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My View: Citizens, businesses support Foster Road 'diet' because it's good for the neighborhoods

How do we weigh improvements in traffic safety, neighborhood livability and bicycle/pedestrian access against a travel time increase for some drivers?

Getting to downtown Portland two minutes quicker by driving faster and without slowing down for people who are trying to cross the street might be nice. But what if such a quicker trip comes at a cost of more traffic injuries and fatalities? What if one of those victims is a loved one?

Most of the recently approved Foster Road Streetscape plan is simply a relocation of existing street-space based on changed use. The mix of traffic on Portland’s streets has changed, and it will change further in the future. As Portland grows and urbanizes further, an ever-increasing portion of traffic mix will be public transit, bicycles and pedestrians.

There’s the fact that most people in Manhattan travel by subway/transit, and on foot and virtually none by car, while in rural upstate New York it is the exact opposite. While these are opposing scenarios, it doesn’t mean that one local government is more liberal or forward-thinking as compared to the other: it is simply a direct result of urban density and transportation system characteristics that work in one location but not in another.

In denser cities, more people will use transit, bikes and walking to get around. That is logical and necessary: the bigger and denser a city is, the bigger and more negative impacts are to all other traffic users from driving a car.

As more Portlanders ride their bikes for transportation, there is more demand for space on Portland’s streets for bikes. Foster Road is a good example: the approved plan provides for restriping Foster Road, transforming four existing lanes into five lanes: three dedicated for motor vehicles and two dedicated for bicycles.

This will not only save lives but will also save time for anyone traveling by bike, for pedestrians trying to cross and even for many motor vehicle drivers. Such changes will benefit everyone using Foster Road, not just the people living east or west, or north or south of Foster. 

Almost half of the total project cost is allocated to finally establishing proper-width sidewalks along Foster Road east of 82nd Avenue. Sidewalks along Foster between 82nd and 90th avenues are only about four feet wide. With utility poles placed within that space, that doesn’t allow a stroller or wheelchair to fit, nor would anyone want their child to walk there when cars pass by just inches away, when the road is four lanes wide and cars are traveling at 35 mph ... and more.

It’s no coincidence that the people of Portland have spoken out in favor of this plan in such strong numbers, with more than 90 percent voicing support. This strong support from businesses and the local community simply reiterates the call for having Portland streets that support livable neighborhoods and a human-based transportation system that values pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Yes, people want to be able to travel on Portland streets, between east and west, and north and south. Having more choices to safely do so by foot, bike, transit or car is a good thing.

This means having thriving local neighborhoods as a result — and thereby reducing people’s need to travel as far — makes the Foster plan a win-win.

Marcel Hermans is the recent transportation chairman of the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association and a member of the

Foster Road Coalition and the Foster Area Business Association, which supports the adopted Foster Road Streetscape plan.