Last week, the proposal to turn W Burnside and NW Couch into two one-way streets (a "couplet") hit a road bump—the Portland Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend that the city not go forward with the decade-old idea.
In December 2006, Commissioner Sam Adams unveiled his proposal for the Burnside/Couch couplet, which would stretch from NW 2nd to 19th and include a streetcar line. The idea is to increase pedestrian safety, improve the flow of traffic, and spark redevelopment along Burnside.
The proposal had gone through a "citizens advisory committee" and a "stakeholder advisory committee" (groups made up of neighbors and business owners), but since there are city planning elements to the proposal, Adams opted to let the Planning Commission take a stab at it.
The result: a big fat "No."
Instead, the panel has recommended more mild "enhancements" to Burnside to fix its problems. The commission prepared a letter, claiming that most of the couplet plan's benefits could actually be achieved through minor fixes. A working memo that the letter is based on features a "matrix" of sorts, with talking points against the couplet idea—including claims that the project will take 8-10 years, and that development is already happening on Burnside without tearing up the streets.
Adams' office has strenuously denied those arguments, issuing a response to the memo stating that the project will only take 2-3 years, and that many large developers—like Harsch Investment Properties—are holding off on hundreds of millions of dollars in investments on Burnside until the couplet is approved.
The recommendation isn't stopping Adams from moving ahead with his proposal—the Planning Commission is an advisory group, meaning that its recommendations are nonbinding. The project is expected to go before council on March 29.
"I listened to the reasons for the commission's vote, and they were very helpful to me going forward," Adams says. "But I don't think I was successful in helping them see the big picture. Their focus was on not changing the Brewery blocks, and they were willing to throw away Burnside in the process. We'll just have to disagree."