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If it makes Burnside more walkable, which I think it will do, then I think it's wonderful.

Mike M

How would the east side couplet affect access to I-84 from downtown? Access is currently a boondoggle as you can't turn left off of Burnside anywhere. Besides the access to Sandy, this is probably the next biggest item in my mind that needs to be improved on the East side.

I'm still up in the air about the West side. I see benefits both ways. During recent construction, getting across the bridge during rush hour going east has been very trying.

Then again, if we all rode bikes, nobody would care.


I'm not so conscious of the East Burnside dynamics for pedestrians, since I don't walk there. The experience I have with it is that compared to West Burnside, East seems so much more intense than West. Maybe West seems comparatively quieter because it has the Park Blocks to break up Burnside's oppressive intensity. I figure the changes planned for East may be o.k., because the pedestrian experience the street has now is nothing particularly good. It seems like a lost cause; maybe a couplet would actually help over there.

Burnside is effectively a highway, obliged to run a large volume of cars through town. If the intention truly is to make Burnside a more pedestrian, non-motorized vehicle friendly street, this is the first problem that should be addressed. Diverting through commuters to other routes out of Portland would help to reduce negative effects of motor vehicle traffic on Burnside, effectively accomplishing the objectives that W Burnside couplet proponents claim for the couplet idea. This should be the priority.

If the W Burnside/Couch couplet is going to resemble in any way, the intensity of the Davis/Everette couplet, I'd say forget it. Citing another Portland couplet example, no way am I convinced the Burnside/Couch couplet will be a fairly quiet one such as that of S.W. 10th and 11th. Again, motor vehicle volume is this streets major liability. It's a pig's ear, and making a silk purse out it as things stand in terms of traffic volume, is unlikely.

John Russell

It would appear that they are adding bike lanes on both sides of the bridge in both of these projects, so cyclists such as my self won't just get dumped off into downtown traffic on one side, onto MLK on the east side.

I'm fairly confident and I have no qualms about riding downtown (it's probably my favorite place to ride), but the connections to the Burnside bridge could certainly use some improvements to encourage the more skittish cyclists out there.

Also, since they are redoing all of the pavement I take it, how much will be wasted when they have to tear up a lane to put in streetcar tracks? How much would it cost to just put the tracks in now? I would almost think that it would save money with lower inflationary construction costs, in addition to the lack of having to put down and then cut out new pavement.

How long until we actually see streetcar construction on the couplet anyway?

Bob R.

The couplet proposals, either eastside or westside, will indeed allow for proper left turns from Burnside at most intersections (which align with the one-way grid where applicable.)

This should greatly improve local access, replacing what now takes 3 right turns or significant out-of-direction travel with 1 left turn.

At the same time, signals will be added to many intersections where there are none now. This will bring greater predictability and regularity to traffic flows (same throughput but with lower peak driving speeds) while creating new signalized pedestrian crossings.

On Burnside we will have fewer lanes to walk across, more on-street parking, wider sidewalks, etc. throughout most of the couplet.

Couch however will see increased traffic and no significant changes to sidewalks except the addition of curb extensions where there are none today.

Most opposition to the couplet deals with questions about what happens to Couch more than it has to do with what happens to Burnside.

For me, the compromise is worth it. A Couch street (either west or east side) which carries half the traffic of Burnside is far better than channeling all that traffic on Burnside as we do today. That kind of volume (and width) on Burnside creates an impediment to north-south connections for pedestrians, bikes, and even local auto traffic and deliveries. With a couplet, we can improve all of these things overall while still maintaining reasonable east-west traffic flows.


Burnside is a highway. Having worked 7 years for a company that was located right on West Burnside, I can tell you that Burnside traffic is thick, heavy and nearly nonstop. Traffic gets especially worse when there are problems on 26W or I-84. 5pm traffic is always at a standstill. The traffic is not going away no matter what you do with it. Dividing & splitting that amount of traffic is creating 2 or more problems out of one. I would love to have Burnside more pedestrian & bike friendly but it’s probably too late. Sorry. We’re only adding to the problem with the development of the Pearl and other new buildings along Burnside (both sides of the river). Diverting traffic to the NW Couch neighborhood is just not the answer. I just had a vision of walking out of Whole Foods on NW Couch Street to a jammed packed street full of cars, large trucks and exhaust just sitting there trying to get up the West hill. How is that pedestrian friendly? The Pearl was designed to be people friendly neighborhood and now we want to route half a highway through it? A highway, such as Burnside, is no place for a really slow streetcar either. I wish we had more streetcar lines in Portland but not on Burnside. Getting behind a bus on that street is bad enough. I for one am thankful the street has few left hand turns allowed. An unrealistic idea would be to bury Burnside in certain areas to allow pedestrians & bikes to cross safely overhead. Oh, please don’t chop down the street trees.


My feeling is that "half the traffic of Burnside" diverted to NW Couch street would be a disaster for Couch and the surrounding pedestrian traffic. I agree with John about the Whole Foods scenario (and Powell's as well)

Bob R.

John -

A one-way couplet will help improve traffic flows, while simultaneously reducing peak vehicle speeds. How is this possible?

Basically, you can't easily time traffic lights on a two-way street where there are strong traffic flows in both directions. During the green light periods, the incentive for drivers is to speed (when there's room) to get through as many lights as possible.

In a one-way grid, traffic lights can be timed for a smooth flow of traffic. Even though the peak speeds are lower (by placing signals at every intersection, you create the inability to speed for very long or very far, because you'll always catch up to a red), average travel times are not impacted negatively.

One PDOT study of the couplet proposal actually showed an improvement in trip times over what we have today, but with a reduction in peak speeds, and shorter pedestrian waiting times and crossing distances. Personally I don't think there will be any dramatic improvements in east-west trip times, but there will be numerous improvements for peds and bikes, plus all modes trying to travel north-south.

You are correct that couch will have more traffic than it does today, and that is the real downside of this proposal. However, we have numerous examples of 2-lane one way through streets of a similar scale already functioning in this city.

Perhaps it is a good thing that the east-side proposal is coming to fruition first. Those who think that the both couplets are a good idea will have a physical example to point to, so that people will better understand the trade-offs involved for the west side. And, if we're wrong, it will be the cheaper of the two projects, and those opposed to the west-side couplet will be able to show concretely (literally) why the couplet should not be duplicated on the west side.

Bob R.

If "half the traffic of Burnside" is a looming disaster for Couch, why isn't twice that amount of traffic (as we have today) a total disaster for Burnside?

This strikes me as a flawed argument. Some opponents (I don't know if this is your view Nikos, I'm generalizing) say simultaneously that Burnside is just fine and just needs a few tweaks, but Couch operating with even half of that level of traffic is going to be some kind of horror show.

In my own view, what we'd be doing is taking a level of traffic which has made one street nearly unmanageable, and splitting it into two streets which can both be reasonably managed. On average, this is way better for all modes, but yes Couch will see more traffic, but in my view sufficiently manageable levels that won't destroy a neighborhood.


John's vision: "I just had a vision of walking out of Whole Foods on NW Couch Street to a jammed packed street full of cars, large trucks and exhaust just sitting there trying to get up the West hill."

...sticks in my mind too. I don't live there, but I'm familiar enough with it, having walked there frequently. Under the current arrangement, Couch around the area of Whole Foods, is a very nice street to negotiate as a pedestrian. Walk merely two blocks further North to Everett(sorry...in the last post, I incorrectly named Davis as a couplet street)to see a distressing example of what it would become if converted to a couplet street.

I would like to see W Burnside cut and covered to allow the Park Blocks to run continuous there, if somehow, it weren't logistically impractical.

Bob R.

ws -

One of the reasons Everett is hostile to pedestrians is that there are many intersections which are unsignaled. This allows long stretches where traffic can speed up, creating a raceway feel.

Integral to the couplet proposal is the installation of signals at nearly all intersections, with timing similar to that of the main downtown grid. This will prevent raceway conditions and provide signalized pedestrian crossings. If the signalization component was missing from the proposal, I would _not_ support the couplet.

Regarding extending the park blocks, the couplet proposal addresses this partially. With fewer lanes on Burnside, there is room for a park-like median connecting the park blocks, similar to (but larger than) the fountain which splits SW Main St. between 3rd and 4th.

Take a look at this PDF document of preliminary plans (which also show the proposed streetcar alignment which might come later if adopted):


Go to page 14 of the PDF (slide 12/15) and you can see the proposed park blocks connection.

The park block N. of Burnside gets filled in to extend further south than it does now, and large, curved, landscaped island is constructed between the two travel lanes. Pedestrians will only need to cross 2 total lanes, oriented in the same direction, at a signalized crossing, with the island providing substantial refuge between the two lanes.

Also noteworthy, look how Burnside is proposed to be configured between 8th and 3rd. The former westbound lanes will be raised and serve a dual function as protected angle parking during normal days, and as closeable pedestrian-only plazas for special events.

The increase in protected pedestrian space along Burnside is quite substantial all along the couplet.

Bob R.

One other note (sorry to dominate the comments here, that wasn't my intention) --

Look on page 17 of the PDF... note how a new traffic signal will be added on the bridge itself, just over 1st ave.

This logically extends the "streetscape" of Burnside one block east, up onto the bridge. By providing a safe, signalized pedestrian crossing over 1st, traffic is calmed before it gets to 2nd. This may help extend regular pedestrian activity up the bridge a bit and provide a better connection to the MAX station below, as well, either for existing buses or a potential future streetcar.

(Of course, I realize the current uses of the street in that area may deter some pedestrians from using the area, and issues related to future gentrification should not be ignored.)


Bob, obviously you have studied this more and I am not even going to pretend I can match your expertise on the technical level. The whole thing looks gorgeous on paper. The cars are tiny, the sidewalks nicely crosshatched, clean and free of homeless people, the street car tracks very chic (I am a rail enthusiast, although I find Subways sexier). I also just realized Couch will carry "half of the Burnside traffic" AND a 5 mph streetcar (although if it comes every 20 minutes or more that shouldn;t be such an issue...) AND traffic is going to snake on NW 15th to rejoin Burnside!! Let's hope gas will be 8 dollars per gallon by then, so traffic goes down.


I just think having another Glisan/Everett type couplet is a bad idea in the long run, and will create more of a separation between the pearl and downtown than currently exists today (rather than just having to cross Burnside traffic, you'd now have to cross heavy traffic on 2 streets, Couch and Burnside.) Plus, you don't sacrifice something that works very well (the nice pedestrian scale and neighborhood atmosphere of Couch) and make it mediocre to help Burnside improve from horrid to mediocre. Just make the much needed improvements to Burnside. Improved pedestrian facilities and an update to the vehicular infrastructure will help create a nice connection between the Pearl and Downtown without sacrificing Couch. Make Burnside into something that we can be proud of and that acts as a gateway into the city from the Burnside Bridge.


Bob R, I haven't yet looked at the pdf document you cited, but I probably will. As claims in favor of the Burnside/Couch couplet, a couple points you raise in your 6:25 pm post seem specious to me:

"One of the reasons Everett is hostile to pedestrians is that there are many intersections which are unsignaled." Bob R

O.K., Burnside will have more signaled intersections. From that, I might be prepared to consider that top speeds will be reduced, but the reality of greater vehicle numbers on Burnside (and now Couch as well) compared to that of Everett/Glisan still remains. Thus, a Burnside/Couch couplet is likely to be a slightly slower, but more congested version of the Everett/Glisan couplet. Is there something else in the plans that would make that not likely?

"The former westbound lanes will be raised and serve a dual function as protected angle parking during normal days, and as closeable pedestrian-only plazas for special events." Bob R

'Closable pedestrian-only plazas for special events' really caught my eye. Maybe this will seem more realistic when I see the pdf. Just imagining city planners actually closing Burnside for special events seems like a stretch. I suppose it could be done on off-peak hours or Sundays.

Re; the angled parking. On a different weblog, I remember the comments someone made about angled parking as implemented on S.W. 10th. If motor vehicles are backing into those spaces, here's one downside for people passing by on the sidewalk: They get a big blast of fuel/catalytic laden exhaust when cars start up. Not very consistent with efforts to create a pedestrian friendly sidewalk experience.

Niko's 8:17 pm remarks about couplet renderings(in the pdf, I assume), are good. In a rendering, artists are able to make things look very beautiful. Not that there's necessarily an intent to deceive on their part, but cross-hatching and beautifully applied pastels and watercolors are very capable of doing just that.


OMG the day has come that ws agrees with me on something! The world is coming to an end!


Bob or someone else who knows... would the Burnside streetcar be a slow "collector" like the Pearl's, or a faster "commuter" streetcar with fewer stops?

Bob R.

ws, nikos -

The rendering (which ws has not read, but has commented extensively about, despite the convenient link), is based on engineering drawings, not artists' renderings.

Not only does it not depict homeless people, it doesn't depict people at all. It's a very preliminary engineering document. But it is what we have to go on, instead of mere speculation.

There are no watercolors, no pastels, nothing of that nature. The only thing remotely "artistic" about the document is the trees, which I can assure you (if you'll trust me) as an owner of CADD software myself, are standard off-the-shelf clips which are used routinely.

If you believe the city will not live up to the promises in the early proposals, by all means oppose the project on that issue, or hold officials' feet to the fire to make sure they live up to the initial promises.

But please do not oppose the project based on attributes which are not actually a part of the proposal, and please at least take the time to read the currently-available materials before reaching final judgement. Is that too much to ask?

Bob R.

Brett -

Thanks for the question. Right now the proposal looks like something which would have only slightly greater stop spacing (and therefore slightly greater speed) than the current streetcar alignment, with stops every 3-4 blocks instead of stops every 2-3.

It should be noted that buses serving the same exact route would take at least the same amount of time... the acceleration characteristics and top speeds of both modes are within the limits of the street grid. To the time-advantage of buses, they can go around obstacles. To the time-advantage of streetcars, they have multiple boarding doors and self-service fare collection. (Which, of course, opens up a host of other issues, as we know from MAX, but I'm talking about travel times here.)

Since we're talking about streetcars specifically now, I should disclose that I am a member of the Portland Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee, and as a member, given the opportunity, I've always advocated for greater stop spacing and faster trip times and less out-of-direction travel.


Bob,I was being ironic about the homeless people,but then, irony is like jokes, if you have to explain them they lose their punch.
My point was,bureaucrats and planners fall in love with their own fantasies and diagrams, without thinking how thinks will actually feel and look in reality. By the way, using off the shelf clips of trees is no excuse. I though PDX is in the forefront of graphic design.(it is in the 50s whan it comes to irony though)

Bob R.

Nikos, regarding planners falling in love with diagrams, but having a different outcome in reality, this can indeed happen.

However, for recent streetscape projects such as Hawthorne and Sandy, I've found that the end result came out reasonably close to the planning documents.

These diagrams, although the latest are dated June, 2008, weren't sprung suddenly on the public. The basics of this design go back years now, and have continued to be refined since 1999 or 2000. I remember seeing diagrams of the angle parking / public plazas along lower West Burnside about 3 or 4 years ago, and they haven't changed significantly.

Speaking of, WS brought up the angle parking and public plazas... I hope WS has had a chance to look at the PDF now to see what I was talking about. The public plazas can be completely closed off without closing Burnside to regular traffic. The plazas also isolate the angle parking from the through traffic, so that cars maneuvering in and out of parking spaces don't interact with traffic.

Bob R.

Before someone beats me to it, there is one aspect to this proposal which did spring up very recently: The Streetcar. That wasn't a part of the proposal in any formal way until Commissioner Adams championed it last year. Personally, the streetcar doesn't affect my view of the couplet one way or another -- the improvements would work equally well for buses.


Is there any thought, or capability of giving the Streetcar some kind of priority with traffic lights? It is so painfully slow most of the time!

Bob R.

Nikos -

There is "thought" and "capability" for traffic signal priority, but not too much beyond that yet for specific implementation. :-)

The streetcar has (or is soon to get) priority where the Harrison Connector crosses Naito, and there have been discussions to improve the timings where the streetcar must cross over the Morrison/Yamhill MAX tracks.

The main bottleneck for the current streetcar is Lovejoy between 23rd and 11th. This bottleneck isn't streetcar-specific: The road has only one lane each direction, so even if buses were use they would face the same delays.

The neighborhood association and other stakeholders are officially in favor of improving traffic conditions in that area, for both cars and the streetcar, by implementing (here it comes...) a couplet, in this case on Lovejoy/Northrup, however there are strings attached.

Meanwhile, planning for the eastside loop streetcar includes signal priority getting onto the Broadway Bridge from Lovejoy and a dedicated streetcar lane with signal priority at the Convention Center on MLK.

There are other places where signal priority has been discussed, but I don't have that info handy.

So in the long term you'll see signal priority and other measures to improve speed and schedule reliability at specific points, but in general the streetcar is intended to move with traffic in a similar manner to a bus.

One thing I'd like to see is the conversion of stop signs to signals. There are a number of intersections along the streetcar's route which are posted as 4-way stops. If these intersections were signalized and timed with the rest of the downtown grid, the streetcar and buses which share portions of the route could move more smoothly.

Bob R.

Getting back to Burnside-Couch, if the current drawings are any indication, there will need to be signal priority for the streetcar as it transitions from the Burnside Bridge westbound onto 2nd, from Couch southbound onto 16th, and at the terminus at 24th place, because in all of these places the streetcar is essentially making a lane change or partial lane boundary crossing in an intersection. The rest of the couplet's signal timing should generally move like the main downtown grid.

Mike O'Brien

Firstly, thanks to Bob R. for the link. I hadn't seen anything on this in a while and was too lazy to go find it.

I do have a number of concerns, some of which I've had for a while, and a few that the recent plans bring up.

To the best of my knowledge one of the sales points for this couplet is getting traffic to move through downtown more effectively. Most traffic engineers would agree that if you provide better flow (read: capacity) you will see an increase in use. Someone upstream pointed out how traffic on Burnside increases when there are problems on 26 or 405. I would expect that commuters will take advantage of the upgrade to Burnside and we’ll eventually see much the same delays, only it will be on Couch, as well.

I may be reading it wrong but on Burnside between 2nd and 3rd it appears that the bike lane travels between the streetcar and a streetcar stop. WTF? Would LOVE to hear the defense of that.

The angled parking areas between 3rd and 8th seem to me to be a missed opportunity. Having been involved in discussions regarding the transit mall upgrade I am assuming these are entirely property owner driven decisions. The argument goes something like this: “Businesses will fail and I will go bankrupt and the terrorists will win if I don’t have parking right in front of my building!”. I find this annoying for two reasons. One, as a City that has a well-deserved reputation for innovative and sustainable thinking this pandering to vehicles is disappointing, to say the least. Secondly, it seems to be an opportunity to create an amazing linear park has been missed. I understand the concept of being able to close these areas off to cars for special events, but I would argue that is the proverbial lipstick on the pig. As a City I believe we should be thinking a bit grander and stop pandering to the almighty auto. It will never be the Ramblas, but could be something cool nonetheless.

Finally, if Bob R. is not already on the Mayor-elect’s payroll he really should consider submitting an invoice for his time spent writing in defense of the couplet on this website.


Bob R.

Mike -

I trust you didn't mean any ill intent by your payroll remark -- but it still rubbed me the wrong way. I resent the notion that just because I advocate for something, I'm therefore in someone's pocket, or a tool, or a stooge, etc. I've been quite critical of things around here as well (transit mall bus shelter removal, reservoir capping, TriMet's ticket machine maintenance, to name a couple), if that helps reassure you.

Just to be clear: I'm not on the city's payroll (or county or state or fed). I don't live in the Pearl or have property which would directly benefit from this project. I live on the east side. I have my own business as a software developer and web designer. I'm a transportation geek and I study and advocate for/against policies in my spare time. I volunteer on two streetcar-related committees, and I maintain my neighborhood association's web site (Rose City Park).

Finally, and this is more recently, I volunteer to maintain the streetcar's official web site. There is a contract in place to spell out the limitations of this arrangement -- I receive no payment for this volunteer work but do have the ability to invoice for direct reimbursement of approved expenses. (My name is not on the site as the primary design came from another designer. If I ever redesign the thing, you'll see a credit.) That's about the closest thing I can think of which someone might perceive as a conflict of interest. I insisted on a contract to spell out that the arrangement was strictly volunteer.

Back to the matter at hand: Regarding traffic flows, you are essentially describing induced demand. You are correct that if the couplet increases automobile capacity, more automobiles will use it, both as a primary and an alternate route.

But what the couplet is really doing is trading top speed for consistency and smoother travel. I don't have a link to the traffic modeling study handy, but basically it showed that the couplet would not change trip times or capacity appreciably in one direction, while it would improve them by up to 3 minutes non-peak in the other direction, and that was only under limited circumstances.

The other couplets people often mention when opposing Burnside/Couch are MLK/Grand, Glisan/Everett, and Broadway/Weidler. But all of those have conditions that Burnside/Couch will not have -- one or more of the following: More lanes, longer distances between signals, and higher posted speed limits. I'd actually prefer to give those streets the proposed Burnside/Couch treatment as well: More curb extensions, more signals, more marked crosswalks, lower top speeds, etc.

Mike O'Brien

Bob R.,

Absolutely no ill will intended at all. I was trying to make a light-hearted jab at your obviously enthusiastic appreciation for this project. Please accept my apologies.

It is people like you that help shape this City as it continues to evolve, and I think that is admirable. I may not agree with you on specific points, but I applaud your commitment and willingness to discuss the issue intelligently.

Regarding traffic flow: I didn't think about it before, but how does the streetcar affect the traffic modeling? If we assume roughly the same traffic counts as there are now, and the same amount of lanes, what happens when the streetcar blocks a travel lane through an entire green light during rush hour? Is there some assurance that this will never happen? Even if the streetcar is able to 'make' the light it will still be holding up one lane while riders load/unload. Seems counter-intuitive to consistency and smooth travel.

Hopefully I'm not coming off as overly argumentative on this whole thing. I was honestly on the fence about the west side couplet until the streetcar was thrown in the mix.


Bob R.

Mike -

Thanks for your remarks.

Regarding the streetcar, it should be viewed as similar to a bus in this context. Today, on Burnside or Couch, there are few if any places for a bus to pull over to the side. Thus, buses tend to block traffic while boarding passengers.

It then becomes an issue of how many transit vehicles are in the corridor (bus or streetcar), and how often and where they stop.

The advantage for buses, although in practical terms on constrained urban streets this doesn't always work as well as one might think, is that they can go around obstacles.

The advantage for a streetcar (although in fairness there are specialized buses with this feature) is that passengers can board from 3 boarding doors instead of 1, and that the wheelchair access system deploys faster.

So in most circumstances, a streetcar will spend less time dwelling at a particular stop than a conventional 40' bus. For uphill grades, electric streetcars (and electric trolleybuses, to introduce another vehicle type) have better acceleration which may occasionally help the streetcar clear an intersection or "beat the light", but streetcar operators tend not to be heavy on the throttle so as not to jolt standees around.

In cases where the lane is completely blocked by a long-term obstruction (such as the infamous case a few weeks ago when a Beaverton cop double-parked his patrol car on the tracks so he could go pick up food at Pita Pit), streetcar riders are disadvantaged compared to a bus. But this doesn't affect motorists, as those motorists would have to change lanes to go around the same primary obstruction anyway.

If gas prices continue to stay high, I think we'll see long-term increases in transit ridership, and as a region we'll have to discuss where to invest in transit upgrades, whether that means more buses or streetcars in a particular corridor. If more transit comes to Burnside, this will create corresponding issues for motorists (if there are still that many motorists...) but the mode choice, bus or streetcar, has little effect on the outcome for motorists.


I am all for the couplet on the eastside, that makes sense to creating a much more pedestrian friendly environment. But when it comes to the westside, it makes no sense to turn Couch into a main route for cars. Over the years Couch has developed into one of the most pedestrian friendly streets in Portland. I am still confused on why it is so difficult to cross Burnside, I have yet to have an issue with that street since I have lived here.

I do however support running a streetcar down Couch, which would continue the push forward for the city in the way of thinking about alternatives.

Bob R.

Mike -

Sorry I skipped over your question about the bike lane which appears to run between the streetcar tracks and the streetcar stop on eastbound Burnside between 3rd and 2nd.

I think the early engineering is leaving this deliberately vague. The configuration of right-side bike lanes and streetcar stops has been much discussed, and a number of alternatives have been proposed. Just about everyone agrees that the example we have on Lovejoy doesn't work well for bikes or streetcar riders. There is a newer example in the South Waterfront which works much better, but has flexibility issues with where it can be placed.

The design of streetcar stops which must share the ROW with bike lanes is still very much in flux and I imagine, should the Burnside streetcar proposal move forward, there will be many meetings about this. This will also come up sooner, in particular along NE 7th, when the eastside loop is constructed.

The intent of the westside Burnside-Couch couplet proposal is that Flanders be turned into the primary Bike Boulevard for the area, and that a new bike/ped bridge over I-405 be constructed to allow uninterrupted east-west travel on Flanders. (This was the source of the now-settled controversy over whether to reuse the Sauvie Island bridge.)

The bike lane which appears between 4th and 2nd on Burnside in the proposal is meant to collect eastbound bike traffic headed for the bridge from various local streets, and is included because there is sufficient room in the ROW.

There is a representative of the cyclist community on the Portland Streetcar Citizens Advisory committee, and the various stakeholder groups involved are well aware that there are problems when bikes and streetcars operate in close proximity!

(The original streetcars of yesteryear mainly ran in the middle of the street, and there were no platforms -- patrons walked right out into traffic to climb aboard -- there were no bike lanes either. A greater interest in safety, combined with requirements for accessibility, means that we must now find ways to fit all the modes together with a place for everyone.)


I say: put the tram in the middle of Burnside going both ways, wider sidewalks, and a grade-separated cycle route. Similar to this:


Bob R.

Paul -

That picture looks fantastic, but except on the lowermost few of Burnside, there isn't room to fit it all in. That's why so many couplet proponents want to shift half the travel lanes off of Burnside, to make room for much wider sidewalks and other amenities.

Between roughly 8th and 23rd, the Burnside right-of-way is only 60', the same as Couch. This leaves room for an 8ft sidewalk and 4 11ft travel lanes, with no parking. You can squeeze one foot out of a couple of travel lanes to get room for 9ft sidewalks, but that's the maximum extent of improvement that can be made without lane removal.

The current sidewalks on Burnside are only 8ft. The couplet proposal would make room to widen them to 12ft at minimum, room for the plaza/parking areas, planting strips/swales, etc. (And Burnside above 15th can be reconfigured for 9ft sidewalks instead of 8ft, even without the couplet.) Couch already has 12ft sidewalks and this would remain unchanged.

In a 60' right-of-way, you can fit two 12ft sidewalks, two 11ft one-way travel lanes, and two 7ft street parking strips or a combination of parking/planting/curb extensions, etc.

This would replace the current experience of a narrow 8ft sidewalk with cars whizzing by directly adjacent, with a 12ft sidewalk with an additional buffer of parked cars between peds and traffic. This also creates room for more and better furnishings (benches, artwork, lighting), outside dining and vending, and more room for people with mobility devices to pass stopped peds or other obstacles.


i feel like, perhaps other than dennis, i'm the only who does not really see burnside, as it currently exists, as a catastrophe. i've never been hit crossing the street, i've never hit anyone and i've never seen anybody hit (although i'm sure it happens). if the couplet only brings a 3-minute difference to non-peak travel times it hardly seems worth the cost. if the addition of more traffic signals slows traffic speeds, why not just add the signals without creating the couplet?

i agree with mike above that this pandering to vehicles in the name of pedestrian and bicycle safety is disappointing. i have sat in traffic on burnside before and you know what? i dealt with it. if all these drivers choose to spend their time sitting in traffic, let them. they could always take a half hour after work and enjoy the scenery of downtown or invest in the local economy by shopping at powell's or whatever while they wait out the worst of the traffic. maybe i'm just more patient than most people but i just don't feel like burnside is that bad. maybe its because i'm one of those evil people that moved up from california (where the traffic makes you question the meaning of life and want to kill yourself) in the 90s.

but seriously this couplet idea is just reactionary and unwarranted. if you want to put a streetcar down burnside, go ahead ~ i'll ride it. but it isn't necessary to screw with couch. the saddest thing for me will be that burnside will virtually become a clean slate with dwarf trees and a glossed up personality designed to look like the "new and improved" portland while the old gritty organic portland becomes nothing more than a memory. what a waste of time and money. why don't we focus our energies on making this city more affordable like it was merely five years ago?


I'm not really sure how you would go about making a city more affordable. It's still the cheapest on either coast. How about getting the cheapo business owners here to pay a decent wage for skilled workers?

Thurman Chandler

Oscar Wilde said, "people know the price of everything, the value of nothing."
What everyone is talking about is really "price" (short-term); they are neglecting big-picture (long-term) consequences or "value". Being an East-West Divide is so much more important that you all realize. An artist just told me two days ago that one can go on Burnside all the way to Mount Hood. One cannot do this in the same way, the same two, let's connect both sides, let's have a center, a common center, by DEMOLISHING Burnside. Please, please wake up people (and sorry for the rude tone) - You cannot chop down the trees, so to speak, on Burnside in the name of progress, and expect to "gain". You are going to lose in CITY PLANNING and ultimately in HIGHEST VALUE. This goes further than traffic. If traffic were the end-all, then our Cities would look quite different. Respect History. Respect Burnside. Respect Topography. Respect Burnside. Respect Integration. Respect Burnside. Respect Dialogue. Respect Burnside.
I will say I am a staunch modernist. I believe in demolishing whole blocks if necessary; however, playing with a fundamental two-artery, a vital spiritual road is folly, pure FOLLY. Come up with BETTER, and we shall glady talk. So far the dialogue about Burnside has been such a sad diaster. Please anyone who reads this, kindly refer to Portland Spaces and how we mowed down such a beautiful and vital neighborhood to Portland, and how we continue to make SUCH HORRIBLE CHOICES. WE WILL STOP THIS PROPOSAL. PLEASE STOP THINK, THINK, THINK BEFORE SPOUTING ON ABOUT THIS.


Goose, I used to work on the North Park Blocks and I personally saw two bodies taken from the crosswalk where the park crosses Burnside. I also know that the red light cameras are constantly snapping at both 19th and 11th, so cars are constantly running lights there. It is also scary to walk the narrow sidewalks betweeen Park and 10th.

I am not advocating for the couplet, but Burnside is very dangerous for pedestrians in more than a few places.


i am aware of how uncomfortable crossing burnside can feel for a pedestrian because i am one and i just walked across it the other day. i have also walked on burnside between park and 10th. the problem is that the park block crossing is not signalized. also, people cross where there are no sidewalks such as the corner near jackpot. i recognize that automobile speed (as well as drunk drivers) is a factor here but if you talk to traffic safety officers they will tell you that the majority of automobile/pedestrian "accidents" are the fault of the pedestrian. my point was simply that i don't think creating a couplet will resolve this problem. it will however permanently alter the character of our north/south divider as well as couch.

i still say if the metro area population is going to reach nearly 4 million in the next 50 years, we need to think bigger than putting a pretty new face on burnside. we need to go underground where we can put higher speed rail lines connecting every part of town and our neighbors. adding more streetcars says to me that we aren't really willing to accept the fact that we are becoming a bigger city and that we're hoping to stay the sleepy little town everybody always thought we were. honestly, i'm totally okay with that idea - we can hide our type A personalities underground. most people won't really convert to rail until they figure out that it can get them to work faster than their car. our system doesn't do that and it will only do that if it goes below or above ground. well, i can see i digressed, but my point is that a couplet will not save burnside, whereas a subway makes perfect sense there, especially if we take a long-range view. this may not be the place, but now is definitely the time to talk about this sort of thing and i have not yet heard a convincing argument why we should not build a subway.


actually the funny thing is, if they did put a pedestrian light at Burnside and Park, that would solve alot of pedestrian problems with trying to cross there and be alot cheaper.

The times I have had incidents while driving and a pedestrian crossed the street on Burnside was the random crazy person that didnt care about lights.

I am a strong believer that not all fixes need to be big costly expenses that tries to change everything, sometimes the simple little mentality fixes are much stronger.

A streetcar makes sense on Couch, not so much on Burnside, due to the narrow sidewalks. On the other hand, I love the narrow sidewalks because they are so rare in this town. It is always nice to have those little reminders of a town's past. Besides the more options you give people in the way of transportation and the more we continue to change the mindsets about driving, that is the true way to relieve traffic congestion...plus seriously, 3 minutes? There is much better things to spend money that trying to shave minutes off of a commute time, that is how accidents tend to happen in the first place.


Goose, I'll bet that one major reason that a subway hasn't been built in Portland, is m-o-n-e-y. Think about NYC and the economic dynamo it is that allowed that city to generate the resources and endure the hardship and inconveniences of building a subway. Is Portland even remotely close to being able to do something like that?

The ironic thing about the couplet idea, is that if consideration for the pedestrian/non-motorist is it's object, then it's really unnecessary. There's no need to endure the noise, danger and pollution of Burnside. All one needs to do is walk or ride one block to Couch where things are much, much better...at least as long as it resists conversion to the couplet.

More signaled intersections on Burnside, particularly at the Park Blocks make total sense. Why isn't a comparatively simple measure like this tried out before taking on an entire conversion to a couplet?

Some of what advocates of the couplet excitedly claim Burnside could become with development of the couplet, Couch already is: quiet, walkable. Something will definitely be built on the parking lot at Couch between NW 4th and 5th (recently, I think I heard Iwajimaya grocery store). Add clothing stores, tea shops, more restaurants, and a truly great casual street arises. Will the same be able to be said of the street if the couplet idea prevails?

Face it, this couplet thing is something that the money folks need and want; that would most likely be entities such as property owners, business, and the city. For everyone else, as long as the state highway department( I seem to remember them being a major voice in this...or is it the feds?) insists upon holding the city to the current volume capacity of motor vehicles through the Burnside corridor, the couplet is a bum deal.

The aforementioned entities would like property fronting Burnside to generate more income from walk-in trade, which Burnside in its current configuration, is not very hospitable to. Well, so would everyone else, but as long as the powers that be are prepared to slam the capacity of dirty, noisy polluting vehicles through the Burnside corridor that go through there currently, it's not going to help that much to split the mess up over two streets positioned right next to each other.


money is of course the number one reason, but money spread out over a long period of time with an anticipated population growth (accompanied with the property taxes associated with such growth) becomes negligible (at least in theory). has anybody done the numbers on this, i wonder. it is not a cost but rather an investment in our infrastructure, our air quality and our convenience. it seems poor civic responsibility to throw one good street to the dogs to save three minutes, especially when there will be no decrease in traffic volume.

also, its not just "crazies" that cross against the light. some people are just assholes.


The Burnside-Couch couplet, in an form, on either side of the river is a disastrous idea that should not become reality.

With all due respect to the issues raised in the comments above, the real issues at stake have not been addressed.

In Burnside, and Sandy, we have two streets whose importance can not be underestimated, either in historic or functional/social terms.

Burnside and Sandy were the original indian trails connecting the Tualitan Valley, and the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. These trails were used by the pioneers, and eventually became the streets we know today. Burnside and Sandy are central to the development of the city of Portland. They were the original routes upon which our economy was based. Burnside in particular was the street by which Portland was known world wide, with is "world's longest bar", its tunnels, and its name, "Skid Road". The term "Shanghaied" also derives from the less admirable activities that occurred at the base of Burnside on the river.

We have come to value the artifacts and buildings of the past, and know the meaning of historic preservation as it applies to them, but seem unable to understand that spaces also deserve such protections.

That said, the experience of Burnside is one that depends on where you stand. Some see it as a highway. Some see it as un-crossable. Some see the blight, or the ugly buildings. Some see the homeless and aimless. Some see the drugs. Some also see the vitality and the energy. Some see the emergence of active neighborhoods on each side, Stark and Couch and Ankeny. Some see the Civic, and other new buildings.....

As such, Burnside, is proving its value and role in our urban fabric and social behavior. Burnside, by virtue of its centrality to the city, and because it cuts across the city, intersecting with most of the major streets and neighborhoods... is a street that truly defines Portland. On Burnside one can find the most most expensive and least expensive of everything, be it stores, restaurants, hotels and condos, houses and shelters. Along Burnside or very near it are most of our places of entertainment: clubs, music venues, stadiums and theaters.

Burnside is a walkable street, despite its less than attractive character, and has probably the highest pedestrian counts of any in the city, at any hour.

Burnside is too important to ruin with this poorly thought out couplet idea.

I would like to present an alternative design to this group that would address my concerns.


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