Sandy/Burnside in 1958, when it was the citys #1 accident intersection
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  • Sandy/Burnside in 1958, when it was the city's "#1 accident intersection"
Yes, as you may have noticed if you've been anywhere near the east end of the Burnside Bridge in the past several months, the city is finally investing the time, money and bulldozers to clean up the clusterfuck of East Burnside between the river and 14th Avenue. The east side of the Burnside/Couch couplet project (which broke ground last August) officially made ten blocks of Burnside one-way last week, pushing westbound traffic onto a newly "revitalized" East Couch.

Here are my top five observations on the project.

1. THANK GOD. I head through that incredibly dangerous intersection where Burnside meets Sandy meets 12th meets WTF just about every day and it seems like the couplet will clean up a lot of the mess. The couplet shuts down two blocks of Sandy between 12th and 14th, forcing traffic to take Burnside east, while westbound traffic skips the intersection altogether and heads down Couch. The total project pricetag: $17.8 million, coming from the city, state, Metro and urban renewal funds. Worth it? I think so.

2. HOORAY FOR STOPLIGHTS! There will now be a stoplight at every damn intersection on East Burnside between Grand and 12th Avenues. The project also builds out sidewalks, so they're more pedestrian-friendly. Gone are the days of guerrilla crosswalks and scurrying across six lanes of traffic.

3. WHERE'S MY BIKE LANE ON COUCH?! As Jonathan Maus of BikePortland noted, the project installs a bike lane on SE 12th (great!) but only leaves Couch without a bike lane for six blocks between 12th and 6th Avenue.

The street improvements bumped out the sidewalks and installed bioswales (great!), but those ate up the space in the two-lane street, so now there's no bike lane. It's no big deal most of the day, but during rush hour a few days ago, traffic was bumper to bumper and it felt dangerous to slip between the cars and the sidewalk on my bike. Also, since the city is aiming to make bikes 25 percent of traffic by 2030, bike lanes should be standard on new construction of major streets... especially ones redeveloped with the goal of making a more walkable neighborhood with slower car traffic.

4. BIG PLOT OF LAND UP FOR GRABS! So the couplet permanently closes off the Sandy between 12th and 14th Avenue. The city isn't sure what's going to happen to that land yet. Its zoning and ownership all depends on what sort of agreements the city struck decades ago when it bought the land to make Sandy in the first place. They haven't started the process of looking back at those old deals, but when they do it's possible that the city will have to just give back the land to the original owners or sell it to neighboring property owners (the guys who own Northwest Fitness and the car dealership there). My guess: it'll become a big commercial space. Two whole blocks of land in such a busy location is a shoe-in for bars or restaurants or, I don't know, a gas station and strip mall.

5. WEST BURNSIDE: YOU'RE NEXT. This whole massive project is actually just supposed to be phase one of fixing Burnside's mess. The next part involves ripping up NW Couch and Burnside right round Powell's and making them both one-way downtown. While we can all agree that East Burnside was a dangerous mess, the westside plan has some vocal opposition. Seeing as it took more than a decade to get this the Eastside project off the ground, who knows if the city will ever dive into the westside couplet.