Burnside Couplet Alternatives Defined to Dismay of SAC Members

Yesterday afternoon Commissioner Sam Adams (by speakerphone, from Washington, DC, where he was lobbying for transportation funds) convened the Burnside Stakeholders Advisory Committee. The purpose of the meeting was to review two alternative options to the couplet design that will be modeled for their traffic impacts.

The first alternative is the “5-4-3” option, since it narrows Burnside in stages, with 5 lanes immediately west of the bridge, narrowing to 4 lanes further west and finishing with three lanes west of I-405. The major innovation in this plan is providing dedicated left turn lanes. I call this the “left turns without impacting Couch” plan since the major benefit is to provide left turns from Burnside at a variety of locations. What it does for pedestrians, the major beneficiaries of the couplet design, is still unclear.

The design is likely to be strongly opposed by the Portland Business Alliance, because it reduces the “portal capacity” (the ability to bring people downtown) of Burnside since in the 15th to 23rd section there is only one through lane in each direction. I suspect this one is dead on arrival.

The second alternative is the “Mini Couplet”. It’s like the original design, except that the couplet returns from Couch to Burnside at 8th, rather than at 15th, so it can’t bother the nice people at the Henry, who sent a strong contingent to the meeting. So as long as you’re prepared to write off the stretch of Burnside from 8th to 15th, this is just great.

Somewhat bizarrely, the study by Kittleson, commissioned by Brewery Blocks developer Gerding/Edlen recommended that Couch be one-way through the Brewery Blocks. So the way this will be modeled, Couch will be one way from 2nd to 15th, but the couplet traffic will be diverted back to Burnside at 8th even though Couch continues as a one way street. They’re essentially saying “we like the street design, just don’t put all that traffic on it.”

Needless to say, the SAC members had some trust issues. I suspect there could well be a full-scale insurrection before this over.

I fear for my neighborhood in NW Portland. We now have two options on the table – the original concept of narrowing the lanes on Burnside to 10 feet to gain some sidewalk width and the new alternative of being the ‘3’ portion of the 5-4-3 . Since the lane narrowing has been opposed by the freight lobby, and the PBA is likely to oppose the 3 lane (one in each direction plus a turn lane) option it is entirely possible that my neighborhood will get stiffed and left with no relief at all.

I intend to keep pushing for modeling of the 2 west/1 east option for this stretch to retain the hope that something can be done.

The traffic impact modeling is scheduled to be completed in June or July (the original plan was June, but may be extended due to requests from the SAC to look at sub-options).


6 responses to “Burnside Couplet Alternatives Defined to Dismay of SAC Members”

  1. A pair of one way streets. The proposal arrived at after four years of public process was to take Burnside and Couch and turn them into a one-way couple from 2nd to 15th (Burnside one-way east and Couch one-way west) with two lanes on each street. This would create a dramatically better pedestrian environment and open up opportunities for redevelopment.

  2. Chris – regarding the 10ft lane option that is being opposed by freight interests, I am a bit disappointed that my compromise proposal of a slight weave with 10ft and 11ft lanes was not included among the options.

    The proposal was featured here on Portland Transport, and was submitted to PDOT and the PBA.

    Do you know if there is a way that I can bring it up again in this new process?

    – Bob R.

  3. Bob, the SAC-adopted proposal is not being analyzed again (the original report stands). If the lane-narrowing option is the one that moves forward I would expect a political negotiation over various options (including an 11/9 or 10.5/9.5 blend), and that’s where your suggestion could have merit.

  4. I think they ought to just narrow the street to one lane each direction with turning lanes and parking on each side the whole way through. Nobody else will agree with me and it’ll never get done, but that’s my two cents.

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