Tell City Hall: Rose Quarter Freeway Is #NotAnImprovement


JOIN THE NO MORE FREEWAYS CAMPAIGN the morning of TUESDAY, JANUARY 16 as we serve coffee and donuts on the Flint Avenue Bridge to protest this unnecessary, counterproductive $450 million freeway boondoggle and protect the Flint Avenue Bridge. Information on our facebook event page.

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for your comments to be included in our coalition letter to Portland City Hall.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Portland City Council and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) can’t make up their mind on which talking points to use in their support of their half-a-billion dollar freeway boondoggle. Since the transportation package passed in Salem last July, we’ve seen legislators and policymakers claim this project is going to help alleviate a “traffic bottleneck,” although decades of research in cities across the world show that freeway expansion only induces traffic demand and makes congestion worse. ODOT then pivoted to claiming this half-a-billion-dollar freeway expansion was a safety improvement, a claim which Willamette Week thoroughly debunked by noting how many other streets in Portland have witnessed numerous fatalities (including some, like 82nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard, that are owned by ODOT) .

The latest talking point used by Portland City Council and ODOT in supporting this project lies in their assessment that this massive freeway expansion is justifiable because of the “local improvements” to the streets of the nearby neighborhoods; Mayor Wheeler spoke on OPB last September noting that the freeway expansion would  “reconnect the community” because of the proposed partial lids over I-5 and changes to the bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Despite these claims, the notion that the community would receive any benefit from this massive boondoggle is easily refutable with any meaningful review of the project’s plans.

The No More Freeways Coalition and our numerous transportation, environmental, public health and  neighborhood activist partners want to be loud and clear: the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion’s proposed changes to the local streets are #NotAnImprovement to the neighborhood.

Community leaders who have reviewed the proposed plans have raised the following concerns about the impact to the local streets associated with ODOT’s proposal:

Flint Bridge

  1. Removal of the Flint Avenue Bridge. Perhaps the most significant of the changes proposed by ODOT, the massive onramps included in the freeway expansion necessitates the removal of the Flint Avenue overpass of I-5. This bridge is currently a low-stress neighborhood greenway route that connects many eastside bicyclists to downtown (see map); the city’s annual bicycle counts suggest that it’s one of the busiest bike commuting routes in the city. In addition, the Flint Avenue bridge connects the soon-to-reopen Harriet Tubman Middle School and local businesses, like Ex-Novo, the nonprofit brewery, to the Rose Quarter. As local economist Joe Cortright writes at City Observatory, “Rather that “connecting” the community better, the project actually disconnects it …this project is a step backwards, concentrating more vehicle movements as well as more bicycles on main arterial streets, and eliminating a slower-speed, local serving street.” Eliminating a low-stress, important connection to downtown jobs for Portland’s bike commuters is #NotAnImprovement for this neighborhood. 

    ODOT’s Proposed Freeway Cover is merely a set of disconnected triangles, that, combined, won’t produce any urban space that invites more housing and development. These caps will also be unsupported, meaning that they won’t allow development on top of them, and are therefore incompatible with the Albina Vision. (Schematic produced by Jim Howell)
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    Schematic shows the overlay of the oversized overpasses, and the Flint Avenue bridge that would be removed (image credit Jim Howell)

    Freeway “Caps” Leave A Lot to be Desired. Many proponents of this freeway expansion has been sold a vision of a “freeway cap” that would cover I-5 and help “reconnect the community.” Unfortunately, any review of the proposed “caps” shows that ODOT is not planning for a comprehensive cover for the freeway but merely incomplete concrete platforms that will be floating over the expanded freeway. These bizarrely-shaped caps won’t create vibrant, livable urban spaces that will encourage more housing, livable streets; they will be floating green islands surrounded by multiple lanes of congested traffic. One only needs to look a few blocks east, to Martin Luther King Junior Blvd, for an example of how ODOT designs park space for whizzing automobiles but not for the community members walking, biking, taking transit and living in the immediate neighborhood. As Cortright writes, “When you look closely at the project’s own illustrations, its apparent that the covers are actually just slightly oversized overpasses, with nearly all of their surface area devoted to roadway.” Replacing a gaping cut of a freeway with “oversized overpasses” full of the noise and noxious fumes of freeway traffic is #NotAnImprovement. 

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    Aerial view of “Albina Vision,” Photo by Jonathan Maus.

    Freeway Expansion Impacts  directly hinder Ambitious “Albina Vision” Plans.
    Community advocates have been drawing up bold, ambitious plans to more sincerely attempt to rectify the historic injustices of urban renewal in North and Northeast Portland. Dubbed the “Albina Vision,” (pictured), the proposal calls for massive new housing and office space redevelopment around and on top of the existing freeway. The renderings of these ambitious and exciting plans for new housing and redevelopment in Albina, writes Cortright, “has neatly made both the Interstate 5 freeway and its extensive on- and off-ramps disappear under a welter of new high rises” which are “…details very much at odds with the project proposed by the Oregon Department of Transportation.” Paving over the neighborhood with offramps and excess freeway capacity that won’t solve traffic congestion in a manner that prevents future ambitious, restorative justice development is #NotAnImprovement.


  4. Advocates are deeply skeptical of impact of the proposed bike and pedestrian facilities. Mayor Wheeler stated on OPB that he supported the $450 million Rose Quarter project because he believed it was “mostly a bicycle and pedestrian play.” However, many prominent, engaged and respected grassroots advocates for livable streets signed our letter in opposition to the freeway because of their sincere skepticism that the project represented an “improvement” for local biking and walking conditions, especially one worth of half a billion dollars of investment. Michael Andersen at BikePortland has written a definitive articulation of what little work ODOT has actually undertaken to consider the bicycle and pedestrian implications of this plan. Despite ODOT’s rhetoric, it’s clear that very little of this project has been designed for bicyclists and pedestrians in mind; if the ODOT were to spend $450 million on improving access for bicycles, pedestrians, and transit users to the Rose Quarter, it’d certainly look a lot different than this. As Andersen reports, the proposed Hancock-Dixon crossing will be too steep (beyond ADA grade) for comfortable bike-riding, and the proposed NE Clackamas crossing of I-5 will be similarly steep and connect directly to an underdeveloped parking lot.  The current plans are #NotAnImprovement for anyone hoping to bike and walk through the neighborhood. 
    Turning Radii: Is this a neighborhood, or a series of onramps? (image by Doug Klotz)

  5. Diverging_Diamond_DetailIt sure seems like the street grid design aspects of this project were drawn up solely to move automobiles quickly through the neighborhood. As Joe Cortright wrote in a separate article in City Observatory, the “diverging diamond” series of onramps to the freeway near N Broadway and Williams create a significant hazard for people walking in the neighborhood. Longtime pedestrian advocate Doug Klotz also notes that the streets leading to the onramps are designed with an increased radius of curvature at the intersections; this is a really wonky way of saying that these streets are designed for cars to rapidly accelerate on their way around the intersections and down into the freeway. It sure seems like a dangerous proposition to design the streets for such ease of automobile speed, considering the thousands of Blazers and Winterhawks fans that pass through these intersections after games and the daily foot traffic towards local businesses. It’s safe to say that these plans are prioritizing the mobility of car traffic over the safety of pedestrians, which is #NotAnImprovement for a neck of town with aspirations of becoming a vibrant, walkable, engaging neighborhood.
  6. Tubman-Exterior-800x450PX
    Harriet Tubman Middle School

    And Oh Yeah, there’s significant implications for the air quality for the whole neighborhood, especially a soon-to-reopen Middle School with historic connection to Portland’s African American community. Freelance journalist Daniel Forbes has covered air quality issues in Portland for years; he broke many of the stories regarding the Bullseye Plant and their unhealthy air emissions in Southeast Portland back in 2016. He published a story in the Cascadia Times last week exploring the significant implications that the freeway expansion will play in adding more pollution to the air quality around Harriet Tubman, a soon-to-reopen Middle School that PPS has prioritized in their efforts to establish middle-level education for students in Northeast Portland.  According to Forbes, Portland Public Schools’ plans to build remediation walls to improve air quality for Tubman’s students will be demolished by ODOT’s freeway expansion proposal, which in fact expands Interstate 5 eastward and closer to the students at the school.

    Our coalition is in the process of building stronger relationships with PPS officials, Tubman families and neighbors to more accurately identify the scale of the public health risk associated with the freeway expansion next to the middle school. For the time being, though, it’s safe to say that expanding a freeway so more diesel trucks and polluting automobiles can sit in gridlock and contribute to unhealthy air immediately under a middle school is #NotAnImprovement for the neighborhood.

Our coalition remain convinced that the only way to address growing congestion on our busy freeways is to implement congestion pricing, and to direct revenue raised from pricing into robust investments in public transit, biking and walking. No freeway expansion should take place until congestion pricing is implemented on this corridor first. It remains the request of our organization that City of Portland remove the I-5 freeway expansion from the Transportation System Plan (TSP) update of the Comprehensive Plan, and that any freeway expansion should not take place until congestion pricing is implemented and it’s impacts studied first.  A collection of letters we’ve written to City Hall and ODOT’s Congestion Pricing Advisory Committee are available here.



Here’s how you can help:

  1. Attend our Rally to Save The Flint Avenue Bridge from 7:30 to 10am on Tuesday, January 16th. (Facebook Event Page HERE)
  2. Sign our petition and include your comments about why you’re concerned this expansion is #NotAnImprovement. We’ll deliver them to City Hall in advance of the January 18th Hearing.
  3. Share on Social Media! We’re on facebook and twitter, and using the hashtag #NotAnImprovement to discuss why this project is bad for the streets of inner North/Northeast Portland.
  4. Testify! We’ll be testifying at the Central City Plan hearing at 2:00pm at Portland City Hall. If you’re available, we’d love for you to join us; sign up on the petition and we’ll be in touch if you’d like some assistance.
  5. Donate! This entire campaign is run by scrappy community advocates; if you donate $15 we’ll send you a button.

Let’s go kill a freeway!

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