Updated: Open Letter to City Council on Barbur Boulevard

Update 10/7/13:

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance has an action alert urging folks to testify at City Council on Wednesday in support of the road diet.

Original Post 10/4/13:

My message today to City Council on the Barbur road diet:

Mayor Hales and members of City Council,

I’m writing to ask you to expedite consideration of the Barbur Boulevard “road diet”.

I relate to Barbur Boulevard on three levels: personally as a traveler, as a place with great potential and as an emblem for key policy choices that face the City under the Portland Plan.

My own travel needs and choices cause me to bicycle from the Barbur Transit Center to downtown Portland about once every two weeks. While much of the trip is an easy downhill glide, there are several harrowing sections and the two bridges between Terwilliger and Hamilton are by far the worst. While some drivers are courteous and change lanes to allow me use of the “shared roadway” sections, it’s all too common to have cars whiz past me only a few feet away, even though the adjacent lane is generally empty. As a “confident and enthused” person riding a bike I’m prepared to tolerate this on occasion, but I know that tapping the full potential for bicycle transportation in Portland will require us to make segments like this one – the major gateway into Southwest Portland – comfortable and convenient for people of varying abilities and confidence.

As liaison from the Planning and Sustainability Commission, I had the privilege to work with a group of dedicated residents and business owners in shaping the Barbur Concept Plan, our shared vision of how Barbur Boulevard can become a vibrant place where people live, work, shop and recreate while remaining a vital transportation corridor. But this vision cannot be achieved while Barbur is managed primarily as an overflow valve for I-5. Indeed, changing Barbur’s relationship to the freeway is essential to unlock the potential of the “crossroads” area at Barbur and Capitol. The proposed road diet 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.

ODOT is choosing to frame this as a trade-off against travel speed. I would suggest to you that differences in travel time (already challenged by other agencies and academic experts) are a rounding error in the much greater changes in travel patterns that the Portland Plan anticipates. Steep reductions in single-occupancy vehicle travel are expected and necessary to meet our aspirations for remaining a vibrant community in the context of global changes and challenges. Preserving a few seconds of travel time reduction today against unlocking future opportunities for bicycle and pedestrian travel is penny wise and pound foolish.

Unfortunately today’s planning tools are often constrained by the models in the Regional Transportation Plan which continue to forecast automobile traffic growth. Metro will not be integrating Climate Smart Communities policies into the RTP until the 2018 iteration of the plan. Until then, Portland must cast a skeptical eye and use more focused local tools to model performance of our transportation facilities.

I urge you to support early planning for the Barbur road diet and in the longer term pursue jurisdictional transfer of Barbur from an “orphan highway” to its future role as a vibrant city street. This choice is an important directional signal for how Portland will achieve its transportation goals under the Portland Plan.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

Chris Smith

48 Responses to Updated: Open Letter to City Council on Barbur Boulevard