If he succeeds in his plan, City Commissioner Sam Adams may long be remembered for his complete overhaul of transportation along Burnside. But for a group of residents living in a condo building that would be affected by the change, he may be remembered as the guy who tore up their quiet, peaceful section of NW Portland.
Last week, Adams unveiled his plan to drastically reform W Burnside, turning it and NW Couch into paired one-way, two-lane streets (a "couplet") between 2nd and 19th. All eastbound traffic would travel down Burnside, and westbound traffic would be redirected to Couch, with a streetcar line along the whole route. The idea is to make Burnside more pedestrian friendly and foster business development along the two streets.
The plan has the staunch and vocal backing of people like Michael Powell, owner of Powell's Books, and Don Mazziotti of Harsch Investment Properties, which owns a ton of property along Burnside and would benefit from the redevelopment.
But it's gotten tense opposition from the residents of "The Henry," a high-priced condo building at NW 10th and Couch. Its residents are among the most notable of Portland's movers and shakers, including Stephen Kafoury (legislator turned lobbyist, land-use expert), Bob Gerding (developer, founding partner of Gerding-Edlen), city ombudsman Michael Mills, and Howard Shapiro (former director of the Housing Authority of Portland).
The group of condo owners have been vocalizing their opposition to the plan for years, and on the night of Monday, December 4—the day before Adams unveiled his plan—reportedly let Adams have it in a very contentious meeting. The primary reason for their opposition: The plan will turn Couch, which is currently a relatively quiet, pedestrian-friendly street, into a busy thoroughfare.
"I think it's a terrible idea," Kafoury says. "Couch is becoming a great walking street. Of course people in the Henry are not excited about having a nice street turned into a heavy-traffic area."
There isn't any dispute over whether the couplet will increase traffic on Couch—Adams' office says it could be as much as 20,000 cars per day. The dispute is whether the potential improvements to Burnside justify the impact the project will have on Couch.
Plus, Kafoury says, he's not convinced that Burnside needs to drastically change.
"I don't think you need to calm Burnside," he said. "People need a way to get across town quickly."
Another Henry resident, who wished to remain anonymous, doubted whether Portlanders-at-large will support the massive price tag—currently $39 million.
The opposition to the project also includes, of all people, the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland. The couplet would run past St. Mary's Cathedral and School, increasing traffic along the school site. In a letter to Northwest District Association President Frank Bird—who was a sort of liaison between the church and Adams' office—Archdiocese Property Manager Delia Wilson said the school is concerned about "disruptive noise levels, unhealthful air quality, safety issues, and exorbitant abatement costs."
"I've spent the last 15 or 16 months studying [Henry Residents'] concerns and the concerns of the church," Adams says. "And after digging in and asking all of the tough questions, I've determined that Couch can definitely handle the couplet." The street's "desirability" won't be significantly altered, he argues.
After the first of the year, Adams will be bringing a proposal to city council that will set up a feasibility study, which will detail the cost associated with the project. In the meantime, groups opposed to the idea can lobby the other city commissioners—Adams will need three votes to move it forward.