Proposed “Lane Reorganization” on Division St. may help reduce long-standing safety problems

 

By Paul Leistner, Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and MaryLouise Ott, South Tabor Neighborhood Association.

 

Division St. between SE 60th and SE 80th is a dangerous place for pedestrians, bikes, cars, and buses and has been for a long time. Community members have been complaining about safety problems on the street for nearly 40 years. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) believes that a “lane reorganization” on this stretch of Division St. would help improve safety for everyone. The South Tabor Neighborhood Association (STNA) and Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) have been working with PBOT to engage community members in a discussion of the possible changes. We want to hear from you as well!

 

This article is intended to increase the number of people who know about the proposed changes. Both the STNA and MTNA have set aside time at their February and March meetings to give community members a chance to ask questions and share their opinions and suggestions.

 

Currently, Division St. between SE 60th and SE 80th has two lanes going in each direction with no parking on either side of the street. PBOT has proposed a change that has worked on some other streets in Portland and in other cities around the country. This change would restripe the street and have one travel lane in each direction with a dedicated turn lane down the middle and bike lanes on the sides. Pedestrian crossing improvements like crosswalks, better lighting, signs and other amenities also are being considered.

 

The STNA has been raising concerns about safety on Division St. at least since the early 1970s. A search of the STNA archives found that in 1972, Mayor-elect Neil Goldschmidt visited the STNA meeting, listened to community member complaints about hazardous traffic conditions on Division, and recommended the group work with the City’s Traffic Engineer to find a solution. The STNA reaffirmed the high priority of improved safety on Division St. in its 1996 Neighborhood Plan, which was adopted into the Portland Comprehensive Plan. A couple years ago, STNA members again approached PBOT to ask for help.

 

PBOT responded by examining the data on Division St. and determined that the number of accidents and injuries make the street one of the ten most dangerous in Portland. PBOT has made addressing safety problems on Division Street a high priority and has included the street in the City’s High Crash Corridor Program. In March 2012, PBOT hosted a community open house to help community members learn about conditions along much of the length of Division (11th to 174th). STNA and MTNA representatives then asked PBOT to partner with them to engage the community on specific improvements for 60th to 80th. After 40 years, a safer Division St. finally may be within reach.

 

This fall, community members gathered to talk about Division St. safety and transportation issues at two meetings—on September 26 and November 7—organized by STNA, MTNA, and PBOT and generously hosted by Warner Pacific College. Participants discussed who uses Division, what’s working and what isn’t, learned about different traffic calming and safety alternatives, and asked a lot of questions about the proposed lane reconfiguration and about opportunities to make Division St. safer for everyone.

 

The meetings determined that Division St. has many—sometimes conflicting—users. Cars often drive down the street at high speeds. Some are local residents, some are accessing I-205 or I-84, others are commuters from East Portland and beyond. The #4 bus line is one of the most heavily used lines in the city—10-11 buses an hour during peak commute times and four per hour other times. Police and fire emergency vehicles also use the street. Trucks make up about 5 percent of the traffic. People on bicycles use Division St., but they often ride on the sidewalks to avoid the car traffic and make pedestrians feel unsafe (bike lanes coming from the east stop at 80th). Pedestrians walk along and cross Division to get to Mt. Tabor Park, Courtyard Plaza, Warner Pacific, Portland Community College, and businesses along the street.

 

Major safety problems on Division include speeding and collisions. About 44 percent of drivers drive faster than the 35-mph posted speed. Rear-end, left-turn, and side-swipe crashes are the most common accidents. Community members identified a number of intersections that are dangerous for pedestrians to cross. Many people described the high level of crashes and near crashes at 60th and Division. Many people also complained about bicycles riding on the sidewalks.

 

Many community members initially worried that the lane reconfiguration would significantly reduce traffic flow and push drivers to cut through the neighborhood. It’s counter-intuitive for most of us to think that reducing the number of traffic lanes wouldn’t reduce traffic flow. PBOT staff presented data from other streets in Portland and other cities where this has been tried. The data show that this type of reconfiguration reduces speeding, significantly reduces crashes, but doesn’t really decrease the capacity of the street for traffic flow. National transportation authorities recommend this type of lane configuration for streets with up to 20-22,000 vehicle trips per day. Division St.’s volume is about 18,000 vehicle trips per day. A similar configuration on Tacoma St. in Portland has worked fairly well with volumes over 25,000 vehicles per day. Capacity can be maintained because the two-way left turn lane allows left turning vehicles to make their turn without blocking the through traffic. Cars also can use the turn lane to go around a stopped bus.

 

Community members examined some alternatives, including more enforcement, signs, improved pedestrian crossings, flashing pedestrian lights, reducing the posted speed limit, and education of drivers. Unfortunately, enforcement and education have minimal effects, especially over time—most of us tend to drive at the speed that is comfortable for us based on the design of the street, often regardless of the posted speed limit. Improved pedestrian crossings would help but wouldn’t significantly reduce speeding and the number of collisions—especially those caused by people trying to make left turns from or onto Division.

 

Additionally, Division’s current lane configuration requires that expensive signals accompany new pedestrian crossings because the pedestrian must cross four lanes of fast-moving traffic at one time.  Under the proposed reconfiguration, PBOT hopes to install rapid flash beacons at a fraction of the cost and has identified three locations to install these devices.

 

PBOT has the funds available to do the restriping and could do it as soon as this summer. Some other improvements, such as crosswalk marking and lighting, flashing beacons, pedestrian islands, additional ADA curb ramps, traffic signal improvements, possible bus pullouts, etc. would require more funds. PBOT joined with TriMet and ODOT to apply for grant that includes $500,000 to pay for these additional improvements. PBOT staff feel that—given the high level of crashes and injuries on Division—they have a good chance of getting the grant. If PBOT gets the grant, the funds would be available to PBOT in 2017.

 

By the end of the November 7 community meeting about three-quarters of the participants supported the PBOT’s lane reconfiguration proposal and encouraged PBOT to apply for the grant. If the project goes ahead, PBOT assured the participants that PBOT will seek out community input to help determine that specifics of the design of any improvements. This includes input on where to put pedestrian improvements and other features.

 

Some community members still were skeptical about the proposal. They worried that reducing the lanes would snarl traffic, push traffic into the neighborhoods, create conflicts between buses and cars and bikes. Some urged that PBOT just look at improved pedestrian crossing, including flashing beacons, reduce the speed limit, increase enforcement, and increase street lighting to help drivers see pedestrians more easily.

 

After 40 years of concerns, community members and the City finally are working together to improve the safety for everyone on Division St. Continued community involvement is very important to ensure whatever is implemented really works and effectively balances the competing needs and uses on the street.

 

You can find a lot more information about the Division Street Safety Project, the lane reconfiguration  proposal, data from other cities, answers to questions from the community, and more at the PBOT website at  http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/59284 , or contact Clay Veka, clay.veka@portlandoregon.gov or 503-823-4998.

 

You also can share your thoughts about the project at the February and March STNA and MTNA meetings:

·        S. Tabor Neighborhood: Thursday, February 21 and March 21, 2013, meeting starts at  7 p.m., at the Trinity Fellowship, 2700 SE 67th (rear entrance), or contact STNA at info@southtabor.org or 503-774-7521.

·        Mt. Tabor Neighborhood:  Wednesday, February 20 and March 20, 2013, from 7-9 p.m., at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, SE 54th and Belmont (use entrance off 54th), or contact Paul Leistner at prleistner@gmail.com; 503-232-3888.