A van passes a large Douglas fir tree on Haines Street in Southwest Portland. Neighbors are concerned after a consultant suggested Haines Street could be a path for a potential bus rapid transit route.
On a slope in Southwest Portland beneath towering Douglas fir trees, a quiet neighborhood feels more like a campground than a city.
Asphalt wraps around tree trunks, there's barely a sidewalk in sight, and the sound of a fountain in George Vranas and Peter Johnson's front yard bubbles with noises that could pass for a nearby creek.
But several area residents, including Vranas, Johnson and Ariane Holzhauer, are worried their idyllic slope on the west flank of Mount Sylvania could become home to a busy busway.
That's because it sits in the middle of two major destinations for the region's transit riders – Portland Community College's Sylvania Campus, and the Tigard Triangle, a key retail and employment area in the southwest part of the region.
It's up to elected officials to decide whether the quiet of Haines Street should be preserved.
A quiet home
Many residents of the southwest region have heard of Haines Street. About 100,000 drivers daily pass its exit on Interstate 5.
Haines Street resident Peter Johnson walks up Mount Sylvania, west of PCC's Sylvania Campus. Haines Street has fewer than 100 cars a day in this area.
But just a few blocks east of the bustling interstate, the only real discernable noise is the sound of birds singing in the canopy. That's the quiet that Vranas and Johnson sought when they moved to Portland from Washington, D.C., for retirement. That same quiet drew Holzhauer, a software project manager, to the neighborhood from upstate New York.
"It feels like a little village almost," Holzhauer said. "It's like a sleepy pocket, just off all these big city amenities. It's the best of both worlds."
Logging ended in the area about a century ago, and when Haines Street was paved up the slopes of Mount Sylvania, the asphalt wrapped around some of those trees.
That's why some of the Haines Street neighbors were so concerned when they first heard of plans to put a busway on their tiny street, which carries about 100 cars a day.
Transit lines aren't drawn in a day. A broad brush is used to identify potential corridors, and that, in turn, is winnowed down after public involvement, research and politics play their roles.
In this case, the broadest brush was for the Southwest Corridor itself – a miles-wide swath that said that the Portland region would start looking at transit and land use in that area. As the transit study moved forward, a consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, started looking at transit routes on a smaller scale.
The Southwest Corridor study is years away from picking a route. The project's steering committee is set to decide this summer which options to pick for further study, one more step along in the process.
George Vranas walks along Haines Street, which was identified as a possible bus rapid transit route. Right now, the street has no through traffic.
Matt Bihn, a planner at Metro, said Parsons Brinckerhoff's task was to draw conceptual routes connecting Portland Community College and the Tigard Triangle. One option, for example, is to put a stop on a bus rapid transit route on Barbur Boulevard, just north of the campus.
Another, the consultant said, was to run a bus rapid transit route directly down Mount Sylvania into Tigard. They drew that line on Haines Street.
You can get to the college from Haines Street today. A 10 minute walk through bucolic Lesser Park connects Haines to PCC Sylvania's College Center. The sound of power saws alludes to construction at the campus, PCC's largest.
But for bus rapid transit – which could involve eight buses an hour running in an exclusive roadway – the Haines Street neighbors suggest a different route, perhaps one on the north end of the campus. Metro's Bihn said the neighbors' proposal is still on the table.
He recently toured the area with the neighbors.
"Haines Street residents gave well thought out comments to the steering committee and worked with staff to point out the potential impacts that we weren’t looking for during this early stage of the study," Bihn said in an email. "When we took a closer look at PCC access, there are alternatives to Haines with fewer impacts."
It's not that Vranas, Johnson and Holzhauer oppose transit. They want to see a transit line in the Southwest Corridor.
"Barbur is right now just a long strip mall. It's kind of depressing," Holzhauer said. "We need better use of the land along Barbur Boulevard."
The Haines neighbors have been working for months to have their voices heard. They brought out staff from Portland's planning department, as well as staff from Metro, to tour the area. They've testified at several steering committee meetings. They've lobbied their neighborhood association for support.
But it's up to members of the Southwest Corridor steering committee to decide whether Haines Street can be taken off the boards as a potential transit corridor.
Haines Street area residents Peter Johnson and Ariane Holzhauer walk along the PCC access road on the northwest side of the campus. They would like to see a BRT line, if built, use the north side of the campus for its route.
"All indications are that the Haines Street option will not be part of the steering committee recommendation," Bihn said in an email.
It's one of many choices the committee has on its plate in July. It has to decide whether to continue studying options such as a light rail tunnel under OHSU and Hillsdale, or a bus rapid transit route to Sherwood, or even whether to keep light rail or bus rapid transit on the board at all.
But to the Haines Street neighbors, no choice is more important than the one in front of their homes.
"A straight line through our neighborhood is not necessarily the best one," Holzhauer said. "We don't want to be doing the planners' work, but at the same time, we find ourselves in the position where we want to support the project and not be the negative ninnies who just say 'no, no, no' to everything. Therefore, we're forwarding positive suggestions."
Metro's Bihn, in e-mail, lauded the neighbors' response.
"From our point of view, there wasn’t any conflict with Haines Street citizens," he said. "They approached the situation the right way by getting involved early and informing us about their concerns in a productive way. I’m sure we’ll get to an outcome we can all agree to."