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Bob R.

Brian -

Since you mentioned the idea of a streetcar on Hawthorne, please examine this site: www.hawthornestreetcar.org

(I am the developer of the web site but am hoping to hand over organizing to members of the affected communities.)

The streetcar has been viewed mainly as a development tool, partly because development funds the streetcar and the streetcar spurs development.

However, we should not overlook the fact that the streetcar is also a transportation tool -- the next step up after buses cannot effectively expand service in a corridor. Less expensive than light rail, compatible with more neighborhoods and corridors, and more comfortable, higher-capacity, and a bit faster than buses.

The #14 bus on Hawthorne is one of the most frequent and most patronized buses in the city, yet overcrowding and schedule irregularities are common. The Hawthorne corridor was built originally along a streetcar line (there's the development angle again) -- perhaps it is time to realize that the correct transportation tool for this area, the streetcar, was removed prematurely from the neighborhood and should be restored.

- Bob R.

(Recently added member of the Portland Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee, but speaking on my own here.)


You are right on about the Burnside couplet. From the engineering side it is all about moving people in cars and buses (and possibly a streetcar as well). The problem is that the plan will ruin the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere on Couch Street near Powells, Whole Foods, etc. Adding a streetcar line will not significantly reduce the impact on the pedestrian.
I look forward to your upcoming posts on this project.

Doug Klotz

I was on the first couple of years of the Burnside Plan committee. The Burnside Plan (as approved by Council) is all about improving Burnside as a pedestrian-friendly street, both to cross and to walk along. One major impediment to this is the narrow sidewalks from Park west. Staff came up with a way to get wider sidewalks on Burnside without losing traffic lanes (which we were told was not allowed). The way is the Burnside/Couch couplet, which will allow on-street parking and 12 foot sidewalks, from Park to (now) 19th Ave.

At the same time, this also addressed the Old Town/Chinatown businesses concerns about left turns across Burnside.

It was never about auto traffic capacity, and does not increase capacity (unless you count left turns). It merely maintains capacity, as we were told was a requirement. Even the left turns are made better for pedestrians as they now take place at signals rather than unsignalized intersections.

It will improve the pedestrian environment along 7 critical blocks of Burnside, and increase traffic (and probably development potential) on a section of Couch that is largely moribund, except for 10th to 12th. I don't think Couch will be "ruined" in there either. The complaints of folks on Couch come almost exclusively from folks who bought their condos in the Henry after this plan was in place, a plan approved by and voted for by Gerding and Edlen during this process (I was surprised at the time they did, but they did). If they weren't aware of this plan, perhaps they should take it up with their real estate agent.

If folks really want a Burnside Plan that is not "auto-driven", then we could remove two lanes from Burnside between Park and NW 23rd (leaving one lane each way), and be able to widen the sidewalks, add street trees, and install on-street parking to provide an additional buffer for pedestrians.

I fail to see any "tweaks" to the current arrangement that would do anything significant for improving the pedestrian environment along or across Burnside.

Frank Dufay

Tweaks? Put traffic signals at the marked crosswalks to make traffic stop. Have signals timed to stop ALL traffic each cycle to let pedestrians cross at the east end cross-streets of downtown Burnside. Ditch the right-turn-only lanes, widening the sidewalks there.

I have no idea of the expense or practicality, but bury Burnside where the sidewalks can't be widened, similar to what we did with Powell where it goes under the railroad tracks, and turn the above-ground portion into a pedestrian only zone connecting both sides of Burnside.

No doubt expensive, but so's the couplet. Sacrificing Couch's pedestrian friendliness seems a heavy price to pay to fix what's badly broken on Burnside.

Frank Dufay

perhaps it is time to realize that the correct transportation tool for this area, the streetcar, was removed prematurely from the (Hawthorne)neighborhood and should be restored.

Absolutely. But the challenge is what Bob is alluding to...the streetcar --like the Burnside couplet-- is more about promoting DEVELOPMENT than about transportation...


I'll be interested in reading your upcoming post, Brian, on the Burnside couplet, but I'm surprised by your initial statement of opposition based on concerns for pedestrians. As something of an amateur expert on pedestrianism (I walk a lot), I find the couplet proposal very promising--though I realize it won't come cheap.

I agree with everything that Doug Klotz pointed out above about how Burnside is now lousy for pedestrians. Just adding more signals to stop traffic and/or lengthening the stop times, as some have proposed, do not seem like realistic solutions for a two-way street with high traffic volume, assuming we're unwilling to make auto travel on Burnside painfully slow and congested.

The couplet proposal, by reducing traffic on Burnside and increasing it on Couch, would essentially make Burnside and Couch function like the other one-way streets in downtown. That would be good for pedestrians. Experience tells us that walking around the central city is easy and generally pleasant, except when we come to Burnside.

As for Couch now being an extraordinarily "pedestrian-friendly" environment, I tend to think that's more of an effective propaganda line for Henry residents than reality. Traffic volume may be low on Couch relative to Burnside, but Couch is not easier and safer to cross than the typical one-way street downtown. The multi-direction stop signs now on Couch make crossing it a somewhat tricky matter of gauging whether drivers coming from different directions are truly stopped or about to go. As a pedestrian, I have much more confidence in traffic signals operating on one-way streets than in stop signs that require that multiple drivers simultaneously exercise their judgment on whether it is safe to proceed through the intersection.

Jesse Beason

Just wanted to throw out there that Sam asked and City Council approved the funds needed for the Bureau of Planning to do a citywide rail strategy to properly plan for the opportunities to link streetcar with land-use along corridors like Hawthorne.

Also, curious to why you think that Grand/MLK streetcar line is linked with the Couplet. Planning for the east side loop has been long in the works. East/West Burnside line is a new concept.

Full disclosure: I work for Sam.


I wonder if the planners actually think that widening the sidewalks between Park and 19th will actually attract businesses that people will want to walk to or sit in front of, even with half the current Burnside traffic flow passing by. Maybe.

There's really only a couple sidewalk areas of W Burnside between Park and 19th that are dicey for pedestrians. They're the block between Park and 10th, and the I-405 overpass. It doesn't seem worth it to do this couplet just to fix those two spots.

Reducing car volume, not maintaining current levels, should be the real objective. I believe a lot of Burnside's traffic is not destination traffic but commuter traffic. It's people that take Burnside because they think they can avoid traffic jams on 26, just as they do on Cornell.

Dumping half of Burnside's current traffic volume onto Couch is not going to adversely affect that street's pedestrian friendliness? It would take an extraordinary absence of consciousness to come to that conclusion.

Just the pollution, let alone the noise the noise and the stress, will destroy much of the relative serenity Couch currently has, and potential health that it could aquire in the future with good development. Just drop on over a couple blocks to Everett if you'd like to experience the future of Couch as transformed by the couplet.


Talk about propoganda ... the implication that compromising pedestrian friendliness on Couch street is driven by Henry residents is blatently false.

You only need to spend some time down in the area to figure that that isn't true. Over and over you will find literally hundreds (possibly thousands) of pedestrians using this area for a mix of uses including shopping. The fact is that under the couplet plan 24,000 average daily westbound Burnside vehicle trips would be added to Couch Street. That speaks for itself.

I fully support what WS says above,"Dumping half of Burnside's current traffic volume onto Couch is not going to adversely affect that street's pedestrian friendliness? It would take an extraordinary absence of consciousness to come to that conclusion." Yes, reducing car volume should be the main objective. Well said WS.

And by the way ... there are thousands (I am one) who do not live in the Henry but use and appreciate this area for its pedestrian-friendliness and amenities.


Jesse, regarding my pairing of the streetcar with the couplet idea, I didn't articulate myself properly. I meant to describe the connection between the two efforts to be an unofficial one. It seems to me that talk of an eastside streetcar loop, which as I also know has been in planning for a long time, is tied to pushing the Burnside couplet because they'd be intersecting portions of each, and a similar timeframe for approval.

I also want to better clarify myself about the Burnside couplet. But the outside world is also intruding right now: I'm headed to London on Saturday and am scrambling to finish a couple other big writing deadlines first. I plan to compose something more about the Couplet specifically on the plane or during some moment of post-flight jetlag.

So in other words, I'm glad to see that we've got a discussion going about the couplet, streetcar and such, but my next contribution is unfortunately gonna have to wait a few days.


WS and Lyle:

My basic notion is that on balance it would be beneficial to make Burnside and Couch function like other pairs of streets that run east and west downtown--such as Main and Madison or Alder and Washington, which are also streets that lead to and from bridges. These one-way streets are easy and safe to cross and aren't so full of fast-moving traffic that they are oppressive, like Burnside, to walk along. Also, they don't seem to discourage, in contrast to Burnside now, businesses from having entrances on the street.

The couplet seems to me like it would greatly improve Burnside. And though it would put half of that street's current traffic on Couch, the volume of traffic would not be so great that it would in effect create another Burnside. I mean, how could it, since we're talking about half of Burnside's traffic, not all of it? Also, as I pointed out, the traffic would be traveling in only one direction and would stop at traffic signals, which has advantages for pedestrians, at least in the view of this pedestrian.

As a general matter, I'm all for reducing traffic volume and use of cars. But it just doesn't seem like there's any serious support for measure's that, in order to enhance Burnside for pedestrians, would simply make car travel much more difficult. If we accept that improving Burnside for pedestrians—those who want to cross it or walk along it—is a worthwhile goal, then what do you suggest? Just slowing the current volume of two-way traffic on Burnside by installing more signals that stop traffic longer would probably create massive traffic jams, as would removing travel lanes.

Frank Dufay

function like other pairs of streets that run east and west downtown--such as Main and Madison or Alder and Washington

Which have signalized intersections, not long stretches without them But you argue that comparable signals on Burnside/Couch would "create massive traffic jams."

So which is it? What's the vision? Maybe its my 19 year familiarity with the Hawthorne couplet, but where there's one way traffic the cars go much faster.



No, I'm saying that it would probably create massive traffic jams to put many more signals on Burnside (such as on every intersection, as in the SW portion of dowtown) while maintaining it as a two-way street with its current traffic volume. I think the best realistic option is to make Burnside function like one of the one-way streets downtown, with signals at every intersection. This would require making Couch function as a one-way street going in the opposite direction. This works well for both pedestrians (my heartfelt concern) as well as cars (my grudging concern) south of Burnside. It seems like it could work equally well on Burnside and Couch.

But I'm not a traffic engineer. I just pretend to be one on this blog.

I agree that a one-way street without frequent signals would be a bad, anti-pedestrian idea.


I wonder what Doug Klotz, former committe member of the Burnside Plan committee could tell us about statistics they used for information about traffic on Burnside.

I'll grant Richard credit for offering Main/Madison, Alder Washington as possible examples of what the Burnside Couplet might be. I'm always impressed that cars will regularly stop for you as a pedestrian at those big painted crosswalks at the Park Blocks (on Jefferson), even when the light is green on 10th.

There's 10th and 11th north south too. All those streets do work quite well compared to Burnside, but even though, as Richard says, they lead to and from bridges, the volume of traffic they carry seems to be far, far less, and slower, than that of Burnside.

Efforts should be made to attract commuter traffic from Burnside rather than discourage them from using it. It's hard to say just how to do that, not knowing for a fact how many people are using Burnside just for commuting purposes.

Enabling better and easier access to freeways during rush hour, attending more promptly to traffic jams on the freeways, and gradual expansion of mass transit might all work to lessen the traffic volume on Burnside.

Doug Klotz

I am relating the statistics that were provided to us on the committee by the consultant traffic engineers. They gave us intersection-by-intersection numbers from counts done for the project, I believe, but I can't pull them up right now. My only interest was that the plan achieved the required goal that traffic capacity not be decreased, so the project could be approved, and we were told that this was the case.

I believe that if the sidewalks were widened to 12 feet, with street trees and on-street parking on both sides on Burnside from Park to 19th, indeed we would see sidewalk tables out there. The cross-section would be exactly the same as it now is on Couch: 12 ft sidewalk, parking, two traffic lanes, parking and sidewalk. All in the same 60 feet that Couch has. There are even some fine old buildings there waiting to have their ground floors renovated.

Bob R.

Putting more traffic lights on a 2-way street light Burnside doesn't work nearly as well as putting more traffic lights on one-way streets (and couplets) like the proposed Burnside-Couch couplet.

The reason is that with 2-way streets, you cannot time the lights to move traffic smoothly and orderly. Lights on two-way arterials are very disruptive to traffic flow.

Now, if you want to talk about adding lights to Burnside as a 2-way street and removing travel lanes, etc., to benefit pedestrians, you can do that, but you'll run into a huge opposing constituency.

The advantage of the couplet proposal is that it makes Burnside much better for pedestrians (without ruining Couch) while maintaining approximately the same through-traffic capacity while simultaneously bringing order to that traffic. Furthermore, the ability to make what are now-impossible "left turns" from Burnside without making 3 right turns will improve flow and reduce traffic on the cross streets.

Note also that Burnside is due for a complete reconstruction, regardless of the new configuration (couplet or 2-way.) A streetcar doesn't necessarily have to come along at the same time either -- the advantage of planning for one is that utilities can be relocated at the time the street is reconstructed so that it doesn't have to be completely torn up later.

- Bob R.


i disagree that the burnside couplet wouldnt be a big advantage for pedestrians. as a student who crosses burnside on a daily basis, i must say that one-way streets are much more pedestrian friendly to cross. its easier to see whose coming, and motorists seem more willing to slow down or stop to accomodate people. the couplet plan also includes a much wider sidewalk space.


I agree with casey to some extent, though I'm kind of wondering to what institution this person is a student of, and how that relates to day to day experience crossing 1 and 2 way streets. PSU, Portland Art Institute, or PNCA? Part of town makes a difference relative to experience with streets being crossed.

Richard made mention of some SW one way streets for comparison basis to what the Burnside/Couch couplet might be like. Only thing is, most of the SW examples are comparatively far more calm, likely carry far less traffic volume, feature drivers that are far more considerate to pedestrians than those on Burnside.

The only SW one-way that I would say might compare to the Everett one-way, or what the Burnside/Couch couplet might be like is Market St at the Park and 9th block. Traffic is very fast there coming downhill off of HWY 26. As a pedestrian, you really have to watch it.

Motorists will stop for you at the painted crosswalks, but they can leave you wondering until the last minute, unlike the experience you're more likely to have over on Jefferson and Park where they tend to be very considerate of pedestrians.

Does the Hwy 26/Market St one-way carry the same traffic volume as W Burnside? Knowing that might help to more clearly indicate whether in fact the one-way Burnside/Couch couplet would be better for pedestrians than the present two-way Burnside arrangement or the same with some improvements to it.

Frank Dufay

These one-way streets are easy and safe to cross and aren't so full of fast-moving traffic that they are oppressive, like Burnside, to walk along

This is why I have a problem understanding the "vision". "Fast moving traffic" is what makes the street "oppressive" but the couplet proponents are most certainly not saying traffic will be slower.

I walked Burnside over my lunch, crossed at Powell's and 2 or 3 blocks west of Powell's. The traffic from the sidestreets coming onto Powell --not cars already ON Powell-- are the biggest threat to pedestrians as cars jump the light to turn before you claim the marked crosswalk. The couplet doesn't solve this problem.

I totally agree that the four way stops are anathema to ped safety, and should be replaced by traffic signals.


I've got one more try in me ... Clearly the issue for Burnside is quite different from NW Couch (between 9th and 13th).

Currently Burnside gets 38,000 to 40,000 average daily vehicle trips (sans construction). By contrast, Couch gets about 3,000 average daily trips. These are PDOT figures. Burnside is not pedestrian-friendly and supports commuter traffic. Couch is extremely ped-friendly.

Under the Couplet plan, the Couch right-of-way will not change (it is for obvious reasons fixed in size). The sidewalks will be widened to 12 feet and there will be two lanes of traffic in the westerly direction.

So, approximately 20,000 vehicles (westerly flow only) will be taken off of Burnside and added to the 1500 or so vehicle trips that move in a westerly direction on Couch. That is a 13-fold increase in the number of trips on Couch going in a westerly direction!

"Ah, but there is one added lane in that direction and we will take off a few trips because we may add the streetcar!" Sorry, I don't buy it ... as shown by the numbers, the change will be drastic. On top of the vehicles (and possibly a streetcar) you add bus stops along the corridor. We're talking about traffic congestion --- slooooowwwwing traffic down.

No, if the couplet comes IMO - Couch will never be a friendly place to cross the street even if timed signals are added. Yes, Burnside will be better. But think about Couch ... 21,500 trips! (I revise my earlier figure based on looking again at the PDOT numbers). Think about this number ... the evening peak hour traffic is about 10% of the average number of vehicles in a day. Between 5PM and 6PM you will see 2,150 cars go through on Couch. That is 36 cars a minute for an hour's time!

"But, we'll have timed signals!" Either way, we will have a mess, there will be too much exhaust for peds, and I anticipate a herding effect to try and negotiate the street. Do you really think that people will want to sit outside on the widened sidewalk with all that exhaust? The current problem on Burnside will compromise Couch if this plan moves forward.


"'Fast moving traffic' is what makes the street [Burnside] "oppressive" but the couplet proponents are most certainly not saying traffic will be slower."--Frank Dufay

That raises a good question, will it take longer under the couplet for a car to travel from, say, Burnside at 23rd to the bridge? Maybe the couplet experts out there have an answer to that.

I suspect that cars would not reach the same high speeds on Burnside under the couplet plan because, under that plan, there would be signals at each intersection. Doesn't signalization on one-way streets downtown move traffic at an average of something like 13 miles per hour? That average speed sure seems a lot slower than the top speeds cars achieve on Burnside now. But what seems to happen now on Burnside is that cars go quite fast between the widely spaced signals only to have to stop for relatively long periods at the red lights that serve two-way and cross traffic. So the average speed on Burnside now, despite the throughway-type street environment, may not actually be much faster than 13 or so miles per hour. As it is now on Burnside, there's a kind of desperate speed-up-and-stop effect, which extends to cars turning onto Burnside across several lanes of traffic.

"No, if the couplet comes IMO - Couch will never be a friendly place to cross the street even if timed signals are added. Yes, Burnside will be better. But think about Couch ... 21,500 trips!"--Lyle

No doubt about it, Couch would have a lot more traffic under the couplet plan. But to get a sense of what 21,500 trips really means, I think we need to compare it to something we're already familiar with. Is that number greater, for instance, than the number of trips on Alder or Madison downtown? (Do you happen to know the answer to this, Lyle?) If it's about the same, then that level of traffic seems acceptable to me, given the improvement of Burnside.


The tables don't appear consistent as per the Burnside Couch figures. But it looks like Alder has 8,000 to 11,000 vehicle trips in both directions which would translate to about 4,000 to 5,500 trips in one direction (Burnside is 20,000 in the westerly direction and another 20,000 in the easterly direction). Madison appears to have 3500 to 8500 trips (or 1750 to 4250 trips in one direction). For these streets I am only basing this on what they indicate are the totals. Still significantly less than Burnside.


So in simple terms, (Madison and Alder are two lane one-way streets right?) both Madison and Alder would have half the traffic volume that Couch would aquire with the couplet, in the case of Madison, signifcantly less than half.

Nice work with the statistics Lyle. Any stats for Market St?

Frank Dufay

Do you really think that people will want to sit outside on the widened sidewalk with all that exhaust?

Judging by the success of the Champs Elysee in Paris, I'd say auto-exhaust isn't an especially relevant factor. We sit out on Hawthorne all the time, despite the not especially pleasant flow of automobiles and buses.


Thanks to Frank for already mentioning what I wanted to put down here - I'll just add my support. Couch Street in the Powell's area is NOT pedestrian friendly as it is. Both Couch and Burnside as they are are two of the least pedestrian friendly streets downtown, if for different reasons, and I am another one of those sorts who walks A LOT. There is no doubt that Burnside would improve - in every way, for everyone - under the couplet proposal, but my main concern is for the walkers, who can't help but feel like, well, 'streetwalkers' on Burnside. It's a disheartening experience, to say the least, one easily solved by simply providing wider sidewalks that don't drop off immediately into traffic lanes. The shift to Couch is a bizarre one then, causing one to switch fron 'lesser than' to 'better then.' It's difficult not to feel superior to, if totally frustrated with, the legions of BMW's and SUV's on Couch that don't understand the concept of four-way stop signs and the droves of suburbanites who don't understand the concept of crosswalks. A true Portlander would avoid the area entirely if it weren't for the sheer necessity of Powell's. And a real city (is Portland one?) doesn't hang on to some fake traditional sense of charming pedestrianism for one street (and we're talking about 'charm' that currently extends, what, two blocks?) when its neighbor, which just happens to be the city's spine, continues to be relegated to pedestrian hell.

Frank's right about people eating outside near busy streets as well. Go to Williamsburg or the Meatpacking district where the streets are disgusting and traffic constant - but sidewalks wide and car traffic buffered by trees and/or street parking - and marvel at the crowds spending gobs of money for the privelege of dining in these surroundings.


Actually, my mistake on the Alder and Madison figures - Alder is 8,000 to 11,000 and Madison is 3,500 to 8,500 trips on two lanes going in one direction. I was thinking they were two-way streets on my earlier post. My bad. Still the figures are far less than Couch will have with 21,500 trips under the couplet plan. Add the streetcar, some buses, keep the traffic that crosses at 11th and it will not be a pretty picture for peds.


You sound bitter. Your approach is that we'll just take back the 'awful SUV surburbanite-ridden Couch street (there aren't any 'true Portlanders down there anyway') by pumping lots of cars down that street' approach ... is bizarre.

First, the suburbanites are hanging out at the malls not downtown. Many in this area appear to be residents buying groceries, books and other items. I also see plenty of Portland tourists in the area and I happen to think this is a good thing.

Your comments makes me think that you don't really care about Portland at all.

Peggy MacDonald


BoP study of streetcar - Good. BoP study of Burnside/Couch - Bad. Sam decides.

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