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Thank you for saving me the time of having to type the exact same thing I was thinking while reading it.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  cc_rider

When someone says they care about the environment, it’s usually best to believe them unless you have evidence otherwise. I played a major role in blocking a dam project in California that would have flooded two major rivers. I was on a small DC staff that create 58.5 million acres of protected wilderness on federal lands. I then worked to remove the four lower Snake River dams–unsuccessfully so far but keep an eye on it. I’m now working on a local project to massively decrease carbon emissions. And I’ve received seven EPA grants for air quality improvements. How many million acres have you saved? How many dams have you blocked? How many tons of emissions have you removed in partnership with EPA? As someone with uncountable flaws, I ask you please, please be less prejudiced and a little more open-minded to the possibility that not everyone you disagree with is “fake.”

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

Yes, you may care, Corky, but the freight industry has cared about the environment since … when? Look at how they have resisted the conversion to clean diesel. And it sounds like you’re saying a 10% cut in a driver’s pay is worth a few dead cyclists or pedestrians. As the other commenter said, you should be pushing the freight industry to stop incentivizing dangerous driving.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

I’m not saying freight companies are foremost environmentalists. However, trucks are like busses—very efficient transportation. Ask B-line: they need truck deliveries in order to make bike deliveries. Also, drivers and mechanics truly (and somewhat surprisingly) understand truck emissions. As for my 10% comment, it was missing context. I stand beside it: IF the longer route leads to more time, it will translate to a loss of income for drivers which are disproportionally BIPOC and LGBTQ. That’s a fact which should be embraced, not ignored. Another fact is the dangerous condition on 26th—I don’t hear anyone ignoring this. With the facts in mind, we can find solutions. Ignoring facts that are inconvenient is counterproductive.

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

t’s usually best to believe them unless you have evidence otherwise

Points at Rose Quarter, I-205, and Interstate Bridge freeway expansions

How many tons of emissions have you removed in partnership with EPA? As someone with uncountable flaws, I ask you please, please be less prejudiced and a little more open-minded to the possibility that not everyone you disagree with is “fake.”

What a nonsense take.

Edit* I see you are part of the freight expansion lobbying association. I totally get that why you’d pretend to care about emissions

OGB
OGB
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

Dam removal helps fish but causes more climate pollution, since hydro is the cleanest power available. I’m not stating an opinion either way about whether it is better to remove dams, must saying that it is an odd thing to include while boasting about your climate cred.

Also, the trucking industry has persistently opposed climate-related legislation about cleaner engines and so forth.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  OGB

As early as the mid 1980’s, World Resources Institute studied all forms of energy and found hydro to be the most costly to the environment. There are many exceptions and a ton of nuance; however the point is that the most respected global environmental scientists have long established that IN GENERAL, hydro is far from “the cleanest power available.” I will plead again for all of us to be less quick to judgement. In the words of Sir Francis Bacon, if you begin with answers you will end with questions but if you begin with questions, you will end with answers.

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

In the words of Sir Francis Bacon, if you begin with answers you will end with questions but if you begin with questions, you will end with answers.

How impressively condescending of you to think that people who are critical of your industry are uninformed. Sorry, I don’t need some industrialist who wants to run semis through my neighborhood at 60mph to tell me about what’s sustainable. I prefer to look to experts.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Thank you! All I will add is that advocating for dam removal in California, working with the WRI to study the impacts of various forms or electricity generation or quoting Sir Francis Bacon has nothing whatsoever to do with traffic safety in regards to UP inappropriately and unsafely running tractor trailers up and down SE 26th Avenue in Portland Oregon.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

“I will plead again for all of us to be less quick to judgement.”

Thumbs up to that!

carrythebanner
carrythebanner
1 month ago

A better route to westbound Powell would be:

east on Gladstonesouth on 26th Avewest on Holgatenorth on 17th Avewest on Powell BlvdThat keeps trucks off side streets even more, and on streets with a higher freight classification (https://www.portland-tsp.com/#/streets). Plus, the first three steps are the same as the annex-to-yard route, so there will be more familiarity. It’s a little bit further, but not by a lot. The traffic signal at 21st & Powell has a super short cycle so it may end up being faster to go around anyway.

Going further, I would like the City to look at making 22nd/Gladstone one way southbound/eastbound for at least freight if not all motor vehicles. Those streets are part of a Safe Routes to School route and, really, the only bike route through that part of the neighborhood. If freight has to continue accessing those (which is somewhat dubious but for sake of argument) then at least make it a single, specific, predictable path and dedicate more right-of-way for safe biking, walking, and rolling.

carrythebanner
carrythebanner
1 month ago
Reply to  carrythebanner

Oops, formatting got munged somehow, that detour route should read more like:
east on Gladstone; south on 26th Ave; west on Holgate; north on 17th Ave; west on Powell Blvd

Watts
Watts
1 month ago

Routing trucks onto SE 21st will make a great cycling alternative to 26th worse, making it harder to develop alternative routes that will help cyclists avoid using the substandard facilities on 26th.

This is a move in exactly the wrong direction, sadly.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

You hit on one of the concerns of the Freight Committee which did not appear in the article: in order to get trucks off 26th, the new route would take them down smaller streets. It might work, but concern is warranted. A better long term solution is to create a direct route to Holgate; however, this will take years to develop. Concern for safety by all is clear; choosing the best solution is a little hazy.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

Pedestrians and vehicles (including trucks) can coexist safely at 26th by creating a scramble phase so vehicles are not entering the intersection while pedestrians are.

Bikes should be directed to 28th & 21st. If 21st were a great crossing, there would be little need for cyclists to use 26th. If we want riders to be on 26th, we really need to fix the bike lanes and the vehicle speeding issue. Neither of these problems exists on 21st, making that a much easier lift.

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

Bikes shouldn’t be allowed on certain streets? I don’t like that solution. Remember the idea that bikes shouldn’t be on Hawthorne b/c “there are other streets they can ride on” – except when you need to do something on Hawthorne.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

That’s not what I read in Watts’ comment. I saw a suggestion for better bike infrastructure and more separation between trucks and bikes. We created a great design on NE 47th that improve and buffered the bike route. Directing bike (or trucks) toward a better route does not mean banning them from any other route. It’s a carrot without a stick.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

“Bikes shouldn’t be allowed on certain streets?”

Who said that? Certainly not me. If we really want 26th to be a safe place to ride, we need to remove the parking, lower the speed limit, add speed bumps, and take other steps to make the street safer. These run against the current street classification.

What I am saying is that, unlike Hawthorne, there is no good reason for most people to ride on 26th, most of the locations it serves can be better reached via alternatives. So we’d be better off investing in those alternatives rather than trying to improve 26th.

I actually think 26th would be safer to ride on without the bike lanes, and with parking on both sides. The street would feel more closed in so drivers might slow down, riders would take the lane, and would be at much less risk of being doored.

Amit Zinman
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

21st is a terrible way to bike through during most hours of the day. Even if the crossing was better, how easy do you think would be to convince the city to remove cars parked on the right side of the street so that cyclists can ride safely?

Buster
Buster
1 month ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

Parking in the industrial area south of Powell seems to be pretty lightly used, so it might be possible to remove parking in that section and do bike lanes.

Buster
Buster
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

I completely disagree that a pedestrian scramble would be a good idea. Scrambles, by creating a dedicated phase, ends up adding a ton of pedestrian delay to the point where people quite understandably get frustrated and start crossing against the light. Do you get annoyed when cars have the green but you don’t get to cross, like when you have to use a “beg button”? This would be like that multiplied several times over. Scrambles are bad for pedestrians.

I also don’t agree that we should be “directing” bikes to other routes. That clearly hasn’t worked in recent years, and it never will. 26th Ave just makes too much sense as a bike route, and we should accommodate bikes on the routes that make sense. In this case, 21st, 26th, and 28th all have value as bike routes.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

I completely disagree.

SE 28th route is out of direction and has too many hills, longer wait times to cross Powell, and other problems; SE 21st south of Powell has completely crappy pavement caused by truck damage, and north of Powell has no bike lanes and way too much motor vehicle traffic.

SE 26th is the best option for cyclists – best grades and pavement, existing bike lanes, no speed bumps, better connectivity.

The bike lanes on SE 26th were the first bike lanes the city ever installed way back when (80s sometime?); and, while they aren’t perfect (too narrow, drainage grates and manhole covers in bike lane), this is actually a case where the city got it right the first time, let’s not give that up!

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  FDUP

“this is actually a case where the city got it right the first time”

Can you actually think of a more dangerous bike lane than 26th riding north? Okay, maybe the disappearing bike lane on Lombard, but 26th has to be in the top 10.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

Of course it’s not ideal but at least it’s pretty straight forward. When I ride on SE 26th I take the lane unless their is overtaking traffic, then I may chose to ride on the paint at the outer edge of the bike lane. OTOH if the overtaking vehicle is large, like a bus or a semi, I will stay in the lane just to keep them from passing me unsafely.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  FDUP

So the only way to ride on the street that is “the best option for cyclists” is to ride illegally? I agree with your technique, but it leads me to conclude that it is not a very good route.

I can ride even more safely on SE 21st, and do so completely legally.

Psmith
Psmith
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

21st, 22nd, and 26th are all exactly the same width so I don’t see how it would make any difference.

Amit Zinman
1 month ago
Reply to  Corky Collier

Even if it takes years, it’s worth doing. I believe that a ramp to Holgate is the only feasible solution other than moving the whole thing to North Portland, solving all the problems altogether.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

I completely agree. My uncertain understanding is that UP is working on it. I’m sure PBOT could use encouragement to develop this route.

Buster
Buster
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

How would it make it worse? Trucks already use 21st Ave, it’s in the middle of a freight district. Also, trucks can’t turn right from 21st to Powell given the skew of the intersection, so there wouldn’t be the right hook risk like there is at 26th & Powell. Also, 21st Ave signal at Powell is split-phased, meaning there is no left-hook with oncoming bikes risk either.

Bill
Bill
1 month ago

If they are going to route freight traffic down 21st, it would be nice to see more investment in bike infrastructure on 26th.

With that being said, obviously in the longer term probably the right move is to shut down the annex completely and keep freight traffic in areas where there is less interaction with residential neighborhoods. I’m also curious if there are any longer term discussions about changing land use in that part of the east side, obviously there are big swathes of that area that are shifting from industrial to residential, but it seems like there is a lack of much strategic vision for that transition.

Buster
Buster
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill

There’s a state law that limits how much prime industrial land can be rezoned to allow housing, so I wouldn’t expect this area to transition anytime soon, if ever.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago

The city and the state need to force UP to consolidate their operations. Every truck that goes into the annex is a huge issue for anyone on 21st/22nd and Gladstone. No amount of detours can get them around the fundamental problem here.

UP is operating in such bad faith here – they chose a less than ideal location for their Portland intermodal yard, and now we have to deal with it. It should not be a given that trucks need to go on city streets to perform rail yard operations! I mean it just boggles my mind that this is even allowed!!

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

“they chose a less than ideal location for their Portland intermodal yard”

You mean it was than ideal for the city to allow people to build housing around a rail yard.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago

The best solution is to just close the Annex.

Plus it seems like this is really much ado about nothing; the extra distance these UP truck drivers are being asked to travel to avoid using SE 26th is not a major inconvenience at all, it is trivial compared to the distance these containers travel by ship and rail around the globe and across the continent.

IMO, what I’m seeing here is way too much whining and whinging on the freight industry’s part.

Stop *studying* it already and take some concrete positive actions to improve traffic safety on SE 26th!

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  FDUP

This is the best solution, but also the hardest to pull off. Any decision regarding rail is almost completely pre-empted by Federal statute and the STB. Local and State authorities have very very little power when it comes to the railroads.

Mark Linehan
Mark Linehan
1 month ago

Sarah Pliner was killed by a tractor-trailer turning east onto SE Powell from SE 26th, at an intersection that is very tight for such a turn. The proposals outlined in this article don’t address that route.

Buster
Buster
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Linehan

What do you mean? The whole point of the proposal is to establish truck routes that don’t use 26th Ave at all.

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
1 month ago
Reply to  Buster

Really because when I read the article and looked at the pictures it only talked about routing trucks between the UP Brooklyn yard and the annex. Since the Semi involved in Sara’s death was trying to go East on SE Powell and the trailer was a box trailer not a container trailer. This leads me to believe that it did not come from the yard or the annex.

From the article

When we talked to people who work in the trucking industry in the immediate aftermath of the crash, some said it is inherently dangerous for semi-trucks to use the corridor, especially when they have to make a right turn onto Powell. With this in mind, the Portland Bureau of Transportation took some initial steps last month to discourage truck traffic from using this route.

If PBOT wants to make 26th safer than DISCOURAGE won’t make the grade.

Atreus
Atreus
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Calhoon

How do you know the truck in the crash was not a container trailer? I’ve never seen any report with those kinds of details.

Mark Linehan
Mark Linehan
1 month ago

Per Portland maps, SE 21st is designated as a greenway all the way from SE Division to SE Bush and then via SE 22nd to Gladstone. It’s not a great greenway: there’s lots of traffic between SE Division and SE Powell, and the road surface is in bad shape south of Powell.

This greenway is a key connection on the commuting route from downtown to south of Powell. We should be pushing the city to upgrade this route, not direct more heavy trucks onto it.

Buster
Buster
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Linehan

SE 21st Ave is on the bike plan as a future “bikeway” but it is not currently designated as a neighborhood greenway or any other kind of bikeway. Plenty of people use it that way, but there are no sharrows or signs or anything like that.

I agree it should be upgraded, but disagree that that means somehow kicking trucks off of 21st Ave. It’s the only traffic signal serving a large industrial area, and if trucks don’t use 21st Ave they’re going to end up using 26th Ave, which seems even less appropriate given the surrounding residential uses, and the recent fatal crash at 26th & Powell.

If bike lanes were provided on 21st Ave from Powell to Lafayette, that would allow bikes and trucks to co-exist. And the signal at 21st & Powell is split-phased in a way that means there would not really be any bus/truck conflicts. The harder section is probably north of Powell, where it’s a pretty busy traffic street with well-used parking on both sides. Making that a neighborhood greenway will require some serious diversion.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Buster

What if we added a signal at 22nd and had trucks use that to turn on the Powell? It could be timed with 21st, so would cause minimal disruption to Powell itself.

Probably half of the traffic on 21st north of Powell is due to the blocked rail crossing at 12th, and it is faster to get around that using the MLK viaduct, but it is harder to find if you don’t know the way. Better signage and direction there could reduce traffic volumes on 21st substantially.

But regardless, vehicles on 21st travel relatively slowly and generally drive sanely, so it’s not a bad place to bike despite the vehicle volume.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Buster

Plenty of people use [SE 21st] that way

More, in fact, than use SE 26th.

Corky Collier
Corky Collier
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Linehan

This has happened on other greenways. It would be nice to keep our greenway plans better supported and more consistent.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago

I think it’s time everyone here takes a deep breath and tries to remember that it is legal to bicycle on any and all local streets, and all local streets should be safe to do so on, whether or not they are ‘officially designated’ bike routes, and whether or not any ‘cycling improvements’ have been made on them. Arguing about which bike route cyclists should use is essentially pointless; cyclists will choose the routes that work best for them.

Ultimately the motor vehicle operators pose the greatest risk and bear the greatest responsibility for road safety, and the larger your vehicle the more responsibility you have. This is the reason certain routes are officially designated as truck routes and others not – tractor trailer rigs are the largest and most dangerous vehicles on the road today.

My understanding is that SE 26th is currently being used as a truck route, but is not officially designated as such, which conflicts in a very negative way with other uses and users of this route.

So let’s all continue the discussion with this in mind.

🙂