Advisory committee to Novick: “Bring to bear all possible pressure on ODOT” to study Barbur Blvd

Advisory committee to Novick: “Bring to bear all possible pressure on ODOT” to study Barbur Blvd

“Unfortunately, ODOT has decided to prevent improvement of bicycle lanes on its segments of SW Barbur. More significantly, ODOT is basing its decision on a questionable analysis of conditions.”

SW Barbur Blvd should have the same amount of bicycle traffic — more than 5,000 bicycle trips a day — as N. Vancouver Ave. But it doesn’t, because of a “failure of design”. That’s the surprising analogy made by the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee in a letter (PDF) sent to Transportation Commissioner Novick yesterday.

The PBAC is urging Novick to, “bring to bear all possible pressure on ODOT” to get them to the table and conduct a transparent analysis of how traffic on Barbur would be impacted by a road diet.

This is the latest in a string of letters from stakeholders an action alerts from advocacy groups urging the Oregon Department of Transportation to participate in a traffic study so that the project can move forward with agreed-upon data.

The PBAC is a group of citizen volunteers that meets once a month in City Hall to weigh in on bicycle issues. They report to the Mayor and PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller is the staff participant on the committee. In the letter dated yesterday and signed by committee Chair Suzanne Veaudry Casaus and Vice-Chair Ian Stude, the PBAC laid out a powerful argument for ODOT action and they explained why frustration exists with how the agency has handled the issue thus far.

Here’s how they lay out the N. Vancouver Ave. analogy:

North Vancouver Ave. is part of a very successful corridor street from a number of perspectives. Businesses are booming in the corridor, developers are creating many units of new housing and many people use the street to reach their destinations every day.

According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, North Vancouver carried more than 5,000 daily bicycle trips in 2012. While the citywide proportion of women riding bicycles is approximately 31%, more than 40% of the people riding on North Vancouver were women. This is a positive indicator of the appeal of North Vancouver for bicycling, as higher proportions of women riding bicycles generally means that people feel safe and comfortable on the street.

Those more than 5000 bicycle trips on North Vancouver in 2012 represent a 97% growth in bicycle trips on that street in the past five years and a 172% growth since 2006.

But the subject of this letter is not North Vancouver Ave. It’s SW Barbur Boulevard.

There are many similarities between these two streets. Like North Vancouver, SW Barbur Boulevard is a principal bicycle corridor connecting residential neighborhoods to the Central City. Like North Vancouver, SW Barbur offers the flattest topography for bicycling in its area, making it an especially desirable route. Based on Metro’s newly‐minted bicycle demand model, SW Barbur should be carrying a volume of bicycle trips similar to that on North Vancouver. But that’s where the similarity ends. In reality, bicycle volumes on SW Barbur are one‐eighth those on North Vancouver and they’ve been dropping since they peaked in 2008 at slightly less than 1000 daily trips. Only 20% of people riding bicycles on SW Barbur are women; well below the city average.

That SW Barbur does not achieve its potential to serve SW Portland as a bicycle route is principally a failure of design. The road is too fast. The bicycle lanes are unprotected. Most importantly, the bicycle lanes disappear at critical areas on the roadway, notably at the Vermont and Newbury bridge structures.

Also in the letter, the BAC points out that the portions of Barbur under PBOT control (immediately south of downtown Portland) have already been “improved” through road diets.

The BAC then details how they believe ODOT has played “fast and loose” with the traffic data in the Barbur corridor thus far:

Unfortunately, ODOT has decided to prevent improvement of bicycle lanes on its segments of SW Barbur. More significantly, ODOT is basing its decision on a questionable analysis of conditions.

ODOT’s analysis of a road diet on SW Barbur is flawed, and it is playing fast and loose with the data and information about this important corridor. This is confirmed by the SW Corridor Active Transportation Evaluation Report. Two analytic tools were used to analyze road diet conditions on SW Barbur. However, ODOT, in their 9/5/13 memo, bases their recommendations principally on the one tool (DTA) that uses non‐standard practices and faulty data. By selecting these results ODOT has purposely presented the most unfavorable outcomes to improving bicycle conditions on SW Barbur.

The SW Corridor Active Transportation Evaluation Report states that “no firm conclusions can be drawn about the amount of diversion resulting from possible additional delay due to the road diet. Additional analysis would be needed…”

The BAC is joining Oregon Walks, the City Club of Portland, and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in demanding that ODOT conducts a fresh, “impartial and transparent” analysis of the road diet. Then, says the BAC, “Should the analysis then support a road diet, we ask you to then actively work with ODOT to make that happen.” (Here’s more on the dispute behind the traffic analysis.)

“Why should we rely on faulty analysis and incorrect assumptions when safety is so clearly at stake?” reads the final line of the letter.

For their part, ODOT has explained many reasons they’d like to keep Barbur the way it is. They say it’s a crucial alternate when adjacent I-5 gets backed up, that it’s an emergency response and freight route, that some stakeholders in the region object to a road diet, that any lane reconfiguration would result in congestion, and so on.

Even with those reasons for inaction, I don’t think we’ve ever seen to much public pressure brought to bear on ODOT. I’ve attended and followed the BAC for many years, and it’s not common at all for them to use this type of language and/or get this proactive/involved on an issue. I think it speaks to the mounting frustration many people have with ODOT’s stance around this proposal thus far.

— Download and read the letter yourself here.

— Follow our complete coverage of Barbur Blvd here.

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