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Drivers to be lowest priority?

KOIN 6 NEWS - Pedestrians and bicyclists could be guaranteed a bigger share of thye streets under the new Comprehensive Plan.Portland officials are considering a “radical” new ranking of who should be given priority for using city streets.

The new priority list puts pedestrians and bicyclists above TriMet buses, MAX trains and the Portland Streetcar. It places conventional single-occupancy vehicles at the bottom, after taxis and electric vehicles.

The new ranking would be an official reversal of historic policies that favored cars and trucks after the demise of the city’s original streetcar system in the 1950s. It is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage walkable neighborhoods.

“The ordered list is a radical change for the community, to say this is the direction we’re going,” says Dr. Gary Oxman, a member of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.

The list is included in the recommended Comprehensive Plan update the commission approved last year and sent to the City Council for adoption. Oxman spoke to the council about the list during a work session on the update last week. He warned that sticking to the list could anger motorists, and he urged the council to educate the public about it.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, but there is some fine-tuning to do,” said Oxman, the former tri-county health officer for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

Oxman also said the council should prioritize people with disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Another Planning and Sustainability Commission member, alternative transportation advocate Chris Smith, told the council the priorities were developed to protect the most vulnerable street users and encourage alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles. According to Smith, congestion is going to continue increasing on city streets as the population increases, because there is not enough space to widen them.

“We are not going to increase our lane miles, so as we add people and jobs, we must increase the use of alternative modes,” Smith said.

The Comp Plan — as it is commonly called — is a state-required land-use document intended to guide growth in the city over the next 20 years. The current Comp Plan was adopted more than 20 years ago and does not have such a list. Other city plans adopted over the years favor transit and bikes over single-occupancy vehicles, including the Streetcar System Concept Plan and Bicycle Plan for 2030.

Commissioner Steve Novick, who is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, explained the priorities are intended to guide those planning future transportation projects. He said it would result in more elevated sidewalks and bicycle paths that are physically separated from streets.

According to Novick, one goal is to encourage Portlanders to walk on trips up to a mile, use bikes on trips up to three miles, and take transit for longer trips.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz was the only council member to question the rankings during the work session. She said transit should be the top priority because everyone can take it, but not everyone can ride a bike. Novick said there are other policies to encourage more transit throughout the recommended Comp Plan update.

A separate proposal prioritizes freight movement over single-occupancy vehicles, but encourages multimodal projects.

The council did not take a vote on the priority list at the work session. The Planning and Sustainability Bureau staff will be directed to finalize amendments to the update following the last work session, which was scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.

After that, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is staffing the update, will publish a report with the specifics of each proposed amendment in March. The council has reserved April 14 and 20 for public hearings on the amendments, with votes set for April 28.

The council then will vote on the amended Comp Plan update, most likely on May 25 or June 15.

New kings of the road

Proposed priority uses for city streets, in order:

1. Walking

2. Bicycling

3. Transit

4. Taxi/ commercial transit/shared vehicles

5. Zero-emission vehicles

6. Other single-occupancy vehicles

According to the strategy, implementing this prioritization is intended to ensure that:

• The needs and safety of each group of users are considered, and changes do not make existing conditions worse for the most vulnerable users.

• All users’ needs are balanced with the intent of optimizing the right of way for multiple modes on the same street.

• When necessary to ensure safety, accommodate some users on parallel streets as part of multistreet corridors.

• Land use and system plans, network functionality for all modes, other street functions, and complete street policies, are maintained.

• Policy-based rationale is provided if modes lower in the ordered list are prioritized.

The most current information on the Comp Plan update work sessions and proposed amendments can be found at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/69938.