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City bike leaders get taste of current, future East Portland bikeways

Posted by on August 10th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky maneuvers around an unpaved street in East Portland during a ride with the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Some of Portland’s best and brightest biking minds took to the streets of East Portland last night to get a first-hand look at existing conditions and learn what’s in store for the future.

BAC Bike Ride East Portland-3
PBOT’s bike boss Roger
Geller led the ride.

The ride — led by City of Portland Bicycle Program Manager Roger Geller — took the place of the usual monthly meeting at City Hall of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee. East Portland was the focus because the area has risen to the top of the priority heap lately due to a combination of hard work by citizen and neighborhood activists, growing awareness of the equity issue in transportation circles, and the current political climate at City Hall.

The bikeway network east of I-205 has been largely left out of Portland’s world-renowned bike-friendliness. There are many factors to blame for that including; politics, a relatively small amount of bike usage, and vastly different development and land-use patterns compared to inner neighborhoods. Last night we experienced the consequences of those factors and learned about the opportunities to make things better.

The route was based on the “East Portland Active Transportation to Transit” project, which is currently a front-runner for over $3.3 million out of PBOT’s share of federal “regional flexible funds.”

The ride began at the Green Line MAX stop on SE Holgate near 92nd. With the controversy behind them now, PBOT is thinking that Holgate will play a vital role as a east-west bike corridor. There are already plans being discussed to extend the bikeway — which currently ends at 122nd — east to 136th. That extension would help bring bicycle traffic to key destinations like the planned neighborhood greenway on SE 129th/130th, Gilbert Heights Elementary School, and a city park.

This stretch of SE Holgate would get a new bikeway if plans come through.
This might have been the largest group to ever ride on the SE Holgate buffered bike lanes. One passerby saw us, clapped, and yelled, “All right! People actually in the bike lane!”

Heading north from Holgate, we sampled the future route of a neighborhood greenway along SE 129th/130th that will be the low-stress, north-south alternate to SE 122nd. The route is already low-traffic and nice to ride on; but the major barriers are arterial crossings. Geller said they’re considering a signalized crossing on SE Powell, a potential and a two-way cycle-track (similar to NE 33rd and Going) to get across Division. The crossing of E Burnside poses perhaps the most difficult challenge due to the presence of the MAX line. Geller said some sort of two-way bikeway to connect to the existing “zebra” track crossing at SE 128th could be possible.

Sort of tough to cross a street with MAX tracks…
… Now you’re forced to ride the sidewalk.

While it’s easy to envision a new bike boulevard on 129th/130th, getting west back to Gateway Transit Center proved to be quite a challenge. With no direct, connected street, we had to wind our way through neighborhood streets — several blocks of them being unpaved and full of rocks and potholes. (Geller said that those streets would be paved if money became available for the project.)

We spent quite a bit of time in the refuge of center turn lanes on big arterial streets.
Lots of pavement will need to be installed to make this a high-quality bikeway.

Another poor connection was experienced as the group tried to pass through the Gateway Transit Center and get on the I-205 multi-use path. It seems there isn’t really a smooth way to do it without passing through a parking lot and walking bikes through the transit center.

Once onto the 205 path, we rolled north. A group of us split off to sample some of the off-road trails in the parcel where the future Gateway Green bike park will be developed.

Future home of Gateway Green bike park.
Portland State University Transportation Options Manager Ian Stude post-singletrack.
BTA staffer Carl Larson

Riding through Gateway Green reminded me what a gem it’s going to be. I can already imagine it as a premier venue for all types of off-road riding as well as cyclocross and short-track mountain bike events.

Steve Dotterer, Principal Planner with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability gets an up-close look at a road in Gateway Green.

The route then took us off the 205 path en route to the new cycle track on NE Cully Blvd. NE Prescott is the main connection to the new cycle track, and PBOT is already thinking about how to make improve it. Unfortunately, to make a good bikeway on Prescott, PBOT says parking removal would be required on both sides (west of 82nd). That could make the project much less politically feasible. Last night, Geller showed us the alternate route under consideration

Instead of accessing Cully directly from I-205 via Prescott, a route would be created on Skidmore. Bike traffic would be directed south on 81st to Skidmore and then over to Cully through quiet, neighborhood streets. While the route is lower-stress and wouldn’t require any parking removal, it presents its own challenges. Even Geller admits he forgot that Skidmore has several blocks where the road doesn’t go through except for a narrow dirt trail accessible only by people on bike and foot.

NE Skidmore headed west toward Cully.
A future low-stress bikeway?

To make Skidmore the new connection to Cully, PBOT would have to vastly improve those connections, which wouldn’t be cheap, and might not be popular with nearby residents.

Geller said it’s too early to tell what PBOT would do for the I-205/Cully cycle track connection.

Cully cycle track.

The ride ended at a pub on NE Alberta street after the group had sampled the Cully cycle track (no trash containers were in the way) and the N Going neighborhood greenway.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of East Portland. Stay tuned for more bikeway developments from that neck of the woods.

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Comments
  • Alex Reed August 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    A reminder of just how much work there is to do in East Portland. All of these projects could be completed to their full and East Portland would still have large gaps without proper bikeways.

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    • Hugh Johnson August 10, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      it’s hard to get excited about so much great bike infrastructure in other parts of Portland when it seems like we’ve been ignored in east Portland forever (I live in Parkrose). Glad to see someone is finally taking notice.

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  • Christianne August 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Living on NE 131st, it would be nice to have some sort of infrastructure. Even just some pavement. Biking on gravel on shoulder of Sandy with 45 mph traffic is not exactly the safest way to get to work. But I am noticing an uptick in riders. Could be the weather though.

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    • Chris I August 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      I ride from Hollywood to 181st and Sandy. I typically will go south and hook up with Burnside, then 122nd north to San Rafael, to avoid Sandy blvd. When the weather is nice, I will go home via Sandy. I agree, it is not pleasant, with the speed and size of the vehicles typical to Sandy. The city does have plans to improve Sandy, but unfortunately, it involves widening it to 5 lanes, which will likely increase speeds.

      Once I get to 205, I use Prescott, which really could have street parking removed between Sandy and 82nd. There is very low utilization. I like the idea of a low-traffic bikeway on Skidmore. I would definitely use that to connect with NE Klickitat.

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  • Jason Skelton August 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    There is some history on why East County has so many unimproved roadways. Portland annexed it many years ago (which the 9th circuit court ruled was illegal), and then put little money into maintaining its infrastructure. It is a sore spot for many in East County. Jefferson Smith, a state rep in that area has raised quite a big stink about the eastern portions of the city getting its fair share the economic pie.

    In the meantime, though, there are many options for a great East County Paris-Roubaix style ride.

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    • Oliver August 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      When the city shows up and says we’re thinking about including you in the next infrastructure project, Your share of the improvements are going to be X-000′s for street, sidewalk, and city sewer. Your property value will go up by Y-000′s, and your property tax assessment will be Z-000s.

      Any speculation as to the reaction of the homeowners on these streets?

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  • davemess August 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Get those bikes off the dirt! This is Portland, we don’t allow offroad riding here!

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  • Spiffy August 10, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    ah, yes, brings back memories from earlier in the year when I lived off of Holgate…

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  • Roger Geller August 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for the coverage of last night’s ride.

    I disagree somewhat with your statement that “the bikeway network east of I-205 has been largely left out of Portland’s world-renowned bike-friendliness….” though only to the extent that it indicates that we’ve not focused on building East Portland bikeways. While it’s true that the bikeway network in East Portland does not come close to what we want to build, your readers should note that we did accomplish a fair amount of what we said we would do in the 1996 Bicycle Master Plan.

    That plan called for approximately 118 miles of bikeways in East Portland. As of 2007 we’d built 61 of those miles (51% of what was recommended). Only in the Central City (58% of 57 miles of recommended bikeways built) and North Portland (53% of 86 miles of recommended bikeways built) were the percentages higher.

    What we’ve learned since the 1996 plan is that skinny bicycle lanes on busy streets aren’t going to cut it for the “interested but concerned” person, which is why the Bicycle Plan for 2030 dramatically revamped the proposed network not just for East Portland, but for all of Portland.

    We’ve always focused efforts on East Portland and closely followed the 1996 Plan. We’ll now be following the 2030 plan, hopefully to better effect.

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    • Chris I August 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      There are a few good routes out there. East Burnside with the MAX line is actually a great east-west connector. It may be difficult to cross at certain places, but it is much more comfortable to ride on than Glisan, Stark, Halsey, etc.

      The Gresham-Fairview Trail is also great, the only problem being that it stops abruptly at Halsey.

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      • eli bishop August 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm

        the other problem being that weird cross-hatch grooved patch just north of powell. i wrote them in june and they said they “need enough dry weather” to make it happen. i hope it happens soon!

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    • eli bishop August 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      i was that “interested but concerned” person in outer se portland who was nonetheless thrilled to have bike lanes on major straight throughways. please don’t give up on them!

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      • Roger Geller August 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm

        They’ll always be a part of the bikeway networks in East Portland (and elsewhere). One challenge is to improve them so they work better for more people.

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    • John Mulvey August 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks for the comment Roger. Do you have any additional info on an issue that was raised back the Flex Funds meeting in June? If you recall, the chair of the Sumner NA raised the issue of bike/ped improvements on Prescott to the west of the Parkrose Max Station. The sense I got from that meeting was that the neighborhood was asking for something fairly simple and inexpensive and that PBOT could find some way other than Flex Funds to fund some improvements there. Have you heard anything on that?

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    • Hugh Johnson August 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm

      Roger, any plans for NE 102nd North of Halsey where it crosses over I-84?

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      • Chris I August 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm

        What are the options there? Can they remove a downhill lane and put in two bike lanes? The bridge is very narrow for four lanes of cars.

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        • Hugh Johnson August 11, 2011 at 5:50 am

          A difficult challenge. The lanes are already narrow and sidewalks on the crossing are narrow as well. It’s not pleasant riding in that area at all. Taking Fremont is “okay” and riding 122nd seems like a death wish. That whole area needs help badly. Pretty much once I get west of Rocky Butte I breathe a sigh of relief. But between Rocky Butte and 122nd….yikes not a bike friendly part of town.

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  • eli bishop August 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    they must have re-striped holgate just for you! it was pretty worn already, but i noticed the new paint yesterday. thanks! :)

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  • Robert L August 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I like the photo with the caption,
    “… Now you’re forced to ride the sidewalk.”
    showing everyone riding against the traffic on a one way street.

    That aside I’m thrilled they are looking at the issues on the other side of I205.

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    • Alexis August 11, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      It’s not a one-way street, it’s a two-way street with MAX tracks separating the two directions. With as many of us as there were, it was hard to fit everyone on the sidewalk and still get through in a reasonable amount of time.

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  • Dolan Halbrook August 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Recently I rode from my home (Mt. Tabor area) to Edgefield (Troutdale), as well as from my home to Portland Nursery on Division. Neither ride was at all what I call pleasant, and the latter of the two involved a crossing that I would consider downright hostile to cyclists (82nd at Woodward). I’d love to see better facilities, but i’m guessing the real challenge will be convincing the local residents of their need.

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    • captainkarma August 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm

      82nd is a 1960s mess almost everywhere. At least Springwater has a light system, food carts, even a mechanic. But the rest? ay-yi-yi.

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  • Joe Adamski August 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Equity issues certainly come into play in East Portland. Gentrification moved many of the poorer folks out to past where the sidewalk ends, and for many, cars and transit are the only viable options to get to the stores and services. I have often made the point that East Portland needs a higher level of attention than many parts of Portland, to provide at least a minimal level of safe facilities for cycling, owing to the distances and the car-centric development that it has.
    On the plus side, there is less infill than many parts of the City, allowing, ( I think) a better opportunity to get some good facilities in before conflicts with other uses starts to occur.

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    • Hugh Johnson August 11, 2011 at 6:03 am

      Let’s hope this is a sincere effort on the part of the city. I think the sentiment out here is city hall could give a crap less about us except for tax revenue.

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  • Zaphod August 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I know that this story is about efficient infrastructure development but when I see the sections of dirt, be it a city block, gravel road or singletrack… it makes me happy to see. I need to architect a pleasure ride that involves the most dirt soon.

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    • Psyfalcon August 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      Pavement just means that people will drive faster on it. Our dirt roads somehow became national news, but they’re pretty effective at preventing cut throughs.

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      • Joe Adamski August 11, 2011 at 6:52 am

        Lets not forget that dirt roads manage storm water runoff, that it doesn’t have to be sent to the ‘big pipe’ and on to waste treatment.

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        • Dan August 11, 2011 at 9:08 am

          Actually, they don’t- without proper drainage measures they can be as bad, if not worse then pavement. Dirt roads leach sediment into any surface run off which contains the trace minerals and metals that pollutes the waterways. Graded gravel roads can manage runoff, as long as the soil beneath them can handle it. Any compacted surface will prevent storm water from infiltrating.

          Standard city details for road construction incorporates drainage features.

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        • Alex August 11, 2011 at 11:05 am

          I like that excuse for allowing our streets to become inpassable lakes for months on end.

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          • davemess August 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm

            Amen!

            Dirt roads would not be all the bad if the city just spent an hour once very 4 months to come out and grate and maintain them! It doesn’t take much, but they would be decent roads without all the bomb-size craters making them look worse than a lot of the 3rd world countries i’ve been to.

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  • Bob_M August 11, 2011 at 8:28 am

    As a resident of SE I am well familiar with the dirt sections of roadway. Contrary to Joe’s contention that they are pervious and infiltrate stormwater, they are so heavily compacted that that water puddles and remains for days. (hence the broken concrete in the low spots pictured). Regarding Zaphod’s off road tour: have fun, but be courteous. Let it be known that persons with 4WD vehicles also take that tour during the puddle season and their idea of fun makes them unwelcome.

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    • jered August 11, 2011 at 9:51 am

      I live on a spot in NE where the puddles in my unimproved road are so big I had a family of ducks living out there for awhile! I love living on an unimproved road, less traffic, more space, a nice country feel in the middle of the city. I also love coming across unpaved roads when biking because I know there won’t be much traffic and I’ll get to have some fun on my bike!!

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  • Caitlin August 11, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I live in Roseway between 82nd and Cully. I don’t think it would actually be politically difficult to remove parking on Prescott- our neighborhood is pretty progressive and one neighbor is forming a bike committee. Also, Mason is a much better connector than Skidmore- it is what most of us ride now. I often take Mason all the way from 71st to 47th. The only hard part is crossing Cully.

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  • Ted Buehler August 11, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for the coverage — when they get these bikeways built it will be a different world in East Portland. Keep up the good work, PBOT.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Terry Henderson August 11, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Where’s your helmet, Roger?

    “PBOT’s bike boss Roger Geller led the ride” {without a helmet!].

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    • Joe Adamski August 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      and no bike license?
      I never used a helmet for the first 40 yrs of riding. Somehow I survived.
      Are helmets something of a ‘red herring’? That somehow you will be safer and a better cyclist because of one? Do they give a false sense of security?
      Actually, the topic was SE Portland and bike facilities, but since we are emulating Oregon Lies, going off topic brings me here.

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  • G. Tyler August 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Tuesdays I pick up my CSA veggis from 47th Ave Farm and enjoy the bit of off-roading on Tolman between 47th and 52nd. I enjoy seeing what is used to fill the holes, tree branches, lawn clippings, gravel, concrete….

    FYI, a Burley Travoy tracks wonderfully when you try to stay at the top of the ruts and I haven’t had an issue with it falling or spilling yet.

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  • poncho August 11, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I’m going to say it because I think its the truth that no one wants to admit… bike improvements in East Portland are a lost cause.

    East Portland is post-war, all built around the automobile… seas of giant parking lots, strip malls, no pedestrian-oriented main streets, large setbacks, cul-de-sacs, disconnected street grid and wide fast arterials. The building stock and urban form is so anti-bike/ped/transit that there is nothing to work with to improve it. If you are into biking or walking you arent going to live in East Portland, you are going to live in Inner Portland, so its all a self-selected bunch living in East Portland that doesnt value biking or walking, just as those living in Inner Portland are a self-selected bunch that do value active transportation.

    Its not anything against East Portland, but thats what it is. To make walking and biking feasible in this area requires a radical and full transformation of everything in East Portland. Given the self-sorting of people, transforming auto-centric East Portland into a walkable community is politically impossible with people in the neighborhood liking East Portland the way it is and therefore will never happen but thats okay, it makes for endless talking points about East Portland “inequity.”

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    • Hugh Johnson August 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm

      Poncho, I gave you thumbs up, but only because you are PARTLY right. Not everyone out here is infatuated with cars. Many are here because it was an affordable place to live. Yes car is king out here in Parkrose, a classic ’50s neighborhood (my house built in ’55) but that doesn’t mean we all worship cars. I’m relatively new to bike commuting and bike to Swan Island 2-3 time a week now, but it’s become something I love. I’d give anything for a more friendly east-west bike way towards the Willamette (Sullivans Gulch anyone?) Please PBOT…don’t give up on us out here. We could use some of the bike infrastructure love other parts of the city have been enjoying.

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    • Alex August 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      I may not be understanding your post but it sounds like you feel as if you’ve been defeated already. I live on the west side of 82nd on a bikeway just opposite from Eastport Plaza and the bikeway has been buzzing as of late. These people are going to parts farther east (and west) be it just to the other side of 82nd or further. I know this is 82nd and not 120th or higher but it has to start somewhere. 82nd used to be the boonies, and still is to some. It’s only thirty minutes to downtown!
      My house was built in 1950, btw.

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    • Joe Adamski August 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      You are saying, in essence, that East Portland is or should be doomed to being the ghetto of Portland. There aren’t many parks out there, why build them. Folks who live here must have a car in order to conduct daily business.The entire community must suffer division by large, high volume streets that exist mainly to facilitate flow of traffic to the suburbs.
      That thinking was rejected by Portland when the Mt Hood Freeway project was killed. East is a newer part of Portland. There is a huge tax base that was acquired when it was annexed. East should be the ‘cash cow’ that builds and supports the rest of Portland, but they should never see any benefit?

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  • jim August 11, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    The picture of the unimproved road reminds me of seeing cars actually stuck in big lakes on these roads. I have talked with the people on these streets, they live there by choice. They get left alone more and they like that

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  • Alexis August 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks for covering this, Jonathan! It’s fun to go to an event and then see what was newsworthy about it. :) For me, it was a great ride with a lot of interesting discussion about possibilities. Getting to experience the new facilities (buffered lanes, cycletracks) and see how they felt was great.

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