• John Ley

PBOT’s “Rose Lanes” project will add to traffic congestion

Eliminating vehicle lanes on already overcrowded arterials

Portland has had a “war on cars” for a long time. After killing the Mt. Hood Freeway, activists stopped a planned western bypass (“ring road”) to compliment I-205. They have successfully fought much needed expansions of I-5 at the Rose Quarter, and a host of needed improvements to major arterials.

The last major addition of vehicle capacity was I-205. It opened in Dec. 1980. That resulted in a 10 year reduction in the number of vehicles using I-5 via the Interstate Bridge and reduced traffic congestion. Regional population has doubled since 1980.

Recently, Portland has begun reducing the number of vehicle lanes on several regional arterial streets and eliminating parking. Here’s a news report highlighting a 50% reduction in vehicle lanes on 2 miles of NE Glisan.

Here’s the full KOIN news story.

That is just the beginning.

The Portland City Council recently approved a PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) plan for major lane and parking reductions. They plan to start by eliminating one lane in each direction on the Burnside Bridge.

You can view the full plan here.

A look at the broader, city wide plan shows how far reaching the road diets may be. Lanes and/or parking will be eliminated near intersections. On many of these corridors PBOT will eliminate one vehicle lane and parking in each direction for several miles, creating a “bus only” transit lane. (Note the yellow line light rail extension into Vancouver at the top.)

With fewer lanes on all those major arterials, the other side roads and arterials will get even more congested. ODOT told the TOLLING Policy Advisory Committee in 2018, 80,000 vehicles are diverting off regional freeways and highways and on to side roads due to the lack of vehicle capacity. Once TOLLING is implemented on all of I-5 & I-205, ODOT estimates an additional 50,000 vehicles will divert! Where will they go, with even fewer lanes to handle the diverting traffic?

Portland now has the nation’s 7th worst traffic congestion according to one recent transportation survey. It’s that bad because regional population continues to grow, yet Portland refuses to add needed vehicle infrastructure. Instead they spend billions on light rail and transit which continues to have declining ridership.

The west coast city takes the No. 7 spot as one of the worst city for commuters. Studies have shown that the congestion comes from roads that haven’t expanded as fast as the newcomers who have moved into the city.

Willamette Week highlighted the plans effort to favor transit over cars.

While cars are stuck in traffic, buses will be able to cruise ahead on time. Eudaly and other city officials hope that will encourage more people to ride the bus in a city where transit ridership is flat.


The Rose Lane Project, while inexpensive by city standards, was initially seen as a radical move in Portland neighborhood politics—because it removes road lanes for driving and parking.

Transit won’t solve the traffic congestion problems. TriMet bus passenger boardings peaked in 2009 and are down 14%, a decline of more than 9 million boardings thru 2018. Light-rail ridership peaked in 2012 with 35.2 million originating riders, losing 11% or 4.2 million originating riders by 2018.

Portland’s “War on Cars” actually started in the 1970’s. Here’s some excellent history from Beyond the Oregon Myth created in 2014.

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A 2018 PEMCO transportation survey of the Pacific Northwest indicates 94% of people prefer to use their private vehicles. Mass transit does not serve them well. In Seattle, more people use Uber and Lyft than ride the Sound Transit light rail.

An April 2019 Oregon Transportation Commission survey found 51% of citizens want to “expand and improve interstates and interstate bridges.” Another 14% want expanded arterials.

Metro’s 2019 poll showed people’s top priority is roads and highways. The Portland Tribune summarized: “On its own, improving public transit is a lower priority than making road improvements and the more overarching goal of easing traffic — voters still overwhelmingly rely on driving alone to get around,” reads the poll’s conclusions.

Elected representatives and transportation officials should be responding to the needs and desires of the people. That means creating new transportation corridors and adding new vehicle infrastructure.



The creation of the I-205 corridor which opened in Dec. 1982 created a 10-year reduction in the number of vehicles using the I-5 Interstate Bridge. The following is from a RTC graphic.

In 2018, WSDOT reported there were 310,000 crossings of the Columbia River daily, using the Interstate Bridge (I-5) or the Glenn Jackson Bridge (I-205).

Transit ridership continues its decline. TriMet total bus ridership is down by 9 million people.

TriMet’s MAX light rail ridership is down, in spite of adding TWO new light rail lines.

(Federal Transit Administration)

Another graphic from CTran here in Clark County. Ridership peaked in 1999.

More mass transit won’t solve interstate traffic congestion problems. CTran has seven “express” bus lines into Portland. Five run the I-5 corridor and two run the I-205 corridor. Total “express” bus line ridership is down. In 2018 CTran reported only 1,422 people used any of the seven express bus lines on an average day.

Uber & Lyft carry more people in Seattle than Sound Transit’s light rail carry, the Seattle Times reports.

The original Oregon plan for a “ring road” in the 1960’s and 70’s, allowing vehicles alternative routes to using I-5. It was to be completed 30 years ago, by 1990.


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