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A ride on the newly completed Rosa Parks bikeway – Updated

Posted by on September 1st, 2011 at 3:27 pm

New bike lanes, crosswalks, and much more have been added to Rosa Parks Way in North Portland (that’s Peninsula Park in the upper left).
(Photos © J. Maus)

A significant traffic safety project on Rosa Parks Way in North Portland has finally been completed. The funds for this project were awarded back in June 2006 and this was one of five “languishing projects” I reported on last year.

People on bikes are no longer forced
to ride in the gutter. See photos below
for how it looks now.

The project includes a variety of changes to Rosa Parks Way between N. Vancouver Avenue and N. Montana Avenue (just west of I-5, see map here). Along with adding bike lanes on this 1/2 mile stretch of road, the project also comes with a new bike-only traffic signal, three median islands to improve crossing safety, and three newly painted crosswalks (two of which are zebra-striped).

The new bikeways were completed thanks to citizen activists Shamus Lynsky and Shayna Rehberg who worked with PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller to win a $1 million ODOT grant. The improved crossings came from Piedmont Neighborhood residents who have hounded PBOT for years to install a crossing treatment at N. Kerby to access the Peninsula Park Community Center and public swimming pool.

This project has special significance to me and my family as we live just a few houses off of Rosa Parks near I-5 and we ride on the street daily. Before I share photos and commentary, let me describe what the street was like prior to the changes.

Rosa Parks was previously a wide, four-lane (six if you count parking on both sides) street with high speeds (close to 40 mph on average I’d say – the posted limit is 35) and four freeway on-ramps. Crossing the street was stressful and tricky, and was made even worse with the freeway on-ramps. Over the I-5 overpass, there was zero shoulder room for bicycling which meant I always had to look over my shoulder to make sure a car wasn’t about to run me (or my kids) down. This stretch of Rosa Parks is important because it connects residential neighborhoods with N Interstate Avenue, which has a major grocery store, gas station, MAX station, and other businesses.

With all that in mind, let’s take a ride…

Starting from the western end at N. Vancouver, I immediately appreciated the changes. PBOT has re-striped the road to just one lane in each direction from Vancouver to Michigan (instead of two), a center turn lane (which act as a refuge and have made left-turns and crossings a bit easier), and six-foot bike lanes in each direction.

New lane configuration (note the old lane markings which have been ground off).

Bike lanes have their critics, but in this situation, I think they make a big difference. Instead of cowering in a shoulder near parked cars and being nervous about whether people in cars would see me or get angry at my presence in “their” lane, I can now rest easy in the legally and visually defined refuge of the bike lane.

Having just one lane for motor vehicles instead of two makes a huge difference and seems to have immediately slowed speeds down.

Continuing west at N. Kerby I came to the new crossing treatments. Since Kerby is an offset intersection, PBOT decided to put two crossings in right next to each other. Both have median islands and both are zebra-striped (as opposed to just one white line on the outside). My neighbors have been working to have these put in for years (thank you Deanne!) so it’s very exciting to finally see them in action…

With the new crosswalk striping, the medians, and the bike lanes all creating a visual cue for people in cars, the result is much calmer traffic that makes crossing a lot easier and safer.

As I rode west toward N. Michigan (my street!), I was a bit disappointed at how the bike lane just drops, jogs to the right (curbside) and the road abruptly turns into two vehicle lanes in each direction. (UPDATE: PBOT says skip-striping will be added to help this transition, it just hasn’t been completed yet.)

And here’s another view of that transition (looking east from Michigan Ave)…

One of the things that caused delays with this project was that even though Rosa Parks is a PBOT-managed facility, because it travels over I-5, ODOT has sign-off authority on the on-ramp approaches and on the deck of the bridge overpass. (I suspect ODOT wasn’t comfortable with losing a motor vehicle lane near their on-ramps.)

Even with two lanes eastbound on the I-5 overpass, the new bike lane makes a world of difference. I’ve been waiting for dedicated bike space on this overpass for years now…

And looking east…

On the west side of I-5, the new bike lanes meet up with existing ones a block prior to Interstate.

Now, let’s head eastbound…

The most interesting part of this project is what PBOT designed for eastbound bike traffic just after Montana Ave. The new design directs bike traffic onto a newly widened sidewalk that is shared with foot traffic.

Heading through Montana intersection

The bikeway/sidewalk stops at the I-5 on-ramp where a new bike signal has been installed. There’s no need to push the signal button if you’re on your bike thanks to sensors in the ground.

New bike lanes on N Rosa Parks Way-21

Just wait your turn and watch for the bike signal…

New bike lanes on N Rosa Parks Way-16

When bike turns green, roll into the crosswalk (the motor vehicle lane gets a large, bright, “No Turn on Red” sign). After you cross the on-ramp, you can choose to continue on the sidewalk, or roll into the new bike lane…

New bike lanes on N Rosa Parks Way-24

The changes at this intersection are likely to be confusing at the start. The woman below didn’t see the new sidewalk/bike signal and remained in the roadway. It’s still legal to be in the roadway (at least I suspect that it is, unless Oregon’s sidepath law is applicable), but the lane doesn’t have much room and it’s a right-turn only freeway on-ramp, which makes it not the safest place for a bike to be.

Heading eastbound, the new bike lanes are a big help near the busy Peninsula Park Community Center. This used to be a place where I’d worry about getting rear-ended…

Overall, I feel this is a major improvement for traffic safety and bicycling on Rosa Parks. And there are even more changes are in the works. PBOT is eyeing another crossing treatment on Rosa Parks at N. Michigan Ave as part of the Going to the River project.

Have you ridden on Rosa Parks Way yet? What do you think?

UPDATE, 9/2 at 10:05 am: Please note that this project isn’t completely done yet. There are still some refinements to the bikeway yet to come. Here’s more from PBOT project manager Winston Sandino:

“There will be bike symbols; a skip line at Michigan where the one lane traffic becomes two lane, a crosswalk at the island in Rosa Parks/Montana/I-5 on ramp, stop bars, remove all the sticky stumps on the bridge, and extend a little piece of bike lane at the Vancouver/Rosa Parks intersection westbound.”

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Comments
  • Chris I September 1, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Awesome. This is definitely a big improvement for this road. I understand why they have it expand to 4-lanes by the freeway, that is definitely a point of congestion.

    I wish PBOT would give NE Halsey (east of 39th) this treatment. The current state is dangerous for all modes.

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  • Charley September 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Awesome. Gap Closed.

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  • Pat C September 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Are they done, done? Because without bicycle stencils in those lanes, I’ve seen many a confused person using them as turn lanes and *actual* lanes.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks for bringing this up Pat C. I was thinking the same thing and I’ve emailed project manager about it. They definitely need some bike symbols in there. My hunch is they still have a few things left to do and they just haven’t put them in yet.

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  • janis September 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I love the new bike lane and infrastructure though I think it might take some time for everyone to understand the changes and act accordingly.

    My only concern is the intersection at the on-ramp at Rosa Parks and Missouri. I hope that both people taking a right to get on the freeway and people riding their bikes straight ahead stay alert and don’t assume that the other person is stopping (on a green light).

    Thanks everyone for all your hard work in getting this project done.

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  • fool September 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    i love the new bikeway–been hoping for it for 2 years since moving in one house off rosa parks. i did a bike census for pbot at michigan and RP last week after the bike lane striping and before the driving lanes had been restriped and it was chaos–suspect that especially the rush hour off of michigan will take a little while to adapt. but it feels like progress to me in a big way!

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  • tonyt September 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    A perfect example of a road, and neighborhood, that was made more dangerous by more car lanes. This is so much better.

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  • Todd Boulanger September 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Go Team Shamus + Shayna! What a nice BCC gift from PBOT!

    PBOT – how about beefing up those dashes on the ‘ bike crosswalk’ – aka ‘elephants feet’ (Dutch term).

    Perhaps this will help evolve the discussion for the future design on Williams?!

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  • Heidi September 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I have never biked down this stretch but drive it frequently, and I love the one lane in each direction too. I bet other drivers would agree. Back when there were two lanes, cars would speed to jockey for position so they could be ahead at the merge point. Now it’s much saner.

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  • justin September 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    i am glad this got done. i am not a huge fan of the bike lane being to the right of the right turn only lane, even with the special signal. it just seems so much simpler to merge 100 yards before the intersection and keep everything moving. with the signal, there are unnecessary wait times for all modes.

    My (likely unwarranted) annoyance aside, the rest of the project is beautiful.

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  • Rithy September 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Have you ever thought of getting a helmet cam or handlebar mount goPro? Then you could narrate it like David Hembrow on his site, “A view from the cycle path.”

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  • Monica September 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Can’t wait to try it out tonight on my way home–thanks for the report!

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  • Severin September 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    The portion where cyclists move to the sidewalk so to avoid conflict with right turning cars is very encouraging as Portland is now doing (in a vague sense) what the Dutch have done to reduce conflict with right turning cars. And.. as we all know the Dutch are #1 in cycling infrastructure! I hope we see such separation at intersections more frequently though by giving cyclists their own protective space that isn’t just part of a sidewalk. Very cool!

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  • Paul Johnson September 1, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Bicycles are vehicles, so it’s got two or three vehicle lanes in each direction, since the bicycle lane is also, by definition, a vehicle lane. I’d be more disappointed in a reserved lane for bicycles going away than the presence of vehicle lanes in general.

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  • Paul Johnson September 1, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I believe the sidepath law applies if you’re not exiting to the left at for a left side driveway or street, or entering from the same. Also, totally lame that this is a MUP instead of a segregated cycleway. Really feels good to know that Portland’s only kidding about safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure when they put in a MUP instead of a separate cycleway and sidewalk.

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    • Ted Buehler September 2, 2011 at 8:47 am

      Paul — the sidewalk/MUP has been widened to twice its original width. While it still puts bikes and peds in conflict, there will probably be only a handful of times a day when it occurs, versus a couple hundred times a day when bicyclists and cars would have to do a switcheroo if the bike route stayed on the street.

      My opinion. Others?

      Ted Buehler

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      • Ted Buehler September 2, 2011 at 8:49 am

        “will probably be only a handful of times a day”

        – edit — only a handful of times a day when there’s more than one bike and one pedestrian. I don’t think there are groups of peds or groups of bikes that go that way, but I could be wrong.

        STP goes that way, though.

        But bikes generally tend to be more respectful of peds on something that “looks” like a sidewalk, and this one does.

        Ted Buehler

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      • Paul Johnson September 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm

        It was a sidewalk (good), but was converted to a MUP (failed concept). I’m looking towards the future. MUPs only set up a corridor to have to be fixed again at great expense down the line. Good examples right now would be the Hawthorne Bridge, the Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway, Interstate Bridge, Murray between TV and Farmington, the entire length of the 205 and 84 trails, the proposed Sullivan’s Gulch facility and the entire length of the Springwater Corridor, all of which are (or will be as soon as the’re built in the case of Sullivan’s Gulch) regularly too busy to safely have pedestrians and bicyclists in the same space. All of the above desperately need pedestrian facilities added to for safety and flow.

        If bicycle and pedestrian hostile Tulsa can figure this one out early in their infrastructure rollout, why can’t Portland despite two decades of widespread complaints about existing designs?

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  • Stripes September 1, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!

    One small point tho – how come this intersection gets a giant, red flashing “no turn on red” sign for cars at the bike signal, and the intersection at NE Couch & Grand (where at least three cyclists have ended up in the emergency room this year alone after a new bike lane was installed) doesn’t? Just curious?

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  • Brian September 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    This is really awesome. I love Road Diets! Mia Birk of Alta Planning once gave a talk a while back where she mentioned that something like 70% (I forget the exact figure) of traffic on our roadways is caused by left-turning vehicles & the traffic that backs up behind them. Meaning, you don’t NEED two lanes of traffic each direction. One center-turn lane will do, allowing traffic continuing straight to move unimpeded.

    This restriping project demonstrates this admirably, AND leaves room for a wonderful bike lane!

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  • Ted Buehler September 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I’m checking out the lanes right now, they look good, bike and car traffic are all flowing smoothly.

    I’m pleased to find that the bike lanes are “wide” at 6′, and the driving lane is “narrow” at 10′ 6″.

    6′ is the top end of the range of standard bike lane widths in Oregon, and 10′ is the minimal width for car lanes.

    Thanks, PBOT, for not only doing this road diet, but by doing a good job at reallocating as much space as possible to bicycles, and “calming” the driving lane.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ethan September 1, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    The Montana thing claimed my unwitting self . . . never again!

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  • Daniel R. Miller September 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    It is SUCH a HUGE improvement. The activism of Shamus and Shayna in seeing this thru is inspiring. They ROCK, and have given us a perfect example of the kind of (literally) concrete positive change that can come when people engage the “powers” in a tenacious and positive way.

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  • matheas michaels September 2, 2011 at 12:00 am

    That’s so great! An important stretch of road, and a key point of confusion for motorists concerning bicyclists legal entitlement to the road.

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    • middle of the road guy September 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      as someone who lives near this intersection and both drives and bikes it, I have seen plenty of boneheaded moves on behalf of cyclists at the on and off ramps to I-5.

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  • Rol September 2, 2011 at 2:45 am

    This is great, but you know what’s my favorite part of this story? Jonathan’s trusty handlebar basket.

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  • Alain September 2, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Welcome improvement! Makes for a good WIllamette-RP-Vancouver connection.

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  • pdxpaul September 2, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Very comfortable to ride there now. My wife is a very nervous rider – she applauds the upgrades and feels a million times safer riding to swim lessons with our daughter.

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  • Chris September 2, 2011 at 7:42 am

    With that stretch of road complete, can we examine ways to fix SE Foster?

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  • Ted Buehler September 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Note, though that it took 4+ years to get this done. And Shamus and Shayna are both on the Portland’s “Bicycle Advisory Committee” — a group of citizens that provides advisement to city council.

    If it takes a adoption of a project by two members of the BAC, and 4 years to make a project like this happen, then we bicyclists have a choice —

    a) be satisfied with the fairly slow pace of retrofitting streets for bicycle use, or

    b) request an increase in general transportation funds to be allocated for bicycle retrofitting.

    The availability of ODOT grants for this kind of thing is nice, but it also provides an incentive for cities to not spend their own money on these projects, and delay perfectly good projects out of hopes that Salem will eventually pay for them.

    My $0.02
    Ted Buehler

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    • Shamus September 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm

      Agreed, Ted. It was quite frustrating to see this project languish, as I pestered ODOT every few months over the last couple of years. Technically I think the project was “only” 2 years late, since it was slated to start 2 years after it was funded. I was told the delays had to do with unexpected engineering they had to figure out.

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  • A.K. September 2, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Seems pretty nice! I never much cared for riding on Rosa Parks before, I’d always take Ainsworth down to Willamette Blvd. if I needed to go into deep N. Portland. This seems like a pretty good improvement, though. I’ll have to ride it soon and check it out.

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  • Winnie Ruth September 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I am so happy, especially about the crosswalk. I’ve lived on Rosa Parks Way for over 3 years and once estimated 20,000 cars a day go down my street. The overall effect has been very calming, and I love the protected crosswalk especially because it makes it easier for me to get to the park.

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    • Greg September 2, 2011 at 10:20 am

      I would love to see a study of the after effects of these kinds of changes. Does the road still handle the same level of throughput, but in a calmer fashion? Or, does it just shift auto traffic to other streets that suddenly become dangerous?

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  • Brian September 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Well done to Shamus and Shayna!

    I think it would be an equally interesting article to share Jonathan, interviewing them both about how on earth they achieved this! What was the process like? How can other people pursue this for their own neighborhoods to improve biking and walking?

    A lot of people out there – both bicyclists and pedestrians – would love to achieve something like this. But the prospect is daunting, and the red-tape unerring, and it’s hard to know even where to start.

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    • Shamus September 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks Brian, but I’m not sure it was all that heroic. Shayna and I were serving on the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee at the time and did this with a LOT of help from Roger Geller. There was a specific grant process (Community Enhancement grants from ODOT in relation to the I-5 widening project), so it was a lot more structured than Shayna and I just doggedly hounding the powers that be to completely change a stretch of roadway.

      That said, it was a competitive grant process and Shayna and I did do a lot of community outreach. Very happy it’s finally done, though!

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  • Heather September 3, 2011 at 12:31 am

    This is pretty fantastic. It’s so nice to have a bike lane over the freeway – that overpass has always been a pain. It’s also nice if you park your car by the park – much easier to get kids in and out now that traffic is easier to deal with!

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  • Erik Ewton September 3, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I was out for a ride yesterday and just happened upon this. All the new changes are great and I cannot wait to see it all done done.

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  • Jacob Mason September 5, 2011 at 9:44 am

    This looks like a really great project. My one criticism is the pedestrian islands. I haven’t seen the project first-hand, but from the photos (especially the 6th photo from the top) it looks like the ped islands don’t extend all the way into the crosswalk, where they would provide a more secure place for pedestrians to wait for the light to change or for a gap in traffic when in the middle of the street. An extended ped island would also have the added benefit of reducing the turning radius at that location, forcing cars to make turns much slower, which improves safety.

    This is already a great safety project, but a simple detail like that do a lot to make the project much more pedestrian friendly. The link below shows an example of the same type treatment in Brooklyn (4 lanes -> 2 lanes + center turn lane + bike lanes) but with ped islands extended into the crosswalks and protected by bollards. The Brooklyn project also has small planter pits in the concrete islands to add some greenery to the area.

    http://bit.ly/pOBkEs

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  • Jimmy P September 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Can someone please take this project to the next NE Williams meeting? Seems to be a perfect model for that street to follow – if safety is the main concern.

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  • Deeeebo September 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    West bound over I-5 will be a great improvement on bike. Eastbound seems pretty confusing both for bike and cars. For one they need to have more warning that the right lane is now to the ramp only as I’m sure many people have been forced into awkward situations upon suddenly realizing they are being made to turn onto the highway.

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  • esther c September 7, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Looks great. This is my hood and I usually go over the Bryant street and ride on those bumpy streets to get to Vancouver but this looks nice. Though I do love that Bryant street bridge.

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