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News / Clark County News

It’s just how we roll now: Lane reconfiguration is ‘the new normal’ in Vancouver, but some have concerns

Residents divided over plans for McGillivray Boulevard

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 22, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
Although road diets — the repurposing of lanes devoted to vehicle traffic — are becoming more frequent in the city of Vancouver with the Complete Streets program and new Transportation System Plan update, they continue to elicit a strong reaction from the public.
Although road diets — the repurposing of lanes devoted to vehicle traffic — are becoming more frequent in the city of Vancouver with the Complete Streets program and new Transportation System Plan update, they continue to elicit a strong reaction from the public. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Nearly every day, Joe and Laurie Arndt see someone running a stop sign on McGillivray Boulevard, the roomy four-lane road that runs between Interstate 205 and Southeast 164th Avenue.

Just last week, they paused at a stop sign and a car whizzed around them, running that stop sign entirely and the next one, too. The road’s posted speed limit is 25 mph, but nearly all vehicles travel as fast as 10 mph above that, according to the city of Vancouver.

“You have to be careful with stop signs, because you can’t trust that the other guy is going to stop,” Joe Arndt said.

Both the Arndts and city officials agree the road isn’t perfect. The Arndts don’t agree with city officials’ approach to fixing it, however. The city plans to put McGillivray on a road diet, reducing the number of travel lanes in each direction from two to one and creating 10 feet of mobility lanes for pedestrians and cyclists.

Historically, Vancouver’s transportation system has been built for one mode: driving. In recent years, the city has placed a greater emphasis on making the network safer for all users, including cyclists, pedestrians and those who use transit, said Ryan Lopossa, the city’s streets and transportation manager.

These kind of changes elicit strong reactions — upsetting many neighbors living near roads scheduled for slimming while gratifying cyclists and pedestrians who support the city’s efforts.

“This is the new normal,” Lopossa said. “Each time we go into a major corridor, we are going to apply that lens and we’re going to consider some changes that would just make that roadway work better for everyone.”

Current conditions

Mark Neshyba, who lives near McGillivray Boulevard, has been cycling on Vancouver streets for 25 years, both to commute to work and for general exercise. During that time, he’s noticed that many streets have gotten busier and riskier.

While cycling, Neshyba has been hit twice on McGillivray Boulevard. The first time, a turning driver hit him, causing him serious injuries. The second time, a distracted driver rolled over the bike lanes.

“People wonder why I still ride,” Neshyba said. “If you’re really paying total attention, you should avoid most situations. The worst is when someone’s not paying attention coming up from behind. That’s why I think it’s important to have some sort of barrier. … Merely painting lanes is not adequate.”

Southeast 34th Street and McGillivray Boulevard are two of east Vancouver’s prominent east-west streets, creating critical connections between major roads like Southeast 162nd and 192nd avenues and Interstate 205 and Southeast 162nd.

Southeast 34th Street currently has sidewalks as narrow as 4 feet wide and no bike lanes. McGillivray Boulevard serves Wy’east Middle School and Mountain View High School, as well as Fairway Village, a community for people 55 and older. Despite the narrow bike lanes without a buffer, it is also the primary east-west bike throughway between I-205 and Southeast 164th Avenue.

Both the Southeast 34th Street and McGillivray Boulevard projects are essentially pavement, curb-to-curb projects as opposed to road-reconstruction projects, which limits what the city can do to the roadway. The Southeast 34th Street project has an estimated cost of $1.5 million, and the McGillivray Boulevard project is estimated at $1 million to $1.25 million.

The Vancouver City Council approved the Southeast 34th Street plan in October and is expected to vote on the McGillivray Boulevard redesign this spring. The two projects fall under the city’s Complete Streets program, which aims to create a transportation network that is available to anyone regardless of how they commute.

Although both projects started as typical pavement projects, the scope grew because both corridors are listed as high-priority routes for cyclists, pedestrians and those who use transit.

Lopossa stressed that the city looks at the streets on a case-by-case basis and doesn’t use a one-size-fits all approach.

“If we do the traffic studies, do the counts and determine that there’s a lot of cars on the corridor (and) we just don’t think that we can lose a travel lane, then we’ll start to then look at that corridor like we would any other corridor,” Lopossa said. “Can we make the lanes narrower? Can we do something other than actually removing travel lanes to get us enough space?”

Lopossa pointed to Northeast 112th Avenue between Mill Plain Boulevard and Highway 500 as an example. The street currently does not have bike lanes. Some sections have low enough volumes that a lane likely could have been repurposed. Traffic volumes in other parts are too high to support a lane repurposing.

“We’re kind of trying to figure out, do we do different treatments in different locations in the corridor?” Lopossa said.

MacArthur Boulevard

MacArthur Boulevard serves as the most visible example of slimmed-down road in Vancouver. It used to be two travel lanes in each direction with a median in between — like McGillivray Boulevard. MacArthur is so wide that some speculated it used to be an airstrip (The Columbian could not confirm this.)

Although bike lanes were first added to the road in 2009, they were painted on the edge of a steep drainage slope and considered a danger to riders. The city re-striped the road in 2013 to the configuration seen today.

“I draw people’s attention to that one,” Lopossa said. “A lot of people had uncertainty, not knowing what that would look like. But now we’ve done it, and it’s working really, really well, and I think the same will come to play for McGillivray and 34th Street.”

One key difference between MacArthur Boulevard and McGillivray Boulevard is that MacArthur generally does not have houses and driveways facing it, whereas McGillivray Boulevard does.

Since the redesign, MacArthur is one of the best streets for bicycling, Neshyba said.

Rick Ackman, who lives off Southeast 34th Street, doesn’t think the comparison is apt. Ackman is the spokesperson for “Save Our Streets,” a collection of neighbors in east Vancouver concerned about Southeast 34th Street and McGillivray Boulevard. The group is relatively new and has held only a handful of meetings, the most recent of which attracted around 70 people.

“There is not the number of businesses nor the density of the citizens that live along MacArthur Boulevard, (so it) is not an accurate representation of what 34th is and what McGillivray are,” Ackman said.

About 10,000 vehicles use McGillivray Boulevard on an average day. The capacity for a two-lane McGillivray is approximately 16,000 vehicles per day, according to Vancouver’s contractor, Fehr & Peers.

Traffic counts from Southeast 34th Street just east of Southeast 164th Avenue were about 12,000 last January.

Average daily traffic on MacArthur after the road diet hovers between 4,300 and 4,800, according to the Southwest Regional Transportation Council data.

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Perhaps the largest concern of residents living near Southeast 34th Street and McGillivray Boulevard is that with half the travel lanes and more development in east Vancouver, congestion will increase significantly.

According to the city’s traffic estimates, traffic will not be affected in the near term if a lane is repurposed. Additionally, the tighter road could encourage drivers who are using McGillivray Boulevard as an east-west throughway and don’t live around the street to use Mill Plain Boulevard instead, Lopossa said.

Ackman believes the best solution is not reducing lanes, but increasing enforcement.

“You write four or five tickets, and that word spreads quickly, and people will slow down — but you do need the enforcement on that,” Ackman said.

Police presence alone will not be enough, Lopossa said.

“We can’t put a cop out there 24/7,” Lopossa said. “We’ve got to do something to really force drivers to slow down, and that’s just to make some physical changes to the roadway.”

Although the city has hosted open houses, conducted an online survey, and engaged with businesses and residents along the roads, Ackman, Neshyba, and Joe and Laurie Arndt said the city’s outreach has been inadequate.

The Arndts are concerned about access for ambulances, garbage trucks and so on.

“A lot of our objections are (about) deliveries and emergency vehicles and mail and garbage if you can’t go in the barrier lane,” Joe Arndt said. “We’re worried that (trucks are) going to stop the lane of traffic if there’s only one lane of traffic, bringing it to zero lanes of traffic.”

There will continue to be access to mailboxes and driveways on McGillivray Boulevard, and service providers will be able to use the parking lane to stop temporarily and unload. Lopossa said that emergency service providers have never said losing a lane will delay response times. A spokesperson for the fire department did not return a Columbian call seeking comment.

“We always make sure when we do these projects that if there’s lights and sirens coming down the roadway, people can get off to the side of the roadway and let that vehicle pass by,” Lopossa said. “And that will be the same here on 34th and McGillivray, as it would be on any other street.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer