Archive | Burnside Plan

Mayor Unveils West Burnside Ideas

Mayor Adams posted a letter on his web site today, outlining stripped down alternatives for treatment of West Burnside Street.

The focus is a much-reduced project, $18M rather than the original $80M. And it does not include streetcar:

We completed the 25-year Citywide Streetcar Strategy. It showed me the need to prioritize streetcar extensions on the east side of the Willamette River.

The primary approach is a hybrid 3/4 lane Burnside that creates more left turn opportunities and improved pedestrian crossings.

But there is also an option for a “skinny Couch” to couple with Burnside – it looks like a very heavily traffic-calmed version of the original couplet idea.

I’m looking forward to learning a lot more in the near future.

Eastside Openings this Week

The East Burnside/Couch couplet has been in operation (and refinement) for a couple of months now, but the official ribbon cutting will be Tuesday at 9AM.

In terms of real change on the transportation system, I hope the new signaling system for bikes as they cross the freeway entrance at Williams on NE Broadway (installed as part of the Streetcar project) will be a big safety improvement. This is one of the scariest conflict points in the City. The exact start of operation is not determined (weather dependent), but it should be this week.

Asking the Right Question About Burnside/Couch

It would appear that the debate over the future of West Burnside and Couch is about to re-ignite.

This will be round three. I participated in round one, back in the middle of the last decade, when I represented my neighborhood in NW Portland on the stakeholder committee. There was broad consensus during that process that a couplet with Burnside and Couch on both sides of the river was the best answer to how to tame the traffic on Burnside.

Round two occurred after newly-elected Commissioner Sam Adams was given control of the Bureau of Transportation and with both PDC and the Bureau of Planning expressing concern about the couplet, conducted a complete review. The result was that the eastside couplet received a greenlight, while the westside was closer to a draw, with City Council giving direction that a couplet could only move forward if a streetcar were included (on the theory that the couplet harmed Couch, but that harm could be offset by the addition of a streetcar). The couplet was also terminated at 16th (rather than 18th) as a result of advocacy by the parents at the Cathedral School. PBOT was directed to further refine the options, including a non-couplet option.

Now it appears that Mayor Sam Adams is ready to take up the issue again. An ‘under-construction’ PBOT web page links to the prior couplet proposal and what appears to be an updated version of the ‘enhanced existing’ (non-couplet) proposal.

The opposition also now has a web site up and appears to have used the 3-year hiatus to get organized. Round three looks like it could be a spirited debate.

Which leads me to wonder if we are debating the right question. The couplet design was premised in part on the assumption that we could not reduce the amount of auto traffic on Burnside. Given that constraint, the couplet was an attractive option to split the traffic in half, putting two lanes on each street (so a pedestrian did not have to venture a crossing of four lanes of fast-moving cars) and then moving them in a slower but more continuous fashion by using progressive traffic signals on each block.

I am doubtful that Burnside will ever be very pedestrian-friendly if we must maintain the current traffic flow in the same right-of-way. But I’m also confident that if we were willing to reduce the amount of traffic, Burnside could be a very nice place indeed without needing to shift traffic onto Couch.

So I would propose an alternate question for Round Three: how much traffic should Burnside carry for it’s desired role in the Central City’s future?

Couplet Lives to Fight Another Day

I was fortunate to testify relatively early in the process yesterday, as part of one of about a half dozen invited panels.

That was before some 80 members of the public testified.

I had to leave immediately after my testimony to get to an MPAC meeting.

I just finished going through almost six hours of video of hearings (and I still missed the vote/final statements of Sten and Potter, which went past the 6-hour mark I had set my recorder for). Thank god for the 30-second-forward button on TiVO.

The net is that the couplet will move into preliminary engineering. But auto traffic will return to Burnside at 15th, so the Catholic Cathedral and School will not be impacted by additional cars.

Still in question is whether the Streetcar might use the stretch of Couch from 15th to 19th. That issue will be studied further.

Commissioner Saltzman who felt “trammetized” wants to keep the Enhanced Burnside alternative alive in case costs for the couplet turn out to be unfundable. The Mayor is concerned about how the project competes for funding with other transportation priorities.

Commissioner Sten wants to make sure that the couplet doesn’t happen UNLESS the Streetcar also happens (this is different from Sam’s previous position, which was that the decision was divisible – he has apparently now embraced the full bundling). Sten also added an amendment tying the decision into the Central City Plan update process (a potential delaying factor) but with a strong suggestion that the Central City Plan better include the couplet.

As part of the discussion, Sam had to defend the local match funding sources for the Streetcar Loop project and took pains to point out that they don’t compete with the potential Burnside sources.

Net result: A unanimous vote for $2.6M to start preliminary engineering on the couplet, and $500K to do project development on the Enhanced Existing option as a backup if the couplet proves too expensive.

Sam also has marching orders to figure out how the City-wide rail plan will get integrated into the early stages of the Central City Plan update.

Planning DIrector Gil Kelley, a confirmed couplet opponent, chose to go to MPAC rather than the Council hearing. I doubt he will be thrilled with the direction to reconcile the couplet with the Central City Plan.

We’re a long way from done…

Oregonian blog coverage here.