Old Market Pub intersection set for installation of traffic lights
Portland transportation officials are hoping that good old signal lights instead of a relatively rare traffic roundabout will solve the problems where Multnomah Boulevard and Garden Home Road merge.
Best known as the location of the Old Market Pub, that unregulated intersection has, for years, proven difficult to navigate for drivers trying to merge onto Multnomah Boulevard from Garden Home Road.
Planning has begun at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to install traffic signal lights on Multnomah Boulevard just east of the pub's parking lot at Southwest 69th Street. Construction should be completed by the end of 2021. The entire project is budgeted at $3.2 million, with $1 million of that to be paid by Washington County. The intersection is in Washington County but jurisdiction was handed over to PBOT in 1992. Portland's border with Washington County is at Southwest 71st Avenue between Old Market Pub and Lamb's Thriftway.
An extensive effort to involve neighbors of the intersection in early decisions about the project uncovered a lot of support for the idea of building a roundabout to handle the traffic flow. Project manager Timur Ender wrote in a summary of the outreach plan, "Baby boomers all described their trips to Europe and how much they love the roundabouts there."
The difference between signal lights and a roundabout is that traffic from Multnomah Boulevard, Garden Home Road and Southwest 69th Street to the north and to the south will have to stop at a red light. With a roundabout, the traffic would keep flowing around a structure in the middle of the intersection. There is currently one classified roundabout in Portland, located at the entrance to the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College.
The other difference is cost. Building a roundabout would cost about $6 million, or twice what traffic signals will cost. It would also take longer; seven months for the roundabout and three and a half months for the signals.
"The main reason for choosing traffic signals is because the roundabout would mean more money. And what we heard from the community is 'We want this sooner rather than later,' so we want to build it sooner rather than later," according to Hannah Schafer of PBOT.
"There are already a lot of signals in the corridor," Ender, the project manager, said of the three-mile stretch of Multnomah Boulevard between Southwest Oleson Road and the Interstate 5 entrance. "And there aren't any roundabouts. So it would seem out of place in that there are no others nearby."
To engage the neighbors, PBOT sent out 8,000 mailers, held a project open house attended by 130 people and posted an online survey to which 900 people responded.
Schafer said, "Even though a roundabout is an exciting concept, we think this is actually going to fit people's needs better and address all the concerns we heard from people in a better way with a familiar transportation design."
Ender said the "fatal flaw" for the roundabout was the problems it could present for fire trucks, police cars and ambulances.
"Our traffic engineers felt that if it gets clogged up that presents kind of a public safety challenge for emergency vehicles that need to get to the other side," he said.
One influential group that didn't like the roundabout idea at all is the bicycling community.
"Members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee told us they didn't trust cars to yield to bikes at a roundabout," said Ender. "They told us they'd rather have a red light that tells cars to stop, 'So I know when I'm supposed to cross. With a signal I know I'm going to get my turn,'" said Ender, paraphrasing feedback from bicyclists.
The project to install traffic signals in that intersection may include funds for improvements to the bike lanes along Multnomah Boulevard.
"If we do anything, it will be restriping the bike lanes on both sides of the Boulevard and putting in white plastic posts," Ender said.
The plan for installing traffic lights just east of the Old Market Pub has been approved and is mostly funded. Here's how it would work: Traffic signals would go in at a new intersection just a little east of where Garden Home currently merges with Multnomah. Garden Home would be realigned to create a 4-way intersection with Southwest 69th north of Multnomah where there's currently a strawberry stand operating each spring. The new intersection will feature signalized pedestrian crossings and bike lanes.
Those hundreds of locals who participated in PBOT's engagement plan, as well as thousands of other nearby residents, were informed of the plan for that intersection the last week of April.
You can view the PBOT press release at tinyurl.com/y27jvhpc