ODOT Response to Bicycle Safety Issues on SW Barbur

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and many community leaders are campaigning for a safer environment for people who walk and ride bikes on SW Barbur. Today we received a response from ODOT staff, republished here in full.

Our team will review and respond to these comments on Friday, Sept. 6th.

Letter from ODOT:

September 5, 2013

Dear Concerned Citizens,

Thank you for your comments regarding safety on Barbur Blvd and bicycle facilities on the Vermont and Newbury Bridges. The paragraphs below respond directly to several frequently asked questions regarding bicycle facilities on Barbur Blvd between SW Hamilton Rd and SW Terwilliger Blvd.

Has ODOT studied safety improvements that include expanding a separated bicycle lane over the existing Vermont and Newbury Bridges?

ODOT has evaluated multiple options to expand bicycle facilities over the Vermont and Newbury Bridges, including:

• Narrow existing lanes to accommodate bike lanes: Existing lane widths are substandard and cannot safely be reduced enough to accommodate bike lanes.

• Remove existing walkways to provide a shared pedestrian/bicycle facility that is level with the roadway: The existing walkways are part of the bridge structures and cannot be removed.

• Widen southbound walkway to provide a wider space for people cycling uphill to ride on the sidewalk separated from motor vehicle traffic: This option was approved by ODOT as part of the bridge project but did not receive adequate community support for implementation. Multiple neighborhood and advocacy organizations stated they preferred to maintain wider outside lanes for cycling and/or did not feel the benefit justified the cost.

• Reconstruct/widen the bridges or construct separate bridges for pedestrian and bicycle traffic: These improvements would be eligible for Federal Transit Administration funding if constructed as part of SW Corridor High Capacity Transit (light rail or bus rapid transit) project. Funding is not currently available
for these improvements, estimated at $10 million to construct separate pedestrian/bicycle bridges or $25 million to reconstruct both bridges.

• Remove a northbound motor vehicle travel lane between SW Hamilton Rd and SW Terwilliger Blvd to provide enhanced bicycle facilities: Based on our recent analysis of Metro’s modeling of this concept, there are negative impacts on surrounding neighborhood streets and other corridor users as traffic diverts onto parallel streets.

As part of the Vermont/Newbury Bridge Preservation Project, ODOT will install higher pedestrian safety railing, improve the walkway ramps, and upgrade the bridge drainage systems to address problems with standing water. ODOT is also proposing to install automatically triggered “Bikes on Bridge” flashing warning signs on both bridges that won’t require riders to stop and push a button. These additional project elements will improve safety; however, we understand they do not provide the separated bike facilities some stakeholders want today.

Has ODOT studied the feasibility and potential impacts of a Barbur Blvd “road diet”?

Earlier this year, in response to interest from stakeholders, several SW Corridor partners (Metro, City of Portland, and ODOT) worked together with a consultant team to analyze the potential short-and long-term effects of removing a northbound motor vehicle lane on Barbur Blvd between SW Hamilton St and SW Terwilliger Blvd to provide enhanced bicycle facilities.

A dynamic traffic assignment (DTA) model was used to show how changes to Barbur may affect traffic patterns throughout a larger area during the morning hours. The DTA analysis indicated that removing a northbound lane would divert a significant amount of traffic (5-20% of vehicles today, and 10-35% in 2035) from Barbur, with those trips switching to local streets such as Corbett, Terwilliger, Capitol Hill, and Taylor’s Ferry. The analysis also projected the road diet would increase motor vehicle travel times on Barbur (by 5-15% today, and 50-65% in 2035). Metro and the City of Portland later did additional analysis with a different tool (Synchro) that showed lesser increases in travel time on Barbur (7% today, 10% in 2035) but did not address diversion.

The different predictions about changes in travel time likely stem from the differences in how these tools operate. The actual amount of delay would likely fall somewhere in between these two predictions on “typical” travel days.

A review of our records show there is likely to be a medium to severe traffic incident on the portion of northbound I-5 paralleling this segment of Barbur on a weekly basis. When incidents occur on I-5, motorists use Barbur as their main alternative route and volumes can quickly increase. If a road diet were implemented on Barbur, many of these additional cars and trucks would instead divert onto Corbett, Macadam, Terwilliger, Capitol Hill, and Taylor’s Ferry during I-5 incidents. To further our understanding of the potential impacts of lane removal, ODOT staff have collected vehicle counts on Barbur, I-5, and surrounding local streets during “typical” traffic conditions. During construction on the Vermont/Newbury bridges, additional data will be collected to evaluate the impacts of lane closures. In addition, over the next year Phase 2 of the SW Corridor Plan will analyze high capacity transit alternatives, select multimodal projects that support transit operations, and convene additional discussions on the appropriate design and management of Barbur Boulevard/99W.

While some have framed the removal of a motor vehicle lane on the bridges as a quick and easy, “noimpact” solution, there are impacts that need to be considered. In addition to its designation as a City Bikeway and Walkway, Barbur Blvd is a designated City Major Emergency Response Route, Oregon Seismic Lifeline Route, City Major Truck Street, City Major Transit Priority Street, and a future High Capacity Transit (light rail or bus rapid transit) route. Over the past several months, ODOT has received both strong messages of support for a road diet and strong objections from stakeholders who feel that reducing motor vehicle capacity on Barbur/99W would create unacceptable impacts for commuters, businesses, transit, and freight operations.

Does the Bike Bill require ODOT to restripe the bridges as part of the Vermont/Newbury Bridge Preservation Project?

ORS 366.514, aka the Bike Bill, requires the inclusion of facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists wherever a road, street or highway is built, reconstructed, or relocated. Maintenance projects and preservation overlays are not considered reconstruction if the only intent of the project is to preserve the riding surface in usable condition, without any widening or realignment. The upcoming Vermont/Newbury Bridge Preservation Project will replace the wooden bridge caps on the Vermont Bridge and repair the bridge deck at the joints on both bridges to prevent them from becoming weight restricted to trucks and TriMet buses. The project will also grind and repave both bridges to improve the riding surface, but will not “reconstruct” the bridge.

How does ODOT prioritize bicycle safety improvements?

Barbur Blvd has been identified by as a “High Crash Corridor” by the City of Portland – a roadway with a higher incidence of fatalities and serious injury crashes than average for similar roadways. In order to make most efficient use of limited funds, ODOT has focused active transportation investments on locations identified in the Barbur High Crash Corridor Safety Plan as having a history of documented pedestrian and bicycle crashes.

The Plan identifies the intersections of Barbur with Capital Highway, Bertha, and Taylors Ferry as priority locations for bicycle safety improvements based on a history of “right-hook” crashes. In order to address these priority bicycle safety locations, ODOT:

• Installed ODOT’s first green bike lane, removed vegetation, and improved signage at the Capital Highway ramp (Spring 2012);

• Installed additional bike lane markings near SW Bertha in order to improve bike lane visibility (Spring 2013);

• Will construct a stormwater curb extension at Taylors Ferry Rd in order to reduce pedestrian crossing distance and discourage motorists from driving in the bike lane (Anticipated Winter 2013-Spring 2014).

In order to address priority pedestrian safety locations identified in the Barbur High Crash Corridor Safety Plan, ODOT:

• Installed a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) to improve pedestrian crossing safety at the 4900 block of Barbur, near the Rasmussen Apartments (Spring 2012);

• Will construct a new pedestrian crossing island with RRFB at Luradel St (Anticipated Summer 2014);

• Is designing a new pedestrian crossing island with RRFB at Alice St (Anticipated 2014-2015).

There are no reported crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists on the Vermont/Newbury bridges in ODOT’s 2003-2012 database (though unreported incidents may have occurred). While ODOT is aware that the shared lane condition on the Vermont/Newbury bridges is not ideal, there are documented higher risk safety locations ODOT has prioritized to be addressed first. That said, ODOT is proactively taking the opportunity to cost effectively improve safety at this location by installing higher pedestrian safety railing, improving the walkway ramps, addressing standing water on the bridge and installing automated “Bikes on Bridge” flashing warning signs as part of our bridge maintenance work.

What are ODOT and other regional governments/agencies doing to make Barbur a safer place for all users in the short-term?

ODOT has and will continue to work with our partners through the SW Corridor Plan and other efforts to identify short- and long-term improvements to increase safety for all users of Barbur Blvd (OR 99W) and support development of the corridor as the Region’s next High Capacity Transit corridor. ODOT is currently pursuing several pedestrian crossing, sidewalk infill, and transit access improvements identified as SW Corridor “early opportunity” projects for implementation in the next 1-3 years, including:

• SW 13th Ave Crossing Improvements – ODOT has received approval to install a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) at the existing marked crosswalk at SW 13th/Barbur to improve pedestrian crossing safety and access to transit. This improvement supports a priority location identified in the Barbur Concept Plan.

• SW Alice St Crossing Improvements – ODOT is exploring the feasibility of constructing a raised pedestrian median refuge island with RRFB at SW Alice/Barbur to improve crossing safety and access to transit. This improvement supports a priority location identified in the Barbur High Crash Corridor Plan.

• Barbur Transit Center Access Improvements – In response to neighborhood requests, ODOT will install stairs between Taylors Ferry Rd and Barbur Blvd to improve access to the signalized pedestrian crossing and Barbur Transit Center.

• Durham Rd Illumination Improvements (OR 99W) – In response to neighborhood requests, ODOT will install additional illumination at the pedestrian crossings at Durham/Barbur in Tigard in conjunction with the Fischer Rd Safety Project, scheduled for construction in Summer 2014.

• Hazelbrook Rd Sidewalk Infill (OR 99W) – ODOT is pursuing this sidewalk infill project in Tualatin in order to increase safe access to TriMet bus stops.

In addition to these SW Corridor “early opportunity” projects, ODOT is also pursuing $4 million in funding for bicycle and pedestrian access to transit improvements on Barbur through a joint STIP Enhance application with TriMet.

We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our regional partners to improve safety on Barbur Blvd for all users. If you have additional questions about active transportation issues on Barbur Blvd or other ODOT

Region 1 facilities, please contact:
Jessica Horning
Region 1 Transit & Active Transportation Liaison


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