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Jim Heuer

Brian, you make a lot of great points with this post and rightly address an issue that is both a matter for traffic engineers, but also for planners and advocates for livable city-scapes.

One huge challenge here is the completely unique character of Burnside as it cuts across the central city. Only the Burnside Bridge provides a through arterial route from far out in the East Side straight across the River and then continuously over the West Hills. All the other bridges serve routes that die out in a tangle of streets or I-405 barriers (especially so now that the Broadway bridge extension onto Lovejoy has been strangled westbound by the street changes to accommodate the new streetcar.)

As much as I'd like to see Burnside become the Portland equivalent of the Champs Elysee in Paris or the Unter Den Linden in Berlin, the fact is that it will never be wide enough to become that sort of grand boulevard and setting our sights on simple pleasures like a reasonable walking experience, and functional left turns seems much more practical.

Eliminating parking on lower Burnside to enable turn lanes and more comfortable sidewalk widths could be a game changer for the street without delaying traffic flows or seriously impairing the customer access to Burnside businesses.

West of the Park Blocks is more problematic as the narrower street already has been shorn of parking and the sidewalks are often scary with their narrow width and whizzing traffic. If anything, the couplet concept might be valuable in that stretch, but the awkward sideways lurch at the start and end of the couplet may not be worth it -- as the truck-obstructing and traffic tangling westbound couplet on East Burnside/Couch demonstrates daily.

Ultimately, the city will have to address east/west flows not only of cars but also streetcar/light rail transit. The vision of the east/west streetcar on Burnside/Couch fills the bill in theory for the rail side, but offers little appeal when its 10mph traffic-clogged pace is considered despite the expenditure of nearly $100 million of our hard-earned money.


Out of all the routes to put a streetcar on I think Burnside from Jeld-Wen field to Music Millenium would be a no-brainer.

Jim Heuer

The Jeld-Wen to 33rd Avenue route on Burnside would be a no-brainer if the transit planners could figure out how to maintain reasonable streetcar speeds on what is typically a heavily congested vehicular route during rush periods. The current approach to streetcar operations is to force it to battle with traffic and take its stop lights without any special priority -- unlike the light rail system. This is part of why streetcar route construction is considerably less costly than light rail.

With that performance "hit" suffered by the streetcar, compounded by a fixed "guideway", i.e. the track, that limits its ability to maneuver around traffic problems and that added to its frequent stops, the modern streetcar is prone to the very problems that caused the extinction of the "trolley car" back in the 1950's: speeds that are too slow to be competitive with other modes. My friends who live in the Pearl and work in the PSU area tell me that they will take the streetcar to work if they see one coming when they get to the stop. Otherwise it is faster to walk to work!

I'm not sure what the solution is. Would a two track bi-directional streetcar route on Couch with only local auto traffic permitted, plus coordinated traffic lights help? Very probably. Would that solve the congestion and livability problems on Burnside... probably not.

p.s. Many east-siders have their own pet idea of what would be an east-west streetcar route no-brainer. My vote (selfishly) would be from the Broadway bridge along NE Broadway to the Hollywood Theater. Others would argue for Hawthorne, or Belmont/Morrison.

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