By Midge Pierce
SE citizens concerned about a stretch of the proposed bus rapid transit service lacking stops can take solace that a requested stop on inner Division has been added.
Otherwise, those still simmering from summer’s surprising realignment of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from Powell Blvd. to SE Division may be dismayed by a citizen’s engagement report in support of the rerouting.
Despite apparent widespread frustration about the realignment, and a letter of concern from the SE Uplift coalition of inner eastside neighborhoods, a steering committee of citizens and transportation experts was expected in late October to formalize approval of the alignment from downtown through Division out to Gresham.
Powell was taken off the table for the project because of unsolvable traffic congestion and the exorbitant expense of demolishing Jade District buildings to configure a BRT crossover connection to Division at 82nd.
A Metro official said public reaction was largely positive. Almost all respondents to a transportation survey preferred the proposed BRT improvements over Division’s existing Line 4, according to spokesman Craig Beebe.
He said most were willing to give up stops if it meant faster travel. Most favored quicker boarding, traffic signal upgrades and better station amenities. Many supported maintaining inner Division’s recently redesigned streetscape.
Sixty-four percent said the proposed station locations work well or very well, although concerns emerged that walking eight to ten blocks was a hardship for seniors and the disabled.
As it moves forward, five additional stops have been added, including one at 30th and Division, which, at 10 blocks was the longest stretch unserviced by a station.
Four other stops have been added in Outer Division as planners ponder ways to service Mt. Hood Community College. Beebe claimed the additional stops will mean that roughly 90% of riders needing ramp deployments will continue to have access to bus service at their current stop.
Beebe was optimistic that another major concern of Eastsiders will be solved – traffic back-ups caused by rail-lines on lower Division. He said talks are currently underway between Trimet and Union Pacific to make improvements that might include replacing outdated switches that are a cause of traffic bunch-ups near SE 11th and 12th.
The improvements might alleviate the need for an overpass at the railyards. “This is good news that could help move the project forward. This is a safety and reliability issue.”
Apprehension about whether proposed lengthy articulated buses can maneuver narrow Division St. has been discounted by officials’ assurances that the sophisticated technology is used well and widely in other cities.
As for disappointment about rejection of alignment along Powell, a route critically needing transformation, Beebe said improvements to the boulevard may be forthcoming through a so-called Corridor Wide Strategy.
Under consideration are pedestrian and bike crossing improvements on Powell and shortening wait times by adding service in peak hours. Bus stop improvements are possible at 39th, 82nd and beyond. Pedestrian, bicycle crossings and ADA ramps may be improved at multiple intersections in the 20s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
“Not all are funded,” said Beebe. “But all are part of the vision.”
At an inner eastside neighborhood meeting, reactions to the engagement report ranged from cynicism that it was yet another survey slanted toward desired results, to shrugs that the creature comforts of proposed new covered stations seduced respondents. The report admits that some people were offended by some of the choices.
Any decisions not made last month about alignment, stops and travel modes will be moved forward to early November. The timeline is largely driven by budgeting deadlines of the three partnering agencies – Metro, Trimet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Beebe said all three are well on their way to securing the funds they need to quality for the federal match.