Putting All the Pieces Together

Tuesday’s Trib had an article (“River of cars runs through it“) about the traffic that divides the South Portland neighborhood (formerly known as Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill) into pieces.

A whole series of fixes is needed to remedy this and the neighborhood is justifiably impatient at the rate of implementation.

25 responses to “Putting All the Pieces Together”

  1. It looks like they tabled it for another day. More delay = more money for those who’s pockets are lined with these outrageous projects. They sure seem to spend lots of money on studies and focus groups on transportation projects here in Oregon.

  2. Want to see a divided neighborhood, look at Interstate avenue:

    Trimet put a fence in the middle of the street and blocked, probably, 80% of the crosswalks.

    Light rail divides neighborhoods too!


  3. On the contrary, JK, light rail has greatly enhanced the pedestrian environment along Interstate.

    As part of my occasional exercise, I walk along various corridors in Portland. I have walked nearly the entirety of the Interstate Avenue alignment from Rose Quarter to PIR numerous times, starting prior to breaking ground, several times during construction, and several times since MAX opened.

    There has been a marked increase in pedestrian activity and a great improvement in accessibility since the Yellow Line went in.

    It is true that the MAX tracks have introduced physical barriers such as bollards and railings, but what was present before at most “crossings” was 4+ lanes of unsignaled traffic that was dangerous to cross.

    With MAX, the pedestrian crossings are either now fully signalized, or have protected median areas where a pedestrian needs to cross only 1 lane of automobile traffic, then the MAX tracks, then 1 lane of autos again. Much easier to do than wait for 4 traffic lanes to be clear and then sprint to the other side.

    Why don’t you ask people who live and walk along the line about how MAX has affected the pedestrian environment? (I have.)

    – Bob R.

  4. Why does it take MAX/Streetcar to make pedestrian improvements?

    The last time I checked, buying railroad rail was not a requisite material for a sidewalk.

    Nor are electric catenary wires required for crosswalks.

    Nor are LRVs or Streetcars required for pedestrian signals.

    Frankly I am disgusted that Portland now requires that any improvement has to have MAX or Streetcar, or it just isn’t being done. There was absolutely, positively NOTHING that prevented the City of Portland from making pedestrian improvements to Interstate Avenue without MAX; or Burnside for that matter right now; other than some heavy egos that want choo-choo trains everywhere; and unfairly take hostage millions of dollars in exchange for the trains.

    As for Barbur/Naito and the south downtown area, exactly where is all of the traffic going to go – I-5? Are you kidding? The traffic isn’t going to magically go away, and much of that traffic comes off of Capitol Highway/Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, which can’t access I-5 (unless via Bertha Blvd.) I assume that these neighborhood association folks have no problem widening Bertha (after all, it isn’t their problem!) or I-5 to five lanes in each direction…

    Just as there are critics that say we can’t think of Burnside in a vacuum, we can’t think of Barbur/Naito in a vacuum; as what happens there impacts traffic all the way out to Beaverton and Tigard, as well as many of the southwest neighborhoods like Multnomah Village and Garden Home. To just simply rip up two lanes of traffic and install angled parking on those streets is a safety disaster waiting to happen, because those roads have been in existance since the 1930s.

  5. Erik –

    You are correct that MAX/Streetcar should not be a required component of simple pedestrian improvements.

    Fortunately, a number of pedestrian and transit improvement projects are happening right now: Sandy Blvd is getting numerous curb extensions, additional crosswalks, improved bus stops, and additional traffic signals (such as the one now operational at Glisan.) Hawthorne Blvd is receiving a similar treatment. I was just down near the Bagdad Theatre yesterday with some out-of-town guests and even without the new signals switched on, it was much easier to cross the street at the upgraded intersections. I’ve seen a few improved crosswalks and extensions go in on MLK/Grand, and Burnside in Laurelhurst just got a new signalized pedestrian/bike crossing a few blocks east of 39th.

    Prior to those projects, Alberta and Mississippi have received pedestrian upgrades, and I’m sure I’m leaving out other examples.

    The Burnside-Couch couplet has been proposed and reviewed for years without a streetcar component. I agree that it shouldn’t take the promise of a streetcar to make this project happen, I think the benefits far outweigh the negatives and that Burnside-Couch should be done now, not later.

    – Bob R.

  6. I am fed up with this way of thinking. LRT and Streetcars are not great and in fact a humongous scam. This is why I am moving out of Portland, the very expensive, unlivable, polluting city where vagrants roam freely.

  7. I’ve often wondered about future traffic levels in SoWa myself. There really isn’t very much road infrastructure down there, and it is difficult to access. I believe the mode splits that the transport models returned forecasted a really high non-SOV percentage – something like 40% of trips in/out. SoWa is probably like lots of projects – it is hard to predict the future and if/when problems arise – more studies will be done and solutions will be found at that time. Much like in downtown Vancouver BC, and other highly dense urban environments people will just end up having to use alternative forms of transportation because there won’t be any other choice because of the expense of time & money. Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s not like we’re planning on building freight-intensive industries down there.

    Greg Tompkins: Later, dude. With the tight apartment market around town I’m sure there will some young creative type waiting to snag your place the second you leave. Where are you planning on moving to?

  8. The string of so-called fixes mentioned in the article like the proposed changes to the westside approaches to the Ross Island Bridge and making Naito Parkway only two lanes will only increase congestion, increase stop and go driving and engine idle times, increase fuel consumption for drivers that use one of those routes or find more circuitous routes through this and other neighborhoods, and negatively impact air quality. To my knowledge, Portland does not allow gated communities; however proposals like this one are actually attempts to socially engineer a wall around neighborhoods in addition to rationing roadway access.

  9. Ross said: “light rail has greatly enhanced the pedestrian environment along Interstate.”

    And reducing the motor vehicle lanes on Interstate from four to two has increased the negative impacts to air quality along the alignment due to increased congestion increased engine idle times. A motor vehicle running at a constant speed runs clean as compared to stop and go driving with a lot of engine idle time.

  10. Terry, you have misattributed my comments to Ross.

    I disagree with your contention that congestion has greatly increased along Interstate. It does take awhile to get across Lombard, but it did so before MAX as well.

    It is funny that we are discussing what is purely a negative impact based on design flaws in cars (low speeds and periods of idling = more pollution) when car makers could have been making cleaner cars and cars with idle start/stop systems for years. To suggest holding back transit projects because many gasoline cars are flawed is a real stretch.

    BMW, for example, is now introducing idle stop and mild hybrid designs in Europe including Diesels and entry-level cars. These improvements cost far less than going to a full hybrid (but don’t offer as many benefits) and prevent the pollution problems you mention.

    – Bob R.

  11. I’ll have to say that on North Interstate, the congestion problem isn’t so much the number of vehicles on the street, but poor signal interconnections – cars often hit multiple red lights, causing the idle/accelerate issue.

    Combined with an increase in the number of traffic lights, and it becomes a problem. But I don’t believe MAX is the reason for such; the problems could have been created by simply rebuilding Interstate Avenue as a local street with the same treatments without MAX.

    It also helps that, unlike Barbur Blvd., Interstate Avenue has multiple parallel routes for which autos can use. Historically, Interstate Avenue was the main north-south route through Portland (former U.S. 99W) and was a freeway from N. Greeley to S.W. Hamilton. So when I-5 was built, 99W was downgraded – whereas U.S. 99E served mostly a local route (of course further south in the Willamette Valley, 99E served Salem and became replaced by I-5, where 99W was further west and remains virtually unaltered).

    As a result, Interstate Avenue was operating well under-capacity. So putting MAX on that street didn’t negatively impact traffic.

    BTW, go to this website and type in “Interstate” for the street name; you can get pre-IMAX and post-IMAX traffic counts:


    In general, traffic did not go down after MAX was built. Judging from ODOT traffic counts from 1993-1995 (before 1994 this road was a State Highway), traffic has steadily increased, but has been relatively low for a four-lane street.

  12. Considering the river of cars through south waterfront, the IMAX/Interstate Ave is nothing. You can cross at ANY point along the entire route. Just because there is a little chain link fence doesn’t stop anybody but the wheelchair bound… and hell, I’ve seen some awesome wheelchair drives and wouldn’t put em’ past gettin across that.

    But I-5 through the southern area of Portland is an ABSOLUTE suicide run. Besides being dangerous to pedestrians if someone does attempt to cross people attempt to avoid them, endangering even more drivers.

    …But that’s what ya get when infinitely wise urban planners deem an 6 lane/4 lane interstate be put right through a city. The blasted thing should have NEVER been built that close to Portland. It should have followed the I-205 route where there was more available land to consume. But going through downtown, Portland is still reeling from the damage it does on a daily basis.

    But then again, not like I have to explain that effect to most of the folks reading this blog.

  13. You make some good points, Adron –

    South Waterfront, even with its gritty industrial history, was once fully connected to the neighborhood grid system, with connections (at least) at Grover, Curry, Gaines, and Abernathy.

    The much-maligned Aerial Tram runs directly over Gibbs street the entire way. If I-5 were not in the way (and the blocked connections on the four limited-access arterials of Macadam, Hood, Naito and Barbur were similarly not a barrier), transportation access to the South Waterfront would not be an issue and the tram would probably be unnecessary.

    The situation boils down to four choices:

    1. Have little or no development in the South Waterfront area whatsoever.
    2. Re-establish the former grid by building overpasses and tunnels every block to span I-5, how much would that cost?) and unblock the arterial crossings using signals.
    3. Re-establish the former grid by eliminating the freeway (not going to happen, I’m not supporting such an idea, just listing it as one of the options)
    4. Provide transit and bike/ped alternatives such as the Tram, the Streetcar and (maybe) MAX.

    The city government, OHSU and developers have chosen to go with Option 4, with just a tiny sprinkling of Option 2 in the form of signals at Macadam and a future pedestrian bridge at Gibbs.

    – Bob R.

  14. “Portland does not allow gated communities”

    Sure they do.. They’re building a giant prison and forcing us to PAY money to live here. Dayton, here I come! I’m moving back to you! Enough of the ghetto.

  15. Greg Tompkins: Later, dude. With the tight apartment market around town I’m sure there will some young creative type waiting to snag your place the second you leave. Where are you planning on moving to?

    It’s on craigslist!

  16. Greg: Dayton is real nice. I little bit too country for my taste on a regular basis, but certainly a good place for a few acres, quiet and some chickens!

    Erik: I can easily say that:

    a) Interstate MAX has reduced the vehicle carrying capacity of Interstate Ave but at least half;

    b) the “poor timing” of the signals is directly related to MAX – trains preempt all other calls (even emergency ones, I believe) and signal progression/coordination (for vehicles) is basically impossible to manage with the trains. PDOT’s signal guys are some of the top signal engineers in the country – trust that if they weren’t there, the situation would be far worse.

    c) The PDOT site you posted with traffic volumes is not really all the useable as a diagnostic tool. If you do want to compare some numbers, use these from the site:

    N Interstate Ave, N/N Going St
    6-Oct-1997 to 21-Jun-1999
    Total volume range: 16167 to 19841

    N Interstate Ave, N/N Going St
    9-Aug-2004 to 13-Dec-2004
    Total volume range: 12844 to 12904

    There is a significant reduction there, which makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t hold anyone to this figures, but the general trend is obvious. I didn’t find any other easily comparable volumes on that page. In any case, Metro’s regional EMME/2 & VISUM models show Interstate hourly capacity (one direction) today as 1800 vph instead of 3600. I may be off a couple hundred or so but those 2 numbers are about right, at least relative to each other.

    Traffic analysis focuses on peak hour anyway – this data isn’t provided.

  17. a) Interstate MAX has reduced the vehicle carrying capacity of Interstate Ave but at least half;

    I never denied that.

    What I said was: As a result, Interstate Avenue was operating well under-capacity. So putting MAX on that street didn’t negatively impact traffic.

    Interstate Avenue had plenty of capacity that was unnecessary, because most traffic was using other streets; and some of those streets could handle some traffic off of Interstate Avenue. Today you don’t see long backups along Interstate because MAX is there; the congestion I do see is no different than many other streets like Lombard or Killingsworth, where there is only two through lanes but no MAX.

    As for if traffic signals can be timed, it can and is done – both on Morrison/Yamhill Streets, and in downtown Hillsboro. My experiences on Interstate show that I routinely hit multiple red lights, when there is no train anywhere in sight.

  18. Yeah, the actual TOWN of Dayton leaves a little to be desired but I will be just south of there, you should stop by and visit sometime – just don’t stand outside and bring the densification folks my way! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the finer side of Portland – the art museum, the History Museum (card carrying member of both) and the Zoo. I just hate their deplorable living conditions, the homeless they don’t take care of while spending millions on the tram that shuttles hospital patients and doctors next to the smog and sewer, and trying to cram transit down everyone’s throat whether they like it or not. This is NOT my (or probably anyone’s) idea of “livable”. I can’t wait to hear the frogs again instead of the sirens, vagrants and neighbors doing the nasty.

    As for the traffic signals — they are all bulioxed up throughout the entire City of Portland! Go down a busy thoroughfare like Burnside and you actually have to WAIT at a red even if there are no cars approaching from the perpindicular streets. Traffic flow is night and day between Portland and Beaverton/Hillsboro. Sure, those areas have BAD traffic but at least the traffic flows better when it actually is bad and those towns actually have lights smart enough to SEE the cars to change from RED to GREEN. What is Portland’s explanation why they aren’t using better technology in this regard? Have they really wasted everything on “free” asinine Disneyland rides for the vagrants? They would rather spend it all on a couplet than make simple changes. What morons.

  19. “But I-5 through the southern area of Portland is an ABSOLUTE suicide run.”

    Oh, and making a TRAM go overhead is going to make it any better? Distracted drivers staring at the tram? Almost as idotic as the “traffic calming” Clock they put RIGHT in the middle of the busy pedestrian intersection between NE 8th and 9th on Multnomah! I wonder if a bunch of people could get together to shut down the tram in a class action lawsuit. I almost hope there is an accident and does just that! I also guess I need to find a new definition of the word “progressive”.

  20. Greg,

    We hear you. Really. For someone who frequently complains about discourteous behavior in Portland I would like to ask the same from you. Please respect readers such as myself by keeping your posts 1. relevant 2. respectful and 3. consolidated.


  21. The only thing I can add to this debate with our core Interstate Freeways in and through Portlnd is what we see is what we get. We cannot afford to make anything more then basic choke point improvements to this infrastructure.

    If the people want to make this more of a transit town they had better get with it providing alternatives to needed access to our industrial and work centers. We new alternative arterial roads for our trucks. We need to double the heavy rail capacity in our region and that means replacing the BNSF RR Bridge crossing the Columbia River. We need to double the Payroll Transit Excise Tax, to fund more connections/routes to our industrial and work centers that do not exist today. We need a westside bypass of Portland or the doubling of the capacity of the I-205 corridor.

    Let most industry including manufacturing and distribution move out of Portland and make it professional offices, condos and retail. It can look just like Vancouver BC.

    They do everything in Vancouver BC to keep these bad businesses and workers out of the core of the City. Trucks come in in the late evening hours to supply what is left for this high density life style.

    But to make this happen we have to pass the word that businesses in Portland that are not capable of being supplied or distrubuting their goods and services exclusively by MAX, bus, bike or PED must get out ASAP. Even if it takes a 20% or 30% split of truck and car for a business to survive in Portland with the current transportation planning, a business cannot survive with the planned congestion the City of Portland and Metro taking us down.

    This is good because all businesses now know that there is NO future for given types of businesses.

    The suburban areas have land and people who want to work. They have park and better schools and green grass with lots of trees and gardens. The best part is that congestion and all of that emissions that you find in the City go away and you can live longer.

  22. We need to double the Payroll Transit Excise Tax, to fund more connections/routes to our industrial and work centers that do not exist today.

    Didn’t I, in another thread, lament TriMet’s absolute ignorance of that major industrial area located along Tualatin-Sherwood Road, which empties out right at the junction of I-5 and I-205?

    Isn’t I-5 between I-205 and Oregon 217 the second busiest stretch of interstate highway in the state, after I-84 between I-5 and I-205?

    We don’t need no stinken’ increase in the payroll tax. We need TriMet to stop raping the bus capital improvement fund for MAX projects, and we need Metro to stop encouraging TriMet from doing it. TriMet is fully and unquestionably capable of adding bus service to industrial areas such as Tualatin-Sherwood Road, Rivergate, Airport Way East, Yeon Avenue/St. Helens Road, Swan Island/Mocks Landing, and other areas, and it can do it right now. However as long as TriMet mismanages its budget over MAX lines, we will remain at a standstill (pun intended).

    All it would take for TriMet is a five-year mortatorium on LRT. Lay off the entire capital planning department and shut down the Holladay Street office. Purchase about 50 new busses and immediately put them in service on industrial-area job shuttles, which will connect to existing MAX or regional/express bus routes (in Tualatin such would be the 96; a new I-205 express route could connect with Oregon City and Clackamas Town Center).

  23. Erik – you don’t have to see the MAX on Interstate to be impacted by its effects. As for you comments about “impacting traffic”, there is no question that MAX did negatively “impact traffic”: it reduced capacity, it impacts signal coordination on Interstate, it removed the ability or trucks to make left turns onto Interstate, it increased pedestrian traffic, it reduced available green time for all turning movements. These comments are not a value judgment whatsoever on MAX. But to say that MAX had no negative impact on vehicle traffic, by almost any measure, on Interstate Ave is completely wrong.

    As for downtown, MAX also has a negative impact on traffic there too (same effect as above), both on the Morrison/Yamhill and on all N/S streets. ALl signals in the downtown core are set to what is referred to as “pretimed” operation – 60 second cycles, so they are coordinated based upon the different offsets at each intersection. You know that you can hit all greens if you drive about 18 mph (need to do this when the streets are uncongested)?

    Portland is actually using some of the most advanced technologies available to actuate, manage and time their signals. I’m don’t mean to discount your observations as a driver, but speaking as a traffic engineer – I just don’t think you are aware of the type of work that is being done in town, or that the PDOT signal staff is nationally recognized and award-winning for their innovation and expertise in the field. If they had more money, staff and time, they could further improve upon the system but people aren’t interested in paying for (taxes) that level of quality. Just imagine what congestion would be like w/o the staff Portland has…

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