A Portland Plan Take on the Twenties Bikeway

There’s a great deal of controversy around the question of whether or not parking removal on NE/SE 28th Ave should be part of the solution for the 20s bikeway. At the moment PBOT is leaning toward not removing parking, which means no dedicated bikeway in this section of the project (roughly between Oregon and Stark Streets). The main bikeway would be on the much-lower-auto-traffic 30th Ave., complemented by sharrows and speed bumps on 28th.

There are two separate questions here:

1) How do we move people riding bikes through this corridor in a safe and comfortable way?

2) How do we provide access to people on bikes to the business district on 28th?

I would add that both those questions should be considered for the “interested but concerned” demographic, not just more confident riders. Generally I think the belief would be that sharing a lane with cars on 28th will not appeal to the “interested but concerned” folks.

To the first question, while out-of-direction travel is always something we’d prefer to avoid, I don’t think detouring to 30th is going to be considered a huge problem for through traffic (I realize not everyone will agree).

The question I think is interesting – and critical – is how we provide good access to our neighborhood business districts to people using bikes. And I’d like to look at what the Portland Plan – the strategic plan for our city – has to say about that.

I think the message is actually pretty clear. This is from the Vibrant Neighborhood Centers section of the Healthy Connected City strategy:

Policy H-18: Link neighborhood centers to each other, employment areas, the Central City and the broader region through a multi-modal transit system. Prioritize safe and attractive frequent transit service, bikeways and accessible pedestrian connections, including sidewalks.

Action 107: Transit and active transportation: Identify barriers to pedestrian and bicycle access to and within neighborhood centers, develop priorities for investment, and implement policy changes and funding to ensure hubs have safe and convenient pedestrian and bicycle connections.

Now I would hasten to insert that 28th Ave is not a designated neighborhood center, although I suspect that before the Comp Plan is done, it will be somewhere on a hierarchy of smaller centers. But I think the spirit of the Portland Plan is clear – districts like 28th Ave should have good multi-modal access, including by bike. And I think any definition of good bicycle access must include the interested but concerned.

So my view is that against this Portland Plan yardstick, PBOT’s current proposal for 28th is not adequate, as it leaves 28th Ave businesses inaccessible to a large portion of the potential number of folks who could bike.

Can a facility that will appeal to the interested but concerned be created by taking out parking on one side of 28th? That’s going to be hotly debated!

But if the answer is no, or if the politics fail us, how could we meet the Portland Plan objectives? I’d suggest that at a minimum PBOT should have a plan for access from 30th to the businesses on 28th. Maybe this could look like designated (and improved) east-west bike streets every few blocks connecting 28th and 30th, perhaps with bike corrals at the 28th Ave end of the connections?

In fact, if we’re prioritizing access, the bikeway should probably be on 29th, not 30th, at least from Oregon to Couch or Burnside (unfortunately, 29th is not continuous south of Burnside).

I’d be interested in other ideas to provide indirect access.

Regardless of the bikeway design, PBOT must be held accountable to provide the access that the Portland Plan envisions. This tweet from Jonathan Maus sums it up nicely:

So far none of our vibrant little n’hood commercial districts has pleasant cycling access that appeals to 8-80 and all rider levels.

That is not the future that the Portland Plan paints!

12 Comments

12 Responses to A Portland Plan Take on the Twenties Bikeway

  1. Lenny Anderson
    May 4, 2014 at 8:04 pm Link

    Well over 20 years ago Leipziger Strasse in Frankfurt am Main’s Bockenheim district was rebuilt (as part of subway construction for U-6 & 7). It was (is still) a thriving, kilometer long commercial district; it was not closed to cars, ie. no Fusganger Zone, but pavement was altered to cobble among other things, and the clear message was that while cars were not prohibited, it was NOT their street, but everyone’s…pedestrians, bikers, etc.
    Can’t we try something like that here? Take the speed limit down to 15 mph, stripe crosswalks at every corner, put modest speed bumps at the “entries” at Glisan and Stark, create special signage discouraging thru motorized traffic, do something interesting with the pavement that helps folks on bike “co-own” the street.
    Get it right, then take it to N. Mississippi, NE Alberta, and so on.

  2. Charlie
    May 4, 2014 at 8:49 pm Link

    The proposal was to take out parking (effectively widening the road) and put in a bike lane (forcing bikes to the side). That’s not going to help the interested-but-concerned crowd, it’s just going to speed up traffic.

    I think asking people who are interested-but-concerned what they want and catering to them is kind of problematic, because by definition those are people who don’t have much (if any) experience bicycling in a city, and so they propose things that sound good on paper but lead to bad results. My preference is for the existing greenways with 20mph speed limits and speed bumps, shared lanes, and sharrows in the center.

  3. nobody
    May 4, 2014 at 11:38 pm Link

    It just doesn’t make sense to take out parking in this neighborhood, it’s already a difficult neighborhood to park in and removing parking from one side of the street isn’t going to help matters any. Like Charlie above I also believe that the narrow street helps keep speeds low on the stretch between Stark and Glisan, dumping parking from one side would likely have negative consequences for pedestrians.

    As a former year-round bike commuter (I walk to work now) I just don’t have much sympathy for folks who complain about having to detour 2 blocks out of the way. Neighborhood greenways are more pleasant for “intersted but concerned” riders … hell, I find them more pleasant as well and I had no problem taking the lane downtown and riding other places that’d make others nervous. The badass riders can still ride on 28th if they don’t want to add an extra minute to their commute, everyone else can have a nice, relaxed ride on a low-traffic street with next to 0 risk of a right hook.

    • Chris I
      May 5, 2014 at 8:22 am Link

      Yes, but how do these timid riders cross the busy streets at unsignalized intersections?

  4. Lenny Anderson
    May 5, 2014 at 6:43 am Link

    Greenways are fine, but the challenge is how to make commercial districts like 28th, Mississippi, Alberta, Fremont, etc., safer and more accessible for all modes, not just motorized ones.

  5. Brian Davis
    May 5, 2014 at 9:55 am Link

    Nice catch, Chris! 28th Avenue is identified as a future bikeway in the 2030 bicycle plan, and here we have more language stating that bike access should be prioritized here. What’s stopping us?

    One thing is that we’re asking an awful lot of a street that’s only 34 feet wide. It already provides mobility and parking for cars and is an emergency response route to boot. There’s simply no room there for dedicated bikeways without sacrificing something in return. I think the compromise proposal offered by PBOT–sacrifice half the parking for bicycle access that only represents a significant improvement in one direction–is a classic example of where you to please everybody and wind up pleasing nobody.

    The win-win here is what Lenny suggested–a ‘commercial woonerf’ where multiple traffic calming tactics are employed to reduce vehicle speeds to about the speed that an ‘interested but concerned’ person would be comfortable riding, maybe 10 to 15 mph. NW Marshall Street, which is paved with cobblestones with a sharrowed concrete strips in each direction, is a potential model for how this may be accomplished. I know several members of the SAC have favored this solution from early on, but it got a cool reception. I think it’s gaining momentum and it’s probably the long-term answer, but it would require a lot more money than what’s available presently. It always comes back to money…

    I think it’s important to realize that, with regard to greenways, many people certainly prefer them to taking the lane, but it’s not where they’d ride in an ideal world. I’d love to ride Alberta east and west through the city, seeing all of the quirky businesses and colorful characters. I would absolutely take that over quiet-but-boring Going Street, if it weren’t so terrifying. We accommodate cars on side streets as well as main streets, so we must accommodate bicycles on both types as well if we’re serious about them being a ‘preferred mode.’

    • Chris Smith
      May 5, 2014 at 10:00 am Link

      Brian, since you’re actually a professional in the field (rather than an opinionator like me), is it possible to do a woonerf treatment on a street with the volume of traffic that 28th has (6200 cars/day on one of the PBOT open house boards?), certainly much higher than Marshall or Going?

      • Brian Davis
        May 5, 2014 at 11:21 am Link

        Well, the design speed of a roadway is not a variable when calculating its capacity according to the HCM, so I’d say, yes, it’s technically possible. You’d have your average headways reduced in terms of distance, but they’d remain constant in terms of time.

        The main effect it’d have would be to increase travel times, which would be likely to divert at least some traffic onto parallel routes. This might cause resistance among residents of these streets, but that’s getting out of my wheelhouse and into back into that of you politically smart folks.

        Ideally, there would also be some reduction in auto traffic resulting from folks choosing to bike instead, although that might take a while to manifest.

        It’s definitely possible, but it’d be interesting to know if a similar thing has been tried on other similarly medium-volume roads, and what effects it had.

  6. billb
    May 5, 2014 at 11:24 am Link

    Parking a giant metal box wherever one wants is not a gahd-given right. The safer we make our streets for bikes and peds the better a city it will be. All choices should be judged by the safety of a ten year old on a bike. If the design ‘saves’ parking, and later a child dies, we have failed.

  7. Lenny Anderson
    May 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm Link

    Most of Portland’s commercial streets are arterials and have been managed for years to move the most traffic possible via couplets, peak hour lanes, excessively high speed limits,etc. This pattern developed when only the poor and working classes lived in the close in neighborhoods, so no one cared as businesses died and were boarded up.
    Now some of these streets are coming back to life as demographics and desires change, and they need to be recognized as destinations not routes to somewhere else. “Moving the most cars” must be dropped as the highest, best use of these public rights of way.
    Traffic counts should tell you how to proceed to change a commercial street, and not be a signal that you can’t make any changes. NE/SE 28th will probably see fewer motor vehicles when things are slowed down; thru traffic will shift to 20th or 33rd or Cesar Chavez or to bikes or transit or just go away.

    • igor
      May 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm Link

      “Most of Portland’s commercial streets are arterials and have been managed for years to move the most traffic possible via couplets”

      That’s what I was thinking….keep the parking, but cut out one lane of car traffic. The other lane could then be bike-only. Cars going that direction would be routed to 20th…or 39th

      If I were trying to convince business owners along 28th to drop on-street parking, I’d do it by offering to build free bike corrals in that area, and to offer to widen the sidewalk, so more restaurants and bars could offer outdoor seating. As was pointed out above, you can fit a lot more bike parking into the space that one car would take up, so that might improve business…

  8. Adron
    May 6, 2014 at 2:36 pm Link

    The fact of the matter, all of these little neighborhoods, even though they ARE NOT GOOD PLACES TO PARK, bring in and focus on street parking. A horrible idea IMHO. One of the reasons I reluctantly go to but don’t want to live on or near any of these streets anymore. If anything I’m aiming to find a corner of a neighborhood that doesn’t act as a throughway for anything (except maybe walkers and cycling).

    If the city, and respectively the citizens, actually want a world class biking city then some of this parking has to go. The parking is NOT actually good for business anyway, it’s far more important and efficient in Portland proper to have cycle corals and parking nearby than it is to worry about the auto traffic that comes in from some suburb (it was hard to write that without cursing). The auto parking consumes 90% plus of all parking, etc and we focus on it even though much of the pedestrian traffic that actually provides the businesses in these little corridors often comes from the nearby neighborhoods, cyclists, transit users and some from the motorists egressing from their automobiles.

    I’d love to – if I ever do actually buy a house in Portland – would love to see a street that is focused on anything and everything BUT motorists. I want the neighborhood served, I want to have children able to play without concern for the errant motorist killing them, I want to walk or ride my bike down the street and know the businesses and neighborhood’s focus is on people, and on machines a distant notion of priority.

    Hygge. That’s what we need. Not car parking or more car parking.

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