12/5/13 Letter from PPSP to Division/Church Study Project Staff

This is Bob Fisch from Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I am writing to offer comments regarding the Division/Church Business 51 Improvement Study. This e-mail is the eighth of several I have sent and was composed after the public information meeting of November 20 and before the December 20 deadline you indicate on the comment form distributed at that meeting.

In this e-mail, I want to comment on the detailed alternatives available at the November 20 public meeting. Some of these comments will give my preference among the alternatives at certain locations. Other comments will ask about features I would like to see implemented that were not illustrated among the alternatives.

Fourth and Division
Of the alternatives presented for the Fourth and Division intersection, I strongly prefer the roundabout option. It appears that safety considerations for bicycle and foot traffic are best handled by this alternative. The traffic calming effect of the roundabout, coupled with the availability of mid-crossing islands for safer and more comfortable crossings, are the highlights of this design.

The other alternative for this intersection is a widened version of the current intersection. Although it has improvements from what exists today, it doesn’t really look like it will significantly improve safety for people walking and bicycling who must be particularly vigilant regarding turning motor vehicles. Islands seem infeasible for this alternative due to right-of-way width constraints, and the crossing distances appear to be longer than they are now, increasing the hazard for foot traffic. From a motor-vehicle-turning perspective, it will still be a moderately complex intersection with relatively high traffic volumes. This is not a good situation for an intersection which has one of the highest counts for both foot and bicycle traffic in the city.

This intersection is the biggest red dot on the crash data map for this corridor. I suspect that with the roundabout option, this would clearly become a green dot. On the other hand, do you feel that the other alternative that widens this intersection would become green? Or even yellow? I fear it would remain a red dot (although not as large). For all the expense and effort to redesign and rebuild this intersection, a red dot outcome seems to be completely unacceptable.

Clark/Main Area
At the recent public meeting, AECOM staff told me that only Alternative 2 (with no bike lane southbound between College and Main nor northbound between Ellis and Clark) was feasible because of the rules involving Historic Districts. My comments are based on this information.

This is the most troubling area in the design with regard to bicycling because of the absence of bike lanes for these 3 blocks. This lack is most important in two sections: southbound between College and Main, and northbound between Ellis and Clark. Only the Brave and Fearless – labelled by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and measured via their surveys to comprise only 1% of the population – would take the lane in these sections due to heavy traffic volumes and narrow lanes.

(If bike lanes can be added in these two sections as in Alternative 1, these three blocks become more navigable by bicycle in both directions. Still not too good, but significantly better than the Alternative 2 design.)

But if you can’t add bike lanes, then you can’t add bike lanes. So here is what I would like to see instead.

I ask you to create a signed Division St Bicycle Bypass in each direction to navigate between College and Ellis. This signed bypass southbound would direct bicycle travel west on College, south on Rogers, and east on Ellis. The signed bypass northbound would direct bicycle travel east on Ellis, north on Wyatt, east on Clark, north on Phillips, and west on College.

Signs are necessary along the bypass so that bike lane traffic along Division St can seamlessly follow the bypass route to continue bike lane travel beyond this area without needing to reference maps or otherwise having to determine in advance how to negotiate this portion.

Sharrows (or bike lanes) should be used on these bypass streets. At crossings of Main and Clark along these bypasses, signage to alert E/W Main and Clark traffic to crossing bicycles should be added in advance of the relevant intersections.

For the half-block of Clark that the northbound bypass must travel between Wyatt and Phillips, a bike lane should be installed on the north side of the roadway to give bicycle traffic a safe way to negotiate this otherwise difficult piece. Clark is generally wide enough that a 200’ long narrowing of lanes to accommodate the bicycle lane should be feasible in the existing right of way. Signage alerting Clark St traffic to any required lane shifting/narrowing and the presence of a left-hand-side bike lane is probably a good idea.

Since 99% of bicycles will essentially see a gap in the Division St bike lane, my proposal seems a reasonable alternative for bicycle accomodation that is extremely inexpensive (some signs and some paint).

(By the way, even if Alternative 1 is chosen, my bypass suggestion is probably still merits implementation.)

(As an aside, when you consider an eastbound bike lane for that piece of Clark, I hope you consider adding a way for southbound bike traffic on Phillips to use a contraflow bike lane or multi-use path to access Wyatt. This has nothing to do with Division/Church, but is certainly a gap in our existing bicycling network.)

Railroad Bridge Underpass – Madison to Patch
The proposed design under the railroad bridge has one standard travel lane in each direction, a 5’ bike lane in each direction, and a 9’ sidewalk on either side. The exit from the underpass in either direction has an uphill which may be troublesome for a notable percentage of people on bikes. These people are likely to feel uncomfortable when only 4 inches of paint separates them from motor vehicle traffic on these uphills.

At the public meeting, AECOM staff told me that the design team considered a buffer between the bike lanes and the standard vehicle lanes. They said the proposed design was chosen, instead giving all excess space to the sidewalk, because of the overwhelming feedback from people walking about how dangerous the current sidewalks feel because motor vehicle traffic passes so close.

If the proposed design existed today, you would get feedback from people bicycling about how dangerous the bike lanes feel because motor vehicle traffic passes so close AND you would get feedback from people walking about how dangerous the sidewalks feel because of the heavy bicycle traffic on the sidewalks from people too uncomfortable to use the bike lanes. The proposed design would make even more people uncomfortable in this section.

I propose a 2’ buffer between each bike lane and the standard traffic lanes, reducing the proposed sidewalk on each side from 9’ to 7’. Two feet of buffer is probably enough to make a substantial proportion of people bicycling feel comfortable using this route to cross the railroad barrier. A 7’ sidewalk is wide, and someone walking the edge of the sidewalk would still be a very comfortable seven feet from motor vehicle traffic. (In the proposed design, someone on the edge of the sidewalk would only be 5’ from motor vehicle traffic – two feet less.)

This proposal also gives four feet of additional curb-to-curb distance, which should help calm those concerned with width issues associated with emergency vehicle access to this section.

Patch/Francis and Division
My top preference is for the roundabout design at the Patch/Francis and Division intersection. I like this from a bicycle and foot traffic point of view as well as a traffic calming point of view. This seems to be the safest design, and I hope this is the alternative you select.

Otherwise, I prefer the alternative that bends Patch to create a straight crossing to Francis. This would make this bicycle crossing of Division safe and comfortable. The current approach to making this crossing is neither safe nor comfortable, and wouldn’t be helped much by adding a signal as in the remaining alternative.

Driveway on east side of Division between Academy and Schofield
I would like to see you eliminate the driveway on the east side of Division between Academy and Schofield. Instead, the existing frontage road could be used (via Schofield) to access the same parking lot that this driveway serves in the proposed design.

Elimination of this driveway would eliminate the right-hook potential with the buffered bike lane at this location.

I asked AECOM staff about this possibility at the public meeting. The answer I received didn’t give any solid rationale for requiring the proposed design.

Division from Fourth to Maria
I would still like to see a buffered bike lane from Maria south to at least Sixth and preferably to where the current roadway starts to narrow (around Michelle’s). Even a 2’ buffer between the bike lane and the standard traffic lane would be a great improvement.

This stretch has enormous potential for heavy bicycle usage for accessing the retail stores south of Maria. Both bicycle operators and motor vehicle operators will feel more comfortable with a buffer. (Surveys show that motor vehicle operators prefer buffer separation when bike traffic is around – buffers aren’t only for the comfort of those on bikes.)

At the public meeting, AECOM staff told me that the main problem with putting a buffer along this stretch is political. There is plenty of parking lot space on the west side of Division to take four feet from for creating such buffers. I was told that staff feared the public outcry that might result from acquiring parking lot space for making Division safer in this area. I ask project staff to reconsider that decision.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. I hope you are able to incorporate my suggestions into your next round of designs for the Division/Church Corridor Study.

Bob Fisch
Poky Pedaling Stevens Point