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Chris Smith

Brian, if Council believes that the Planning Bureau is wrong in their assessment of this project (as appears to be the case by the vote), why should Council make the Planning Bureau the lead agency?

As to tightly coupling the couplet to the Streetcar, that is not my preference either, but Council's (mostly Erik's as he was the swing vote) logic (and I watched the full video of the discussion) seems to be that Couch takes a big hit because of the couplet, it only makes sense to swallow that hit if you add back to Couch by putting a Streetcar on it.


Oh, please. The more opinions I read supporting the current configuration of Burnside and its place as a 'great street' or boulevard to be compared with the Champs (!!) further convinces me of (1) how low Americans' expectations are for our urban environments and (2) how unable most people are of realistically imagining what a place would be like.

Let's be frank: Burnside separates downtown from the pearl district, in the form of a traffic-heavy anti-human place. Cars zoom by at high speeds, sidewalks are narrow, and people get hit and killed by cars on a regular basis - because there is not enough room.

Champs Elysee in Paris is a HUGE, grand boulevard: the sidewalks on BOTH sides of the boulevard alone are wider than Burnside is! It also carries 8 lanes of traffic, has enormous street trees, and is fronted not by abandoned or shuttered buildings with durg dealers loitering out front (like our Burnside!), but by upscale shops, historic architecture, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

What will eliminating half the traffic from Burnside accomplish, while establishing a 20 foot sidewalk on either side of the street? I'll tell you what: a half-decent pedestrian realm, the likes of Washington street or Broadway downtown. But I guess some people in the city have some perverse voyeurism of driving through an urban wasteland and watching people get mashed by cars.

The Burnside couplet plan is to soften the divide between Downtown and the Pearl.

Furthermore, the Burnside couplet plan was originaly started by the neighborhood, not the city, and obviously not the planning bureau. It is Portland's legacy of grass-roots movements changing the city (freeway revolts), while top-down urban renewal are largely to blame for the problems (south auditorium, I-5 freeway & harbor way drive).

This project has been in planning for about 6 years now, from what I've read. The Pearl District neighborhood was the one developing it.


Brian, you are right about this ... the couplet plan will result in two extremely busy streets. These streets will not be like any other couplets in the downtown area due to the very huge volume of traffic on Burnside. We should be listening to our planners. I see some similarity to what has happened with Measure 37, creating more problems by not anticipating the ramifications .... hmmmm.

Frank Dufay

Champs Elysee in Paris is a HUGE, grand boulevard: the sidewalks on BOTH sides of the boulevard alone are wider than Burnside is! It also carries 8 lanes of traffic, has enormous street trees, and is fronted not by abandoned or shuttered buildings with durg dealers loitering out front (like our Burnside!), but by upscale shops, historic architecture, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

Uh...not really. First, the Champs Elysee is quite some distance from the Eifel Tower. Second, the sidewalks are certainly wide, but they are also filled with cafe chairs and the passable area gets quite narrow. Thirdly, I don't consider either McDonalds and Burger King either upscale or "historic."

That said...it's a fun place to catch a movie or some food at largely over-priced, tourist dominated, "cafes" (me, I never miss Pizza Pino) but "grande"...not so much.


If this couplet is really such a great idea, before committing to the major overhaul that the couplet plan involves, perhaps it's effectiveness might be meausured by trying it out in real life on a temporary basis.

Burnside and Couch can be turned into one-way steets with paint, cones, and other directional tools, eliminating lanes on B to replicate the effect of the couplet. Wire up some temporary signals and plug them into the system to allow a sense of how they would affect the couplet operation. Paint up some busses to serve as the street car and put them into the mix.

This temporary setup wouldn't have the pedestrian amenities that the fully realized couplet would, but it might help to give a sense of how the couplet will actually work.

The city council voted to spend 3 million just to further study this couplet. That alone is a lot of money to spend on a project that doesn't even address the true problem: too many cars for the corridor that don't belong there in the first place.


as the only street in Portland that touches Northwest, Southwest, Northeast and Southeast, I believe it has extra importance as a unifier of the city—a grand boulevard in the tradition of the Champs Elysee.

I believe that was part of the concept back in the 1930s when the City widened Burnside from Park Avenue to NE 12th and pushed the building faces back. It was mostly about more traffic lanes, but I think the grand boulevard idea was in there too.

If you took out one automobile lane each way and widened the sidewalks, you'd have a pretty amazing pedestrian-friendly boulevard. Instead, we have a traffic-choked arterial that acts like a Chinese wall between north and south downtown.

By the way, the couplet idea has been around since at least the construction of I-405. The Couch Street viaduct was built largely to accomodate a future couplet.

Frank Dufay

If you took out one automobile lane each way and widened the sidewalks, you'd have a pretty amazing pedestrian-friendly boulevard. Instead, we have a traffic-choked arterial

Traffic has increased with increasing density. All the new development that might come out of this isn't going to reduce traffic, or reduce congestion. Just the opposite.

Not to go all Jim Karlock on you, but the reality is that whatever percentage of new residents don't take transit, that will add --not subtract-- from the "traffic-choked arterial" we have today.

What seems undecided in all the discussion is what do we want Burnside to BE. We want it more pedestrian friendly, but in a way that moves cars faster, even as we add a LOT more cars AND more transit riders. Our ambitions feel disconnected if not completely schizophrenic.

I think a trial to see what it would be like is a great idea. Maybe we can even use the ginned-up Streetcar that the movie "The Hunted" used on the Hawthorne Bridge.

We could also try narrowing Burnside down to one lane in each direction to see the impact THAT has. One lane each way, with widened sidewalks, would certainly make the street more pedestrian friendly in a REAL way.
But trying to make Burnside more auto-friendly AND pedestrian-friendly ia just leaving us, I'm starting to feel, with a mish-mash. And as someone who's driven, walked, and bused on the Hawthorne couplet, where it splits off onto Madison on the approach to downtown...the one-way portion is much faster than any of the two way portion of Hawthorne. And very unfriendly for both pedestrians and cyclists.


Have there been any traffic studies to determine the ultimate destination of traffic on Burnside? The ability to make left turns could allow east bound traffic to disperse toward the Broadway and Steel bridges, and west bound toward the south.


I admit that I am in favor of the couplet. But it isn't the crossing of Burnside that concerns me, the difficulties of which would, indeed, be easily overcome by crosswalk and traffic light placement befitting an actual city - ie at EVERY (or at least almost every) intersection (Grand/MLK and numerous other major streets need to hop on this train as well). In the central city, one should not be expected to walk out of their way to cross the street safely - it's insulting to the urban mentality to have to constantly acquiesce to cars (think of those awful 405 overpasses with sidewalks on only one side - how did that get approved!!!!????).
What the couplet would (hopefully) address is not crossing burnside, but walking down burnside (and, for that matter, the clusterf*** of couch as well). If someone can solve the problem of the miserable experience that is having burnside as the most logical pedestrian route home or the place where you must wait for the bus without this tactic, I'm all ears. But the real problem is not crossing burnside -that's an easy fix. And, with proper signals, I don't buy the argument that having two busy streets to cross at the center of town is somehow going to act as a deterrent to anything. The real problem is the nightmare of walking on burnside (and sometimes couch). If someone can address that problem without the couplet, bravo.

But while we're on the topic of walking downtown: I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed that the way traffic signals are timed, which works brilliantly for cars (and bikes too, i'll confess), works terribly for peds. It's maddening! Try walking for any length of time across town and tell me if you don't find that, yup, every time you get to the next street, the light is just turning red. So you wait. Light turns green. You walk another block and... I think you see my point. And we wonder why people jaywalk!! Now that's the real barrier that needs to be addressed!!!

Eric Berg

I don't have an informed opinion on whether or not to couplet. However, from the time the idea resurfaced five or so years ago I've why the the idea of a couplet wasn't brought up and integrated with the River District, Brewery Blocks or Pearl Distrcit planning? That seems like the time to have done it rather than wait until everything was built.


"Have there been any traffic studies to determine the ultimate destination of traffic on Burnside?" David

I've wondered about that as well. I presume that much of Burnside's traffic is commuter traffic, but how could actual percentages addressing this question be obtained, if by some means, they haven't already?

"The ability to make left turns could allow east bound traffic to disperse toward the Broadway and Steel bridges, and west bound toward the south." David

Burnside used to be that way. What we have today is the 'new, improved' configuration I presume was designed for maximum traffic volume flow. That's why left turns are mostly eliminated. Cars backed up waiting to turn left interfere with the traffic flow, reducing volume capacity.


Zifondel, thank you.

Jesse Beason

There's been a lot of traffic studies of all the options. Though I don't work on transportation issues for Sam, I do know they spent an additional two years studying multiple options at the begrumbling of couplet supporters.

Data available here and here.

John Holmes

The couplet is a bad idea. To summarize: Streets with lots of cars are are not pedestrian freindly no matter how wide the sidewalks are. Burnside is about moving cars east / west. Couch is evolving into a nice pedestrian street and will continue to do so. Transfering cars from Burnside to Couch will make Burnside better but Couch less so. On balance we gain very little. Certainly we're not getting 80 million in value out of it. What would be very interesting is to have a conversation about how best to spend 80 million dollars to improve the city. I'll bet the Burnside couplet would not be the best idea out there.


John Holmes is right on the money ... the city will transfer cars onto Couch while gaining little. All the reports and background information do not acknowledge that it is very difficult to create the vibrant retail, mixed use area that is at stake. The report says something like there is groundfloor retail in this area like many other areas in the city. No, you can't take this area and flippantly say that it as like all others. Yes, there are a few other areas of town that function as well. It isn't easy to create a working downtown mixed use district like this one.

There are many streets where ground floor retail is marginally or not at all successful. It surprises me that the city is willing to put this success at risk and not provide the expertise (specialized retail consultant) to evaluate what could be lost here.

Portland is a city known for its progressive planning but in this case, it is willing to give in to the traffic that currently rules Burnside. By adding a promise to have a streetcar to gain some potential new development and new tax dollars Sam and others still fail to acknowledge what could be lost. What if this area starts to fail because of the extreme congestion that will result on Couch?

The prior analysis of this project is one-sided and thus the proposed couplet is a bad choice. We should be listening to out city planners not our traffic engineers.


can someone please explain this streetcar proposal? As far as I can tell from the newspaper, the proposed Burnside streetcar will run from NW 15th on the west side of the river to NE Sandy Blvd on the east side. Who will ride this thing? I can't believe that there is this much demand to go back and forth on Burnside. I walk across the Burnside Bridge several times a week and I don't see more than a handful of pedestrians walking along Burnside. Does TriMet's ridership data show a lot of rider boarding and exiting buses along this section of Burnside?

I could almost understand this project if the streetcar did some kind of loop up to Broadway or some other east/west street, but a streetcar just serving these inner sections of Burnside doesnt make sense to me.

Am I missing something? By the way, I am a streetcar fan not an anti-rail advocate, but I can think of a dozen better corridors than this section of Burnside.

Bob R.

Brian -

In all the presentations of various routes that I've seen online on the City's web site, the Burnside/Couch streetcar proposal runs to about NW23rd. There current debate (if there is to be a streetcar) is whether the westbound leg will follow couch to 15th or all the way to 19th before rejoining Burnside.

I agree that this doesn't seem like the highest priority for a rail project -- I hope this new study phase will reveal some serious ridership estimates to use for evaluation.

Certainly, as Burnside is currently configured, a streetcar makes little sense because there is no real pedestrian street life, with the narrow sidewalks and fast moving traffic that is unlikely to change. However, if the couplet proceeds, much of Burnside will have generous sidewalks and several public plazas, and that may change the character enough that streetcar-centered dense development will follow. The jury is still out, though.

- Bob R.

Doug Klotz

A favorite theory of how to walk downtown and beat the lights is to walk the opposite direction of the one-way streets. It seems to work out better than walking with the auto traffic.

Bob R.

Doug -

That very theory was once handed down to me by my grandfather. I remember trying to test it out when I was in high school but I honestly don't remember the result.

Right now, it's far to easy to encounter timing-interrupting construction anywhere you walk downtown, thus invalidating current test results. :-)

My normal walking stride is faster than most people, and this may have something to do with why I don't actually experience much trouble with waiting for lights.

- Bob R.


Personally I like driving my car and zipping up burnside and not having to deal with a lot of pedestrians. Why do all the streets have to be pedestrian friendly and sacrifice the automobile?


euro, what a funny question to ask. There seems to be a lot of others that care about cars more than people, but they are not so candid as yourself in expressing this as they voice support for the couplet. But wait! Supposedly, it is out of concern for people that couplet proponents argue for the couplet. This gets so confusing.

I suppose livability of the neigborhood is a key reason for efforts being conceived and made to arrive at a more equal balance amongst cars and people on Burnside.

Not directly related, but speaking of livability on Burnside, I wonder if any of you happened to notice the blurb in Willamette Week revealing news that the owners of the Jefferson Theatre up on SW 12th will be bringing their "adult" movies and entertainment to the Paris Theatre on 3rd and Burnside.

There you go euro! Now you'll be able to zip up Burnside in your car to SW 3rd and take in a porno flick! If the couplet goes through and Burnside becomes less car friendly, you don't have to sit in your car stuck in traffic...you can park it and take in a porno flick! Or, in 8-10 years, you'll be able to take the streetcar to see a porno flick. See, Burnside is getting better already!

Sorry...I'm being ridiculous. SW Burnside already has plenty porn shops and strip clubs. Maybe chasing them away is the secret agenda of the couplet.


Frank: you're right, I meant the Arc de Triomphe, not the Eiffel Tower.

However, at 70m wide (about 210 feet), it is much wider than our Burnside.

The road itself is about 80 ft (about the same as Burnside), while both sidewalks are approx 50+ ft (compared to 6-10' for Burnside), depending on which part of the boulevard.

The point being, of course, that the scale of that street is much, much larger than Burnside - unless you want to do what they did to create the Champs: condemn half a city block on either side of Burnside from Sandy all the way to West 24th. Any takers? I'll bet it'll cost a lot to bulldoze Big Pink, eh?


OK, got to grow up to be Seattle, before you can be Paris. So stick a few tall towers in downtown, acquire a few multibillion dollar corporations and then we'll take it from there. By the way, come to think of it, Forrest Park kind of looks like a hillier Bois De Boulogne, minus the prostitutes, hmmm. How could anyone miss the similarities...

Brian Libby

Boy, I really regret evoking the name Champs Elysee. I and everybody knows Portland is not Paris, and Burnside--one or two way--is not the Champs. (Pun intended.) I merely mentioned the Paris example to cite a grand boulevard. My point was all about Burnside.

Frank Dufay

Boy, I really regret evoking the name Champs Elysee.

Oh, I don't know. I think it was apt. While we may still appreciate the Champs Elysee for what it once was, or aspired to be...I don't think what we're looking for on Burnside is an extended outdoor shopping mall, which is largely what's happened there. Ditto 42nd Street, or even Times Square where chain stores and chain eateries have subsumed the existing cultural identity of the place.


I don't think Portland has ANY street that approaches the role of a ceremonial boulevard, much less one the scale of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. (And by the way, PDXers: I have to mark all of you down because throughout this entire discussion, not a single one of you posting on this topic managed to spell "Champs-Elysees" correctly! What's up with that? Have you no Google access?)

Anyway, wouldn't Broadway, not Burnside, be the closest Portland has to a ceremonial avenue of any type? Isn't that where the Rose Parade goes? Bunside really seems to have no civic significance other than being a quick route to get cars and trucks from one side of town to another.


Part the charm of Paris is that it is somewhat outdated, although still elegant (at least inside the peripherique or ring road)
But it does feel like a metropolis. Portland feels small (nothing wrong with that) but at the same times it lacks a certain "elan" that metropolises have. As Brian has observed in London, there are few opportunities to experience the sublime. In portland the sublime is the view of Mt Hood from Washington Park, mostly a sublimity created by nature, not civic aspiration. Mt Hood is our Arc de Triomphe and our Eiffel Tower (alas it doesn't line up with Burnside...)


I can't remember whether the Rose Parade crosses into SW over the Broadway Br or the Burnside Br. I'm thinking the Burnside, as that route would seem to be more scenic and offer better opportunities for spectators.

If you look beyond some of the shabby, seedy businesses that exist there(thinking of lower SW Burnside), Burnside has plenty potential for distinctive style and flair...elan. However Burnside is eventually configured, polishing the Burnside to SW Broadway route into downtown would really enhance that distinctive style and flair. Specifically, positioning the west bound Burnside traffic intersection with SW Broadway so that it would flow nicely. I'm not sure I'm describing what I have in mind clearly enough..sorry.

The Burnside Bridge is really quite a beautiful bridge. Beautiful in terms of the view it offers drivers of the river and the town they enter from both east and west, beautiful for people on the waterfront to look at.

Whether the couplet is the only feasible way of polishing that route is the question.

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