Addressing Drivers’ Needs on Foster

* Thanks to Nick Falbo who put together the following analysis of how improving traffic safety on Foster does not necessarily lead to increased commute times or a further burden on drivers.

On this blog we write a lot about the in-progress update to the 2003 Foster Streetscape Plan, and much of our attention is focused on the potential pedestrian improvements in the area. Today, let’s talk about driving on Foster Road.

All of us here at drive on Foster, and all of us intend to continue to drive on Foster. We also appreciate that the majority of commuters in our neighborhoods drive to work, and that they intend to continue to drive to work. All this talk of more pedestrian crossings, fewer lanes, less speeding, and on-street parking has got to make our commute worse, right?

Thankfully, it doesn’t.

We want to be very clear that we want the drivers of Foster to have a good commute. But let us also be clear when we say commuting is about more than getting from one place to the next as quickly as possible.

Believe it or not, fewer lanes don’t mean more congestion. It has been shown throughout the country that a two lane street with a center turn lane can move just as many cars, just as quickly, as a four lane street#. How can that be? I’m sure you’ve all had to wait in the inside lanes on Foster behind drivers trying to make a left turn. By giving them their own space, they don’t block traffic, and you get on your way. Traffic volumes on Foster are pretty high, so this reconfiguration needs more analysis, but SE Tacoma street did the same thing a decade ago and it carries even more traffic than Foster.

Commuters want to travel safely. When we talk about safety improvements on Foster, this is most beneficial for people driving because they’re the ones that need it. 96% of the crashes on Foster involved only people driving (2). Thankfully for everyone, safety improvements for people walking have been shown to increase safety for those in cars too.

Commuters want a low-stress drive. Poor visibility, people trying to cross at unmarked crosswalks, and busses sitting half in/out of the travel lane all contribute to confusion and stress while driving. By improving lighting, formalizing crossings, and better clarifying bus stops, driving can be more predictable and less stressful.

Commuters want a pleasant drive. An asphalt and concrete strip of dead trees is not a happy place to be for anyone. Improvements to the aesthetics do matter, especially when you’re driving down the same street every day.

Economic development on the corridor is a big deal. If improvements to the street can promote more business development, then some of these trips might be going to local businesses rather than out of the area. Closer destinations means fewer miles in the car, and fewer trips requiring a car, freeing up space for others.

And let’s not forget that commuting makes up only 20% of all trips (3).  On the other 80% of trips the details listed above can be even more important than they are for commuting.

There are only 5,000 commute trips each day (4) on Foster Road. Compare this to the 10,000 people that live within walking distance to the Foster streetscape area in the Lents, Mt Scott-Arleta and Foster-Powell neighborhoods. Thankfully, as we show above, the needs of commuters and the needs of neighborhoods aren’t always at odds.

We look forward to moving forward with the entire Foster Road community in making our street a better place to be, drive, walk, and live.

2 Out of 2212 reported crashes between 2000 and 2009, only 71 involved bicyclists or pedestrians.
3 US Census Bureau.
4 Foster carries around 25,000 car trips each day. Only 20% of these are commute trips.
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9 Responses to Addressing Drivers’ Needs on Foster

  1. Cora Potter says:

    In my dream world, most cross sections of Foster would be seven(ish) lanes in this configuration: Two way cycle track, on street parking, vehicle lane, combined streetcar/vehicle lane, planted median with occasional cut-outs for left turn lanes, combined streetcar/vehicle lane, vehicle lane, on street parking.

    I concur that a three lanes for motor vehicles could work with adequate controlled lefts, but only if we’re not going to do streetcar. As soon as you get streetcar operating in the right of way, you need additional vehicle lanes for passing purposed, or you’ll be diminishing the sidewalks to add pull-ins for the streetcar at every stop.

    • Brett says:

      Great points about a potential streetcar on Foster… Most existing streetcar routes in Portland are couplets, with only one streetcar lane (shared lane) per street. Foster being a diagonal, I suppose would need 2 streetcar shared lanes since there are no parallel streets to utilize. I can’t envision any potential cross-section on Foster which would fit 4 lanes (2 auto, 2 auto/streetcar), street parking on both sides, bike facilities on both sides, and leave any room for left turn lanes. In my opinion, the sidewalks should stay as is (nice and wide).

      Admittedly, I’ve never ridden a streetcar… but every time they come up as a transportation option I wonder why they are seemingly so popular with planners in Portland. Doesn’t a bus serve a similar function for a much less price? Streetcars in Portland have cost an average of $17.1 million per mile. I would hate to see other road configurations ruled out in favor of a potential future (?) streetcar. I’d also love to hear anyone’s thoughts on why a streetcar on Foster would be great.

      Thanks to Nick for a great article!

  2. Cora Potter says:

    You can’t get bike lanes and center turn lane in and maintain 4 lanes, two parking lanes and the sidewalk widths (that’s why its a dream world where everyone wins :). The right of way on Foster is 93/94 feet wide at points and less at others. If you did a cross section that was sidewalk at 14′, two way cycle track (14′ plus 3′ buffer), 4 auto lanes at 10′ each, pakring at 8′, sidewalk at 14′ that adds up to 93′.

  3. Cora Potter says:

    And streetcar – streetcar is great for local service and as a development tool – unlike the bus which exists for mobility purposes – to get people out of the neighborhood/through the neighborhood as quickly as possible. They serve two different functions and in the case of Foster as well as 82nd are probably best used in combination. The streetcar takes up the quick hop rides that slow the 14 and 72 down, and the bus is able to function as it was designed to- to move people from 94th to downtown and from Clackamas to Swan Island quickly.

  4. Sia says:

    I think that the anecdotal experience of myself and people I know is that fewer lanes means longer commutes and more congestion. (See also: reduced lanes due to construction) And I understand that if you are anti-commuters, nothing I say can convince anyone that drivers might actually have a point and aren’t simply uneducated about what affects traffic.

    Portland needs more effective bus service including express and limited buses. I actually hate driving and rarely drove before moving to Portland. And yes, there is a class division around this. And no opinion piece is probably rectify that, either. So let’s agree to disagree and move forward on the issues we do agree on. Like safety issues on Foster Road, that can be addressed without the “road diet” solution.

    • Brett says:

      “anti-commuters…. class division(?)… agree to disagree and move forward as long as there is no road diet solution.”
      I think we need to let the upcoming traffic analysis play out before we dig in our heels on either side. We can agree to disagree, but that should not mean a road diet isn’t at least considered. I think many people living in the neighborhoods are looking for is a solution which calms traffic speeds and creates a welcoming environment for small businesses and families. Some lights, trees and another crosswalk or two won’t do this. Why rule out part of a potential solution without getting the facts or the analysis from the city?

  5. John Mulvey says:

    There is absolutely a “class issue” in play here, and it is that over the last 20 years this City has invested heavily in liveability for some parts of town. The question is whether those efforts will be extended to the rest of us.

  6. Messy says:

    I had a neighbor come to my house from another neighborhood. His comment was, Foster Rd is really bare and unattractive. Afterwards I looked at Foster road with a critical eye. He is right. What I see is really lacking, are street trees. They are mostly absent as you pass 52nd and Foster Rd, going up in numbers in the SE direction. Most businesses do not have a single street tree in front of their business and it looks very bare at best. I am curious why with all the push for street trees in our neighborhood (and multi visits to my home by the city, to ask to plant trees on my median strip). Why was Foster Road was not included in this push for city trees? (perhaps due to the long delayed redo of Foster Road?)

  7. Pingback: Addressing Drivers’ Needs on Foster : July 2012 - Foster United

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