My View: Traffic bureau, get your act together
The "Sources Say" article from the June 20 issue raised doubts about Vision Zero.
As a retired planner, I see problems in not just Vision Zero, but most other programs run by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Much of it is caused by a bureaucratic organization so cumbersome and compartmentalized that coordination and cooperation between working groups is lacking.
Regarding Vision Zero, it would seem logical that if you take a heavily used arterial like Southeast Foster (which provides major corridor connections to 82nd Avenue and the interstate) and then subject it to a road diet (reduced lanes, reduced speed, increased pedestrian elements), you are going to not only increase traffic congestion but create the potential for additional accidents.
Vision Zero proposed to reduce traffic accidents, especially those regarding vehicles and pedestrians. The problem is, it does nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. PBOT staff say Foster is also incorporating aspects of Portland's Complete Streets concept, which attempts to create streets allowing vehicles, bicycles, buses and pedestrians all to interact in (hopefully) a safe manner. This is awfully hard to do within a high-trafficked arterial corridor.
PBOT staff made two major assumptions for Foster. First, that more people will ride transit on Foster with the improvements. And second, excess traffic will be forced to use other streets to avoid the increased congestion; namely they would funnel over to Powell Boulevard. These are pretty bold assumptions. Are they even realistic? And why isn't the need for efficient traffic management and congestion reduction being addressed?
Reducing the capacity of Foster is going to impact traffic routing and functionalities for other streets. Was this considered? Or is Vision Zero operating in a silo?
Speaking of silos, another problem area showing lack of coordination involves many bicycle/pedestrian enhancement projects such as the Greenway along Southeast Lincoln Street. In this case, neighborhood traffic have historically utilized Lincoln to connect with Southeast Cesar Chavez and Southeast 60th. However, this Greenway project has defunctionalized the signalized intersection of Southeast 50th and Lincoln so that vehicles no longer can proceed through the intersection to 60th or Chavez. This forces traffic to use neighborhood streets to bypass the obstructed intersection and has had a secondary impact of increasing congestion at already congested Southeast Division and 50th.
Was traffic management involved at all with this project? And why did project staff ignore public comments about the intersection at project meetings? Other examples like this are seen regularly in letters to editors and postings.
Having watched PBOT over the years, the larger it grows, the greater is the disconnect internally regarding project coordination. Years ago there was a city traffic engineer who was very much opposed to crosswalk improvements while another compartment in PBOT was pushing curb extensions and traffic calming devices. Today we are seeing so-called enhancement projects affecting street routing while actually creating problems for other streets and intersections nearby. At the same time streets are going to pot(holes) and Portland still remains among the top 20 worst commutes in the country. Clearly, there is a major problem with direction in PBOT. Ignoring problems like congestion and potholes won't make them go away. And piecemeal so-called improvement projects that create problems for other streets is counter-productive. PBOT needs to get its act together, from the top down.
David Krogh of Portland is a retired planner.