Archive for the ‘Transportation Plans’ Category

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Bikes and Streetcars: Raising the Level of our Game

March 7, 2011

At Tuesday’s Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting we have a work session around the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit project. The steering committee recommendation is streetcar, mostly using the current Willamette Shoreline rail right-of-way, except for a few blocks on Macadam, and with several alternative routing options toward the Lake Oswego end of the corridor to be studied further.

This is consistent with previous comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Commission had provided to the Mayor (Portland’s representative on the project steering committee).

So now the question becomes whether Portland should include any conditions on its approval of the recommendation.

I expect that tomorrow we’ll have some discussion about mitigating the impact on several parks and natural areas that the alignment passes through in Portland. And I’m planning to offer some language along the following lines:

The streetcar alignment should be designed and executed with a significantly higher degree of bicycle compatibility than achieved in prior streetcar projects, with the goal of creating an environment that will attract “interested but concerned” potential cyclists, including:

  • Safe and comfortable crossing designs where bike facilities intersect the alignment
  • Safe and comfortable treatments where bike facilities run parallel and adjacent to the alignment
  • Convenient access (including bike parking) to platforms, particularly those outside the Portland Central City
  • Good connectivity for the bicycle network in or near the envelope of the transit corridor
  • Safe and comfortable bicycle access should be maintained without interruption during construction
  • The project contingency funds should be sufficient to provide the ability to mitigate unintended impacts to bicycle facilities during or after construction

So what’s the fuss? The Streetcar Loop Project hasn’t repeated some of the mistakes of the past like putting bike lanes between parked cars and rail, where an opening car door leaves you no place to escape to. And where possible we’ve put streetcars in the left lane, away from the bike lanes, and even created a new neighborhood greenway on Marshall in the Pearl to keep bikes well-separated from the rails on Lovejoy.

But for all our progress, we got a lot of things wrong, including:

  • Crossings that aren’t close enough to perpendicular
  • An intersection at Broadway and Larrabee that is almost certainly less safe than it was before streetcar
  • Inadequate wayfinding that leaves folks in the Pearl unclear about where to go

and a myriad of small details that all could have been better.

The big opportunity identified in the Bicycle Master Plan is the “interested but concerned” portion of the population – up to 60% of us – who would be willing to use a bike for some trips, but don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to do so. The level of design we achieved on the Loop project is an improvement, but in my judgment in many places it will not assuage the concerns of the “interested but concerned.”

We have to do better. Let’s commit ourselves to doing so on this project.

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Surprising Airport Futures

June 22, 2010

We spent about 3 hours tonight hearing testimony about Airport Futures. This is the new zoning and planning framework for Portland International Airport and the district around it.

The session was a study in contrasts. We heard about the unanimous recommendation and consensus in the Planning Advisory Group (PAG) and glowing reviews of the sensible planning and environmental goals for PDX.

Then we heard from a variety of neighbors, from residents to golf courses to industrial land owners, the vast majority of whom were very worried that the expanded environmental zoning was going to destroy either their property values or their way of life (“will they make me take out my vegetable garden?”).

Definitely a contrast.

Everyone is complimentary of the airport portion of the plan, but it would appear that despite a wide range of involvement and outreach, a lot of nearby stakeholders did not grasp the additional environmental zoning (which seems to have a firm foundation in the science) on the properties around the airport and adjoining Columbia Slough until VERY recently.

Staff will be doing a lot of outreach in the next couple of weeks (resolving issues like the gentleman’s vegetable garden, which is probably not threatened). Once the surprise is past and people accurately understand the impacts, I hope our continuation of the hearing on July 13th will narrow down the set of policy issues we need to sort out.

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Meeting Summary 4/13/10

April 13, 2010

We spent about 90 minutes on the Milwaukie Light Rail project and heard testimony about the opportunity to leverage new FTA rules on including bicycle infrastructure in transit projects and concerns that $30M of the capital budget for this project would be funded by dollars that could otherwise be applied to operations. We forwarded the Conceptual Design Report to City Council highlighting these issues and a number of others identified by staff and the Design Commission, including the need for “quiet zone” treatments so that neither freight trains or LRT vehicles will need to sound their horns at crossings and specific connectivity issues at some stations.

This was followed by 2 and half hours spent on the tree plan, with a lot of discussion about when and how to regulate trees in the development process toward the goal of increasing tree canopy, but not much in the way of decisions yet. We have two more work sessions scheduled on this topic and the public record has been held open until at least the next meeting.

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Coming Up on April 13th

April 8, 2010

Official Agenda

Two topics coming up on Tuesday:

12:30pm Portland Milwaukie Light Rail Project Conceptual Design Report
Action: Hearing / Recommendation

I expect that we’ll hear a number of comments on urban design issues at different stations along the alignment.

I’ll be looking to highlight a couple of issues:

  • Does the finance plan impact future operations by converting funds from operating to capital?
  • Are there opportunities to leverage a likely increase in the Federal Transit Administrations definition of the catchment area for bike and ped projects near stations to help build out elements of the City bicycle plan?

At the conclusion of the hearing we’ll be making our recommendation to City Council. This is likely the last time Planning Commission will weigh in on this project, so don’t miss the opportunity to give us your thoughts.

1:30pm Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Improvement Project
Action: Continued Hearing / Work Session

We’ll be joined again by the Forestry Commission for a joint meeting.

We will continue the tree plan public hearing from last meeting, then hear staff’s thoughts on comments received to date. We have two work sessions reserved at future meetings to process this before we make a recommendation to City Council. If you didn’t get a chance to testify last month, this is your opportunity!

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Updated: Coming Up on January 12th

January 7, 2010

Update: Staff has released the briefing memos for recreational fields and grade changes.

The staff is recommending against the Planning Commission suggestion to require a conditional use review when changing grades in a school across the elementary school/middle school boundary. I expect a lively discussion.

Original Post – December 27th, 2009:

Official Agenda

3:00pm – Schools and Parks Conditional Use Code Refinement Project: Grade Level Changes (Work Session / Recommendation)

Schools and Parks Conditional Use Code Refinement Project: Recreational Fields (Work Session / Recommendation)

4:30pm – Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project: Clinton Station to Tacoma Station (Briefing)

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Portland Plan Participants Vote for Transit

December 22, 2009

Sarah Mirk at the Mercury beat me to an analysis I intended to present here, looking at the voting trends of Portland Plan workshop participants on the question of where to prioritization transportation investments.

As Sarah points out, transit was the cumulative vote winner, and I believe was the top vote getter in at least three of the seven workshops. But it did vary by neighborhood, with bicycle infrastructure on top in NE Portland and sidewalks in outer East Portland.

To be clear, the survey is NOT (and not claimed to be) scientific, and doesn’t really focus on what the City of Portland spends versus what other governments like TriMet and ODOT spend inside our city limits.

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What’s the Bike Plan Worth?

November 12, 2009

As reported on BikePortland.org, while adopting the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 earlier this week, I encouraged (unsuccessfully) my colleagues to also recommend prioritizing full funding for the plan. In the process, I made a few comparisons that I thought I would share here. The full cost of the plan (over 20 years of build-out) is equivalent to:

  • 15 miles of Streetcar
  • 1 1/2 Sellwood Bridges
  • 40% of a MAX line
  • 1/8 of the Columbia River Crossing

I suggested that in my opinion the benefit to Portland for getting 25% of all trips onto bikes was greater than the benefit offered by any of those comparable investments (not that I’m saying we shouldn’t also make some of those other investments). Among the benefits I called out:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reducing reliance on uncertain supplies and exposure to unpredictable prices of fossil fuels
  • Improving air quality
  • Reducing roadway congestion
  • Creating safer streets
  • Increasing active transportation resulting in better community health and lower health care costs

For those of you who know me as a Streetcar supporter, I also said that if I had a dollar of unrestricted capital construction funds for transportation I’d spend it on bike infrastructure before Streetcar infrastucture! [Note that unrestricted transportation funds are a rarity.]

Just to be clear, this post is NOT sour grapes about my colleagues choosing not to make a statement about funding – Planning Commission is not a budgetary body. I am very grateful for their enthusiastic support for the plan. I just wanted to share what I said as some folks have asked about quoting me.