Embrace the Couplet

By Roland Chlapowski of Portland, Oregon.  Roland is Senior Policy Director in the Office of Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams.

At around 9:30 pm Wednesday night, April 11, after City Council unanimously voted to advance the Burnside-Couch Streetcar Couplet, a project that has its origins in the formation of a 1999-2000 community-driven scoping process. There have been some changes to the project along the way, but this is now the second unanimous Council vote on the couplet concept (the first was in 2002). The project now has a streetcar component, which is new, but the underlying project is largely the same.

History
Where did this project come from?

In 1999, it was clear to transportation engineers that Burnside was failing and needed to be rebuilt. This meant that the foundation of the street was (and still is) broken and therefore that a simple repaving won’t do. When a street is failed, you have to rebuild it from the base up. 

As is normal, the Portland Office of Transportation (PDOT) started a scoping process for the rebuild and began talking with the neighborhoods adjacent to Burnside about the project. It quickly became clear that Burnside was a failing street in more than one sense. Each and every Neighborhood Plan adopted by the abutting neighborhoods had a list of problems pertaining to Burnside.

To make a long story short, a Stakeholder Advisory Committee and Citizens’ Advisory Committee were formed that had representatives from each affected neighborhood (both East and West of the Willamette) and neighborhood business district, as well as representatives from the area’s social service agencies, the Bureau of Planning, Portland Development Commission, Regional Arts and Culture Council, and stakeholders.

After a long, multi-year process that identified the problems of Burnside, outlined aspirations for the street, and looked at many, many possibilities, the Stakeholder and Citizens’ Advisory Committees came to a consensus on the Burnside-Couch Couplet project. Only this project would allow for significantly wider sidewalks, slow down traffic, increase pedestrian safety, provide for parking, add left turns, and change the feel of the area. 

Now, I will be the first to say that the project is not perfect. No project is. But, this was a project that was basically the culmination of a methodical exercise in community decision-making. The community looked at the trade-offs, made priorities, and came to a consensus in a very public--and very long--process. 

Some people don’t like the downsides of the plan--namely, that it will put traffic onto Couch. But, it is easier to point out a plan’s problems than it is to actually develop a project. 

There are many who imply that you can get all of the benefits of the Couplet without any of the downsides, but regardless of their sincerity, they are mistaken. 

You have only so much right-of-way, and you have many competing needs. Once you decide to dedicate 10 feet for a traffic lane, you lose 10 feet for other opportunities: wide sidewalks, bioswales, street trees, benches, art, parking, and public spaces. 

Why the Couplet is Good
First, I have to say that I am a real believer in the community decision-making process. I believe the onus is on naysayers to come up with an alternative plan and a very good reason why the years of work done by community members before should be thrown out. 

That out of the way, there are real, tangible benefits that only a Couplet can provide. 

First, there is safety--particularly pedestrian safety. This was a priority of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee from the beginning, and is in their mission statement. Six of the 10 most dangerous intersections for pedestrians are on Burnside--4 of them are on West Burnside. 

By reducing Burnside from four lanes of traffic to just two, adding traffic lights and crossing signals at each intersection, making traffic one-way (which makes it easier for pedestrians to judge) and adding on-street-parking (which provides a buffer between people and traffic), this project significantly increases safety. No other project can come close. 

This project also creates the least amount of vehicle emissions and fuel consumption of any alternative. It adds a transit line that has everything that it takes to be successful, and it has transfers with the existing MAX at PGE Park, the new MAX on the Transit Mall, the existing Streetcar at 10th near Powell’s, and the new Streetcar line that is being built on MLK Ave. and Grand Avenue. 

This project takes ROW from auto lanes and provides room for significant new public spaces and plazas. Right now, there are many places (like turning onto 10th from Eastbound Burnside) where you can take a left by going right in what’s called a “jug-handle.” With the couplet, you can take left turns without these, and therefore build new public places where there weren’t any before. 

The Burnside corridor currently creates about 31 million gallons of stormwater runoff every year. This goes into the combined sewer system –which means it gets mixed with raw sewage- which sometimes overflows into the Willamette. The Couplet literally frees up acres of land to dedicate to bioswales, the sustainable alternative to the sewer system.

And, everyone who drives will be happy to know that while traffic speed will be slower, you will wait at red lights less, which means both shorter travel times and slower traffic speeds can be realized. Also, with the addition of left turn opportunities, Burnside isn’t the barrier it is today. 

I think it is important to point out that except for those who didn’t want traffic outside of the Catholic Church on upper Couch, about half of the people who testified against the Couplet said they were against it since this project takes away lanes of auto traffic, and is therefore designed to gum up traffic as part of the City’s conspiracy to make it impossible to drive. 

The other half have said that this project, like all couplets, is purely auto-centric and made to move traffic through to the detriment of the community and pedestrians, pure and simple. Of course, both views can’t be right. (They can both be wrong, however!) 

Issues with the Couplet
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to be against the Couplet. But they can basically be boiled down to just a few.

First is: “Not in My Back Yard!” (NIMBY)--New condo owners on the Brewery blocks that don’t like the idea of more traffic outside their downtown condos on upper Couch, as well as parents of children at the Catholic school on Couch and 17th who didn’t like the idea of more traffic in their neck of the woods, either. 

Second is a fear of Gentrification. That is truly legitimate, and that’s why we’ve worked with the neighborhood associations (like Old Town China Town) and social service agencies like Central City Concern very closely (they all support this plan). We are going to make sure that as this project unfolds in a way where we retain the character of neighborhoods and make sure that we don’t drive low income people away with the redevelopment. We’ve already started to talk about affordable housing goals along the project area, despite being years away from groundbreaking.   

The third is that it is gritty and they like it that way. All I can say is that while that might be easy for some people to say, when you have the most dangerous street in the city up for redesign and are making decisions about its future, I don’t think you do so at the expense of sacrificing people’s lives. That’s not responsible and good decision makers can’t do that in good conscience.   

Context
When Sam inherited this project in 2004--when he was made transportation commissioner--we halted the process, despite a unanimous Council vote in 2002, because we wanted to investigate the concerns of the Brewery Blocks condo owners and the Bureau of Planning. We did additional independent analysis on transportation operations, urban design, cost-benefit analysis, and potential streetcar alignments. 

We found that the concerns were based in fear, not in fact. We decided to honor the community and move forward with the plan they developed. 

Many people are often afraid of change, but Portlanders have always been willing to undertake bold plans and projects in order to get to a better future. Building the East Bank Esplanade, closing a highway to make room for Waterfront Park, scrapping the Mt. Hood Freeway and building MAX Light Rail instead… even the tram--all of these things were done in the face of some people who decided things would be better if they stayed the way they were....   If we didn’t do this, however, Portland would not be the city it is today, and it would not be a leader in transportation and land-use planning.

This is bold plan, yes. But it is also a very, very good one. 

Comments

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Well put, Roland.

    To this I would add rebuttals to other common complaints about the couplet:

    (Paraphrasing)

    "The couplet will create a raceway like MLK/Grand or Broadway/Weidler."

    A: The Burnside/Couch proposal differs in two important respects. It does not have as many lanes as either of those streets, and it will be signalized at every intersection with marked crosswalks. The comparison would be closer to Washington/Alter, Market/Clay, or Columbia/Jefferson.

    "Burnside is OK as it is but shifting traffic to Couch will be a disaster."

    A: It is true that Couch will see a lot more traffic than it does today, but you cannot simultaneously claim that a properly designed Couch St. carrying about half of Burnside's traffic would be horrible while claiming that Burnside with 2X that amount of traffic is fine.

    • Bob R.
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    The debate comes down to this:

    Supporters: "We had a great process to come to this decsion, and we have thought long and hard about it, and have determined this is the best plan. So support us, damn it!"

    Naysayers: "Well, I wasn't involved in the process (for whatever reason), so I'm not convinced this is the best possible plan. Let's go through another process all over again, this time with me involved, so I will then be able to put my fingerprints on it and tweak it to my liking."

  • (Show?)

    It's a little more nuanced than that :-)

    The only decision made so far is to spend about $3M to put a real price tag on the plan and to develop one of the alternatives a little bit further. Then we get to take another look at all the possibilities.

  • dyspeptic (unverified)
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    If a complete tear-out of Burnside is required, then doing it right enough for the next 100 years makes sense. But the money still gives me a headache.

    Where is the $80 million (which we all know will be more like $800 million) to go to our schools? To drug and alcohol treatment? To job training? It feels like we are running up the credit card to buy fancy clothes when we can't afford toothbrushes and soap.

  • Morgan (unverified)
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    Love that couplet! Suck it, haters!

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    If you love the Sandy Blvd. Project, you'll love the couplet. I've never seen such a F'ed up mess. Businesses are down at least 30% and struggling to stay afloat.

    I think there must be an ORS that requires all traffic engineers/planners to: 1. Never have had a valid drivers license. 2. Never lived in the area they will be engineering or planning.

    Since I never go downtown if I can help it, have fun.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    BOHICA -

    What evidence do you have that A. Businesses are "down" at least 30% along Sandy, B) any PDOT traffic engineers do not have a valid drivers license, or C) never lived in the Portland area?

    A little evidence and a lot less hyperbole would be helpful in this debate.

    • Bob R.

    PS... Yes, I like the Sandy Blvd. project. I like the pedestrian improvements as well as the addition of much-needed protected left turns at several intersections including 47th, and I like the addition of a new light at Glisan which makes Glisan a better alternative commute option. Plus, much of Sandy had to be torn up anyway to upgrade a water main, and Sandy was due for resurfacing. Altering sidewalk profiles and reconfiguring a few intersections doesn't add that much pain to the process.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "spend about $3M to put a real price tag"

    Puh-leeze, it will be like any project since Vera that gets shoved thru you won't know the real cost until its too late like the Tram.

    THe couplet is pretty, but dear god, 1.5M for $80M = $10K/foot. WHen do we fix potholes in the rest of Portland? When do we fix the remaining $100M to put in access and greenway in SoWa? How about fixing the real dangerous intersections along 82nd and 122nd?

    THis is the umpteenth and not last plan to fix downtown. When will you realize it is a smokescreen to distract people from how the infrastructure in the rest of Portland is decaying?

  • lw (unverified)
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    Bob R: it is a fact that one of PDOT's senior planners (interim director at one time) has no drivers license. (I won't name names unless you meet me at an undisclosed location). It would be easy to take PDOT's employee list and research DVM records to find others.

  • Marty (unverified)
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    Is this the same Roland who on Adams' blog claimed (among other wrongies) that the City would NOT be paying any debt service costs for the Tram? It's always a treat to see public money used to pay Roland and other staff to put together these campaigns to sugar coat and justify these boondoggles. And of course the parade of groupies rolls out with pats on the back and the impression illusions of widepsread public support. Same as SoWa. No sense quibbling over the Couplet Streetcar cost. At $80 million, $150 million, $300 million or $1/2 Billion the couplet will still be a good idea, right? Just like SoWa, cost, funding and traffic be damned.

  • ws (unverified)
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    I understand that one of the reasons for the couplet is that in any design configuration it arrives upon, the city of Portland is obliged to maintain a certain volume capacity of cars able to flow through the Burnside corridor.

    If ways of distributing to more appropriate routes, that percentage of the Burnside corridor's volume that represents out of neighborhood commuters were explored and developed, splitting traffic onto Couch would likely not be neccessary. A true reduction in the number of cars passing through the neighborhood would be the healthiest thing that could be done for the neighborhood.

    Many claims have been made extolling the virtues of timed signals to be used in the couplet and how they will help achieve the pedestrian friendly objective sought for the reconfigured Burnside. On the other hand, people have real concerns about the failings of such signal systems in sustaining moderate auto speeds through the couplet.

    For example, when drivers begin moving at the beginning of the cycle and see a string of green lights ahead of them, how many intersections will they be able to clear at legal speed, 10mph above, 15mph above, and so forth. Everybody knows that some drivers will exceed the speed limit if there's the slightest incentive to do so.

    Of the streets in the following named couplets:

    "Washington/Alter, Market/Clay, or Columbia/Jefferson" Bob R

    I will say that only Market, in terms of the traffic volume it bears, will be roughly comparable to that of SW Burnside and Couch in couplet configuration. There was a discussion about this very specific point on portlandarchitecture.com some time back. There are traffic volume numbers to support this point(not precisely to the specific question of Market St's volume, or source identified, but you'll get the general idea):

    http://chatterbox.typepad.com/portlandarchitecture/2007/03/a_streetcar_nam.html#comment-64200378

  • (Show?)

    I'm sorry, but there are areas of town that could use that $80M a lot more. The Commissioners need to wake up and remember there's a lot more of Portland east of about 20th or so. The city Does go out to almost 180th.

    Traffic on 82nd is horrendous, as is 122nd. Any major street near 122nd backs up.

    I drive through eastern Portland almost every day. I see how bad the traffic is. How hard it is for pedestrians to cross. How badly the traffic backs up, and the number of cars parked in the second lane during the hours when it's not allowed.

    I almost think the areas most people think of as NE or SE Portland should be renamed North Central and South Central, or whatever - as long as it isn't NE or SE. To me, North East Portland and South East Portland area the areas east of I-205. There's more land between I-205 and the city limits than there is between the river and the city limits. But a huge chunk of the city is regularly ignored. A large number of people live on streets where there are 2'+ deep potholes covering almost the entire street.

    This couplet is just a waste of money and will make things worse in that area. It could definitely be put to better use in other parts of the city.

  • ws (unverified)
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    Well, trial and error. Looks like all of the URL didn't make it. Here it is in entirety:

    http://chatterbox.typepad.com/portlandarchitecture/2007/03/ a_streetcar_nam.html#comment-64207000

    Lyle is the author whose comments you'll want to check out. There's a couple more, each with some relative stats.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    WS -

    Yes, regarding traffic volume, Couch will carry more than the other couples I offered as examples, however they are still much better examples than Broadway/Weidler or MLK/Grand.

    Regarding signal timing, the signals on Burnside/Couch will be timed similarly as the rest of the downtown grid - we already know how traffic performs with regard to progressive timing on one-way streets where there is a signal nearly every block.

    On streets that aren't signalled every block, you get people who see a long open stretch and accelerate. On streets where signals cannot be timed completely progressively (such as streets where the lights all change at once, or streets like Burnside which are 2-way with peak traffic in both directions and cannot be progressively timed), people will speed up because it is to their advantage to make it through as many lights as possible.

    On progressively-timed streets such as the couplet proposal, drivers can only exceed the signal timing speed by a slight amount before eventually encountering a red light... there is no great advantage to go ahead of the flow. Sure, people try it, but they don't get up to nearly the kind of speeds you see today in the other scenarios. The most common speeding behavior is for someone who keeps catching yellow lights to accelerate to try and prevent that from continuing to happen. But these are people coming through at the end of a cycle, not drivers who are likely to catch a pedestrian by surprise.

    • Bob R.
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    Eventually encountering a red light isn't going to slow them down. Based on my observations, they'll do one of two things:

    • run through the red light
    • punch it as soon as the light turns green, continuing to speed along the way

    I watch people do it all the time. They'll do 45+ in a 30 mph zone and get stopped at every light. I catch up to them each time, only having to stop if there's already a queue at the light. Yet they punch it again, only to get stopped at the next light.

    They've re-timed some of the lights out here in Gresham, and I've noticed more red light running now than we had before. We live not too far from the part that's been re-timed, my husband works along that stretch, and we do much of our shopping along there. As such, I'm through that area daily. And I'm having to sit through more and more lights as people run through the red.

    As I've said over and over, traffic lights and speed limits aren't the solution. People aren't obeying them now, and they're not going to obey them when they're changed.

  • James (unverified)
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    ws wrote, "When drivers begin moving at the beginning of the cycle and see a string of green lights ahead of them, how many intersections will they be able to clear at legal speed, 10mph above, 15mph above, and so forth. Everybody knows that some drivers will exceed the speed limit if there's the slightest incentive to do so."

    But won't there be just the one green light ahead of you, followed by a string of red lights? And with one light at a time turning green? So you could only speed through a one block length, only to get to the next red light faster, unless you're going at the slow and steady rate that continuously brings you to a green light. Right?

  • (Show?)

    you cannot simultaneously claim that a properly designed Couch St. carrying about half of Burnside's traffic would be horrible while claiming that Burnside with 2X that amount of traffic is fine.

    Sure you can. Burnside is a major thoroughfare. Couch is a little neighborhood street.

    I don't yet know how I stand on the Burnside couplet, and I know that there's a lot that can be done to improve things on Burnside -- but I drove up Couch on Friday, and I'm not sure I'm interested in wrecking Couch. It's a human-scale street that works.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    Bob R asks What evidence do you have that A. Businesses are "down" at least 30% along Sandy, B) any PDOT traffic engineers do not have a valid drivers license, or C) never lived in the Portland area?

    I hang out at a small lunch counter place on Sandy where "Everyone knows your name." You want the poop on what's happening in the 'hood thats the place. That is where I get my info. The overall plan is not a bad one, the execution has been horrible.

    Should I have put in snark tags for the valid drivers license remark?

    I'll give one prime example. When I am driving towards an intersection, I am looking for clues on what is ahead of me. If I see the walk/wait signal green I know I can proceed at the speed limit. If its flashing red, I know the light will be changing and adjust my actions accordingly. However, I never know how many seconds the red will flash before my light turns yellow and then red. Some are one second, some are three to four seconds. WTF over? I want consistency. Depending on my distance from the intersection, this is important information I need. These intervals between flashing wait and the yellow/red light change are not consistent even at the same intersections depending on the time of day.

    There are so many screwed up traffic patterns in this town you never know what to expect from one day to the next. I'm sure everyone on this board can come up with their pet peeve, the one I mentioned is mine.

    PS Screw the left turn first signals too. Must be a California import.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Roland, When you guys come up with that price tag be sure to triple it. Seriously.

  • Ted Hinds (unverified)
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    Maybe this happened, but I never did see it in any of the local press or reports on Portland Online, and that is some kind of interaction report. So the city didn't just provide for the structural upgrades of Burnside, it chose to expand traffic capacity through a couplet including Couch St. However, the city is also spending huge sums on the downtown transit mall and increased mass transit. There seems to be a silo mentality to these projects.

    The mass transit mall project is meant to get people out of their cars and make it easier to get downtown with public transportation. However, the Burnside-Couch project is going to facilitate a greater flood of cars into the central city. Hmmm? Maybe Chlapowski or Adams could comment on the efforts to harmonize the two projects and public works objectives.

    Second, you have two major transportation projects going on in the same area (Transit Mall and B-C Couplet) which is likely to exacerbate the impact on traffic, area businesses, residents, etc. That seems like poor resource planning and project management at a level above the individual project management, and it will ultimately hurt the taxpayer more.

  • Isaac Laquedem (unverified)
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    There's nevertheless something wrong about taking eight lanes of traffic (six through lanes on Burnside and two local-service lanes on Couch), reducing them to four lanes (two eastbound on Burnside and two westbound on Couch) and believing that traffic capacity won't be reduced. Since the couplet idea was first proposed and rejected in the 1960s (I think as part of the warmup to the Downtown Plan) development has progressed on the assumption that Burnside would be busy and Couch would be quiet.

    The way to reduce traffic on Burnside is to improve other routes through the downtown core that connect to bridges: Alder and Washington Streets (still mostly untouched), Lovejoy Street (oops, it's got tracks now), Madison and Main Streets (oops, Main's gated off at Broadway), or to improve the streets that lead from the main entrances from the west, such as Cornell to Lovejoy (oops, tracks and speed bumps), Barnes to Burnside, US 26 to Market Street (tracks again), and so on.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Mr. Hinds -

    On what basis do you claim that the couplet project is designed to expand capacity and "flood" downtown with cars?

    There are no more through lanes in the Couplet proposal in either direction than there are today. There are, in fact, a couple of places where turn lanes would be removed so the net result is slightly less capacity, but with the opportunity for vehicles to make left turns which they cannot do today.

    I can understand those who worry about the nature of Couch street, but I see no evidence whatsoever that this project is designed to significantly boost auto traffic.

    • Bob R.
  • Marty (unverified)
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    I just want to know what price is too high?

    Roland?

  • Wells (unverified)
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    The other day I was nearly run over by a bimbo in a full-size, raised and overpowered SUV - I had to jump out of its way as it made a snappy left turn into the unmarked crosswalk at the intersection of Lovejoy and 13th. I think she made the quick left trying to beat the oncoming eastbound traffic as she turned from westbound Lovejoy onto 13th. It was one of those moments you know how close we all are to death. I'm still a little freaked out.

    My point is: had she been turning from a 1-way street, she would have been less distracted by the oncoming traffic and more attentive to the pedestrian she may kill next time. The bimbos all around us probably oppose 1-way streets as inconvenient and confusing, and fail to acknowledge that they reduce the number of such reckless manuevers.

  • lw (unverified)
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    Bob R: I notice that you keep asking for "evidence". When it is provided (like your request for "evidence" of what PDOT engineers don't have driver licenses) you simply ignore it and go on asking someone else for "evidence".

    In your own posts I mostly find your "opinions". For example, your comment that signal timing on Burnside/Couch will be similar to all of the other downtown streets-other posts have tried to convey to you that there is no coordinate signal timing throughout the downtown area. Having light signal times (60 secs for green, 5 sec for yellow, etc) at one intersection similar to another somewhere else in downtown based on traffic engineering manuals does not make the whole or even part of downtown signaling "coordinated". "Coordinated" means that these signal times are also sequenced so that traffic moves from one light to the next. Oh my God, moving traffic-we don't want that! Sure it helps air pollution but we wouldn't want to make driving in downtown convenient.

    Where's your "evidence"?

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    LW -

    Nobody has provided "evidence" of traffic engineers working at PDOT who are not licensed drivers. BOHICA has qualified his statement indicating his original claim was a snark, and you yourself did claim that one person does not have a license but you would not name names unless I met you at an "undisclosed location." That's not evidence.

    You ask for evidence that downtown signal timing is coordinated? I didn't have to dig very hard... this article in the Portland Business Journal from earlier this month mentions how downtown signals along Market had be re-timed to improve traffic flows due to construction. Or how about these notes (pdf format) from a 2005 Burnside Bridgehead CAC meeting which indicate the existing downtown signals are time for traffic to move at 12MPH?

    • Bob R.
  • Huffman (unverified)
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    Wells writes that she was almost run down by some bimbo in an SUV.

    I think she made the quick left trying to beat the oncoming eastbound traffic as she turned from westbound Lovejoy onto 13th . . . Had she been turning from a 1-way street, she would have been less distracted by the oncoming traffic and more attentive to the pedestrian she may kill next time.
    Don't bet on it. Last year my wife was HIT by a nut making a left turn from westbound NE Broadway onto 13th. He was making a left turn from a one way street and not distracted by oncoming traffic. No, he was just it too much of a damn hurry. (And I might add the cops were in too much of a damn hurry to do anything about it: I later learned they didn't even file a report.)

    My point is this: drivers don't give a damn about pedestrians, and unless you're killed when the car hits you, apparently the powers that be don't give a damn either. I'm not convinced the configuration of Burnside and Couch will make any difference.

  • Marty (unverified)
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    Correction Existing downtown signals are timed for traffic to slow to 12MPH. It's not about moving traffic and neither is the couplet. It's about calming, slowing traffic, adding streetcar, adding ped/bike facilities and streetscaping. As far as traffic goes this is another deliberate choking of traffic, by the same people, under false pretenses of helping it. It will be congestion increasing, emissions increasing and perpetrated with lie increasing.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Marty -

    Which "false pretenses" are you referring to? Which false public statement as a PDOT official or prominent couplet supporter made regarding automobile traffic are you referring to and why is the statement false?

    • Bob R.
  • UrbanDweller (unverified)
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    Roland,

    I was at the City Council hearing last week and I would like you to address this concern of mine: Both the City Planning Bureau and City Planning Commission have come out strongly against the couplet, and for the enhanced Burnside option. Both groups were noticibly absent from the hearing last week, where the Council approved the couplet proposal. Why hasn't your office addressed the serious concerns about the couplet proposal raised by the City's certified planning experts?

    I find this to be a noticable and extreme absence of due diligence on your part.

  • Wells (unverified)
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    Huffman is right about traffic on 1-way NE Broadway being dangerous. Still, the motorist who nearly ran me down making a left from westbound Lovejoy may have been too distracted by oncoming traffic to see me as I was crossing NW 13th. There's also a big difference between 2-lane and 3-lane streets. NE Broadway being 3-lane probably has higher average traffic speeds than say a 2-lane Everett or Glisan, etc. There's little doubt about curb extensions making it for safer pedestrians.

    Since a streetcar is planned to cross the Broadway Bridge, I'm thinking it will have a traffic calming affect on NE Broadway and Weidler, another reason why I support the line going further east to 15th, turning south there and then west on Multnomah, rather than turning south on 7th, but who in planning takes as serious my suggestions. I need to start forking over some campaign "donations".

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    I wrote: you cannot simultaneously claim that a properly designed Couch St. carrying about half of Burnside's traffic would be horrible while claiming that Burnside with 2X that amount of traffic is fine.

    Kari replied: Sure you can. Burnside is a major thoroughfare. Couch is a little neighborhood street.

    Kari -

    In the section of Couch which has received the most vocal concern (from 8th to 14th), the right-of-way is precisely 60' between the buildings. On Burnside in the same stretch, the right-of-way is identical: 60 feet.

    The Couplet proposal for Couch calls for 12' sidewalks with street trees, 7' parking strips, and two 11' travel lanes.

    On Burnside today in the same limited space there are FOUR travel lanes, no parking strips to isolate pedestrians from traffic, very few street trees, and only 8' sidewalks, including at transit stops.

    Put another way, if the Couplet project happens, the modified Couch will still have:

    A. 50% wider sidewalks than Burnside has today (plus extensions at intersections and transit stops). B. One-half of the number of through lanes for pedestrians to cross compared to Burnside today. C. Way more street trees than Burnside has today. D. Protection from moving traffic in the form of parking strips which Burnside does not (and cannot) have today.

    If that's the definition of destroying a "little neighborhood street", then Burnside is more than doubly-destroyed today.

    And in that limited 60' right-of-way, there's no amount of "Enhanced Burnside" that is going to improve things for significantly pedestrians. You can't widen the sidewalks without narrowing or removing auto lanes, nor can you bulb out the curbs or enlarge the transit stops, without removing auto lanes or narrowing lanes to the point where trucks and buses cannot proceed without crossing lines.

    Incidentally, 8' sidewalks such as exist today on Burnside, when combined with street signs, telephone poles, lamp posts, building doorway activity, etc., are fraught with problems for those using mobility devices -- there often isn't room to safely pass or interact with people. 12' sidewalks allow room for chairs and parcels in front of buildings, generous street furnishings, lamps, trees, etc., and bidirectional pedestrian traffic.

    See this document (pdf) at PDOT for more details on that stretch of the couplet proposal.

    • Bob R.
  • UrbanDweller (unverified)
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    Bob stated: "If that's the definition of destroying a "little neighborhood street", then Burnside is more than doubly-destroyed today."

    Burnside is not a little neighborhood street. The central city plan designates Burnside as a "major arterial". In comparison, Couch is designated as a local access road. Here's the definition of an arterial road:

    "An arterial road is a moderate or high-capacity road which is just below a highway level of service. Much like a biological artery, an arterial road carries large volumes of traffic between areas in urban centres. They are noted for their lack of residential entrances directly onto the road (except in older or more dense communities); they are designed to carry traffic between neighborhoods, and have intersections with collector and local streets. Often, commercial areas such as shopping centers, gas stations and other businesses are located on them. Arterial roads also link up to expressways and freeways with interchanges."

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    UrbanDweller -

    I'm fully aware of the definition of an arterial road.

    What you appear to miss is that the couplet proposal does not turn Couch into Burnside - only half the traffic will be diverted and as I mentioned above the quality of both streets will be far superior to what Burnside is today.

    In the controversial stretch between 8th and 14th, Couch is no more "little" than Burnside.

    • Bob R.
  • Roland Chlapowski (unverified)
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    Urban Dweller-

    I will tell you that is frustrating to hear people say that there has not been enough due diligence on our end. The reason why is that it's clear to me at this point that no matter what information, study, or analysis we do, those opposed - even those working for the City- are going to stay opposed.

    First off, our office stopped the couplet from moving forward to give it 15 more months of multifaceted scrutiny and analysis by independent consultants. We went out of our way to look at the issues raised by the Bureau of Planning, who, by the way, staff, appoint, and administer the Planning Commission, a volunteer body.

    Those opposed have ignored huge amounts of work already done to date. For instance, Planning documents have asked if the Burnside-Couch streetcar alignment is the best one and suggested that PDOT should look at putting it on Everett and Glisan. Well, we already looked at that alignment and decided it didn't cut it for a host of reasons ...in the original alternatives analysis! And it it's not that they didn't know that we had done the analysis... the materials had already been given to Planning.

    It is legitimate to question particular assumptions or outcomes of our studies, but that's not what seems to be happening in this case... the question was simply put out there - "is this the best alignment? perhaps everett-glisan is better" - inferring that we didn't do our homework.

    Or, take the claim that the same amount of redevelopment can be sparked by minor improvements on Burnside as the couplet. There is not one study that indicates this, and in fact, every study to date (and there are multiple ones, usually by the Portland Development Commission)has said just the opposite. But, the unsupported claim still gets put out there in the public.

    If you read Planning Commission's recommendation to council, they included a memo from me that tried to point out that the materials they had been given by city staff had a whole host of inaccuracies. One inaccuracy, for instance, was repeated on BlueOregon in Tres' post - that the streetcar will take 8-10 years to build. Not only is that untrue, Planning seemingly came up with that number without talking with Portland Streetcar, TriMet, the Office of Transportation, or our office!

    My point is that it's easy to raise questions -and in doing so, concerns and doubts- about something, and if you do it enough times (even if that means not acknowledging or listening to studies that address your concerns) people will start to think something's wrong, whether or not that's the case.

    Our office went out of our way to investigate the concerns raised by Planning Bureau, and the Planning Commission whom they appoint and administrate.

    We did our due diligence, and then some.

  • UrbanDweller (unverified)
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    Roland,

    When the Planning Commission strongly recommended AGAINST the couplet, they clearly stated that their decision was based on each member PERSONALLY walking up and down and studying Burnside and Couch, and not on any information or misinformation given to them by the Planning Bureau.

  • (Show?)

    What you appear to miss is that the couplet proposal does not turn Couch into Burnside - only half the traffic will be diverted

    Again, I'm not fully studied up on the couplet proposal, but this doesn't make sense.

    If Burnside currently get "x" traffic going one way, and "y" traffic going the other way... and we shut down the lane that goes in X direction, diverting it over to Couch... how exactly does Couch get 0.5x traffic? Where does the other half of the traffic go?

  • zilfondel (unverified)
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    Jenni Simonis wrote: I watch people do it all the time. They'll do 45+ in a 30 mph zone and get stopped at every light. I catch up to them each time, only having to stop if there's already a queue at the light. Yet they punch it again, only to get stopped at the next light.

    They've re-timed some of the lights out here in Gresham...

    And downtown isn't Gresham - we have a 20 mph limit, and with the amount of traffic, it would simply be impossible to go 45 mph on a one-way progressively timed street (with signals every block). As for running red lights... do you know how many cops there are downtown? I wouldn't want to try it!

    In addition, with parked cars lining both sides of the street, at 45 mph you would be likely to hit a car or a door opening, teaching an important lesson to any drivers speeding downtown: it doesn't work.

  • Lee (unverified)
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    I attended the couplet hearing and have the same comment as UrbanDweller in regards to the Planning Bureau and Planning Commission. Both are astute agencies that many times your Commissioner Adams and other Council members use to further their agenda. There was hardly anytime afforded by Council for their imput. But being a done deal, who cares?

    Disregarding the Planning Bureau and their responsibility of planning for the whole city, to consider all aspects of planning in regards to all the various plan zones, overlay zones, design zones is a true "put-down" of the bureau-the primary bureau technically responsible for something like the couplet proposal.

    Twice recently the Council has disregarded the Planning Commission-on the tram and now the Couplet. Another total disregard.

    It is amazing how Adams and other council members can pick and choose which bureau/commission/board to advocate for their own positions on issues. Disfunctional and not diligent.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    If Burnside currently get "x" traffic going one way, and "y" traffic going the other way... and we shut down the lane that goes in X direction, diverting it over to Couch... how exactly does Couch get 0.5x traffic? Where does the other half of the traffic go?

    That other half of the traffic will magically no longer exist because all those folks will either hop on their fat-tire bikes (especially in the rain) or on the extension to Charlie Hales' toy train. Sorry, I mean the streetcar, which will run along Sandy Blvd. nearly as far as the Salvation Army, which will become a new destination resort.

  • zilfondel (unverified)
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    Bureaucracy vs leadership?

    I'm glad we have some leaders with balls. It's about time.

  • ws (unverified)
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    I am inclined to find that accurately anticipating actual operational characteristic of the Burnside corridor as redesigned by the couplet proposal may be far more complicated than some people would seem to believe. I've briefly looked at studies provided over at Portlandonline.com:

    http://www.portlandonline.com/ transportation/index.cfm?c=43776

    I don't find that information particularly helpful in helping to establish what traffic volume on Burnside constitutes in terms of specific usage. Knowing how much of Burnsides traffic volume represents purely commuters could help to make a better decision for the future of Burnside.

    Moving on a bit, over on portlandarchitecture.com, I posted the following comment:

    'If this couplet is really such a great idea, before committing to the major overhaul that the couplet plan involves, perhaps it's effectiveness might be meausured by trying it out in real life on a temporary basis.

    Burnside and Couch can be turned into one-way steets with paint, cones, and other directional tools, eliminating lanes on B to replicate the effect of the couplet. Wire up some temporary signals and plug them into the system to allow a sense of how they would affect the couplet operation. Paint up some busses to serve as the street car and put them into the mix.

    This temporary setup wouldn't have the pedestrian amenities that the fully realized couplet would, but it might help to give a sense of how the couplet will actually work.'

    Is this idea realistic, and is there any major reason such an idea wouldn't help towards determining effeciveness of the couplet proposal?

  • (Show?)

    </cite><cite>italics off?</cite>

    Gresham may not be Portland, but it's still Burnside. And the speed is only 30 mph along a chunk of this road, and people are still going much, much faster than that even though traffic is heavy. They whip in and out of lanes, run through red lights, etc.

    And I see the same type of speeding all over Portland on roads with speeds between 20 to 40. I've seen the same thing on "timed" roads in Texas, even those with speeds between 15 and 25 mph.

    And people already speed through downtown Portland. I hate driving in downtown (and I mean being in downtown, not Burnside) because I'm doing between 5 miles under and the speed limit because I'm looking for a certain address or a parking space. I have people flying up my rear, pulling around me at the last second, almost hitting people getting out of cars, etc.

    I'm telling you, changing a speed limit or lights isn't going to change people's behaviors. They're behaviors that have gotten worse and worse and are only going to continue to do so because we haven't done anything to punish their behavior.

  • Morgan (unverified)
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    Jenni's argument in a nutshell: "I have had some bad experiences driving, which therefore supersedes every single traffic study out there. Please make policy based on my anecdotal evidence and NOT official studies. Anecdotal evidence shall remain more valid to me than any other evidence you cite. In fact, the citing of more study-based evidence will only cause me to further promote my own anecdotal data over all else. I'm not sure why you keep responding to me since it will only cause me to repeat my anecdotes about driving in Texas."

  • (Show?)

    Morgan:

    I've responded about more than Texas. But I've seen these types of changes with traffic lights and speed limits in Texas, where I lived for 22 years since apparently 7 years in Oregon means I 'just' moved here and can't possibly know about Oregon. It doesn't matter that traffic infractions are one of my biggest pet peeves in life, and that I pay more attention to this area than the average person.

    My experiences in Texas are more than anecdotal. As a reporter, I sat through many meetings and received copies of reports/studies blaming the speed and red light running increases on the changes to the road. Since I was a reporter, I received a copy of the packet given to council members each week (minus any executive session materials). So I saw the reports. I read them. And I saw the outcome.

    It's not as if Texas is in a completely different country (no matter how much people may joke they are). The drivers there aren't much different. The counties I lived and worked in aren't that different than the Portland metro area.

    I've watched the outcome here over the past few weeks since the lights were changed along Burnside in Gresham. I've counted more vehicles running red lights. I've seen the vehicles fly by at a higher rate of speed than they did before the changes. But since no one's come out here and studied how many people broke the law before the changes (and their speeds), it would be impossible to compare to now. But the city will say it's a success because cars are moving through better and there are less queues.

    Having sat through meetings with TXDOT, city and county officials, and others as both a reporter and as a congressional staff member, I can assure you there are indeed studies out there that show exactly what I'm saying. But it's not as if I can just go find them for you -- they're not available on the internet where I can just search and find them. The cities and counties I dealt with found them by going through traffic companies who had done the studies themselves or had access to them. And they paid for a copy. I'm not going to hire a company just to get a copy.

    The city council brings forth studies that go along with what they're saying, because they want the couplet to go through. They had no incentive to look for, or bring forth, studies showing the opposite.

    But the changing of the lights and speed limits have little to do with my opposition to the couplet. It's just that those changes are what is brought up over and over again in support of the couplet.

    I'm against it because of what would happen to Couch all all those side streets between Couch and Burnside. I'm against it because other such couplets (MLK-Grand and Stark-Washington which are the ones I travel on the most) is a complete mess and a headache to deal with. Nothing like all those vehicles tearing through neighborhoods on Washington just west of 205.

  • (Show?)

    I should note that a study in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration showed that lowering speed limits did not decrease the rate at which drivers were going.

    They collected data from 22 states at 100 sites (speed, accident, traffic tickets, etc.) before speeds were changed. Sometimes the limit was decreased. Sometimes it was increased.

    When it was decreased, the rate of speed the drivers were doing did not change.

    What did increase was the number of traffic tickets written.

    When the speed was increased, on average they did not see an increase in the speed people were going, nor were there more accidents.

    It was concluded this was because drivers decide for themselves what the safe speed for a road is, and they do that speed. Changing the limits did not change their perception.

    An article by the Cato Institute reviewed studies, which showed synchronizing the lights only worked with moderate traffic, led to more rear-end type accidents, and those on the side streets pay for it. It also leads to more gridlock when large amounts of traffic are on the road.

    Reports from cities around the U.S. show an increase in traffic speeds up to 35% on roads where these types of synchronizing is done. That's hardly the decrease in speeds that is supposed to happen.

    A study published in 2004 shows that with the synchronized lights, you're seven times less likely to hit a red light. However, red light running only decreased by 40% after the synchronizing was done.

    When there was less traffic (non rush hours and weekends), more red light running occurred at these synchronized intersections. When traffic levels were moderate, there was a large decrease in red light running. When traffic was heavy, the results were the same, as the synchronized signals became meaningless.

    Local pedestrian traffic (the elementary school and residents) are often times high in these areas during the non rush hour and on weekends. It's also when red light running increases. Not too safe if you're a pedestrian.

    Like I said, there are studies both ways. It's just that the studies I mention do something different : they're actually looking for and accounting for red light running and speeding.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jenni -

    You are correct that studies have shown that drivers pick a speed based on the engineering of the road, traffic conditions, and other cues.

    It is important to distinguish, however, that the couplet proposal doesn't just swap out speed limit signs - the road and streetscape are re-engineered. People do drive slower on streets with closely-spaced progressive signals (every block) than they do on longer stretches of unsignalized road. People drive slower on streets with street parking as opposed to no parking. A study here in Oregon (Albany) showed that cars are a bit more likely to stop for pedestrians at intersections with curb extensions. All of these elements are part of the couplet proposal. I would not be a couplet supporter if these elements were not included - they are integral to the concept.

    • Bob R.
  • Hawthorne (unverified)
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    "They're behaviors that have gotten worse and worse and are only going to continue to do so because we haven't done anything to punish their behavior."

    I'm not sure that there is very good long term (emphasis on long term) evidence to suggest that punishment is a very good approach to solving many problems. Could the issue be that your assumption about both the nature of the problem and the solution is misguided?

    I'm not sure whether I like the couplet or not, but I would contend that we are dealing with a design problem not a punishment problem.

  • (Show?)

    Like I said above, the signals and speed limits aren't my reasons for opposing the couplet. I was just responding to the idea that those would mean slower speeds that keeps being used over and over for approving of the couplet.

    It's a problem everywhere, not just on Burnside. It's a problem that needs to be looked at on a bigger scale and something done about it (which could include higher fines, more officers assigned to dealing with traffic infractions, a system for keeping track of warnings for a specific period of time, increases in your car insurance, etc.).

    Burnside is very likely a design problem. But there are those all over the city, many of which need more help than Burnside. But then they're east of 205, which Portland likes to get tax dollars from, but seems to forget about after that.

    Moving a large portion of Burnside's traffic onto Couch, as well as the side streets between them, is not the appropriate solution.

  • Roland (unverified)
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    Jenni,

    The speed limit study you are talking about is only about speeds on highways (both rural and urban), and highways are a totally different creature than an urban downtown street system.

    With one-way signal progression, the only way people can speed is if they run red lights over and over again - which usually will be impossible anyways because there will be traffic on the perpendicular streets crossing the street while the would-be-speeder has the the red light.

    Traffic engineers feel pretty confident on this one.

    http://www.ibiblio.org/rdu/sl-irrel.html

  • (Show?)

    That study might have been on highways, but it was referenced multiple times when I was sitting in discussions about local streets, and we were shown studies done on local streets that came to the same conclusions.

    Those studies I couldn't locate online -- I'd have to track down the company that did them and pay for them. Or pay for the cities/counties to locate them in their files, pay for them to be copied, and pay for them to be shipped to me.

    But I could locate the one that was referenced multiple times.

    There's also the study specifically on local streets where this kind of signaling is in place. They found when traffic is light, the amount of red light running increases. That would likely mean the amount of speeding increases as well.

    In moderate traffic (which this road will not have during the busy times), the lights seem to deter red light running. It is believed that works because people don't hit a queue of vehicles, therefore they're hitting the green lights instead.

    In heavy traffic, which these roads would indeed have, the signaling is worthless. It actually creates more congestion that there would have been previously.

    But like I said, this isn't my problem with the couplet. It's my problem with people claiming changing lights and speed limits is an answer.

  • Morgan (unverified)
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    Jenni,

    I like how, now that you've had your arguments about speed limits destroyed, you move away from opposing it on those grounds and move onto opposing it seemingly because you live in East Portland and don't feel you're getting your fair share of transportation dollars.

    Fair enough. You're just trying to bring the money back to your part of the city. But W. Burnside has four of the most dangerous pedestrian intersections in the city - if the couplet fixes them, isn't it worth the investment - over and above whatever nameless transportation investment ideas you have?

    Give us specifics for how to address transportation problems in other parts of the city, not just "those problems are all over the city" - that's not a solution, that's whining.

  • (Show?)

    Sorry to blow your theory out of the water, but I don't live in Portland at all. So bringing the money to my part of town has nothing to do with it.

    I'm not moving away from that argument. It still stands. As I've already said, a study was done on these kinds of synchronization, and it showed that red light running increased when traffic was lower -- which is exactly the times when pedestrians are more likely to be out. And when traffic was heavy, it made things worse.

    But that's not my reason for being against the couplet. And I've expressed it already before now on earlier posts here on Blue Oregon. I talked about how the side streets between Burnside and Couch would be hurt. It will also hurt Couch, as has been pointed out by others. There are a myriad of reasons to be against the couplet. But as long as people keep saying that speeds will be lower because of the signals and the lower speeds, I'm going to disagree.

  • (Show?)

    Saying those problems are all over the city isn't "whining." It is pointing out that it is a much larger problem than Burnside and that maybe for once the city council should step back and look at the bigger picture. A picture that is bigger than their pet projects.

    I don't have the solution for the other streets in the city. I think a thorough look at them, what is causing the problems, etc. needs to be done, though. 122nd, 82nd, Division, Powell, and Glisan are all nightmares, both as a pedestrian and a driver. I can only imagine they aren't that great for bicyclists either.

    Not looking at the big picture seems to be a major problem in the area, as the county commission often does the same.

    They see one area that they think needs to be fixed, and they jump on it. But they don't think to look at the bigger picture (the city, the county, etc.) and see if it's an isolated problem or a wide-spread problem. They don't look to see if there are projects that need to be taken care of first. They don't make a priority list and compare that to funds available.

    They just jump on a project and that's it. And those projects tend to be western third of the city.

    How many hundreds of millions have been poured into projects on the west side of the river in the past 5 years? Compare that to what is spent by the city in the eastern half of the city and there will be no comparison.

    I just don't feel the council is doing its job in making sure its entire city gets the resources it needs. And instead it spends its time on projects like the couplet, which are a waste of time and money.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)
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    Burnside between the bridge and the Park Blocks has 100 feet of right of way. This means there is enough room for:

    4 travel lanes at 12' each = 48 feet 2 on-street parking lanes at 8' each = 16 feet. A left-turn lane/center lane pedestrian refuge = 12 feet 2 wide sidewalks at 12' each = 24 feet. TOTAL = 100 feet.

    If you don't want the on-street parking, then put in two 8-foot wide landscape strips. Or alternate between the two so as to provide some on-street parking and some landscaping. Landscaping can also be placed in the center where it is not being used as a left turn lane.

    Where Burnside is 60 feet wide, from the Park Blocks west, is the real problem. Has anyone figured out how much it would cost to buy and alter/reduce a 10-foot swath of building on one side of the street? With 70 feet of right of way, the street could have 4 11' wide travel lanes and 13' on each side for a wide sidewalk with tree planter insets. If the overall cost is less than $80 million, then it's a better deal.

    Finally, the stupidest justification for this project is the streetcar. There is no room for a separated streetcar right of way, which is the only way the streetcar doesn't become the equivalent of a glamorous (for now) but immobile bus. Even if the couplet goes forward, ditch the streetcar and provide more frequent bus service instead.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jenni -

    I do not agree with your assertion that side street traffic would be negatively impacted.

    Today, North-South traffic must wait an extra long time to cross Burnside due to the lengthy green times required for bi-directional traffic on Burnside, and the fact that Burnside is not timed into the rest of the downtown grid. (Pedestrians must also wait an extra-long time to cross.)

    A couplet with progressively timed signals will improve North-South traffic timings, reduce wait times for North-South pedestrians, and remove the need for "jug handle" turn movements where a car must make three right turns on side streets when a simple left turn would suffice.

    • Bob R.
  • Morgan (unverified)
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    Sorry, I don't consider solving 4 of 10 of the most dangerous intersections in the heart of the central city a "pet project."

    "I don't have the solution for the other streets in the city."

    That much is obvious.

  • (Show?)

    The side streets would be impacted. Meaning those streets will now receive a lot more traffic than they currently do. This causes all sorts of problems when you have streets that are meant for much less traffic.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Urban Planning Overlord -

    I suspect it would cost a great deal to rip open the facades and support structures of 6 blocks of buildings as you suggest between 8th and 4th. I suspect this would be on the south side of the block because there are already new or remodeled buildings on the north side.

    To suggest that if it cost less than $80 million it would be "worth it" is a stretch - some historic and revered buildings such as McMenamin's triangular Ringler's Annex would be completely demolished... besides, the price tag for the couplet street improvements is $40 million. If you wish to oppose the streetcar, that's fine, but there's no reason to believe that property owners and developers when presented with a plan to rip open and demolish 10' of their buildings wouldn't demand a streetcar as a concession.

    I normally agree with a lot of what you have to say over at your blog, but to suggest such an invasive and property-taking means to "solve" the couplet seems quite extreme to me - is the cure worse than the disease?

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jenni -

    What evidence do you have that the side streets would receive a "lot" more traffic?

    Anyone headed Westbound seeking to go South on 3rd, 5th, Broadway, 9th or 11th would make a simple left turn from Couch. Today, they must make a right turn from Burnside to an even-numbered street, travel a block on Couch, and then head south on the odd-numbered street. The couplet reduces the use of 3 blocks of side street to 1 block for the exact same desired destination.

    Westbound traffic seeking to turn North simply needs to make a right turn, just like today, adding no additional burden.

    Eastbound Burnside traffic seeking to head North on 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, or 12th will no longer need to make three right turns either... a simple left turn movement also replaces 3 blocks of side-street activity. Eastbound Burnside traffic seeking to head South will behave exactly the same as it does today.

    So, I ask again - why will the side streets receive "a lot" more traffic?

    • Bob R.
  • Morgan (unverified)
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    Look, Bob R., she just knows, OK? She knows that the couplet will result in more red light running and higher speeds. She knows that there are other places in the city that need the $80 million more than fixing 4 of the most dangerous intersections in the city. She KNOWS these things.

  • (Show?)

    Morgan:

    Just because your idea that my purpose was getting money for my part of town was wrong is no reason to get rude.

    RE: side streets

    It's not hard to figure out.

    Right now, I can drive down Couch or Burnside to get to a business or other address on Burnside or Couch. If they go one way, and I need to get to a place on the east-only street, I'll have to go down the west-only street, then cut across on a street to the west of where I want to go, and then go down the east-only street to where I'm going.

    The side streets will see more traffic because people will need to cut through between Couch and Burnside. Not everyone going down the two streets are using it as a through street. Many are trying to get to a location along Burnside or Couch.

    Just look at MLK and Grand. People cut through between the two streets all the time. Many of the streets, including Stark and Couch, regularly have backups of cars waiting to turn.

  • Isaac Laquedem (unverified)
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    Jenni Simonis's point about investment favoring the west side is a good one. A lot of the sales pitch for revamping Burnside is the argument that it includes four of the 10 most dangerous Portland intersections for pedestrians. However, seven of the 10 Portland intersections with the most crashes are on NE/SE 82nd and 122nd Avenues. The worst is 82nd and Powell.

    http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=117555350164486100

    The story doesn't say whether "dangerous" is adjusted for the number of pedestrians; one thing that no doubt contributes to the number of pedestrian accidents on Burnside is that the downtown core has more pedestrians than most other areas of the city. Curiously, 46th and SE Woodstock is more dangerous to pedestrians than any of the West Burnside intersections.

    http://www.wpcwalks.org/wpc_web_resources/footnotes/footnote_2006/Footnote-2006-03.pdf

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jenni -

    I understand the basis for your argument, but in the most contentious section of the couplet proposal it would not make a significant difference.

    Today, in that stretch, there is no parking on Burnside. If, as you say, someone is trying to "reach" a business on Burnside, they must already employ a side street to find parking.

    The only possible net difference in your scenario is the person who now heads eastbound on Couch (who would no longer be able to travel in that direction) and finds street parking on Couch. As street parking is very limited on Couch in that direction (we're talking fewer than 30 parking spaces between 8th and 14th on the south side of Couch), I don't see how the number of cars being forced to seek side-street parking due to a one-way couch would be "a lot" higher than today, and coupled with the drastic reduction in jug-handle turn behavior from today's situation, the net difference may be nil.

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Isaac -

    I agree that the high number of pedestrian injuries and collisions along Burnside has something to do with the fact that there are so many pedestrians downtown and not just the overall rate of incidents per pedestrian.

    That is just one more reason to favor the couplet - the money will be spent where the concentrated activities of many people occur.

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Jenni -

    As a follow-up to the discussion about side street traffic impacts, the traffic alternatives analysis looked at circulation impacts for multiple proposals including No-Build and Enhanced Burnside. Here's what the summary (PDF format) has to say about the Couplet circulation impacts (emphasis mine):

    The couplet area has additional opportunities to turn left, however with a couplet there is a system of one-way streets in place which can create some additional out of direction travel in comparison to some other alternatives that have two-way circulation on W Burnside with left turns. For this reason the couplet area has been rated slightly lower than the 5-4-3 Alternative, Two-lane (1/1/1) and Two-lane (2/1) Alternatives, but similar to Enhanced Existing and better than the No-build Alternative. West of the couplet area the same no-build access and circulation would exist.
    • Bob R.
  • zilfondel (unverified)
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    Jenni:

    <h1>yes, Texas is in a different country. So is Oregon.</h1>

    joking aside, anyone who doubts whether you can time a street to 12 mph should try this:

    Drive down 10th and 11th (current Streetcar couplet streets in downtown Portland) from Market to Burnside. You will not be able to exceed 15 mph average speed for the route, unless you run red lights. And if you do run red lights, we'll probably be reading about how you ended up in the hospital (or morgue) from being T-boned by the MAX.

    10th is currently 3 lanes, has a pretty high volume of traffic, particularly during peak-hour, and is one of the most pedestrian-friendly streets in Portland. Which might make it the best comparison for the Burnside couplet.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    If pedestrian safety is a concern on Burnside, let's think outside the box. Pedestrian bridges ala the MAX station at 43rd, 60th and 82nd. Elevators to comply with the ADA, high enough for trucks to pass under, maybe covered and screened, or even escalators and slide walks similar to those at the mega casinos in Vagas. Could cost anymore than the tram!

    Just a thought.

  • Roland (unverified)
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    Pedestrian bridges cost millions of dollars, and experience shows that they are rarely used if it is even somewhat realistic for people to cross the street at ground level.

    Pedestrians do not like having to hike up a flight or two of stairs in order to cross a road that they were just walking on at ground level.

    Pedestrian bridges work best when they span things like highways, gorges, and rivers - which are not traversable without them.

    Bridges are not a great solution to the problem.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    BOHICA -

    I don't have the sources immediately handy, but I do recall reading that when they were constructed, the Las Vegas pedestrian overpasses (including elevators) cost over $1 million per span.

    Setting aside for a moment that there isn't actually room on Burnside (because of the already very narrow 8ft sidewalks) to add stairs and elevators, even to build spans across the 4 most dangerous intersections and just in the N-S direction (2 spans per intersection) would require $8 million, and you'd still need $20 million for the needed roadway reconstruction of Burnside. You're now at $28 million, just $12 million shy of the Couplet proposal, and you've only upgraded 4 intersections.

    Not to mention that the 8 bridges would block the nice views you get of Mt. Hood and the bridge when traveling eastbound down Burnside.

    • Bob R.
  • ws (unverified)
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    Jenni's comments on driver's behavior in relation to progressive traffic signals mirrors what I see out here in Beaverton on Canyon Rd and Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy (side note: they're both 6 lane two-way roads).

    Distance between signals is different, since Beav doesn't have the same methodical 200' grid as Portland, but there's a bunch of signals quite close together between the Hwy 217 overpass going west to Cedar Hills Blvd or even further to Murray.

    When traffic is moderate, moving at the beginning of the green cycle, some drivers, seeing a string of green lights ahead of them (say for example, 2-3 green lights), consistently forsake all other concerns to take advantage of openings in the traffic ahead of their car to speed ahead, weave in and out, whip over to make turns and so forth. Yes, they run red lights too, although intersections with the cameras inflict a nice little penalty on those who do.

    I also see substance to the claim that the couplet will create added congestion to the side streets. Part of the argument for the couplet has been that it will more easily enable drivers to access SW Downtown from Burnside. The couplet means that east-bound drivers in the couplet proposal will be backed up on side streets waiting for the light to change so they can cross Burnside into SW Downtown.

    Ironically, this may not make much difference. The percentage of drivers constituting Burnside's traffic volume whose destination is actually any of the neighborhoods adjoining Burnside has not been established to any degree that I'm aware of. (If there are any studies that define this usage, I'd like to see them.) I have a sense that this percentage is not so great, but it seems important to know things like this more definitely than is currently known before proceeding to spend 80 million on the couplet.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    WS -

    Jenni's comments on driver's behavior in relation to progressive traffic signals mirrors what I see out here in Beaverton on Canyon Rd and Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy

    Two-way arterials such as the ones in Beaverton you mention cannot be easily compared to one-way streets because traffic signals on two-way streets can only be timed and coordinated to a minor degree...

    If you favor one direction of travel on a two-way street, then the opposite direction of travel suffers. In areas where peak travel occurs in both directions, then the typical behavior is to hold the green open across multiple intersections simultaneously. This makes it to most driver's advantage to speed and try and get through as many lights as possible.

    Using your example of Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway going west of the 217 overpass (see this Google map), the distances between signals are approximately:

    217 Ramp to Griffith: 450+ft Griffith to Lombard: 950+ft Lombard to Hall: 700+ft Hall to Watson: 400+ft Watson to Cedar Hills: 1,000+ft etc.

    Some of the intersections themselves are about 100ft across.

    Are you sure you want to compare those wide 2-way arterials with higher speed limits and widely spaced lights to the Burnside-Couch couplet proposal?

    Part of the argument for the couplet has been that it will more easily enable drivers to access SW Downtown from Burnside. The couplet means that east-bound drivers in the couplet proposal will be backed up on side streets waiting for the light to change so they can cross Burnside into SW Downtown.

    Eastbound drivers on the couplet will be travelling on Burnside will will make direct right turns into SW downtown without ever coming near Couch. They will never have to cross Burnside - they're already on it.

    If you meant to say Westbound drivers going into SW downtown, those drivers TODAY must make three right turns, including using one block of couch and including waiting to cross Burnside. The couplet proposal will eliminate the extra right turns and provide improved times for crossing Burnside.

    The percentage of drivers constituting Burnside's traffic volume whose destination is actually any of the neighborhoods adjoining Burnside has not been established to any degree that I'm aware of. (If there are any studies that define this usage, I'd like to see them.)

    I don't have a link for you, but there was a traffic analysis done indicating that of all peak westbound vehicles crossing the Burnside bridge, about three quarters are dispersed before reaching 24th place. This indicates that a significant percentage, probably a majority, of trips on central Burnside either originate or terminate in the downtown area or the Pearl District.

    • Bob R.
  • Steve (unverified)
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    "Look, Bob R., she just knows, OK?"

    Maybe you should hold local government to the same standard of disbelief. Let's see what the local politicos knew:

    • SoWa tram would only cost $15M and brings 1000s of BioTech jobs
    • Metro knew the Conv Center would bring countless conventions if they only make it bigger and then add a hotel.
    • Light rail would fix all of downtown’s problems and slow the exodus of retail to the suburbs
    • Re-doing PGE Park would be a big money-maker
    • Ignoring sewers for 20+ years to fund these things would work, because sewers last forever and need no maintenance
    • The trolley would be so popular they would have to give away rides
    • VoE will work without fraud and only 29 tweaks

    As far as downtown, they know it will just be a success if: - We build a transit mall (Neil) - We add Pioneer Square (Vera) - We add Pioneer Place (Vera) - We pipe light rail throuhout downtown (Vera/Mr Adams) - We fix Burnside (Mr Adams)

    THere may be a pattern emerging here. This regime is about as convincing as Dick Cheney at a news conference and you parroting back the “I know and you don’t” retorts only reinforce this sense of incompetence.

    I am going to be charitable and call this mis-management in spending public funds and not fraud in the inducement. However, Mr Adams learned from Vera that you tell people it will only cost $0.25 and then come back later and tell them we need a $1.00 because we can’t stop.

    This regime has ignored the planning commission and basically every idea that they don’t agree with. The whole couplet is supposed to simultaneously improve traffic flow and slow down cars. Meanwhile, CoP’s myopia refuses to study or recognize any problem that happens outside of the I-405/Willamette island creating this bizarre Versailles effect where we ignore everything else, but the favored part of town where less than 1% live.

    I’m sure it does Mr Adams’ ego wonders being able to spend large amounts of other people’s money as he sees fit, but think of the poor Joe living by 82nd who takes a chance every time he crosses 82nd. Mr Adams should be honest and say he wants one more portal for light rail thru town and then be prepared for the consequences when people who frequent retail go to the suburbs.

    There is nothing you have stated that comes anywhere close to justifying $80M to slow down 1.5 miles of E Burnside. Ms Simionis is correct, anything outside of downtown gets scraps if.

    Maybe if you guys realize how CoP creates these crises and then uses them to distract people from their neglect of boring things like infrastructure and jail, you might see it - Y'know.

  • TR (unverified)
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    From the gallery, there was a totally different view of the full press program and monocracy decision that took place in Portland City Council chambers on April 11, 2007. First there was the multi-media presentation including a crunch of numbers from a so-called independent consultant. Of course we all know the definition of an independent consultant: A highly paid person that is bought and paid for to come up with a set of numbers, reasons and documentation to back up the proposal to be voted on; in this case the couplet.

    Next there was a circus of testimony from panel after panel of the so-called stakeholders - all well rehearsed. Now I thought that Burnside was a public street that belonged to all Portlanders, or at the very least, the almost 40,000 drivers that use the street on a daily basis and pay fuel taxes to maintain it. It seems all would be considered stakeholders and must have representation on any stakeholder committee. But alas, there must be a new definition of what is commonly referred to as stakeholders because no where did I hear the taxpaying motorists had any stakeholder committee representatives. The new meaning for this project defines stakeholders as only those people who are able to pass a litmus test, only those people who do not pay for or receive free publicly financed rides for the transport infrastructure they use such as bicyclists and streetcar riders, and only those people who will financially benefit from, rather than help pay for the couplet. In addition to one bookstore owner, an example of the latter are the developers and property owners wanting to develop their property in the couplet corridor. Although some of these people were quick to state they were not expecting taxpayer subsidies to develop their properties, (obviously some were), not a one came out and said they did not expect to receive a property tax abatement due to their property being located near a proposed streetcar route. So if built, not only will public funds be used to build and subsidize the operations of the folly trolley, but those who develop property near the folly trolley will NOT be required to pay for schools and other government services for as many as ten years. Additionally, it is the fools in Salem that have allowed a double dipping of taxpayer funds to occur with their TOD and social engineered development policies - all so the rich can get richer and then contribute to the campaign funds of the fools themselves so they can be re-elected. Yes, it is all about MONEY and who gets it in the long run.

    Along with the flawed process, the mindset to construct a Burnside Couplet has been so has also been so flawed such that any safety, health and traffic issues have been ignored. There has been a failure to listen, respond and correct. These flaws include but are not limited to: Disconnecting the one and only East-West spine of the city. The financial costs including folly trolley operations, who pays, who gets a free ride and should pay, and spending dollars on for the couplet affects Portland’s street maintenance backlog. The taking of a relatively quiet pedestrian oriented street, Couch, and ramming up to 20,000 cars up the hill on it daily. Having those 20,000 passing right under the air intake vents and next to the playground of a charter school. Lanes that are too narrow for Tri-Met busses and large trucks to fit into on upper West Burnside. Streetcars that duplicate bus service stopping to load and unload passengers in travel lanes, thereby blocking other traffic that causes excessive congestion and motorists to use more fuel. Drivers also blocking other traffic while waiting for pedestrians to clear cross walks to make turns. Curb extensions in the couplet section that make turning movements for freight trucks to and from Burnside more difficult, aspire to add congestion and waste motorist fuel. Pedestrian safety that is compromised when trucks must drive over sidewalks to maneuver around corners at intersections. And finally, although the bought and paid for socially engineered consultant supplied numbers attempt to show otherwise, common sense suggests the couplet and folly trolley will lead to taxpayer financed gridlock that will have a negative affect on both transport and the economy, and to the degree that another solution will be sought within ten years of any completion of the project.

  • ws (unverified)
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    "I don't have a link for you, but there was a traffic analysis done indicating that of all peak westbound vehicles crossing the Burnside bridge, about three quarters are dispersed before reaching 24th place." Bob R

    Thanks Bob R, for info about that traffic analysis. Maybe it's at portlandonline somewhere.

    Yes, I was thinking of westbound rather than eastbound in making reference to congestion created by cars waiting on sidestreets to enter SW Portland. More information about what percentage of Burnside's traffic volume actually go to the trouble to make the jug handle maneouver might be informative. Maybe that info is also in the study you mentioned.

    I've no intention of making a direct comparison between the two-way roads I mentioned in Beaverton, and Canyon, but just offered them as examples of thoroughfares that I'm a little more familiar with having the progressive signal setup and how it works in real life.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Steve wrote some interesting things:

    SoWa tram would only cost $15M and brings 1000s of BioTech jobs

    Yes, many people love to bash the Tram. The Tram is newsworthy because indeed it faced massive cost overruns and early project mismanagement. Personally, I thought OHSU should have picked up more of the tab.

    Nevertheless, the city's share of the construction costs was around $8 million, and ridership in February was double projections with far more OHSU-related riders than predicted. If this trend holds, the city's share of operating costs after the initial period will be lower, perhaps half, of what is currently budgeted.

    Compare the tram to the alternative, either A) rebuilding Gibbs St. to have overpasses/underpasses at I-5/Kelley/Hood, Barbur, and Front Avenues and then on up the hill, which would have been far more expensive and far more disruptive to the neighborhood, or B) building a tunnel/elevator/people mover which would have been comparable in cost (perhaps a better plan, had the real tram costs been known in advance of construction.)

    The BioTech jobs have not materialized (how successful that might be remains to be seen), but already over $40 million in private donations have come in as a result of the project which will be used to form a new medical school campus in the South Waterfront district, bringing valuable educational opportunities and health industry jobs. Some have criticized the city's involvement in these developments and have suggested that the money be spent elsewhere such as our schools, but already the $8m tram investment has translated into $40m of private educational investments.

    Light rail would fix all of downtown’s problems and slow the exodus of retail to the suburbs

    What public official ever claimed that light rail would "fix all of downtown's problems"? As for slowing the exodus of retail to the suburbs, one only has to compare Portland's downtown to downtowns from similarly-sized metro areas to see that Portland is succeeding.

    Portland's light rail system has been a success and has shown a growth in transit ridership (including people who previously would not consider riding transit) which exceeds population growth and VMT-per-capita growth.

    The trolley would be so popular they would have to give away rides

    What "trolley" are you referring to? The only trolleys currently operating in the area is the Willamette Shore Trolley and the Portland Vintage Trolley, non-profit, volunteer organizations.

    If you mean the Portland Streetcar, ridership has exceeded projections with about 9,000 boardings per day.

    As far as downtown, they know it will just be a success if:

    We build a transit mall (Neil)

    The transit mall is a great success, operating for nearly 30 years of heavy utilization and providing nationally-recognized and awarded transit service.

    We add Pioneer Square (Vera)

    Pioneer Courthouse Square was proposed and a design competition held in 1980. The square was completed in 1984. At the time, Vera Katz was still in the Oregon house of representatives, not directly involved in city politics. She wasn't elected mayor until 1992 -- your timeline is off by about 12 years. I'll leave it to Portlanders to judge whether Pioneer Courthouse Square has not succeeded in enhancing downtown, compared to the open parking lot that was there since the 50's.

    We add Pioneer Place (Vera)

    Pioneer place first opened in 1990 - again, your timeline is off. It has been a very successful mall and has seen a major expansion in the form of the Rotunda building and cinemas. Do you have something against indoor shopping malls, or are they only OK with you if built in the suburbs?

    We pipe light rail throuhout downtown (Vera/Mr Adams)

    If by "throughout" downtown you mean the transit mall reconstruction, then yes, there will now be two light rail routes through downtown instead of just one.

    We fix Burnside (Mr Adams)

    If you prefer not to proceed with the couplet proposal, please provide evidence as to either A) why you think Burnside is just fine today compared to the couplet plan or B) where you think the transportation capital improvement money should be spent. (And please note that regardless of what choice is made, Burnside needs at least $20m of roadway reconstruction.)

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    WS -

    Thank you for the reply.

    • Bob R.
  • Roland Chlapowski (unverified)
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    I’d like to quickly add some context to this blog entry, which I frankly should have asked be included as a disclaimer when this was first posted.

    BlueOregon approached me to write a pro-couplet blog entry to balance an earlier anti-couplet entry that had been posted earlier in the week. In writing as an advocate for the project, I laid out the strongest positions that I have come across –both for and against the couplet- in order to provide BlueOregon readers with the best understanding possible of the issues at play with this project.

    As I provide context, I also want to express regret for using the term “NIMBY,” which infers that the concerns of people living near the project are unfounded. That was not my intent, as I had hoped the two sentences immediately preceding that term indicated: “Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to be against the Couplet. But they can basically be boiled down to just a few.” I apologize for the use of that term, which was meant to be simply descriptive and not pejorative.

  • Marty (unverified)
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    Bob R. wrote, "Portland's light rail system has been a success and has shown a growth in transit ridership (including people who previously would not consider riding transit) which exceeds population growth and VMT-per-capita growth."

    NOT SO BOB.

    The modal market share in the Portland metro area is lower than ever before. See http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-usa2005.htm

    So that makes Bob's hype and misrepresentations part of the disingenuous agenda which is also pushing this couplet/streetcar.

  • ws (unverified)
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    Marty, I looked at the chart to which you provided the link for. Any number of conflicting interpretations could be made from those figures. On the face of it, I couldn't attach much significance to them.

    I wish everybody could happily drive their cars or ride in busses forever on traffic-free roads that don't require petroleum products to maintain, but it's a pretty safe bet that those days are gone. Light rail might appear to be a cute, expensive little novelty, but without it, our metro area would be a hopeless, jammed up disaster.

    The only reason we're even talking about an 80 million dollar couplet is because of the mess that cars have made of our urban environment.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Hi Marty -

    I went and examined the chart you linked to when you shouted "NOT SO BOB". The chart does not reference trends over time, so right off the bat you have provided nothing to counter my statements.

    But, even referring to the chart you provide which includes broadly-defined metro areas (such as including Vancouver, WA when calculating Portland's transit mode share), it shows that Portland has been quite successful - our mode share is #8 for the nation, doing better than several much larger regions such as Los Angeles. We also score better on your chart than Seattle and have twice the transit mode share as Atlanta.

    How about a chart that narrows down the data to something more sensible: Comparing mode share for corridors where frequent transit service is offered, not just broadly defined metro areas. Your chart includes auto travel for all trips including those not served by transit, instead of comparing comparable trips.

    This question came up awhile back on the PortlandTransport blog... here's a re-hash of the numbers previously posted over there --

    You have questioned my conclusions about total trips via transit vs. population growth, here are numbers that review the result using Vehicle Miles Travelled by auto (VMT) and Passenger Miles (for transit.)

    FWHA numbers for Portland-Vancouver (Urbanized Area 27) are available for 1990-2003.

    In 1990, daily VMT was 22.4 million miles. In 2003, VMT grew to 32.5 million miles, an increase of 45%. This increase is mostly explained by population growth, as per-capita daily VMT grew from 18.7 miles in 1990 to 19.3 miles in 2003 (with some peaks over 20 in other years), an increase of 3.2%.

    So, even though our population has grown a lot, people aren't individually taking a lot more auto trips, and they aren't driving a lot further than they used to.

    The numbers for transit are interesting:

    In 1990, TriMet delivered 199,524,715 passenger miles of service to 39,661,200 originating rides. In 2003, TriMet delivered 366,088,200 passenger miles to 69,591,600 originating rides.

    The passenger miles travelled per originating ride went from 5.03 miles in 1990 to 5.26 miles in 2003, a change of just 4.5%. Clearly, transit is mostly serving relatively short trips compared to cars, and people aren't generally taking longer trips on transit today than they used to.

    But the growth in ridership is stunning: While auto trips per day remained relatively flat with population growth, originating rides on transit in the same period went up 75% and passenger miles delivered went up 83%, compared to total VMT growth of 45%.

    Generalized another way, regional transit usage has been growing at twice the rate of automobile usage.

    Using just those numbers, total transit passenger miles as a percentage of all VMT is low, 2.4% in 1990 and 3.1% in 2003. I suspect that this is where the "single digits" stories may originate, but it doesn't paint a full picture. Many low density areas are not served by transit, and these areas have the highest automobile VMT per capita. Further, the above numbers compare TriMet figures and no other agencies, and TriMet does not serve Clark County, which is included in the VMT statistics.

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    PS... Marty -

    Bob's hype and misrepresentations part of the disingenuous agenda which is also pushing this couplet/streetcar.

    You have shown no evidence for your claims that I have misrepresented anything or that I've been disingenuous.

    Unlike you, I do not immediately leap to ascribe such foul motivations to my opponents. I would suggest you either post better data, or apologize for the attempted smear. Thanks.

    • Bob R.
  • Marty (unverified)
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    Bob, You sure do carry the TriMet and Metro water. I notice how you take everything every agency says around here as gospel and repeat it.

    Portland's modal share is lower than ever. It makes no difference that transit modal split is diminishing everywhere. That just proves that people reject transit that does not give them effective and efficient door-to-door service. Your use of Tri Met propaganda flies in the face of objective data. 60% of the yellow line boarding rides occur within fareless square as does high proportions on all of the light rail lines. Those trips are worthless. They take NO, nada trips off the road. The gain in work trips in Portland came at the expense of carpools, ergo, no impact on the car volume. If you want to judge the efficacy of Portland transit, look at road volumes, particularly in the same corridor as light rail. They are objective because they are done by permanent counters at multiple points on every main road. They are all UP, UP. Further, when comparing areas, you have to factor the fact that Portland spends a proportionally higher amount of transportation funds on transit. Despite almost no addition in lane miles on roads, volume on already crowded roads is growing. Road volumes are accurate while VMT's are a crude estimate because we do not regularly measure volume on roads other than freeways and major arterials which are done sporadically. Minor arterials, which receive more and more freeway diversion traffic, are almost never measured. TriMet has no credibility. Their data misrepresents. You use it and along with exclusion of other data mislead people and help TriMet and Metro with their very disingenuous agenda methods. You should appologize for helping to perpetrate and perpetuate horrible transportation and land use policies. And although your delivery is usually polite the substance, policies and outcomes are far worse and more offensive than any blogging tone that so offends you.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Marty -

    You sure do like to fling accusations without data. I carry TriMet's water now? Obviously you haven't been to the same meetings that I've attended -- I've been publicly skeptical or critical of a number of proposals.

    The fact is that every time an anti-Transit activist purports to prove that TriMet is a complete failure and I actually go and look up real data or go check things out in person, I find out the anti-Transit person is usually wrong. Sometimes, I find that I've been mistaken and I admit it, adjust my calculations or statements, and move on. But in your case, you have yet to post any data to back up your statements.

    Just now, you claimed that 60% of all Yellow Line boarding rides are in Fareless Square and are therefore "worthless".

    First of all, even if you only mean boardings (which includes trips that may terminate outside of fareless square) and not the complete boarding rides (which limits your statements to rides which begin and end entirely within fareless square), your 60% figure is way off. Put another way, all fareless square boardings are NOT unpaid boardings.

    In the case of boardings alone, only 51% occur within fareless square. This includes people who are paying to return home from downtown. If you meant just boardings, your logic would have us ignore the rides of people who have paid to go downtown and are now paying to go home.

    In the case of boarding rides the number would drop to far lower than 51% because, as stated, not all boardings within fareless square terminate within fareless square. Take the Rose Quarter TC for example. The Yellow Line alone gets 1,200+ average weekday boardings at that stop. The stop is a Transit Center with transfers to several popular bus lines. There are not enough special events at the Rose Quarter to claim that events are the reason for the boardings, and transfers to the Blue Line or Red Line from the Yellow at Rose Quarter for fareless access to Lloyd Center would be pointless - Downtown riders can board those lines directly and North Portland riders transferring to Red/Blue would have originated their trips outside of fareless square.

    The gain in work trips in Portland came at the expense of carpools, ergo, no impact on the car volume.

    Thank you for admitting there has been a gain in transit work trips in Portland. Your second claim about carpools makes no sense... if carpool riders, as you claim, stopped coming into downtown by car and instead are now taking transit, that translates into fewer cars in the road. But where is your data to suggest that carpool trips have declined in Portland and that the reason for this is transit?

    TriMet has no credibility. Their data misrepresents.

    You say this a lot, but you haven't offered anything to prove this statement nor any data to back up your own claims.

    You use it and along with exclusion of other data mislead people and help TriMet and Metro with their very disingenuous agenda methods.

    What data have I excluded? I even referred directly to the very table that you posted, which, so far, is the only data you've posted. And your table, despite its flaws, shows a superior transit mode share for Portland compared to other similarly-sized metro areas and even several larger cities.

    You should appologize for helping to perpetrate and perpetuate horrible transportation and land use policies.

    Gee, now I'm a perpetrator. Keep going, I'm working on updating my résumé.

    • Bob R.
  • Steve (unverified)
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    Bob R

    I will repeat slowly - the Burnside couplet is very pretty, but $80+M is my issue! I am afraid downtown is becoming like Versailes – a nice anachronism that is slowly impoverishing those who are taxed to support it. As far as the rest of downtown, in general we have been “fixing” it for 30+ years and we still need to fix things like Burnside – effectively every 5 years we get a new 20 year plan. If the transit mall is such a success, why do we need to re-design it and keep pouring more money downtown instead of other areas?

    If the streetcar is such a big success, how about charging for it ala TriMet/LightRail to help subsidize some of the costs? It does cost something to operate. Moreover, each light rail track we add impedes traffic flow that much more discouraging more trips by car downtown.

    The tram, in case you missed it, is demonstrative of the process used to justify projects. We are told it will cost x dollars and ends up costing 3x dollars. Vera did this and now Mr Adams is putting it to use. I believe they still have to do a lot of site improvement around all of SoWa (I-5/traffic access/greenway = $100M) that they have no idea where the funding will come from. If you think property tax revenues support it, don’t forget the new office building pays no property tax.

    On retail in general, Pioneer Square has a high vacancy rate compared to surrounding malls (go above ground level at PS and look around) I know people in the industry and calling it successful vis-à-vis other malls is a stretch when you look at how WashSq/ClackTC (yes, I do go to indoor malls) are expanding and Bridgeport is growing. Macy’s has shrunk from 10 floors to 3 floors (if they ever open) of retail. If you talk with shopkeepers downtown they will tell you the retail environment has gotten worse. We force out cars and mass transit riders are not your typical shoppers at high-end stores.

    Pioneer Square is usually a congregation place for homeless people unless you can tell me about the once or twice a year festivals that happen there. The retail presences (Powells) gave up and let Starbucks try to survive. Right now, it is basically an empty block like the one separating Memorial Coliseum / Rose Garden, which I guess is refreshing but without any theme besides a paucity of buildings and no green space.

    “If you prefer not to proceed with the couplet proposal, please provide evidence as to either A) why you think Burnside is just fine today compared to the couplet plan or B) where you think the transportation capital improvement money should be spent.”

    You set up a false dilemma. Burnside was not a crisis until Mr Adams started to make it into one to gin up support for his dreams. In fact, CoP planning is against the couplet.

    Spend the rest on the 20 year backlog of street repairs, 82nd/122nd to reduce auto accidents and improve pedestrian access, try to reduce the sewer rates instead of neglecting it for 20+ years then raising everyone’s bill to pay for it, subsidize PFDR instead of raising property taxes for the next 30+ years, build something that will draw businesses downtown since the current projects aren’t. Build larger jails so we don’t matrix out criminals. Maybe more park space or maintain what we have. Maintain bridges better and help with Sellwood bridge. Reduce SDC fees homebuyers pay. Help schools out. Read Tuesday’s Tribune if you need more ideas on how to fix Portland’s crumbling infrastructure outside of downtown.

    Try anything else besides the tired ideas of more mass transit as a sinecure. Unless you’re telling me you don’t know of any place more worthy than Burnside to dump $100M? Do you live here and go anyplace outside I405/Willamette loop?

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Steve asked: Do you live here and go anyplace outside I405/Willamette loop?

    I do live here. Born and raised in the Portland metro area (Clackamas County). Now I live here by choice - my business could be run from anywhere - it's a great place to live.

    I also live/work/shop/own property outside of the I405/Willamette loop.

    And (anticipating your next question), I live on the East Side.

    I pay TriMet taxes directly and City of Portland business license taxes and Multnomah County business taxes.

    I hope I pass your test and that you now think I'm entitled to have an opinion and to advocate for public policies for the area.

    • Bob R.
  • ws (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I'm not ready to champion the couplet, but am inclined to recognize certain realities resulting from population growth and distribution. The study/statistics approach to arriving at sensible solutions to modern problems can get very confusing and misleading. It's important to give first hand experience its role in keeping perspective realistic.

    Lower W Burnside has kind of sucked for a long time. I don't know...maybe 20 years, maybe longer. I think it largely has to do with the dept. of transportation's obsession with shoving a massive volume of cars down B (but then perhaps as justification for this, Bob R claims there is a study establishing that 75% of W Burnside'e west-bound volume disperses before 25th). If that volume obligation figure were to be adjusted down, lanes could be eliminated and converted to pedestrian use, additional signals could be installed, and Burnside, without intruding on Couch would probably be just fine.

    People use light rail. In the corridors where it's located, logically, it dramatically reduces auto trips or bus infrastructure that would be required to serve those passengers if light rail weren't available.

    Thanks to our mentality of broadly spread suburban town center development and a population growing like crazy, many people gravitate towards housing that lies outside of easy access to light rail. In such situations, why wouldn't such people choose to go to a more conveniently located suburban mall lifestyle center rather than travel all the way to Downtown Portland?

    A few final notes: Pioneer Square is not nearly as ridden and dominated by homeless people as Steve would imply. Why anybody that cares about Portland would say something like that is a mystery. Pioneer Square has many, many festivals in the fairer months of the year and even some decent ones in those that are more harsh. Many different people of widely varied means come together on such occasions and generally get along well.

    The square does have some down and out people congregating there. Given that it is a public town plaza, this is a natural and not neccessarily undesirable occurrence. It does take a certain energy to maintain a healthy environment here. One thing that can really help to make such a place a more healthy environment for everyone, one that doesn't particularly take a lot of energy or cost much, is for healty people to come and spend time there. Lots of people besides homeless people appear to be doing just that.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    WS -

    Thanks again for your comments. I agree that if the automobile capacity discussion resulted in the conclusion that the current capacity was not warranted or needed, then simple lane reductions from a 2:2 configuration to a 1:1:1 (center turn lane) configuration would allow for safer crossings, wider sidewalks, and more public amenities on Burnside without creating a couplet.

    I'm not advocating for that, I'm just acknowledging that there are alternatives to a couplet design that can enhance pedestrian safety and activity but at the expense of automobile capacity.

    The existence of the couplet proposal is actually proof that the City of Portland is not anti-car and isn't actively seeking to banish autos from downtown -- the proposal is trying to find a compromise that enhances the pedestrian environment (a net gain -- things will be worse for pedestrians along much of Couch but vastly improved on Burnside) without drastically constraining current automobile capacity.

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Regarding Steve's odd assertion that Pioneer Courthouse Square only has festivals once or twice a year and for the rest of the time is "usually a congregation place for homeless" and is "basically an empty block", I suggest you check out the Pioneer Courthouse Square calendar page for more info:

    4/3-4/6 Bloomfest | 8:00am - 5:30pm Easter Seals Oregon will be selling fresh-cut tulips in the week leading up to Easter. 4/7 Passion Memorial Service | 11:00am - 2:00pm PREPARE welcomes you to enjoy a Passion Celebration and Procession of the Cross. 4/14 MS Walk | 8:30am - 12:30pm Join over a thousand people at the Square for the MS Walk held by The National MS Society. 4/15 Yom Ha Shoah, Day of Remembrance | 11:00am - 4:00pm Come to the Square to remember the Holocaust victims as their names are read to the audience. 4/19 Oregon Trail Rally | 11:00am - 1:00pm Come to the Square and see Rally Cars on display as The Oregon Rally Group promotes the Oregon Trail Rally Round 3 of The Rally America National Rally Championship. 4/22 For Every Child A Better World | 2:00pm - 4:00pm The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon is holding this event on the Square to promote the Millennium Development Goals and advocate for children locally and globally. 5/5 Million Marijuana March | 12:00pm - 3:00pm The Million Marijuana March is being held to educate the public about medical marijuana, industrial hemp, and personal privacy, and human rights. For more information please click here. 5/10 Loaves and Fishes Centers Rally | 11:00am - 2:00pm The Loaves and Fishes Centers Rally is to bring awareness of the senior nutrition program and Meals - on - Wheels during May, Older Americans Month. A well - known local band will perform at noon and information booths staffed by health organizations to distribute information. There will also be demonstrations of quilting by seniors. 5/12 Steps for Life The Pregnancy Resource Center is hosting a 2-mile family-friendly walkathon through downtown Portland beginning& ending at Pioneer Courthouse Square. 5/19 Stay 30 Forever Outside Magazine is celebrating their 30th year anniversary! Come to the Square and discover the latest in fitness, nutrition, physical and mental wellness, and more. You’ll meet and learn from Outside experts and world-class athletes, glimpse the world’s playground through active travel opportunities, try-out the hottest gear and electronics, and more! 6/8-6/23 Festival of Flowers 2007 Designed by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Installation June: 1 – 7 Display June: 8 – 20 Flower Sale Begins: Thursday, June 21 - 24 This June marks the return of one of Portland's most renowned annual events, Festival of Flowers at Pioneer Courthouse Square . An estimated 350,000 people gather during the two-week celebration to enjoy the opening of the summer season with flowers and fun. This year Pioneer Courthouse Square has partnered with Zimmer Gunsul Frasca and Hoffman Construction to bring a unique sustainable floral design to the Square. Over 20,000 plants of vibrant color will blend together on-site to create a stunning display for community members and visitors to enjoy. 6/28 Portland Youth Philharmonic East meets West Bon Voyage Concert 12:00pm - 2:00pm Come to the Square to join the Portland Youth Philharmonic Association in celebrating it's 8th international tour to Korea. The Portland Youth Philharmonic Association supports two full symphony orchestras, a wind ensemble and one string orchestra for younger musicians. Each group is made up of outstanding young musicians chosen by open auditions each spring and early fall and seated solely according to ability. 7/5-7/6 Salmon for the Sandy | 10:00am - 6:00pm Remember the brightly colored cow statues that graced Portland 's downtown a few years ago? Well, a new version will arrive this summer, only this time the statues will be salmon. A school of (12) 52-inch-long salmon will be placed at sponsored locations throughout the Portland metropolitan area from July through October 2007. A school of smaller salmon (24 inches) will travel around the region in an educational display. The Salmon for the Sandy kick off event will be held at Pioneer Courthouse Square to celebrate the Western Rivers Conservancy placement of Salmon statues throughout downtown. The salmon statues will point to the restoration of the Sandy River Basin made possible by the removal of Portland General Electric's dams and Western Rivers Conservancy's assemblage of a protected wild river corridor and recreation area covering 5,000 acres of the basin. 7/10-8/30 NoonTunes Presented by Volkswagen The Noon Tunes Concert Series Presented by Volkswagen will have performances by some of the best local and regional talent, Noon Tunes will be held every Tuesday & Thursday at noon to enjoy free fun in the sun! 7/13-7/15 Yoshida's Sand in the City | Time This year marks the 12th anniversary of Yoshida's Sand in the City at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Corporate teams participate in this fundraising event which benefits Kids on the Block by creating sand castle sculptures. 7/20-8/17 Flicks on the Bricks Sponsored By SmartPark Pioneer Courthouse Square is happy to announce that Smart Park will be sponsoring this years Flicks on the Bricks Outdoor Movies Series. The series begins July 20 and will continue every Friday until August 17th. If you would like to submit a movie suggestion please click here. 7/21 Summer Nights Gospel Concert | 7:00pm - 9:00pm Come down to the Square for a night filled with Gospel Music as New Song Community Church host its annual Summer Night Gospel Concert. 7/28 Coming to America Expectation Ministries will once again visit the Square to perform a free summer concert for the community. For more information click here.

    And so on...

    Like I said before, nearly every time I go and check out the assertions of anti-transit activists, I find that the truth is quite different from their statements.

    To add to that dry listing of scheduled events, just last week I took visitors from Berlin and Wisconsin on a walking tour of downtown, and they quite enjoyed seeing and walking through the square, which was quite active with a variety of people despite the fact that there were no programmed events that day. From people enjoying lunch on the steps, to impromptu games of chess, to people enjoying the acoustic effects of the amphitheatre.

    • Bob R.
  • Bob R. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Correction to the above... the link to the calendar page did not get pasted in properly... here it is:

    http://www.pioneercourthousesquare.org/calendar_july.htm

    • Bob R.
  • Hawthorne (unverified)
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    Bob,

    Thanks for speaking truth to fiction (or is it dark humor?). Your sincere effort and dedication to facts is both admirable and appreciated.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Thanks Hawthorne - it's nice to know these debates aren't occurring in a vacuum.

    • Bob R.
  • Steve (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Not too bad - you totally fixated on Pioneer Square without any comment or justification on declining retail environment or why the couplet is the best place to spend 80M+ instead of fixing infrastructure. However, I am sure the homeless will enjoy the marijuana festival.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Hi Steve -

    No, I didn't totally "fixate" on Pioneer Courthouse Square. You're the one who brought it up in the first place. I've been trying to have a substantive discussion about the couplet proposal but you keep bringing up things like the Tram and Pioneer Square and Macy's, etc.

    I would be happy to engage in a discussion about where best to spend $40m (or $80m if the streetcar proposal moves forward), but you've already loaded the question with a false premise: You said "instead of fixing infrastructure". The fact is, at least $20m of the couplet proposal is</me> for simply fixing infrastructure - Burnside is overdue for a complete reconstruction, not just a resurfacing.

    Personally, I think making pedestrian improvements to a street with 6 of the 10 most dangerous intersections for pedestrians is worth a good deal of money. That's a primary reason why I support the couplet. As for the streetcar, I've already stated here and in multiple forums that I believe it should be evaluated and prioritized through the normal framework of the citywide transit plan.

    • Bob R.

    PS... Of all the events on the calendar that I posted above, I knew immediately that you were going to respond only to the marijuana event and not to all the mainstream religious and civic events. Thanks for not disappointing me.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Italics off.

    • Bob R.
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