The mayor hosted the long-overdue groundbreaking of the East Burnside and Couch "couplet" makeover yesterday, applauding the coming changes to the busy, dangerous section of Burnside between NE 3rd and 14th. After years of public process, stalls and re-starts the groundbreaking didn't actually, uh, break any ground. It was more of a metaphorical groundbreaking, replete with a marching band and free popsicles but no actual construction equipment on site.
If all goes according to plan, by December 2010 East Burnside between 3rd and 14th will be a three-lane one-way street running east (with a striped bike lane running from MLK to 13th). Couch will become the major two-lane, one-way street running west. The city will also install traffic signals at every (!) intersection along Burnside and widen sidewalks. All this, planners hope, will make the area more pedestrian-friendly and fix the dangerous "nightmare spaghetti" intersection at NE 12th, where Sandy and Burnside meld into one another. Altogether, this makeover also opens the door to raising the Burnside Bridgehead project from the dead.
"Welcome to Portland's hot new neighborhood!" said Adams, as cars rushed past on NE 8th and Burnside. "Depending on how long you've worked to tame these streets, this change is 15-20 years in the making. We are intent on humanizing Burnside and this project begins to implement this vision."
The couplet project was held up for a long time by lack of funds—the $17.8 million pricetag was finally filled out this year thanks to $5.2 million in federal stimulus funds and $5.3 million in urban renewal money from the Central Eastside Area. The more controversial coupling of West Burnside and Couch is still stalled due to lack of funds (and the political will needed to obtain them). Neighbors and transportation activists generally agree that the coupling is a good project, especially since it will clean up the ridiculous Sandy intersection. Jonathan Maus, editor of BikePortland.org, laments that the city is missing the opportunity to extend the bike lane on Couch all the way up to NE 12th but agrees that the project is a "net positive" overall.
After some speech-making, everyone at the groundbreaking was treated to popsicles! And a marching band! Huzzah!
New York may be kicking our ass with aggressive transit reforms, but Portland is still probably the only city in America where a punk marching graces the groundbreaking of a new one-way street.
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