Tuesday, November 21

Safety Dance

Traffic Calming
As I was heading down 41st to get a bike fixed, I ran into Joe, Ryan, and AmyEllen who were impossible to miss in their bright orange shirts. What these brave folks were doing was calming traffic on this semi-arterial known for speeding. The project was called Safety Dance, and these folks were Dancin in the Street to slow traffic. As I reported earlier, Americans are becoming increasingly frustrated with local governments which show little courage in keeping vehicles from threatening public safety. Folks are taking measures into their own hands in various forms. From Car Free Days, to political advocacy, to actions such as this which temporarilly ensure a safe throughway. I talked with the folks here about what could be done to humanize the street. It becomes difficult because the street is considered sacrosanct by the law. So it is illigal to put a blockage of any kind within the public roadway (of course sidewalks are okay). I suggested to them that one way to do this without a huge amount of work, would be to run a rope across the street and hang a safety banner above the traffic. This would be legal (I think) and effective. For the time being I applaud their efforts to regain control of our public thoroughfares for people.

"You can make a road for people, or you can make a road for cars.
You cannot make both."
Former Mayor Enrique PeƱalosa

Wednesday, November 1

Sellwood Bridge -When Can We Cross?

Recently I attended the first open house for the developing Sellwood Bridge Project. I spoke with several folks there and learned how incredibly complicated the issue is.

First of all the bridge is completely unrepairable. According to Reid Kells (vice president of SMILE), the west approach is barely holding due to shifting soil, the deck is falling through in multiple places, and the main structure is being constantly bandaged. I asked what the chances were of any section of the bridge completely failing before a replacement could be built. I was told the chances were about 50/50.

It was amazing to learn that the Sellwood bridge handles 30,000 vehicles per day (it was designed for 15,000), which is the same amount as the Hawthorne and Broadway Bridges. Given the size of many vehicles today, that averages out to 75,000 tons. (more on this). It should go without saying that if proper bicycle and public transit facilities had been implemented, the weight issue wouldn't be so prominant. According to an ODOT representative, 10,000 bicycles cause the same amount of damage to the roadway as a single motor vehicle.

We all know that the bike path on this bridge is absurdly inadequate. On this the everyone is in agreement. Not only is the sidewalk barely wide enough for pedestrians (much less both modes) but the west access is laughable. Nearly all comments supported more sensible bike/pedestrian space.
Unfortunately as with any transportation improvement project (I mean this in the truest form of the term), the issue comes down to dollars, which is why federal money is being sought to cover the difference. This of course requires a more lengthy development process.

As part of this process, the Sellwood Bridge community (mostly through SMILE) hosted the scoping meeting in order to give and recieve thoughts from the public. I was impressed by the sheer volume of materials that was available (it's still available online). And for public input there were huge boards where we could give our thoughts on different aspects of the river crossing.
One piece that was freighteningly important is that while the bridge was actually built in 1925, some of the structure had been recycled from the first Burnside Bridge (circa 1894). Since these girders had actually been designed for horse carraiges and trolleys, it's no wonder that they're failing under the load of innumerable SUVs and pickups.

The good news is that both local residents and Portland Metro agree that no more than two lanes are preferred. Metro's recommendations are to replace the Sellwood Bridge as a 2-lane bridge with improved bike/ped facilities. They recommend handling increased traffic via improvements to the Ross Island and I-205 bridges.

The solutions which were most often brought up were a ferry service, and a streetcar on the bridge when it's completed. Both people I talked to, as well as the comment boards rang loudly of support for a ferry service across the river. So far this hasn't been brought up by the city. But enough voices should keep it in the discussion. Although there has been quite a push for bus service across the bridge, I have not heard the city talk about streetcar access (certainly not to the degree that transit and bike facilities are). This is an important option as well which should be promoted.

On the other hand, there is definately a sizeable push for less-humane options. One suggestion on the drawing board is an offramp specifically for the Oaks Bottom facility. I of course brought up the issue of triple convergence regarding that idea. The reason traffic demand is so high there, is because of the vast amount of parking available. If there was bus access and less parking, many people would consider alternatives.

As I spoke with Reid, we came to the understanding that federal dollars would not support a two lane bridge (which would cost only slightly less than a four lane bridge). However the feds are just looking at deck size. So it would be perfectly logical to create a 4-lane bridge design and use two lanes for traffic, one for bike lanes, and another one for a streetcar.
For those of you who use (or would like to be able to use) the Sellwood Bridge, I encourage you to give your opinion so that the planners know exactly what we expect to see in a replacement.