Common ground eludes association on traffic controls
By Allan Classen
The Northwest District Association’s deep divide over traffic diverters boils down to trust: Can the city be trusted to use good judgment in curbing the livability impacts of autos?
The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s NW in Motion project, coming to City Council on Oct. 8, has dominated NWDA board meetings for four months and its two most active committees for more than a year.
Last month, neighborhood representatives repeated the same arguments while failing to pass a motion either favoring or opposing it despite stacks of drafts and proposed amendments.
NWDA Transportation Committee members, several of whom have a background in government and/or urban transportation fields, are confident that PBOT staff will respond to their input and adapt to unforeseen circumstances as they implement the plan.
But others in the organization look to recent PBOT projects and reach the opposite conclusion.
None are more derisive than Steve Pinger, a development design consultant and neighborhood activist for two decades. Exhibit A is PBOT’s handling of the “jug handle” route directing traffic exiting Interstate 405 at Northwest Vaughn Street through three right turns looping under the freeway ramp.
“What in the world have you been smoking?” Pinger quipped.
The circuitous route dumps drivers at Northwest 20th and Thurman but prevents them from proceeding south into the district. While reconnecting Thurman Street between 19th and 21st avenues, the possibility of invigorating it with sidewalks and buildings in this stretch “has been lost forever,” he said.
The overbuilt bike paths and sidewalks strike Pinger as absurd.
“I have yet to see one bicycle actually use any of the protected bike lanes,” he said, noting that cyclists crossing the area use the streets instead.
“It’s a joke, a caricature of active transportation modes running away with the day,” Pinger said. “That absolutely is the concern, and it is spilling over into my reaction to NW In Motion.”
The proposed treatment of Northwest Johnson Street between 12th and 20th avenues may be the most contentious element of NW In Motion.
NWDA board member Vicki Skryha calls the project, which chops the street into “short, one-way sections in opposite directions” between 14th and 19th avenues, “unprecedented” in the United States and likely to disrupt traffic patterns in all directions in unpredictable ways.
“The Johnson Street Greenway appears to be suffering from the same issues of unclear criteria, questionable design decision-making and incomplete assessment of its impacts,” Pinger said.
Phil Selinger of the Transportation Committee said most of the diverters are on the edge of the neighborhood and delay drivers only a few seconds, a small price to pay for safer streets.