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Novick issues ‘A message to Barbur road dieters’ – UPDATED

Novick issues ‘A message to Barbur road dieters’ – UPDATED

“… The idea of a Barbur road diet is obviously not something all our regional partners have signed off on. We hope they will not be perturbed by the prospect of a study of a road diet…”
— Steve Novick, City of Portland Transportation Commissioner

At tomorrow’s City Council meeting, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick had the opportunity to take a significant step toward updating the design of SW Barbur Blvd. With the Council set to endorse the regional Southwest Corridor Plan, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) urged Novick and his colleagues to prioritize a study of two projects within that plan — both of which are referred to as the “Barbur Lane Diet” project. This prioritization was to take the form of an amendment to the SW Corridor Plan resolution that would have specifically called out the study.

However, as we reported Friday afternoon, Novick has declined this opportunity. In a statement posted to his website late yesterday, Novick wrote that he doesn’t feel adding that language to the SW Corridor Plan resolution is the “right approach”. “I would rather not link the Barbur road diet study to the Southwest Corridor resolution,” he wrote. Novick then spelled out two reasons for his decision:

Here’s the first one:

… the idea of a Barbur road diet is obviously not something all our regional partners have signed off on. We hope they will not be perturbed by the prospect of a study of a road diet, but we think that attaching this issue to the resolution could detract from what we think Wednesday’s message should be: The region is moving forward together on the Southwest Corridor Plan.

It’s important to remember that no one was being asked to “sign off” on the Barbur road diet. The amendment language would have only demonstrated the City of Portland’s commitment to moving forward on a study of the Barbur lane diet option. As for his concerns about how it would “detract” from the Plan’s overall message, that’s understandable. In fact, we pointed out last week that the BTA was taking a risk by advocating for this study within the Plan (instead of trying to make it a separate issue without the plan’s strings attached).

Here’s Novick’s second reason for not taking up the Barbur amendment:

… the idea of a Barbur road diet is something I think should be studied regardless of whether there was any such thing as a Southwest Corridor Plan focused on high capacity transit. The Southwest Corridor plan will take shape over a dozen years; I would like to do a Barbur road diet study in a dozen months.

This is the first hint of a timeline we have heard from Novick. He says he’d like to do a Barbur road diet study “in a dozen months”. That timeline isn’t likely to sit well with people who are concerned that the road is currently a public safety hazard. Portlanders have been clamoring for a safer Barbur Blvd since the 1990s and we’ve recently seen a major uptick in urgency for this project from not just the BTA, but from the the City of Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee, Friends of Barbur, the president of Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Walks, the City Club of Portland, victims of collisions on Barbur, and others.

One PBOT source said a high quality study of Barbur Blvd could be done in less than two weeks.

Also in relation to a timeline, Novick explained that the upcoming ODOT project to repair the Vermont and Newbury bridges would, “provide an excellent opportunity to see how traffic responds to reduced travel lanes during construction in real world conditions.” “The Portland Bureau of Transportation will commit the time and resources to work with ODOT and engage the surrounding communities to see the impacts of a possible road diet and find the right solution,” wrote Novick. “This data, combined with feedback from all of those traveling in the corridor, will help inform road diet deliberations.”

There are a few things to keep in mind with Novick’s plan to focus PBOT’s analysis on that bridge project. First, a major construction project where ODOT is doing extensive public outreach about the traffic impacts, is far from “real world conditions”. Also, this is an ODOT project, which means they’ll be in the driver’s seat. That’s significant because ODOT has shown for months now that they are very reluctant to the idea of bike lanes on Barbur. And finally, ODOT’s bridge repair project isn’t scheduled to being until early next year.

While Novick’s latest statements don’t reveal any significant breakthroughs for a redesign of Barbur Blvd*, last week his Chief of Staff Chris Warner shared with us that his boss remains committed to a safer Barbur. “This is a question of tactics, not values,” wrote Warner via email. Warner also said that Novick will take an active role in this issue by “following up with calls to regional partners” and by joining the SW Corridor Plan Steering Committee at its meeting later this month.

As we consider Novick’s current tone on this project, it seems very clear that ODOT Region 1 Director Jason Tell has had a major impact on his thinking. Tell wrote Novick a letter that amounted to a Barbur Blvd 101 lesson back on September 30th.

As for whether or not Novick’s statement changes the BTA’s strategy, we expect to hear more from them later today (see below for update).

(*Note: It appears there are conflicting views on Novick’s statement. Some people read his statement: “The Portland Bureau of Transportation will commit the time and resources to work with ODOT and engage the surrounding communities to see the impacts of a possible road diet and find the right solution,” as a clear indication that he intends to do a collaborative, transparent analysis of the road diet — which is precisely what the BTA and others have been asking for. I however read that statement as referring to the traffic analysis planned during ODOT’s bridge project. I’ve asked for clarification from Novick’s office but have yet to hear back. UPDATE, 12:49: We’ve heard from Novick’s office and have clarified that indeed, Novick has only committed to working with ODOT on their analysis of traffic during the bridge project. Put another way, PBOT hasn’t committed to the “transparent and collaborative process with Metro and ODOT” that the BTA and many others have been calling for.)

— In other Barbur news, The Oregonian Editorial Board has officially weighed in. Follow all of our Barbur Blvd coverage here.

UPDATE, 11:05 AM: The BTA is calling Novick’s statement a “victory for safety” and has posted more on their blog.

Council agenda doesn’t include Barbur; BTA will rally – UPDATED

Council agenda doesn’t include Barbur; BTA will rally – UPDATED

UPDATE, 10/8: The BTA is no longer holding a rally, but they still encourage folks to show up and testify. More on their blog here.

Next week’s Portland City Council agenda has been published and it doesn’t include a key amendment on the SW Corridor Plan resolution that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) was hoping to see.

As we reported earlier this week, the BTA had made a very public request to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick and the rest of City Council. They wanted a vote on a resolution supporting the SW Corridor Plan to be amended to include the following:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Council directs staff to initiate a transparent and collaborative process with Metro and ODOT to study the Barbur lane diet option on SW Barbur Blvd. from Terwilliger to Hamilton. (SW Corridor Plan Projects #5006 & #1019)

But the SW Corridor Plan agenda item that was just published on the City’s website doesn’t include that language. In response, the BTA plans to hold a rally at City Hall prior to the vote on Wednesday. Here’s more from a BTA blog post that just went up:

“Unfortunately, the City of Portland is not planning to study safety of SW Barbur when they adopt the SW Corridor Plan on October 9th.

If ODOT is going to make safety improvements on SW Barbur, they need to know it’s a local priority. If Portland City Council won’t speak up for safety, it’s time for us to speak up for ourselves.”

The BTA is urging everyone who cares about this issue to show up and testify in support of the amendment. The rally is scheduled for City Hall at 1:30 pm on Wednesday October 9th. More details here.

In other Barbur road diet news, noted citizen activist and Portland Planning Commissioner Chris Smith published an ‘Open Letter to City Council’ about the issue. Smith is strongly in favor of the Barbur road diet and traffic study. “The proposed road diet,” he writes, “would be a great first step in the series of changes needed to make Barbur a place that delivers on the Portland Plan ‘healthy connected city’ promise.” Read Smith’s letter here.

Stay tuned. Next week is likely to bring some key developments.

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.

City Club of Portland to ODOT: Status quo on Barbur is “unacceptable”

City Club of Portland to ODOT: Status quo on Barbur is “unacceptable”

“This crucial connection to Southwest Portland has been too dangerous for too long and delayed action will almost certainly result in more preventable collisions and injuries.”
— City Club of Portland

The City Club of Portland, a local civic institution founded in 1916, has added their voice to the growing chorus calling for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to fast-track a road diet on SW Barbur Blvd.

In a letter sent to Mayor Charlie Hales and the rest of City Council today, the chair of City Club’s Bicycle Transportation Advocacy Committee, Craig Beebe, calls on ODOT to “immediately study solutions on Barbur that could significantly improve safety for every road user.”

“This crucial connection to Southwest Portland has been too dangerous for too long,” reads the letter, “and delayed action will almost certainly result in more preventable collisions and injuries.”

Here’s another excerpt (emphasis mine):

“The City Club recognizes that the Barbur corridor presents challenges as a state‐owned facility and a busy commuter route, which requires a greater level of cooperation and study than a city‐owned arterial. But this is no excuse to delay studying and implementing safety improvements for many years.

Barbur Boulevard is especially dangerous and intimidating for people riding bikes or walking between SW Hamilton Street and Terwilliger Boulevard. Crossings are few and far between, sidewalks are nonexistent, bike lanes are narrow and dangerously disappear at two bridge crossings. Meanwhile, speed limits are among the highest non‐freeway limits in Portland. As a result, this is one of the cityʹs High Crash Corridors, with at least 10 fatalities in the last decade.

Without further study, it is premature to say what the best configuration will be on Barbur. Reducing motor vehicle lanes to accommodate safer bicycling and pedestrian facilities (a ʺroad dietʺ) might be the best solution. Other approaches that could work (such as a reversible lane) might emerge after further study. What is known now is that the status quo is unacceptable, as is waiting a decade or more for the completion of Metroʹs Southwest Corridor planning process, as ODOT has suggested.”

The City Club’s letter is right in tune with an action alert issued by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance a few hours ago. The BTA is calling on Portland City Council to attach a resolution to their vote on the SW Corridor Plan next week that would initiate a traffic study on Barbur Blvd. If the resolution passes, it would make the Barbur road diet proposal an official city priority, independent of the regional planning process.

Read the City Club’s letter here (PDF). And if you missed the update on our last story, Oregon Walks has also issued a letter of support (PDF).

BTA urges Portland city council to study traffic impacts of Barbur Blvd road diet

BTA urges Portland city council to study traffic impacts of Barbur Blvd road diet

Screen grab of BTA website.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has stepped up their effort to move the SW Barbur Blvd road diet proposal forward. Their chosen tactic is to urge the Portland City Council to pass a resolution next week that would begin a collaborative effort between PBOT, Metro and the Oregon Department of Transportation to perform a traffic impact study.

The BTA — who made a Barbur road diet a key focus of their Blueprint report — posted their “reasonable request” to Portland city commissioners on their website a few minutes ago. They are calling on specific resolution language (see it below) to be included in Council’s vote on the Southwest Corridor Plan that’s on the agenda next Wednesday (October 9th).

Here’s the resolution language:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Council directs staff to initiate a transparent and collaborative process with Metro and ODOT to study the Barbur lane diet option on SW Barbur Blvd. from Terwilliger to Hamilton. (SW Corridor Plan Projects #5006 & #1019)

And here are the two projects from the SW Corridor Plan that are referenced:

5006 – Barbur Lane Diet: Terwilliger to Capitol – Reduce number of northbound travel lanes on Barbur from Terwilliger to Capitol Highway (north) from two to one to reduce speed and improve safety. Adds bike lanes over W Newberry (sic) and Vermont bridges.

1019 – Barbur Lane Diet: Capitol to Hamilton (reduce northbound lanes from three to two with multi-modal improvements) – Reduce number of northbound lanes from three to two from Capitol Hwy (north) to 1/4 mile south of Hamilton to reduce speeds and improve safety, improve ped/bike crossing safety and add protected bike lanes.

Calling for a study might not seem like a big deal, but there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Or at least we think there is. Here’s our analysis…

The Portland City Council is set to vote on the Southwest Corridor Plan next week. The “Barbur Lane Diet” exists within that plan in two (slightly different) forms as project number 1019 and project number 5006. They’re two of about 75 projects currently under consideration in the plan, and they’re aren’t particularly high on the priority list. As we reported yesterday, ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell has already stated publicly that the Barbur Lane Diet project has already been “discussed” and it is “wasn’t chosen for early implementation.”

If the BTA succeeds in their plan at council next week, the road diet proposal could find new momentum because it would become a City of Portland priority, independent of the regional planning process (which is long-range and not very nimble). One of the issues plaguing the project right now is a disagreement over what would happen to traffic if new lane configuration was implemented. ODOT says their initial analysis of traffic data proves that the traffic impacts would be negative and significant. However, other expertsincluding a Metro traffic engineer — dispute ODOT’s framing of the analysis.

Addressing this debate in their action alert, the BTA writes: “Past efforts to study the impact of building safer bicycle lanes and places to walk have been decidedly inconclusive. There is nothing controversial about gathering information.”

It’s worth noting that PBOT, the president of Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Walks, the BTA, and many others feel that a Barbur road diet is a good idea and that it should move forward more quickly than the SW Corridor Plan allows. So far, no one has publicly stated their opposition to the idea, but ODOT says some “stakeholders” in the SW Corridor Plan process object to the proposal (we have filed a public records request with ODOT to find out which stakeholders are opposed).

“Past efforts to study the impact of building safer bicycle lanes and places to walk have been decidedly inconclusive. There is nothing controversial about gathering information”
— BTA Action Alert

This brings us back to the BTA’s action alert and the important City Council action on the SW Corridor plan next week. The Council’s vote on the plan is a standard step in the process; but the unexpected part is that in addition to a vote on the plan, they’ll be asked to pass a resolution with language specifically about the Barbur road diet.

Contrary to ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell’s characterization that the BTA wanted to speed up the road diet project outside of the SW Corridor Plan process, today we see that the BTA is not doing that. The BTA’s position is to prioritize a traffic study on the Barbur project as it exists within the plan. (UPDATE: According to the BTA, this move would make the road diet an explicit City of Portland priority, independent of the SW Corridor Plan).

Since a renewed push for a Barbur road diet began back in January, ODOT has deferred the discussion to the Southwest Corridor Plan. Some advocates and citizens in favor of the road diet (including the publisher of this website) are concerned that keeping the road diet idea solely within that plan would effectively kill the idea. There are two main reasons for this line of thought: The SW Corridor Plan is a long-range planning process set up to choose a high-capacity transit option in the corridor. Given the scope and cost of such major projects, construction isn’t expected to begin for 10-15 years. That’s too long, some say, given the clear and present safety issues that exist. The other reason people are skeptical of keeping the road diet in the SW Corridor Plan is that the process is by nature a regional process (the lead organization is our regional planning agency, Metro). That means that the steering committee that decides which projects get implemented includes mayors and other leaders from cities all throughout the region — some of whom have constituents who commute into Portland on Barbur and who favor keeping it as fast and wide (for cars) as possible.

The BTA knows that the debate on the road diet proposal can’t really get happen until everyone agrees on the traffic impact data. Given that some experts have already said that adding bike lanes to Barbur between (approximately) Terwilliger and Capitol Hwy wouldn’t have a significant negative impact on traffic capacity, it’s likely the study results will bear that out.

Then, with those study results in hand, PBOT, the BTA, and others would likely be in a better political position to push for the road diet.

The risk in this tactic by the BTA and PBOT is that instead of pushing to work on the Barbur road diet proposal outside of the SW Corridor Plan, they are advocating to work on it within the plan. While that’s more politically palatable (you can see how ODOT’s Jason Tell was eager to criticize the BTA for stepping out of the process), it means that the project could be subject to the timeline and regional interest constraints we detailed above.

(Note: I have learned since posting initially that the BTA is seeking to make projects #5006 ad 1019 explicit city priorities that can be worked on independently of the SW Corridor Plan process.)

Stay tuned for next week’s council meeting. We hear injured Barbur hit-and-run victim Henry Schmidt plans to testify.

UPDATE: Portland-based walking advocacy group Oregon Walks has penned a letter of support for this resolution. Read their letter here (PDF).

ODOT region 1 manager lays out Barbur road diet position in letter to Commissioner Novick

ODOT region 1 manager lays out Barbur road diet position in letter to Commissioner Novick

High Crash Corridors campaign launch-4

ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The most powerful Oregon Department of Transportation employee in the area, Region 1 Manager Jason Tell, has now officially weighed in on the debate about a road diet on SW Barbur Blvd. Over the weekend, we obtained a letter (PDF) Tell sent to City of Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick on Wednesday that details Tell’s current thinking about the idea.

The letter was dated September 25th and it was cc’d to the SW Corridor Plan Steering Committee, ODOT Director Matt Garrett, Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Pat Egan, and Governor Kitzhaber’s Transportation Policy Advisor Karmen Fore. This letter marks a significant step in awareness of the road diet with the powers that be within ODOT and among our state’s transportation decision makers.

So let’s look at what Tell wrote. First, some context…

Tell wrote the letter to Novick after the Commissioner spoke about the road diet during a live interview at City Club’s Friday Forum on September 20th. In that interview, Novick was asked whether or not he felt the City of Portland should push ODOT to make safety improvements on Barbur.

“We definitely will push them to study it,” Novick replied, “because we think it deserves serious consideration.” Apparently, that and other mentions of it from Novick spurred Tell to write the two-and-a-half page letter. Tell opened the letter by saying, “There has been considerable discussion and analysis of this issue in recent months that you may not be aware of.”

“Any road diet proposal would have to consider… the use of crash data to quantify and prioritize safety problems… There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”
—Jason Tell

Tell then shared some background on Barbur and explained its progress thus far within Metro’s Southwest Corridor Plan (the Barbur road diet is one of hundreds of project ideas that currently exist within the plan). Tell said the project has been discussed, but that it wasn’t selected for early implementation.

Tell’s central argument in the letter is that any effort to advance the Barbur road diet now, outside of the Southwest Corridor Plan — which is what he claims the Bicycle Transportation Alliance has requested — would, “leave out key stakeholders already at the table and disregard the comprehensive evaluation of high capacity transit options that will begin in October.”

Two things are notable about this aspect of Tell’s position: First, the BTA has never advocated for going outside the Southwest Corridor Plan process. They have simply urged ODOT to work with Metro and PBOT to study the traffic impacts the road diet would have. Also, the idea and concept for a road diet on SW Barbur came along way before the SW Corridor planning process got underway. In other words, there appears to be no technical reason why it must continue to be hitched to the SW Corridor Plan.

Another point Tell makes repeatedly in his letter is that whatever happens on SW Barbur, auto capacity cannot be reduced. “Improving walking, cycling, and transit options,” he wrote, “without reducing the capacity of Highway 99W has been a consistent message we’ve received from stakeholders.” He also writes: “As a state agency, ODOT would need to make sure that any decision that affects the capacity on Highway 99W is consistent with direction from the Oregon Transportation Commission and State Legislators.”

It’s worth noting that, according to their analysis of traffic modeling data, ODOT believes re-striping Barbur to include a bike-only lane on a 1.4 mile segment between SW Miles and Hamilton would lead to an unacceptable reduction of auto capacity (a finding that is disputed by both Metro’s own traffic engineer and an expert at Portland State University).

Along with no negative impact on auto capacity, Tell wrote that any road diet proposal put on the table would have to consider four things: crash data to “quantify and prioritize safety problems”; “the needs of all users”; the effect of traffic diverting onto other roads, and the interests of local leaders, business owners, and so on.

It’s notable that he put the need to demonstrate crash history atop that list. As in many cases where it’s very unpleasant to ride, many people simply avoid riding on Barbur due to safety concerns and those who do ride on it are very experienced “strong and fearless” riders. Nevertheless, Tell finishes his point at the end of his letter by writing, “There are no recorded crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges over the past 10 years.”

Perhaps Tell believes the lack of reported crashes means there’s no safety risk at all and therefore the road diet is unnecessary?

One final note about Tell’s letter. He devotes two full paragraphs about the idea of transferring ownership of Barbur from ODOT to PBOT (known as a jurisdictional transfer). This appears to be a feasible solution if funding could be identified to make it happen.

In the end, Tell’s letter raises more questions than it answers. And on that note, I’m hoping to do some sort of Q & A with Tell to ask them. For now, brush up on your knowledge of this issue by reading Tell’s letter (PDF). And stay tuned. We expect more to report soon.

In letter to transpo officials, Lewis and Clark College president urges action on SW Barbur

In letter to transpo officials, Lewis and Clark College president urges action on SW Barbur

Barry Glassner is
tired of waiting.
(Photo: Lewis & Clark)

One month after a Lewis and Clark College student was seriously injured in a collision on SW Barbur Blvd, the president of that institution is calling on the City of Portland, Metro, and the Oregon Department of Transportation to take immediate actions that will lead to better conditions for biking and walking.

Barry Glassner has sent a letter (PDF) to PBOT Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell, and Metro Councilors Bob Stacey and Craig Dirksen, encouraging them to “work together to devise creative solutions which substantially improve bicycle and pedestrian safety in the short term.”

The letter is dated September 19th and it was made public today by Friends of Barbur, a volunteer group working to improve conditions the notoriously dangerous street.

In the letter, Glassner says he and his staff are actively encourage members of their student body and faculty to ride bikes or walk to campus. However, he writes, “We need to feel confident that they are not putting themselves in harm’s way by making this transportation choice.”

“We have a special interest in the members of our community having confidence they can safely use Barbur to get to and from Lewis and Clark without a car,” reads the letter.

Glassner refers to Metro’s ongoing SW Corridor transportation planning process, but he also notes how that’s a long-range plan that might not bear real fruit for decades. Therefore, writes Glassner, “It’s important to consider the present safety and needs” of people who use Barbur.

Barbur has seen a steady stream of injuries and fatalities over the years. While it was a very serious collision to one of his own students that might have spurred Glassner’s activism on this issue, just yesterday another person trying to use Barbur without a car was sacrificed to the gods of the status quo.

Many people feel the best “creative solution” out there for Barbur is a road diet to slow people down and create more pleasant cycling conditions. At this point however, ODOT hasn’t budged from their dismissive and dishonest position to maintain the lane configuration that puts a top priority on auto speeds and capacity. Will this letter from the leader of a prominent and respected local institution move the needle and bring ODOT to the table? Stay tuned.

Woman hit while walking on Barbur; but help is on the way – UPDATED

Woman hit while walking on Barbur; but help is on the way – UPDATED

SW 26th Ave is not a nice place to walk.

The bad news is that the Portland Police responded to yet another collision on SW Barbur Blvd this morning. The good news* is that help is on the way — in the form of a recently awarded, $1.8 million state grant — to add safer crossings and other improvements where it happened.

(*We’re still debating if waiting years for a paltry $2 million safety upgrade to a known danger spot — while people continue to get hurt and killed — should really be considered “good”.)

According to Police, a woman suffered “traumatic injuries” and is currently at a local hospital after she was “struck by a vehicle”. The incident occurred at around 8:00 am at the intersection of SW Barbur and 26th Ave. at the 9600 block of Barbur. We haven’t heard any other details about the woman’s condition or how the collision occurred;. It’s worth noting that this is an area well-known for its safety problems.

UPDATE, 4:05 pm: Here’s what happened according to the PPB:

“Investigators learned that the 27-year-old female pedestrian was crossing Southwest Barbur Boulevard from South to North, at 26th Avenue. There is not a crosswalk at this location. Both lanes of eastbound traffic stopped and allowed her to cross into the center median but then she stepped into the westbound lane of traffic and was struck by a Honda Accord driven by a 34-year-old woman.”

This stretch of Barbur is so notorious as a danger zone that the City of Portland and local neighborhood activists have been trying for many years to implement some basic safety updates. According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, SW Barbur Blvd is a designated “High Crash Corridor” for all modes. “Within City Limits, there were 19 pedestrian crashes and 23 bike crashes on SW Barbur from 2000 to 2009. Speed was a factor in many of the crashes, as was failure to yield,” wrote PBOT in the grant application (PDF).

PBOT map of project area and planned changes. This morning’s collision happened in the lower left corner of the map. (click to enlarge)

Thankfully (unlike the road diet stalemate situation further south north), the Oregon Department of Transportation has given the PBOT permission to move forward and implement safety upgrades on this section of Barbur even though it’s a state-owned facility.

And just last week, Portland City Council voted to support the Barbur Demonstration Project 19th Ave to 26th Ave. This project will pump $2.1 million in funds (allocated via Metro) to make this section of Barbur Blvd safer and more pleasant and it includes upgrades to the bicycling and walking environment. The project has been in the works for several years and the funds come in addition to $750,000 passed by City Council as part of the same project back in August 2011.

According to PBOT’s grant application, this project is designed to,

“improve safety for both pedestrians and cyclists, providing good access to transit, reducing the double barrier effect of crossing SW Barbur Blvd and the I-5 Freeway, improving pedestrian and bicycling connectivity and access for users of all ages and abilities and enhancing the walking environment. This project will build critical missing gaps in the sidewalks and bike lanes along SW Barbur Blvd, rationalize driveways, make minor improvements to existing signalized intersections and provide two new enhanced crossings for pedestrians and cyclists to access transit and destinations along or across SW Barbur Blvd.”

Unfortunately for the woman struck this morning, and all the other Portlanders who have to experienced the embarrassment that Barbur has become, these safety updates didn’t come fast enough. PBOT and ODOT are slowly making Barbur better, but as this morning’s incident makes clear yet again — there needs to be a much greater sense of urgency.

PSU traffic engineer adds new criticism of ODOT’s Barbur analysis

PSU traffic engineer adds new criticism of ODOT’s Barbur analysis

PSU transpo researcher Chris Monsere

PSU’s Chris Monsere in 2010.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Two days after a Metro engineer publicly called out the Oregon Department of Transportation for allegedly misrepresenting traffic data in a memo that sidelined a bike safety proposal for Southwest Barbur, another expert is adding new skepticism.

The latest critic is Chris Monsere, a Portland State University associate professor and nationally recognized expert in the effects of restriping roads to reduce auto travel lanes. In addition to questioning ODOT’s conclusions, Monsere questioned the agency’s priorities and said he was “disappointed in the way the analysis is framed.”

“Vehicle speeds are way too high on Barbur, safety is poor, and bicycle / ped accommodation is substandard,” Monsere writes. “Road diets have generally been shown to improve safety for all users. Motor vehicle delay at the peak hour shouldn’t be only decision variable.”

Barbur currently forces auto and bike traffic to merge into the same 45-mph travel lane as it crosses two narrow bridges. Neighborhood safety advocates have suggested removing one of two northbound travel lanes in order to have room for a continuous bike lane in each direction. ODOT has countered with a proposal to instead add flashing lights to a “bikes on bridge roadway” sign.

A traffic analysis earlier this year found that without further changes, a restriping would slow travel times in the morning rush hour and cause some traffic to divert onto Corbett, Terwilliger and other roads. ODOT said Thursday that these are the relevant findings from its examination of a road diet.

Monsere first shared his thoughts in a comment beneath our Thursday post. On Friday I contacted him directly to confirm the statements.

“I’d consider both analyses preliminary enough that 20 to 40 seconds of delay in the current condition is not significant to completely derail the road diet option,” Monsere added in an email. “A vehicle could easily be delayed 20 seconds by the new crosswalk beacon south of Hamilton that went in early this year (or for that matter the signal at Hamilton or Terwilliger).”

In his comment Thursday, Monsere also asked exactly which stretches of Barbur were analyzed for possible restriping. The lack of specificity on this in our previous coverage is in part my own fault — ODOT’s documents didn’t specify, and I didn’t ask. Here’s the answer, from Metro engineer Anthony Buczek.

Road diet proposal map (click to enlarge).

“The road diet was proposed and therefore assumed from 1/4 mile north of the signal at SW 3rd/Miles to 1/4 mile south of the signal at Hamilton,” Buczek wrote Friday. Also, here’s a project description from Metro that offers a map of the road diet area (at right), which is actually divided into two segments.

The stretch doesn’t include any traffic signals, which Buczek has said are the significant chokepoints to road capacity on Barbur. This means that removing an auto travel lane on this stretch wouldn’t significantly reduce actual traffic capacity — it’d mostly mean that faster-moving northbound vehicles wouldn’t be able to pass slower ones during rush hour.

Monsere is director of PSU’s Intelligent Transportation Systems lab, co-chair of the national Transportation Research Board’s Safety Data, Analysis, and Evaluation committee, sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security, and was a member of the TRB Task Force to develop the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Highway Safety Manual.

Monsere concluded his comment Thursday night with a professional reflection.

“I can’t help but reflect on the assigned reading I give in class from the father of road safety analysis, Ezra Hauer,” Monsere said. “He wrote ‘Is it better to be dead than stuck in traffic?’ I think we know the answer to that question.”

Metro traffic engineer says ODOT memo overstated effects of restriping Barbur

Metro traffic engineer says ODOT memo overstated effects of restriping Barbur

Riding Portland's urban highways-40

(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A state memo that dismissed a set of bike safety improvements on Southwest Barbur Boulevard was “wrong” in its use of traffic data, a traffic engineer who helped prepare the data said Wednesday.

Barbur, the only flat and direct route connecting much of Southwest Portland and the rest of the city, currently forces cars and bicycles to merge into the same 45 mph lane in order to cross two narrow bridges. The Oregon Department of Transportation has been under pressure from some nearby residents to explain its unwillingness to restripe the road after a planned repaving job.

As part of its case against replacing one of two northbound auto lanes with two dedicated bike lanes across the bridges, ODOT had cited a report finding that the change might increase travel times somewhere between 10 and 65 percent on the corridor by 2035. (It comes to something like 84 seconds to 9 minutes of additional auto travel time over the course of the 4.9 miles south of the proposed changes.) Among other things, the models assume that no one will ever change their schedule or mode of travel to avoid that congestion.

But Buczek, a traffic engineer for regional agency Metro who’s participated in months of negotiations over ways to change the road, said in an interview that those numbers were not the best available and said the two agencies had previously agreed not to release them without agreeing on how to correct their inaccuracies.

“ODOT has done road diets elsewhere in the state. For whatever reason, ODOT Region 1 isn’t on board.”
— Anthony Buczek, Metro travel engineer

“There’s just not enough detail in the model to assess accurately the travel times or the amount of diversion,” said Buczek. “We thought we had communicated that pretty clearly to ODOT, so I think we were a little surprised to see the data released as it was.”

Buczek said the “correct” numbers, if any, came from a subsequent study by Metro and the City of Portland, using Synchro SimTraffic software, that found additional auto travel delays of about 10 percent by 2035, mostly because a restriping would force all northbound cars to drive only as fast as the slowest car.

Afternoon rush-hour travel, meanwhile, might actually be accelerated by dedicated bike lanes, because they would prevent southbound cars from having to share a lane with bikes. No studies have yet looked into southbound traffic impacts.

Meanwhile, as some readers noted in the comments below our story last week, actual auto traffic on Barbur in the relevant area peaked in 2003:

Source: ODOT. Data gathered by Evan Siroky.

This was around the same time that total auto miles traveled in Oregon began falling statewide, and five years before the latest recession.

Even the most dramatic assessments of adding solid bike lanes predict that in the short term, restriping Barbur would increase northbound auto travel time during the morning rush hour by 15 percent, or about 40 additional seconds on the 1.8 miles between Terwilliger Boulevard and Hamilton Street.

Riding Portland's urban highways-30

An organized bicycle ride on Barbur in June.

In Wednesday’s interview, Buczek said ODOT’s memo by active transportation liaison Jessica Horning implied a false equivalence between the two studies by saying that the long-term results of restriping Barbur “would likely fall somewhere in between” the two estimates of additional auto delay in 2035, 10 percent and 65 percent.

“That’s wrong,” Buczek said. “We think the numbers coming out of SimTraffic are the accurate ones.”

Buczek added that replacing a northbound auto lane with one bike lane in each direction wouldn’t reduce the number of cars that can fit on the roadway during rush hour, it’d just slightly reduce the speed at which many of them do so.

“The capacity constraint remains at the signal at Terwilliger at the south end,” Buczek said. “It does slow things down, because the slowest car’s going to dictate the flow of traffic when you only have one lane. But it doesn’t really reduce the capacity, or at least not very much. And that’s why the impacts are at least minor to modedrate, I would say.”

ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton responded Thursday to Buczek’s criticisms by saying that both projections predict auto delays.

“Both the DTA and Synchro models showed similar results, that the road diet proposal would mean delays and diversion.”
— Don Hamilton, ODOT spokesman

“Both the DTA and Synchro models showed similar results, that the road diet proposal would mean delays and diversion along the Southwest Barbur Boulevard corridor,” Hamilton said. “They differed in their projections as to the extent of the delays but these are just models and not expected to produce precise results.”

Buczek, who specializes in assessing the effects of removing auto travel lanes, said he sees an institutional resistance to reducing selected auto speeds not in the entire ODOT institution but specifically in ODOT’s Region 1, which includes the Portland metro area.

“ODOT Region 1 is generally not supportive of road diet projects. I can’t think of one that they’ve done in the region,” Buczek said. “Which is unfortunate, because we know from national studies and the Federal Highway Administration that road diet projects do improve safety where they’re done thoughtfully. But there’s just a resistence from ODOT Region 1. And I think this is an ODOT Region 1 issue rather than an ODOT issue … I believe ODOT has done road diets elsewhere in the state. … For whatever reason, ODOT Region 1 isn’t on board.”

Horning, the ODOT active transportation specialist, disputed that characterization.

“I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to say that Region 1 isn’t supportive of road diets just because Region 3 has done one, but we haven’t done one yet,” she said Wednesday. “If we didn’t believe that road diets can be a useful tool, we wouldn’t have agreed to analyze it as an option.”