Oregonian Plays Politics with Pedestrian Safety

Chris Smith

An editorial in this morning's Oregonian attempts to position the Burnside/Couch project an example of a flaw in the commission form of government.

The Oregonian posits that this project is advancing only because it is a "pet project" of Commissioner Sam Adams and that in another form of government, it wouldn't be going anywhere.

Neither is anywhere near the truth. The Burnside plan is the product of decades of recognition that the current state of Burnside is highly problematic:

This is a serious project intended to address serious issues, it's no one's pet project.

Nor is it Commissioner Adams' project. Plans from as early as 1966 have suggested a couplet for Burnside. The current round of planning began under the supervision of Commissioner Charlie Hales, and under Commissioner Jim Francesconi, the couplet concept got a 5-0 endorsement from the whole City Council.

It has only been in the most recent iteration of refinement planning that signficant opposition developed. To Commissioner Adams' credit, he delayed Council consideration of the plan until the opposition arguments had been studied, and a thorough technical analysis conducted.

When the plan reaches City Council later this month it will have been through four years of citizen involvement, countless public meetings, a thorough re-analysis and no less than three meetings of the Planning Commission.

It the plan moves forward, it will only be because a majority of City Council believes (as I do) that it is a good solution to the problem of Burnside.

Yes, this plan has had the focused attention of a strong Commissioner, and has benefited greatly from that attention. It's doubtful that a Mayor responsible for all the City's bureaus could have provided the same level of focus.

Reasonable people can disagree about the correct decision regarding Burnside, but to attempt to use this as campaign fodder for changing our form of government is nothing less than a wholesale revision of history. It is also irresponsibly playing politics with an important project to improve safety.

Comments

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)
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    I appreciate your thoughtful response to another unfortunate Oregonian editorial, Chris.

    I would also add that I find the current debate regarding the pros and cons of a Burnside/Couch couplet healthy and very helpful to me in arriving at a balanced decision.

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    Amanda has, I think, the best retort to yet another example of The Oregonian's editorial board not thinking things through before publishing them: "Mayor Sam Adams is a very real possibility, whether the Charter changes are adopted or not. If the Oregonian considers Sam has too much power to work on the Burnside Couplet now, what on earth (or what in Portland) do they think is going to stop him from driving forward with something the Oregonian considers A Bad Idea in the future, under the all-powerful Mayor structure?"

  • roxanne bruns (unverified)
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    if for no other reason that that the project repaired the stupid burnside-sandy interchange, id support it.

  • pedro (unverified)
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    i have to agree with roxanne here, though all the controversy about the project seems to concern the westside of the river, the east side is an absolute no-brainer.

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    The eastside portion of the project got a green light from the Council more than six months ago and engineering is progressing.

    I think the Oregonian is referring only to the westside. Of course the eastside doesn't qualify as a "pet project" because the O thinks it's OK.

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    Until recently, I did pretty much whatever I had to do to avoid the Burnside area, west or east, and I only go there now because I use Trimet. Any plan to address the utter confusion and structural breakdown of that area has had to have been in the works for a long time. Publications like the Oregonian amaze me in their assumptions that we are going to believe that one person single-handidly put this project together and pushed it through. It just isn't possible, unless Mr. Adams has some incredible powers hidden from view, and I seriously doubt that.

  • Bill (unverified)
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    Whatever happened to the rest of the original plan that was supposed to wipe out Sandy west of Burnside???

    The increased development opportunities of actually having 6+ blocks in the CEID would have been nice, to say the least. Especially since only about 10 cars/year use Sandy in that segment anyway.

  • Kablooie (unverified)
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    Yes... now that the very-necessary aerial tram is completed, perhaps we'll have time and scrounge up some money to... oh, I don't know... improve some of these surface streets.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    The Oregonian writes "relationship-based" editorials. They decide whose side they are on and then write editorials to support their side. They see themselves as opinion makers based on their clout, not their arguments. And they choose sides based on clout, not by evaluating arguments.

    When was the last time you were actually persuaded to change your opinion by an Oregonian editorial? Chances are if you have, you later came to regret it.

  • VR (unverified)
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    @kablooie

    Yes... now that the very-necessary aerial tram is completed, perhaps we'll have time and scrounge up some money to... oh, I don't know... improve some of these surface streets.

    Must... Resist...

    Must... Not... Feed... Trolls.......

  • Wells (unverified)
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    The idea of running city government with a strong arm mayor and a manager is the equivalent of running the executive branch of the federal government with a vacuous CEO and a furtive VP. This is the worst time for another nightmare scenario. Give it a rest, Big O.

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    The Oregonian writes "relationship-based" editorials. They decide whose side they are on and then write editorials to support their side.

    I guess that would explain the inanity of much of their editorializing at some level.

    They see themselves as opinion makers based on their clout, not their arguments. And they choose sides based on clout, not by evaluating arguments.

    It still seems like it would follow that your clout would increase if you exhibited at least some passing acquaintance with the facts in your editorials. A naive supposition on my part, I guess.

  • gt (unverified)
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    It's just another giant local government boondoggle waste of money. I wonder if it will suffer the same fate as the tram, 10x over budget? How much is the bus mall realignment already over budget, and it's only barely gotten started? If they're going to spend this much, why not just put a freeway in through there?

  • Jason McHuff (unverified)
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    For those who believe that the west-side couplet (not to be confused with the recent addition of a streetcar to the plan) is Sam's pet project, I have an overpass for them--Couch Street over I-405, built to support a potential couplet.

  • Adron (unverified)
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    Well written Chris. This is one of those things I can side right next to you on and face down the Big O'. It's ridiculous when people write stuff up like this. Besides that, from personal experience a strong mayor isn't particularly a useful or good situation for a city to be in.

    Portland's form is the envy of many cities that citizens wish they had more say/power/control/choice over their personal lives. I reiterate what I have on other blogs, there is no point in fixing something that isn't broke.

    ...I do think those meetings could take place a little quicker and a little more efficiently - but that's another matter.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    I am on the record as being opposed to the form of government change.

    That being said, I say the more the Oregonian editorializes for the charter reform the better. Their endorsement, coupled with that of the PBA and the developers, is the kiss of death politically in this town.

    People in Portland aren't stupid, despite the fact that the Oregonian seems to think so.

  • Lenny Anderson (unverified)
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    Not sure in this case if it would really make much difference. If this proposal came from a "strong Mayor" it would still have to get 3 Yes votes. The "O" likes to think such a mayor would kill the BC project...I'm not so sure. On the government re-org question, I think the non-mayor or "little mayor" commissioners would have more time and energy to develop policy, get input from constiuents, and have impact if they did not have to manage bureaus. It would free them up. And they would be free to assign among themselves legislative oversight for each bureau, hold hearings, drive policy, and generally set the parameters for management. Now we have management without focused oversight...i.e. its hard for the same person to do both. Anyway, when you boil it down either way, you need 3 Yes votes.

    PS I opposed the couplet plan until Sam added the Streetcar, and I am still lukewarm...

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    At the risk of sounding ignorant, can somebody explain how the proposal is going to affect the average automobile commuter from downtown to the West Hills? I use Burnside or Vista to get home about 300 days a year and don't really understand what they are proposing to do to me or my commute.

  • TR (unverified)
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    The fact is there are many problems with the couplet that supporters fail to mention, They include but are not limited to: the price tag for the project, disconnecting the only East-West arterial street that traverses the entire City, converting Couch Street – a relatively quiet pedestrian oriented street it into a heavily traveled arterial, streetcars creating congestion with slow speeds and by stopping in travel lanes and blocking other when loading and unloading passengers, the Burnside Bridge is already congested without the streetcars adding to it and gumming it up even more, the streetcars duplicate bus service but only for a short distance, the streetcars do not pay their own way and will require additional taxpayer operating subsidies, unnecessary overly wide sidewalks, lanes so narrow on the upper portion trucks and busses do not fit between the lines, and development will occur with or with our the couplet. Additionally, Metro even has questions about yet another unfunded streetcar line and how it fits into a master plan.

    If anybody is playing politics and enacting social engineering with the public’s transportation systems and dollars it is Portland City Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams along with a well known book seller who expects to receive benefit from the couplet and having the streetcars running on all four sides of his building.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Bluenote:

    Wider sidewalks, a streetcar, more pedestrian crossings, "bubble" curbs, traffic calming and "streetscape" improvements do not usually add up to improved autmobile throughput.

  • Garlynn (unverified)
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    Golly, if the Oregonian is against it, it must be worthwhile.

    I like their own quote (from the editorial):

    "Strong leadership can compensate for the weaknesses in any form of government"

    Basically, they're saying that Portland's form of government might actually have nothing wrong with it, if strong leaders are elected? Seems rather at odds with their general objection to the current form of government.

    I question why the Oregonian wants to abandon Portland's Commission form of government, which seems to generally work, in favor of the form of government used in cities such as Oakland, California, which generally does not work there. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

    As for the couplet and BlueNote's question:

    I think you should expect to have an easier commute home. With timed traffic signals and a one-way couplet, you should see green lights from the central city all the way out to 16th or 17th. That should cut down on your travel time a little bit. Think of your experience driving up or down the Glisan/Everett couplet, which would be the closest example.

    cheers, ~Garlynn

  • GT (unverified)
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    I see they want to build another mass transient line up and down burnside. I wonder if they are planning to put a methadone clinic in the back?

  • Steve (unverified)
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    Burnside issues and govt change are non sequitirs.

    As far as your other points:

    • The street is collapsing and needs to be rebuilt, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, with or without changes in its configuration. Maybe you could visit East Portland and see the miles of roads with potholes or unpaved now.

    • The street divides neighborhoods on either side of it. So what? SE 82nd does this also to the point of drawing an economic line between East and West Portland. THis is a non-starter.

    • West Burnside hosts 4 of the top 10 most dangerous intersections in the city. I believe SE 82nd has 3 of the top 5 intersections for accident and pedestrian safety.

    • Development in recent years has consistently turned its back on Burnside. Uh, have you visited the Pearl district, seen the US Bank building? Again, its an unwarranted comment and you can compare this to what the CIty of Portland has done for SE 82nd neigborhoods.

    I am tired of people propping up downtown like some sort of Versailles that sucks up all of this town's development dollars while people flee to the suburbs for nice offices and shopping.

    Maybe if you can stop propoing up the Potemkin-ville and actually focus on the poorer neighborhoods where most people live, you might have some credibility with the average person who pays taxes.

    If you really believe this is only going to cost $80M, I have a Tram to sell you. Based on CoP financial projection acumen, this will be a $250M project and most people know it.

  • GT (unverified)
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    Nice comment, Steve! How much are they going to waste on the transient mall reailgnment? $1B? When is this insanity going to stop? "The City that Works". It's more like "Dysfunctional Don Quixote City".

  • ws (unverified)
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    If the couplet makes Couch anything like Everett is now, that doesn't seem like an improvement. Might be intelligent to reduce demand for Burnside before the couplet is built. Direct a percentage of its current traffic volume elsewhere, now, then Burnside will be more pedestrian friendly without tearing everything up.

    Those folks commuting via Burnside to the West Hills...eventually, you'll get your streetcar back and you won't have to drive. Many years ago, Vista had one until the people with the bright ideas ripped it out.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    Although The O goes out of its way to support Republicans, I would like to point out that the Burnside couplet is about the first big dollar public works project it didn't shill for. It backed the tram, the current transit mall destruction and the godawful 11-lane I-5 bridge replacement. The O definitely likes to spend OPM.

    How much is this couplet supposed to cost, anyway? As a pedestrian and bicyclist, I really don't find Burnside all that offensive as it is now, and I can't agree with Chris (this one time) that development has turned its back on the street.

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    I believe SE 82nd has 3 of the top 5 intersections for accident and pedestrian safety.

    Point taken about 82nd. I absolutely believe that it deserves the same kind of attention that Burnside is getting. The fact that it is not says as much about urban renewal as it does about City Hall politics.

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    At the risk of sounding ignorant, can somebody explain how the proposal is going to affect the average automobile commuter from downtown to the West Hills? I use Burnside or Vista to get home about 300 days a year and don't really understand what they are proposing to do to me or my commute.

    You should get home slightly faster. Here's the tradeoff:

    Today to get the cars through, pretty much all the lights on Burnside turn green at once, and you rush through as many as you can and then wait when you hit a red (and hope no one in front of you tries to turn left).

    In the couplet, there will be a traffic signal at every intersection and the lights will be synchronized, such that once you hit the first green, if you drive a steady 17 or 18mph, you'll get green all the way through the couplet. The estimate is that eastbound travel times improve by a few seconds, but west bound travel time could improve by several minutes.

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    and the lights will be synchronized, such that once you hit the first green, if you drive a steady 17 or 18mph, you'll get green all the way through the couplet.

    To get a feel for that, try driving down 4th Avenue. It's tough to stick to 17mph, but I've always tried to test myself -- how many green lights can I hit in a row?

    When the lights are synchronized, only the impatient stop at red lights.

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    Dave Lister wrote, Wider sidewalks, a streetcar, more pedestrian crossings, "bubble" curbs, traffic calming and "streetscape" improvements do not usually add up to improved autmobile throughput.

    Why do you assume that automobile throughput is the goal?

    After all, we could reduce Burnside to one lane each way, build a wall on both sides of Burnside, another wall between the eastbound and westbound lanes, eliminate all lights and cross-streets, and set a 90mph speed limit... that would improve automobile throughput, right? A veritable auto-luge.

    But it wouldn't make any damn sense for many, many reasons. Auto throughput can't be the only goal.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "The fact that it is not says as much about urban renewal as it does about City Hall politics."

    Gee, that's a pretty deep statement that says absolutely nothing. I'll take it as code for your're right, but we don't care about anything besides building this couplet.

    I hope you realize that adding turn lanes and fixing Burnside really doesn't address any major city problems outside of a 2-mile square area where say maybe 2% of the population lives at most.

    You seem to feel tenough light rail and all the problems will be solved. If you look at downtown, by the time you get your way it will be an impassable train switchyard.

    Then again, to the man whose only tool is a hammer, evry problem looks like an upright nail. Try to look beyond your comfort zone for solutions to the entire city's issues.

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    and the lights will be synchronized, such that once you hit the first green, if you drive a steady 17 or 18mph, you'll get green all the way through the couplet.

    You'll get green if you're driving.

    If you're walking you'll face a red light at every intersection while walking on Burnside/Couch. Which is why, when you're walking downtown, you want to walk against traffic on the one-ways.

    So this is a benefit to pedestrians how?

    I wish this was all about pedestrian safety, but it's not. It's about development,which is why we've seen a streetcar thrown into the mix --can anyone say "Transit Oriented Development"?

    There's ways to improve the pedestrian environment on Burnside without a multi-million price tag, beginning with better law enforcement. And while, personally, I'm not sure about the couplet's overall value, let's not wrap it in the flag of "it's all for the pedestrians." We've used pedestrian needs all over the city, including simple things like sidewalks where there aren't any, that can be reasonably argued are far more important priorities than this west-wide portion of the proposed couplet.

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    Frank, this thread was about the Oregonian linking two things that have nothing to do with each other, but to quickly respond, this is a HUGE win for pedestrians for several key reasons:

    1) Traffic slowed from 30mph+ to 17-18mph. 2) Most of the time you only have two travel lanes to cross, and the distance is further shorted in many cases by curb extensions. 3) All intersections have signalized pedestrian crossings

    And sure, it's about development, that's how we'll pay for a lot of it. But that development also takes pressure off the edges of the region and helps contain the urban environment with all the livability and environmental benefits that come with that.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Kari, I didn't say automobile throughput was the goal. I was responding to Bluenote's question about automobile throughput. In other areas, like Hollywood where I live, the redesigns generally result in lower auto throughput.

  • Lenny Anderson (unverified)
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    Downtown signal speeds are typically 12 MPH, and as I recall the B/C couplet was to be simply an extension of that grid. Now speeds are reported to be 18 MPH, which will produce vehicles going as fast as 25 to catch up to the green. I can see why folks living and doing business along the now quiet stretch of Couch are unenthusiastic. Inserting Streetcar can help moderate speeds and calm the new couplet, but by design couplets encourage speed. The other reason for including Streetcar is fiscal...without it there is not enough money to do the project. I doubt adjacent property owners would agree to an LID...needed to supplement TIF and federal MTIP dollars...if it was just a street project. The market, and hence investors, seem willing to put money in play within a block or two of Streetcar. No one would agree to an LID on this unless they can see a good likihood of increased property values. But back to the main point...what the current form of city government may get us is an extended public airing of projects like these with Bureau of Planning duking it out with PDOT, but in the end it still takes three Yes votes.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Haven't had the time yet, but I've become convinced that there's only one way to make a dent in peoples attitudes about pedestrian safety in Oregon. I want to mount a webcam on a bicycle helmet and spend a week doing nothing but crossing through Oregon's marked crosswalks.

    It's not that I don't think that people don't know what they're doing, it's that I think we rationalize way to much about how much it happens because people want it to. The US is a depressing abusive police state and it's not surprising that said citizens would have cruel and banal pleasures.

    Anyway, I figure I'd last about 3 days. The point is to obey the law, try to cooperate, but take no drastic action to avoid someone that's aiming for you. Very crazy sounding even for my postings (though a ray of hope no doubt), but I really, really think that unless you had people doing that on a consistent basis, the great mean that isn't trying to kill you isn't going to appreciate the problem. Sorry for the cynicism, but I think it is a waste of time to consider how to teach tricks to real sick puppies.

  • Rebel N. Dog (unverified)
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    Posted by: Dave Lister | Mar 7, 2007 10:44:10 AM

    Kari, I didn't say automobile throughput was the goal. I was responding to Bluenote's question about automobile
    throughput. In other areas, like Hollywood where I live, the redesigns generally result in lower auto throughput.

    THE Dave Lister? I thought you got around by ion drive!

  • GT (unverified)
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    <h2>They're not going to be satisfied until everyone is crammed into the urban ghetto and everyone has given up their automobiles. Cars are about freedom and mobility. Their vision is to have control over your choices.</h2>

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