The Burnside-Couch Couplet

Jeff Alworth

City Commissioner Sam Adams wants to turn West Burnside and NW Couch into a couplet that will direct traffic in one-way currents between 2nd and 19th Avenues.  The plan will shrink Burnside into two lanes and add 240 new parking places; an E-W Streetcar will run from 12th Avenue (that five-way intersection at Burnside and Sandy will get even more interesting!) on the Eastside to 24th on the West.  The project is slated to cost $39 million, $10 million of which has already been set aside.  The plan is designed to make traffic flow more easily, saving 5 minutes on the drive, make the street more safe, and diminish the effect Burnside has of dividing the city with its many lanes of hurtling traffic.  (I suspect it would also reduce emissions overall and make downtown a little easier on the lungs.)

Of course, the plan has not been met with the sheer delight of Pearlies, who like their little European enclave like it is.  Anyone who has walked around that neighborhood recognizes it as a haven for pedestrians: with its many stop signs and heavy foot-traffic, cars rarely get moving very fast.  Running a major thoroughfare through the neighborhood will cut down on the coziness, but to the benefit of a larger part of downtown.

So, a good plan or a boondoggle?   Does the inclusion of a streetcar line change the equation?

Discuss

(You might also check out Portland Transport, which has a lively discussion on this topic.)

Comments

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jeff...

    I don't mean to rain on your post, but this is the 2nd one in recent weeks which focuses purely on a Portland issue, and one with a rather nonpartisan mix of supporters/detractors.

    As a regular BlueOregon visitor, I'd prefer to come here and see more issues with statewide interest or impact, or at least local ones with a clear "blue" political relevance.

    Just my 2c.

    • Bob R.
  • ws (unverified)
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    Seems as though, years back, Burnside used to be configured with that one way grid setup, and after a long while, they got rid of it because it sucked bad. But anyway, the commonly agreed upon fundamental problem with Burnside is that it is too fast, too noisy, and thereby, is not pedestrian friendly. The objective driving the revision seems to be either sustaining the current traffic volume on Burnside or increasing it. That would be a mediocre response to this problem.

    Reconfiguring Burnside as a two way two lane street with streetcar would more effectively address the problem. Dedicate money towards providing another nearby arterial by which to efficiently divert excess commuter traffic away from this over-burdened neighborhood.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Now that I've rudely scolded Jeff for even bringing up this topic at all, I will now go on further with being a jerk and responding to a comment about the actual topic at hand.

    Seems as though, years back, Burnside used to be configured with that one way grid setup, and after a long while, they got rid of it because it sucked bad.

    No, not really.

    But anyway, the commonly agreed upon fundamental problem with Burnside is that it is too fast, too noisy, and thereby, is not pedestrian friendly.

    Yes, and add to that wide crossing distances, short N-S signal times, absence of the ability to make left turns, narrow sidewalks, etc., and you get the idea.

    The objective driving the revision seems to be either sustaining the current traffic volume on Burnside or increasing it.

    Nothing in the objectives has stated a desire to increase traffic volume in the corridor.

    Further, all of the proposals reduce traffic volumes on Burnside by at least half, by shifting westbound travel to Couch.

    That would be a mediocre response to this problem.

    Fortunately, nobody is suggesting what you fear.

    Reconfiguring Burnside as a two way two lane street with streetcar would more effectively address the problem.

    If by "two lane street" you mean one lane in each direction, there would be no room for a streetcar because all vehicles would have to stop behind it.

    If by "two lane street" you mean two lanes in each direction, we'd have exactly what we have now plus a streetcar, which does not solve the narrow sidewalks, lack of left turns, or wide crossing distances.

    Dedicate money towards providing another nearby arterial by which to efficiently divert excess commuter traffic away from this over-burdened neighborhood.

    First, that wouldn't do any good because the vast majority of trips on Burnside originate or terminate near the corridor. Moving the arterial wouldn't help because it wouldn't serve the origins/destinations of the majority of traffic.

    Second, where would this major arterial go? Last time I checked, the rest of the downtown and inner east side grid was pretty well established.

    Five of the city's ten most dangerous intersections (for pedestrians) are along this stretch of Burnside. We can improve half of the "top 10" list with just one project.

    Regarding something Jeff said about objection from the Pearl district (opposition headed specifically some well-connected residents in the Henry), it should be noted that the majority of the residents in that building moved in after 2002, when the plan had already been finalized and approved. Other neighborhood associations and businesses along Couch generally support the project.

    • Bob R.
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    Thanks for the Portland Transport cross-link!

    I would point out that the Pearl District neighborhood association and most folks I know in the Pearl are strongly in favor of the couplet. Only the Henry Condo Association (and now the Archdiocese of Portland) oppose it.

  • Jägermeister (unverified)
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    When you consider the cost of laying track, changes to the perpetually construction-laden Burnside bridge, the addition of pedestrian causeways and other upgrades... $39 million seems like a HUGE bargain. My guess is that this is a low-ball estimate.

    But putting the cost aside, it does seem like a good plan to me. It will definitely help to clean up the scuzzier parts of Burnside while increasing accessibility to both sides of the river. Burnside is clearly overburdened with traffic while Couch remains extremely underutilized. Traffic flow through this part of Portland has always been difficult, but it seems that it could be engineered in such a fashion to greatly increase speed and efficiency. I could even see a plan where both streetcar lines eventually hook up together along NW 23rd and 22nd. As someone who works/schools downtown, I will be very interested in the development of this project.

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    When I hear two lane street with streetcar, I see one lane each way, with a lane for the streetcar. That dramatically increases the amount of space for sidewalks as well as parking. As someone who works in the area, I can tell you that parking and being able to walk to places can be a big hassle.

    I typically like to park when I come in, and then when I need something I walk to it (such as coffee/tea at Grendels or a meal at the Doug Fir).

    I'd definitely like to see something done to improve driving, walking, and parking around this area. It's a huge nightmare.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jenni -

    The city's proposed project adds over 180 parking spaces.

    • Bob R.
  • Steve (unverified)
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    Boondoggle - The most dangerous intersections in town are along SE 82nd and Sam really doesn't give rat's a$$ about those people.

    I know they are not as pretty and poorer than the condo tribe in the Pearl, but I thought we were here to help those who need it.

    Right now, we have one more downtown project besides trolleys, malls, lightrail. Does Sam realize some people who pay taxes and have families actually live outside of the I405/Willamette route?

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Steve -

    Take a look at this site: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=35953

    It is a list of many of the projects on PDOT's radar, and a large number of them are east of the Willamette, including projects for 92nd and 102nd Aves.

    I've met Sam and I think your characterization of what he cares about is a bit off the mark.

    As for 82nd, I agree that pedestrian improvements should be made. 122nd has some pretty dangerous stretches as well, although I understand that several neighborhood groups are working with the city on plans for 122nd, but I couldn't find a reference.

    • Bob R.
  • ws (unverified)
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    Hey, nice critique Bob R.! Kind of dashed off those comments without thinking them through. Looks like I need to study the proposal more carefully. Guess I'm not commisioner material. Yes, I meant two lane street, one in each direction.

  • [email protected] (unverified)
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    Maybe I'm being a little selfish here because I would have never thought this was a need before I started working in Lake Oswego. Another exit into SE Portland from I-5 is needed like you wouldn't believe. All the construction downtown has made it even more apparent. There is a reason for all the bottlenecks and I-5 may be a pretty big factor. You have 3 options from I-5 North. I-5 to the industrial exit, I-5 to the Ross Island Bridge or I-5 through downtown (take your choice of bridges). It doesn't help that the Sellwood bridge is on the verge of falling down and the traffic jams you get in that area are insane. I'm done complaining...I did choose my kush job in L.O. from downtown but I think it does make sense. PDX is growing and sooner or later these traffic issues we are having are going to implode. I don't like driving in Seattle and at least 3 times a week I feel like I'm in Seattle...P.S. I do carpool.

    Burnside is the least of my worries. I don't know the percentage but I'm willing to bet that most of PDX doesn't work downtown.

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    Bob -- it's perfectly appropriate to have posts here about Portland and ones that aren't strictly red/blue partisan stuff. During the election cycle, we tend to get more partisan - but now it's back to the real world. And given that some 50% of Oregonians live in the metro area, well...

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "It is a list of many of the projects on PDOT's radar, and a large number of them are east of the Willamette, including projects for 92nd and 102nd Aves."

    Unfortunately, I still think most of Mr Adams time/money is spent downtown. It's like the mother with 3 kids and $1000 to spend on clothes who buys $950 worth of shoes for the oldest.

    We let ourselves get distracted by the flashy projects and forget the 95%+ who don't live in the Pearl district. Sam learned from Vera that if you do something like spend $35M to fix Civic Stadium and then ignore potholes, you get the press.

    I am just tired of everyone in town suffering with poor roads and unsafe intersections while Sam keeps trying to prettify the 405/Willamette loop. Meanwhile all the shopping moves to Bridgeport/WashSq/Clackamas, the employers to Vancouver or Kruse and areas like SE Hawthorne, NE Alberta, NW 23rd blossom without any city help.

    So now we have downtown where the 3 largest employers are Mult COunty, CoP and the State. We can walk thru the Pearl and see 500 shops selling $400 dresses and $250 shoes. We have an OHSU office building in SoWa that doesn't pay property taxes and Pearl condos without kids in the streets. Yet still more projects. Is this what we want the future to be? I am only asking for him to have reasonable priorities.

  • Mister Tee (unverified)
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    The proposed parking spaces/light rail come at the expense of two lanes of traffic (one in each direction).

    If the political calculation is that Blue Portlanders prefer bike/walking/transit to automobiles, then it would behoove all Portland Progressives to sell their cars, and move closer to where they work. If they did, we may not miss those two lanes of vehicular traffic so much.

    On a separate note, I saw a great message painted on the back of a Hot Lips Pizza truck: 216 Pizzas are at home because I'm on the road...Food for transit.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    Steve,

    Couldn't have said it better myself. You're dead on.

    I don't even consider the Pearl District "Portland". I consider it more like what people from California think of when they think of "Portland" when they're telling their friends in California what "Portland" is like.

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    To echo what Kari said, two posts "in recent weeks" hardly seems out of balance. I don't particularly follow Portland politics (to my great shame), but it's hard to ignore big issues that come down the pike.

    Quickie breakdown of the last fortnight:

    total posts: 31 Oregon politics: 21 Portland politics: 4 National politics: 3 General/Other: 3

    Seems like a pretty good mix to me.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Mister Tee wrote: "The proposed parking spaces/light rail come at the expense of two lanes of traffic (one in each direction)."

    This is mostly incorrect.

    For the west side:

    From 23rd to 3rd, the total number of travel lanes in both directions remains the same... the westbound lanes are shifted to Couch between 2nd and 19th.

    From 3rd to 2nd and a bit of the approach of the bridge, one merge lane is removed. That's all.

    For the east side:

    From Grand to 11th there will be 3 eastbound travel lanes on Burnside, just as there are today. From 11th to 14th there will be 4 lanes to allow easy division of traffic between two Sandy-bound lanes and two Burnside-continuing lanes, very similar to what we have today but without all the mess of the current Sandy/Burnside/12th/14th intersection.

    The only place you really lose a travel lane is westbound between Sandy/14th and Grand on Couch, which will be two through lanes instead of three. However, traffic counts on these lanes are low enough already to be supported by this change, and the benefits you get from having a functioning grid system with actual left turns will make up a lot of difference as well.

    The traffic studies which have been done consistently show a 5-minute improvement in through travel times for motorists over what we have today, due mostly to moving traffic smoothly with signal timing in a one-way grid, which cannot be done on a single two-way street.

    • Bob R.
  • GalTuesday (unverified)
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    I am getting a little bit frusterated by the conception that everyone who lives in the Pearl District is an arrogant, wealthy, inwardly-focused non-Portlander. To the guy who says that the Pearl District is not Portland, it may not be your conception of Portland, but, living there myself, I think you are a bit quick to judge. I am a recent college graduate (from a Portland school) who made the choice to live closer to my job so that I could take advantage of the public transportation options, or even have the opportunity to walk to work. Do I strech my budget to live in the Pearl? Sure, but it is a choice I make. Apparenbtly the Pearl District is not hipster enough, hippie enough, or poor enough to be considered appropriate.

    That being said, the potential of a light-rail type transit system linking the east and west side of the river at the Burnside line is a great boon for the city. I don't see how any proposal for reducing the traffic on and increasing the safety of Burnside can be considered a bad thing.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    I think the main problem with transportation in this city is a lack of reliable public transportation. I know we're far better off than a lot of cities but dealing with surly bus drivers on a late schedule in a climate not exactly ideal for standing outside without cover for 20 minutes over 3 years didn't exactly endear me to our bus system. An East-West light rail system might take a large strain off some of our bridges but I don't know about Burnside. You could almost throw a rock and hit the Max line from Burnside. Maybe Powell? Haven't they been talking about looping MAX from Clackamas to downtown for some time now? GalTuesday-

    The Pearl is just a perfect example of gentrification. I am well aware of what kind of area it was before. I lived in it. What they did was raze a bad part of the city and replace it with overpriced condos and lofts coupled with overpriced shopping areas and grocery stores. They forced out the low income people in the area by raising the prices on everything. The studio apartment I used to rent for $350 a month I saw is now going for $850 a month. It is the same exact apartment with no improvements (I went and looked at it). They did absolutely nothing to replace their low income housing with anything remotely resembling affordable. So no..to me the Pearl is not Portland. I miss the interesting characters I met in that area replaced by people complaining about having trouble parking their SUVs.

  • Chris (unverified)
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    Bob,

    But the plan calls for replacing the two Burnside lanes adjacent to the sidewalk with parking spaces?

    Unless you construct more lanes (ain't gonna happen on Couch, that's for sure), auto traffic will be squeezed into fewer lanes. Or am I missing something?

    Parking on West Burnside ... who would have known!

    Good call from a safety standpoint, especially west of the 405.

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    GalTuesday: I am getting a little bit frusterated by the conception that everyone who lives in the Pearl District is an arrogant, wealthy, inwardly-focused non-Portlander. ...live closer to my job so that I could take advantage of the public transportation options JK: I hope you realize that when you take public transport, your are relying on others to pay 80% of your transportation cost. Also you are not saving energy or reducing pollution. (Google Seattle bus pollution suv)

    GalTuesday: ...Do I strech my budget to live in the Pearl? Sure, but it is a choice I make. JK: By living in the Pearl (or other urban renewal areas) your basic city services are being subsidized by others, as the property taxes on all the new stuff goes to pay for you nice new streets and parks, etc. The rest of the city’s taxpayers have to make up the difference. (Sure would be nice if I could draw a line around my neighborhood and keep all of our taxes within that line for our benefit.) That is part of why we badmouth the Pearl.

    GalTuesday: Apparenbtly the Pearl District is not hipster enough, hippie enough, or poor enough to be considered appropriate. JK: The fact that many of the Pearl’s residents, that we are subsidizing, are millionaires just adds salt to the wound.

    GalTuesday: That being said, the potential of a light-rail type transit system linking the east and west side of the river at the Burnside line is a great boon for the city. JK: How much do you want your taxes to go up to pay for one of the most expensive modes of transit. Buses are much less expensive and much more flexible. Even cheaper, and more energy efficient are small cars.

    Thanks JK

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Ye gads, not another streetcar project. Wasn't Charlie Hale's toy enough? And now one to run where? The Sandy/Burnside/East 12th Avenue nexus? You have got to be joking. What in the devil is the draw of that neighborhood? Do we need a streetcar so vegetarian Pearlites can take a jaunt over to Old Wives' Tales, or go slumming at Hippo Hardware?

    The idea of a Burnside/Couch couplet may be reasonable, but kindly ditch the streetcar and just do a bit of reconfiguration of bus routes. Right now, the #12 (which I use if I want to go downtown from home in NE Portland) runs SW on Sandy, crosses the Burnside Bridge, and then turns up the bus mall. How about a bus that continues west on Burnside?

    I agree with the criticism of continuing to prettify a small bit of downtown (using the term a bit broadly) and ignoring other parts of the city.

    I don't even consider the Pearl District "Portland". I consider it more like what people from California think of when they think of "Portland" when they're telling their friends in California what "Portland" is like.

    This comment from Garrett is bang-on. I'm sure not pining away for the old warehouse district, but really, more subsidized developments for the childless while families move out of town to find affordable housing?

  • My Kingdom for a Tram (unverified)
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    Garrett:

    Quit your complaining. Covered bus stops are nowhere near as important as biofuels, or light rail, or a couplet or two. Buy a coat: you're gonna need it on the Tram too.

    How's a local politician going to get re-elected without a silver shoveled groundbreaking every once in a while. The trade unions don't vote for people who dream small dollar projects: they need multi-year construction schedules. Bus stops.....Sheeesh. As if that might boost ridership. Bus riders are hearty people: they don't mind a little liquid sunshine.

  • Tyrese (unverified)
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    JK - "Sure would be nice if I could draw a line around my neighborhood and keep all of our taxes within that line for our benefit."

    You will pay your taxes and do as you are told. If your candidates win, then you can do what you want. Until then, obey. Or leave.

  • jami (unverified)
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    i boast no skill at urban planning, but i really like most of burnside as it is -- dirty and real. i love rocco's and powells, with its big ugly sign, and i love the weirdo grungy businesses that have collected on inner east burnside. voodoo donuts? yes please.

    and it's great that portland keeps some of its neediest citizens right there near its heart and services.

    but i used to wait at sw fifth and burnside for the bus, (riding my bike on burnside was not happenin'). i choked on exhaust and watched blatant drug deals and had some kid try to intimidate me out of my money by acting like he was reaching for a gun. and it seems that people do get shot to death in that area pretty much all the time.

    the freeway folk mistaking burnside for the pearl can be forgiven, i suppose. i don't know south lake oswego from north. but burnside is so not the pearl. i worry that adams' plan might turn it into that.

    i don't want beloved dirty burnside pearlified with a streetcar and condos and people from california who think spending $400 on the right dress gives you indie cred (sorry, but that is what it looks like to us povs who still pay less than that in rent). but it'd be awesome to make burnside a nicer place to wait for the bus and ride a bike. it shouldn't cost much more than $39 million to get the drug dealers/addicts in prison/rehab and paint a solid stripe down one of the lanes, should it?

    again, i claim no planning expertise, but i do know that burnside isn't the pearl and certainly should not become it.

  • dyspeptic (unverified)
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    I am beginning to think it is time for East Portland to secede from Portland and go back to being a separate city. Sure, we'd be poor, but at least we wouldn't be robbed like this all the time.

    If we have $80 million to spend on the east side, the list of things I would prioritize above this project is long indeed.

    The idea that the east side only counts to the extent it can be exploited to serve the west is so deeply ingrained that no one feels the slightest need to hide the fact that the purpose of this project is to get people and their dollars over to the west side faster.

    Where's the process by which east siders get to say where the next $80 million goes? Don't hold your breath.

  • Chris (unverified)
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    Just to stoke the fire a little further ... a link to a 2004 USDOT report on highway funding and (gasp) subsidies. Granted, it's just one part of the picture, and maybe others can fill in the blanks with more data, but hopefully this is more informative than not.

    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs04/htm/hf10.htm

    By the way, JK, if you don't mind, I'd love to have sources on your data.

    Enjoy.

  • Smuche (unverified)
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    Yo! To be a REAL Portlander, you have to slum it on the east side in a $250/month basement that leaks sewage from backed-up drains, smoke dope with the druggies down on Foster, bicycle crosstown in the rain (without your $900 Gore-Tex jacket), and knock over the local 7-11 whenever you need some change.

    Bling-bling? Ain't gonna get you anywhere in THIS town, baby. ---- them Cali Pearlites!

  • Chris (unverified)
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    "Real Portlanders" sound like the Four Yorkshiremen!

  • faker (unverified)
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    All this "real portland" business is driving me nuts. The idea that there is one real portland and every mile of it should satisfy some fantasy "real portlander" is silly. I grew up in NE Portland, and frankly, I'd argue that the most of the east side doesn't remind me of your "real Portland" either. $8 artisan cocktails on Alberta, $30 Gourmet plates on Mississippi, $50 tee shirts plus Peets vs. S'bucks now fighting for the yuppie dollar across Hawthorne, Zupan's on Belmont. Which is your "real Portland?" Pretty much everything around the city costs more and increasingly serves those who have more. Sorry, it's the price of being a nice place: people with money come. The fact is that Portland still offers different experiences for different people. Just because a neighborhood doesn't offer the experience you prefer doesn't make it fake Portland.

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    A teeny bit of confusion here: I thought doing a couplet on the east side (3rd to 14th or something) was already committed, and the controversy was only on the west side. I vote yes for both sides. I can think a few more places I'd like 1-way streets, just to facilitate left turns.

  • Mister Tee (unverified)
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    $40 million dollars to convert Burnside and Couch into one way streets, WHILE REDUCING THE EXISTING ROAD CAPACITY BY ONE LANE IN EACH DIRECTION? Why does that sound like a boneheaded idea? Does anybody else find it difficult to believe that Sam Adams is really interested in creating new parking spaces?

    Another $40 million to install an electric bus line? How many ultra low emission buses could be purchased with $40 million? Several engine manufacturers already sell natural gas engines that are 10 times cleaner than diesel while hybrid fuel-cell/electric buses are likely to become commonplace in the next decade. You don't have to lay rail lines to reduce the hundreds of tons of Co2 that are eliminated by each particulate belching Tri-Met diesel bus.

    Did I mention the electric bus (aka "Trolley") will also impede traffic in one of the remaining vehicular lanes, as it must stop every few blocks for loading/unloading of passengers?

  • SL (unverified)
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    Dunno ... I live not too far out NE Weidler and it's always seemed to me that with our "couplet" over here, we've just got TWO pedestrian-unfriendly streets that the humans will give no love.

    I also feel that the problem of the intimidating volume of traffic on major surface arterials heading through and out of downtown, from Burnside to Barbur to Jefferson/Columbia, doesn't just go away - nor does its conflict with street life - by mere calming. You're just not going to get "lovely" along a highway.

    Sink or bury Burnside? I guess it's been ruled out.

    I feel we have the Tram thing going here - it has been decided.

    But I like the tram - always have. And I could probably get used to this ... if it's demonstrated that it is really the best option.

    BTW, I like the discussion of neighborhoods and subcultures.

    And thanks Jeff, dammit, for making planning, nerdy as it is, a Blue Oregon issue.

  • ws (unverified)
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    Actually, despite Bob R's incisive critique in response to it, I'm inclined to stand by the points I made in my original post up at the top. I've been meaning to get down to Burnside and look it over to better evaluate my thoughts about the proposal, but due to great inconvenience, have been unable to do so as of yet.

    Some years back, when the city embarked on the attempted beautification of Burnside ( the planted meridian), as I remember, during construction, westbound traffic, upon crossing the bridge, was diverted at 2nd onto couch for a number of blocks. It sucked, as I imagine the couplet also will.

    As I'm visualizing it, West Burnside currently has a total of four lanes, two in each direction. Two of those lanes, one in each direction, could be shared with the streetcar(or true electic busses), leaving the remaining two lanes to through traffic. This works pretty well, as exemplified by the SW 10th and 11th grid (with some allowance for the fact that it's a three lane street) up by Central Library.

    Alternately, some thought might be given to proceding with the idea of the streetcar on Couch. Given the narrow dimensions of that street, it's hard to imagine how this could be done while still allowing non-streetcar impeded two direction car travel, but there may be a way. Having the streecar on Couch seens attractive.

    Just the fact of the streetcar making periodic stops to drop off and take on passengers will change the dynamic of the traffic slightly in a way that may be more pedestrain friendly. Cars will have to travel slightly slower and more cautiously as they follow the streetcar or seek for openings in the through traffic, so as to get around the streetcar.

    As for parking on Burnside, there already is some parking there now. What is the argument in support of more parking spaces? Seems like we should be encouraging people to use the streetcar. In this case, less is more applies.

    So generally, I support proposals to make Burnside more pedestrian and mass transit user friendly. I support this one, with the exception of the one way street concept. Improvements to city infrastructure that encourage and enable pedestrian, mass transit users, and other non auto transportation to gradually replace auto dependance are crucial keys towards continuing our city as a funtional living community of the future.

    I'm not particularly familiar with East Burnside, so no opinion ventured on that area, other than to agree, it needs urgent attention.

  • Mister Tee (unverified)
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    If any residential neighborhood in Portland wants to improve their "unpaved" streets, they are told to form a Local Improvement District to spread the cost equitably over all property owners whose land is contiguous to the improvement.

    Granted, Burnside and Couch are already maintained by the City (such as "maintenance" is defined by PDOT), but $80 million constitutes an improvement which is orders of magnitude more expensive than simple repaving.

    Why wouldn't PDOT ask the adjoining property owners to form a Local Improvement District to fund these improvements?

    I can speak on behalf of a large number of Portlanders that NEVER drive on Burnside/Couch...it's silly to spend $80 million for dramatic upgrades when many of our neighborhood streets (beyond the central city) are potholed and/or unimproved.

    It sounds like more taxpayer subsidies for Portland's wealthy developers and property owners.

  • Jese (unverified)
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    According to Sam and his staff, Local Improvement Districts will pay for many of these improvements.

  • urbanplanningoverlord (unverified)
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    One issue: is Couch Street wide enough for two lanes of traffic and a separated streetcar line? And parking on both sides? And nice wide sidewalks. Couch has 60 feet of right of way, and two current lanes of traffic. While Burnside west of the Park Blocks also has only 60 feet, to the east it widens to 100 feet of right of way.

    And, a streetcar line that isn't on its own separated right of way will be worthless, in my opinion. You might as well have buses. Whereas a combination exclusive streetcar/bus lane would work.

    http://www.urbanplanningoverlord.blogspot.com/

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    Chris Just to stoke the fire a little further ... a link to a 2004 USDOT report on highway funding and (gasp) subsidies. Granted, it's just one part of the picture, and maybe others can fill in the blanks with more data, but hopefully this is more informative than not.

    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs04/htm/hf10.htm JK: That is national data, this is about local spending. In Portland, road users DO pay their own way. Look it up.

    Also I noticed that that page does not mention the gas tax that goes to support mass transit.

    Finally, suppose that general money went to roads - everyone uses roads unlike the case of general money going for mass transit which is only used by a tiny minority - basically welfare.

    Thanks Jk

  • Carl G (unverified)
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    A few comments 1. Jeff's comments that a couplet would be "easier on the lungs" makes no sense. I doubt that the couplet would let traffic go faster. Slower traffic means more idling which means more pollution. And if traffic were fast, that would demolish the walkability of Couch street.

    1. I'm getting tired of the class resentment that comes up whenever the pearl or downtown are discussed. I live right off Sandy. I see ugly crap all day long. I like to go to the Pearl to see nice architecture, pleasant streets and lots of people milling about. Diverse people. Less uniformly white and straight, etc. I can't afford a 400 dollar shirt but I don't begrudge people who do.

    2. The tax subsidies for the new condos are a ripoff to the rest of us and that part SHOULD be ended. There are 4000 condos being built in fancy "depressed" neighborhoods. If the average condo cost 500K (low!) that would raise 5 million a year for transit.

    3. Stop equating ugly and "poor" with "real Portland". Ugly is ugly. Nice design doesn't have to mean elite. If you want come live in my apartment and look a at uglyass car dealerships and strip joints all day. Fun!

    4. You may have low income but you are not underclass.

  • Chris (unverified)
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    JK,

    But isn't the automobile dominant in this country precisely through measured government intervention and significant outlays of capital, whether for highway construction, suburbanization, or the automobile industry?

    Not to criticize, but I think there are many, many more latent factors to consider.

    In any case, there are lots of lessons here - for public transit supporters and opponents alike. And $39 million and throwing a streetcar at the problem ... well, I agree that certainly does make one's heart tighten.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    In response to Carl G, I think what he perceives as class resentment is largely something else. I live in the Hollywood District, which is a comfortably middle-class neighborhood, and I find the Pearl District (say) off-putting not because I resent Pearlites' lifestyle--which I could afford (sans the $400 dresses) if I so chose--but because it was designed to be not family friendly, not a place where someone would want to raise a kid. Contrast this with, say, the neighborhoods in Vancouver, BC with high-rise apartments and families. So yes, I do have some resentments, but they're not about class, they're about those in this city with power being so short-sighted that they not only encourage but subsidize redevelopment that looks flashy in the short run but in the long run exacerbates the economic and demographic trend turning the inner neighborhoods of Portland into enclaves of empty-nesters, childless younger folks and unfortunates too restricted by their circumstances to move.

  • Mister Tee (unverified)
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    Chris:

    No other 20th century invention except anti-biotics and electrification have made a larger contribution to our standard of living and economic development than the car.

    The roads were built to meet the demands of a car driving public that didn't want to wait for the bus or the train.

    Autonomy, efficiency, comfort, and SAFETY were the reasons the car destroyed all competing forms of transportation: horse/buggy, bicycle, bus, train, plane and boat couldn't compete with the car except in the most rugged terrain, or for trips over water and/or great distances. Before the widespread adoption of the automobile, many Americans had never travelled more than 50 miles from their place of birth.

    Now we can travel 50 miles in less than an hour, and the petroleum economy has provided economic opportunity and geographich range that would never have been otherwise possible.

    The car is the dominant form of local transportation because it is more convenient/comfortable/expedient than any alternative. That's why the City of Portland is doing everything in their power to make automobile travel more expensive and slower: IT'S THE ONLY WAY THAT MASS TRANSIT WILL EVER COMPETE.

    My grandfather, a cowboy/farmer and historian, ranked the automobile as the third most important development of the twentieth century (after electrification/refrigeration and antibiotics). The anti-car peak oil enthusiasts need to extricate your heads from your nether regions and recognize the car his here to stay.

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    The car is the dominant form of local transportation because it is more convenient/comfortable/expedient than any alternative. That's why the City of Portland is doing everything in their power to make automobile travel more expensive and slower: IT'S THE ONLY WAY THAT MASS TRANSIT WILL EVER COMPETE.

    This presumes everyone drives. They don't. My Mom never drove. My mother-in-law doesn't drive. My blind friend Carolyn doesn't. Neither do my two step-sons. Without the option of mass transit how DO these people get around?

    Lots of people drive who shouldn't. They get behind the wheel drunk, stoned, demented, or simply incompetent. For some, driving is recreation --not transportation-- and the streets are for racing, and killing and dying.

    If we lost 40 to 50 thousand Americans a year to terrorist attacks, we'd recognize we had a serious problem. Since they only die in cars, we write it off as collateral damage from our love affair with cars. A half million casualties a year, at what societal cost? Not to mention the benzene in our air, and the runoff in our streams and rivers.

    Yeah, the car's our great liberator...

  • Mister Tee (unverified)
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    Frank:

    Are you aware that conventional medical treatments(aka "Doctors") are the THIRD LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN THE U.S., resulting in 225,000 deaths in the year 2000.

    Shall we crusade against conventional medicine and physicians, too? They are killing three times as many Americans as the devil automobile. Perhaps a risks/benefits analysis should be applied to both the automobile and Doctors?

  • ws (unverified)
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    "The roads were built to meet the demands of a car driving public that didn't want to wait for the bus or the train.

    Autonomy, efficiency, comfort, and SAFETY were the reasons the car destroyed all competing forms of transportation:...." Mister Tee

    The above are valid in modest to low populated areas. With increasingly dense population, the public increasingly finds itself waiting in traffic behind cars with questionable autonomomy, efficiency, comfort or safety, as compared to rail.

    Did the City of Portland create the conditions leading to the decline of autonomous, efficient, comfortable, safe car travel? A more likely cause is growth; population growth, economic growth, etc..

    In some parts of metropolitan areas, the dream of autonomous, efficient, comfortable, safe car travel, due to causes arising from our unique civilization, is long gone.

    It would be in the public's best interest to imagine and work to create the most efficient, comfortable, and safe mass transit possible within a mass transit based infrastructure that cars must accomodate, rather than vice versa, the situation that exists currently.

    When this is done, at least in the metro areas, the autonomy represented by the car in its early days, will return in the form of easily accessible mass transit, as people are relieved of the growth related limitations their cars frequently represent today.

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    Mister Tee: No other 20th century invention except anti-biotics and electrification have made a larger contribution to our standard of living and economic development than the car. JK: Well said.

    Thanks JK

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    Frank Dufay If we lost 40 to 50 thousand Americans a year to terrorist attacks, we'd recognize we had a serious problem. Since they only die in cars, we write it off as collateral damage from our love affair with cars. JK: Transportation has always been dangerous. The railroads used to kill more people than cars do now. Even today, light rails kills more people than cars per passenger mile. The only reason that light rail kills few people is that very few people use it. You forget that buses kill a lot of people too.

    Both bus and light rail cost more than cars and if we turned the clock back 100 years for our transportation, we would find other aspects of our lives reverting back too - a lower standard of living.

    Thanks JK

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    The railroads used to kill more people than cars do now.

    Yeah, sure, and no doubt the doctors were worse then too. You guys make a great tag team of irrelevant, if not laughingly silly, comic invention.

  • Chris (unverified)
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    Tee,

    Understood.

    I was merely addressing JK's comments in the context of explaining the kinds of government intervention and more diffuse conditions/costs that have aided the automobile's development.

    Sorry if I implied that free market factors, safety, convenience, autonomy, and the factors you list have not led to the widespread adoption of the automobile. They certainly have. Practically everyone in this country understood the sheer wonder of the automobile in the 20th century (and many continue to understand its benefits in the 21st), government included: precisely why subsidies have flowed.

    Perhaps governments (such as the City of Portland) are keen not on crushing the automobile per se, but on trying to gauge the vagaries of a transportation market that will continue to change and shift? Just as governments put the spotlight on roads in first half of the last century, they will focus on other systems today and in the future.

    But again, and I say this in jest, this is a pretty blue city we're talking about, and ham-handed opposition to the car might just be a fact of life ...

  • Chris (unverified)
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    I should add, however, that the logic of your second-to-last paragraph is ... troubling.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    Would appreciate if Mr. Karlock (name an unintentional pun, I expect) would provide some sources for his claim about the relative cost of mass transit versus private automobiles. And I mean real sources, not third party stuff, unverifiable websites and the like.

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    There are plenty of us who work on the east side of this project who don't live in the Pearl. I'm in that area almost every day. It's a huge pain to find a parking space so you can go to work. You take your own life into your hands when you walk to get a coffee (or an ice tea in my case), food, etc. Why would I want to start up the car to drive 3 blocks to get something to eat when I have to stay at the office late? Not only do you give up a parking space, but it's not environmentally friendly. It's better for the environment (not to mention my own health) to walk to get something to eat/drink.

    However, getting around can be difficult. I hate crossing Burnside, as the street is wide and those who have the green aren't too patient when they start feeling like they may have to wait for another light.

    This isn't just about helping the Pearl. This is about helping an area of Portland that has a large amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. An area that has many, many people who don't make enough to by that $400 dress that's been talked about above.

    I live in east county. I drive through east Portland all the time. I know how bad traffic is out here. But I do see this project as being important.

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