Project Overview: We are 3/4 through a process to update the Foster Streetscape Plan originally created in 2003. The update aims to explore the possibility of accommodating a future streetcar, improving safety for everyone, and providing a bikeway along the street. All of these objectives are in response to recent citywide plans. One potential strategy to achieving these goals is the reconfiguration the street from a 4-lane arterial to a 3-lane arterial design. The idea of this change is a source of some controversy.
The latest Advisory Committee meeting was packed with information about the impacts of various streetscape proposals. We learned a lot, and I wanted to share my summary of the details from the meeting. I can’t stress enough that the analysis results presented below are preliminary and incomplete. For example, results showing impacts in the evening may be different when analyzed for the morning hours, so take some of this with a grain of salt.
The City will put forth 5 alternative corridor designs for presentation to the public. There will be a future public event in March/April to share these designs, along with the full analysis results. I won’t go into all of the details of the design variations in this post, but I will share with you the City’s analysis results related to the issues of a potential conversion to a 3-lane arterial design.
But First: How would a 3-lane arterial design even work? Isn’t it common sense that taking away a lane will create congestion? As it turns out, going from 4 to 3 lanes doesn’t necessarily affect capacity that much. I’ll let the illustration explain the concept (click image to enlarge):
The Impacts to Other Streets:
In a general sense, this appears to be a non-issue for most of the majority of neighborhood streets. The analysis predicted that only one neighborhood street will bear a significant burden of increased traffic: Holgate Blvd. The stretch from 63rd to 72nd will see most of it, although Holgate will still be “under capacity” (engineer speak for “not congested”). Still, representatives from Foster-Powell will want to take this impact seriously when weighing the pros and cons. Other streets in the area predicted to receive some additional traffic include 52nd, 72nd and 82nd Avenues, Harold St, and Woodstock Blvd. However, the predicted level of extra traffic on these streets is low.
The Take Away: The preliminary analysis shows that some traffic moves onto other streets in the future. The biggest impact is to Holgate Blvd in Foster-Powell during the commute hours of the day. The other hours of the day, the traffic should stay on Foster. This extra traffic appears to be your neighbors taking an alternate route home, rather than cut-through traffic from far away.
These results are preliminary: This analysis shows results from afternoon rush hour in the future, and results may vary (traffic diversion may increase) as the traffic engineers analyze additional scenarios.
If this option moves forward, the committee will discuss ways to improve those streets to compensate for the extra trips they would carry.
The Impacts on Travel Time:
Some level of slowdown has always been expected when considering the 3-lane arterial design. The question we hoped to answer is “by how much?” We still don’t have full detail on this, but the traffic engineer did model what we might expect in the future.
The Take Away: The preliminary analysis shows that traffic may slow by up to 2 mph in the future, during the commute hours. Added commute time? Probably under a minute.1 During most of the hours of the day there should be no change in speed.
These results are preliminary: This analysis shows results from rush hour in the future, and results may vary (travel time delay may increase) as the traffic engineers analyze additional scenarios.
The Impacts on Parking:
Each scenario has varying degrees of impacts to parking. It is useful to know how much people rely on parking today because reallocating the parking lane(s) may be a strategy to get other street elements added to Foster, such as a bikeway or wider sidewalk.
The Take Away: Today, on-street parking is well used in the areas west of 67th. East of 67th, not many people park on-street (measured as 6% occupied). However, things may change in the future.
The 3-lane alternative generally has fewer parking impacts, since it more easily allows for both bike lanes and parking at the same time, but this will come down to the specific details of the configuration rather than the number of lanes.
The Impacts on Safety:
Foster is a high crash corridor because it is a dangerous street to drive on. The vast majority of crashes involve only people driving. Three-lane arterial designs are generally considered safer than 4-lane undivided arterials because of the addition of a center turn lane, and because a single through lane discourages unsafe passing and lane changes.
The Take Away: The safety benefits of three lanes for people driving are often significant. (The planner cited a 29% reduction in crashes). Oh yeah, this same safety benefit should apply to your neighbors walking and biking too.
Note: There was a question at the meeting about the whether the safety benefits cited are valid given the high volumes of traffic on Foster Road. Most studies are done on streets with 15,000 – 20,000 cars per day (Foster has 23,000), and the research is absolutely conclusive about safety benefits lower volumes.
The Impacts on Bicycling:
All proposals (except for the “leave it alone” option) include a bikeway of some type. The City used some cutting-edge computer modeling to try and understand the impacts of adding bike lanes. Foster is an attractive route because it is a diagonal, but in it’s current form bicyclists are effectively banned from the street. Opening up foster to safely travel by bike will change that, and allow people to ride more easily to restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores. Because the average bike trip is about 3 miles long, chances are those people you see riding their bikes live nearby.
The take away: A bikeway is likely to dramatically increase the number of neighbors riding bikes on Foster Road. One of their major destinations? Foster Road itself. These are your neighbors; they are biking to support your neighborhood.
The bikeway benefit can happen with a 3-lane or 4-lane design.
The Impacts on Pedestrians:
The city didn’t measure pedestrian activity specifically, but a key complaint we’ve heard from business interests on the street is that crossing the street as a pedestrian is difficult, if not down right dangerous. Making it easy to cross from one side to the other in these business areas is a high priority.
The Take Away: Crossing the street is generally considered easier and more comfortable with three lanes than it is with four. Perhaps more importantly, it should be easier to cross anywhere along Foster, not just at marked crosswalks.
However, if we go with 4-lanes there are ways to make crossing 4-lanes safer and more comfortable at key targeted intersections. (Such as the flashing beacons at 80th).
Next month we will learn more specifics, and find out about how these various impacts change under different scenarios. It is possible that other scenarios may show more travel time delay, and/or more traffic diversion than the analysis shown here.
There have been a few other concerns raised about the 3-lane arterial design that still need to be discussed further. These are the ones I’ve heard so far:
- Could this design could hurt businesses because of added congestion?
- Could this design hurt business because of reduced drive by traffic on Foster?
- How would a 3-lane arterial design work when it rejoins the multi-lane street at 87th? Would people speed up or drive dangerously (because of frustration?) when they are driving through Lents?
Do you have other concerns about the 3-lane design not mentioned here? The more we can talk about our worries about these options, the sooner we can find the design that works for us all.
I’ll leave my thoughts for the comments section. Concerns? Considerations? Questions? Leave ‘em below.
Full meeting materials and presentation files are available on the Portland Bureau of Transportation website for this project.
- My back of the envelope calculation assumes a change of speed from 20 mph to 18 mph … I totally made that up for this exercise. [↩]