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As hospital readies expansion, city should take holistic approach to Heights traffic

March 21, 2012

The new building will come with the acronym MOB, an odd choice for a health-related facility, but an easy one to remember.

Providence's next major construction project, its Medical Office Building, will displace the famed "Care Corner" building, at the corner of 12th and May. The former home to Acre coffeehouse is now known as Medical Group Building, and it abuts the equally plain-named Health Services Building.

So "MOB" it will be, in a few years time, barring appeal, should the city grant full approval of the building permit for the next Providence facility (story, page A1). MOB's 48,000 square feet will provide plenty of room to consolidate physician practices that are now scattered in leased spaces throughout the Heights.

The prospect is a dramatic one: Within a few years, if Providence continues with its plans, the entire block to the southeast of the main hospital building will be transformed. Buildings we are used to seeing, including "Care Corner" will be replaced with a new Providence structure and parking lot.

That transformation could have a major impact on the Heights as a whole, and that represents an opportunity now before the city.

That opportunity involves the nettlesome matter of transportation through the hospital district. And it appears that the city looks ready to take it as an opportunity.

As reported on page A1, Providence has offered to contribute $2,000 toward a traffic engineering study of May and 12th streets, where one crosswalk was closed and another one built last year in association with the Providence parking structure project.

That contribution will certainly help, but City Manager Bob Francis is correct in saying Monday that the city needs to take a holistic look at the entire couplet where May Street and 12th Street join.

The couplet is a confusing, congested and potentially hazardous system right now; the way the northbound one-way flow of traffic splits on 12th Street and goes west to 13th and east to either 11th or May Street. Few pedestrians feel safe and many more are uncertain where they can legally and safely walk.

The reality of the closed crosswalk on the north side of May at 12th Street is that just as many pedestrians use it now as before, even with the "sidewalk closed" signs. An assessment of that crossing is critical, but a traffic study of the whole neighborhood offers opportunities to analyze the 12th and May area, and with it any sidewalk, crosswalk and signalization changes that could be made.

The hospital's plans include parking for 35 bicycles; with that in mind, what traffic improvements can be done to make MOB a safe bicycle destination in the first place?

Dividing the intersection's landscape is a labyrinth of vehicle lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks, and what unites it is its status as pinchpoint for cars heading at high speeds and in high volumes to two schools, a major park, pool, fire hall and hospital, to name the important public facilities and services located within a few-block radius of 12th and May.

Add to that a newly concentrated medical facility, the MOB, and the ever-increasing traffic speeding through the neighborhood to and from the city's main business districts, all using some streets that were never designed as arterials for such heavy volumes.

With a major construction project on the horizon, the city, with participation of the hospital, the school district, ODOT and others, now has a golden opportunity to make the needed safety improvements in and around this vital thoroughfare.

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