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Our Opinion: Road 'diet' shouldn't starve neighborhoods

The city of Portland wants you to slow down. More specifically, it wants you to slow down, get out of your car, walk around and spend money in local businesses.

During the past several years, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has placed an increasing number of streets on “road diets.” The latest of these diets — or road reconfigurations — was approved earlier this month for Southeast Foster Road. From the point where Foster Road intersects with Powell Boulevard, east to 89th Avenue, the road will be reduced from four lanes to two to make way for left-turn lanes, bicycle lanes and a middle refuge lane.

The intent is to make the area more pedestrian friendly, safer, and therefore more favorable for business.

While improving pedestrian safety and encouraging neighborhood development is something to be commended, these road diets come with a significant trade-off: They further reduce the ways people in East Portland can travel downtown or farther west.

Plus, if a major goal is to improve pedestrian safety, the city would have a lot larger impact if it built more sidewalks in outer East Portland. One place to start would be farther east on Foster Road, where motorists and pedestrians must play a deadly game of dodge during every morning and afternoon commute.

The road diets are supposed to encourage use of public transportation or bicycling, but those modes of transportation aren’t an option for everyone. To make matters worse, when the number of traffic lanes is reduced, there often is insufficient consideration for bus turnouts. These simply must be part of the overall plan. When a bus pulls over to take on or drop off passengers, they shouldn’t be backing up traffic behind them.

Mayor Charlie Hales and every member of the Portland City Council have said they intend to give more attention to East Portland. While projects such as the Foster Road diet are technically in East Portland, they are truly more central than east. As east-west thoroughfares are constricted, the daily commute becomes increasingly difficult for East Portland’s growing population.

The Foster road project isn’t the only one in the works.

The Burnside East Business Association and the Kerns and Buckman neighborhood associations are asking the city to put East Burnside from 14th to 32nd on a road diet, reducing the number of vehicle lanes to one in each direction.

What’s more, when a bus rapid transit line eventually is built on the Powell Boulevard/Division Street corridor, yet another major thoroughfare could be narrowed.

Slower traffic might be desirable in some of these neighborhoods, but as each of these diets is implemented, they serve to choke off outer East Portland residents from downtown Portland.

Neighborhood enhancement is a worthy outcome, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of what streets were originally intended to do: provide an efficient means for people to drive from one place to another. Such road diets also shouldn’t be allowed to further disenfranchise the people who live east of Interstate 205. They still need basic safety improvements — such as sidewalks — and they are the ones who will suffer longer commutes.

Outer East Portland residents who are starving for transportation investments can only dream of the day when they’ll need to consider a diet.