Freight Committee: “Postpone any advancement” of Barbur road diet

Freight Committee: “Postpone any advancement” of Barbur road diet

Barbur needs more capacity, not less,
says freight committee.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Freight Committee, a group that advises the City’s Bureau of Transportation on “issues related to freight mobility”, penned a letter to Commissioner Steve Novick (and sent a copy to Mayor Hales) that outlines their opposition to the proposed “road diet” on SW Barbur Blvd. Novick mentioned the letter during his remarks at a City Council hearing on the SW Corridor Plan yesterday.

The PFC claims the road diet proposal would lead to a reduction in vehicle capacity and they feel SW Barbur needs an increase in capacity. They also say if the conditions are unsafe, “the cyclist community” should pay for a public outreach campaign and that if people want to ride bicycles they should walk them on dangerous sections or consider using other streets.

“Cyclists could dismount and walk the short distance across the bridges and then resume on the bike path, or cyclists could divert to other streets.”
— PFC letter

The letter (PDF) is dated October 8th and signed by PFC Chair Debra Dunn and Vice Chair Pia Welch .

Before we share more about the letter’s contents, keep in mind that the PFC is essentially the same type of group as the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee. It’s members are citizen volunteers, meets monthly to discuss projects and policies, and has a PBOT staff liaison assigned to it. As an advisory committee, the PFC doesn’t have much official authority. Their activities usually amount to letter-writing and signing off on projects that impact freight. While their opinion is respected (much like the bike committee), they do not hold the same amount of influence as the city’s much more powerful commissions on various topics (like the Planning Commission or the Design Commission).

That being said, when freight interests talk, elected officials listen.

In their letter, Dunn and Welch explain why their committee doesn’t want the road diet proposal to move forward.

Here’s the opening section (emphasis mine):

Debra Dunn at the launch of the
“Street Smart” safety campaign in
June 2011.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Members… have serious concerns about the ‘road diet’ design concept and its inherent reduction in vehicular and freight movement into and through the city. Specifically, we are opposed to the ‘road diet’ on SW Barbur Blvd (Highway 99W) because it serves as a critical north-south corridor connecting Downtown Portland to Downtown Sherwood and all neighborhoods in between. The City’s Transportation System Plan currently classifies SW Barbur Blvd as a Major City Traffic Street, Major Emergency Response Route, Major Truck Street, Major Transit Priority Street, City Bikeway and Walkway and the future High Capacity Transit – bus or light rail route. In Metro’s adopted Regional Freight Plan, Hwy 99W is classified as a Regional Main Roadway Route which is intended to serve regional and state freight mobility needs. According to ODOT and the City of Portland, SW Barbur Blvd is also a Seismic Lifeline Route that experiences double the traffic when an incident closes lanes on I-5. In our opinion the corridor is of regional significance and warrants and increase, as opposed to a reduction, in capacity.

“We recommend a public outreach campaign sponsored by the cyclist community… to help educate cyclists on how they can use the corridor more safely.”
— PFC letter

Just to refresh your memory, the road diet proposal would re-stripe the existing traffic lanes on SW Barbur Blvd to create dedicated space for bicycling. While ODOT claims that the re-striping would result in significant future delays for motor vehicle operator, a Metro traffic engineer (and others) who looked at the same numbers disagrees and say more study is needed before drawing any concrete conclusions.

Continuing with the letter from the PFC, Dunn and Welch contend the road diet also isn’t needed because crash data shows there isn’t a bike safety issue. “The PFC strongly supports investments that improve safety along this corridor and prioritizing transportation improvements based on areas where the safety concerns have been documented,” they write in the letter. And then a few sentences later they continue by stating, “Fortunately to date there are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists on the Vermont and Newbury bridges.”

If indeed the conditions are unsafe, states the letter, the PFC says the “cyclist community” should sponsor a public outreach campaign, “to help educate cyclists on how to use the corridor more safely.”

If you’re not familiar with the stretch of Barbur in question, watch this video created by The Oregonian:

How do they recommend people ride more safely in this section?

“Cyclists could dismount,” reads the letter, “and walk the short distance across the bridges and then resume on the bike path, or cyclists could divert to other streets.”

“While this may not be an ideal solution,” continues the letter, “it is a short-term solution that needs to be further evaluated and considered to take people out of an ‘unsafe area’.”

In their conclusion, the PFC urges the City to move discussion of the idea into the long-term SW Corridor Plan process, which is where they also point out that the road diet concept has already been discussed but “not selected for implementation”. Given that, they are calling on the City of “postpone any further advancement” of the road diet until the Corridor Plan process has taken its course.

Download the letter here (PDF).

— Learn more about this issue by reading more stories in the archives.

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