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Williams Avenue project gets funded with $1.47 million state grant

Posted by on March 21st, 2013 at 10:55 am

N Williams Ave Open House-N Williams Ave Final Open House-26
Project rendering.
(Fat Pencil Studio for PBOT)

Changes are finally coming to North Williams Avenue.

After a long and arduous public process that began in January 2011, we can finally look forward to a host of much-needed traffic safety improvements on this busy bikeway corridor.

Yesterday in Salem the Oregon Transportation Commission approved a list of eleven projects that will improve biking and walking conditions across the state and among them is $1.47 million for the North Williams Avenue Traffic Operations and Safety project.

“This is great news,” said PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson this morning. “The Transportation Bureau began working to modernize North Williams with a dedicated advisory committee two years ago. Their insight and commitment made it a better project than the one envisioned at the beginning. With ODOT’s generous grant, the city can begin designing Williams this summer and start construction in spring or summer 2014.”

The grant for this project came from funds doled out by ODOT via a highly competitive process. There was just $8.6 million up for grabs in their new Transportation Alternatives program (formerly known as Transportation Enhancements). ODOT received 155 applications and narrowed those down through an internal review process and based on public comment.

The Williams project started from humble beginnings, with just a meager budget and expectations focused solely around creating a high-quality bikeway. Bike traffic on Williams has skyrocketed in recent years and the standard-width, door-zone bike lane that exists today has not kept up with demand.

Making bike-specific changes to a major street with a lot of traffic has its own challenges; but when this project became embroiled in a debate about the issues of racism and gentrification — and how bicycling contributes to them — the City faced an almost impossible task of balancing their transportation goals with a history marked by institutional racism in a neighborhood that has seen dramatic demographic shifts in recent years. Just five months into the public process PBOT decided to pause and hit the restart button after some members of the community expressed dismay about how the process was moving forward.

(Fat Pencil Studio for PBOT)

It took longer than anyone expected and everyone involved in this project was forced to come face-to-face with the deep social scars that began decades ago yet still exist in the Vancouver-Williams corridor. To PBOT’s credit, they embraced the concerns and played host to an open and inclusive committee process that ultimately led to agreement on a wide-ranging list of traffic safety improvements.

The project will significantly alter Williams Avenue from Weidler to Killingsworth. The main elements of the plan include: a 10-foot wide buffered bike lane that will run on the left side of the street; 11 curb extensions at eight different intersections; a new signal at N. Cook St; and a public art installation that will, “honor N Williams Avenue’s importance in local African-American history.” The project will also include funding to install speed bumps and other safety measures on NE Rodney (a parallel, neighborhood street preferred by many people who don’t like the crowds on Williams).

Funding for the Williams project will be available July 1st of this year. PBOT expects to complete all the design and engineering in early 2014 and they’ll break ground by this time next year. Stay tuned.

We have covered every twist and turn in this project. For more background, browse the 40+ stories in the archives.

CORRECTION: The initial version of this story stated that these funds originated from a federal grant. That is not correct. The funds are coming from the state’s “bicycle bill” set-aside funding. This is important because state money intended for local bike projects is more flexible than federal funding. However, state money also comes with its own constraints. Stay tuned for more reporting on this project.

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Comments
  • jim March 21, 2013 at 11:03 am

    The illustration shows them still using the too narrow parking spots. Any truck with dual wheels on the back will be left hanging out into the bike path. With the large amount of business’s on williams there are a lot of delivery trucks.

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  • jim March 21, 2013 at 11:08 am

    perhaps you can repost the latest plans?

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    • Sook March 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      Great News! But am I reading this right? “With ODOT’s generous grant, the city can begin designing Williams this summer and start construction in spring or summer 2014″. It’s going to take another year before changes are implemented?

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  • Blake March 21, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Good, with the new condos and developments between Fremont and Skidmore, this street has become almost un-bikeable. It was getting crowded, now it is overwhelmed with too many cars (driving in narrow lanes on one side of the bike lane and parking on the other with sometimes a wheel into the bike lane). I prefer Interstate Ave to Williams, the way it is now.

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    • jim March 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Williams doesn’t have the steep hill

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      • Andyc of Linnton March 23, 2013 at 12:25 pm

        I really rather prefer Interstate to Williams if it’s on my way. I think everyone should at least try it a couple times. I found after 3-4 times it came a little easier. Yes, it’s got the hill, and yes it’s got a crappy tiny lane, and it’s not perfect….just like all the other biking routes in this town. Anyway, personally I find I preferred the Interstate hill vs. the Williams chaos when possible.

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  • Allan March 21, 2013 at 11:40 am

    2010- project outreach begins
    2011- committee gets started
    2012- committee finishes
    2013- project gets funded
    2014- project gets built?

    Fingers crossed that something could maybe possibly get done this year

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  • David March 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    From that rendering above, it looks quite likely that the left (bike) lane will just get treated as a normal car lane with sharrows if it’s not painted green.

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    • John Lascurettes March 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      I got news for you. Some would still treat it as a normal lane even if painted green. I see it every day, all day on SW Oak between 12th and Broadway.

      I even from the sidewalk hollered at a guy stopped at a light who had just driven from 12th to 10th using the lane. His response, “there’s no signs that says it’s a special lane! Where are the signs?”

      O_o

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      • David March 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm

        I work very close to Oak and definitely know what you’re talking about.

        For what it’s worth, the green lane markings can be confusing because depending on where they are, they can mean two completely opposite things:
        1. NEVER drive your car here; or
        2. ONLY drive your car here

        #2 happens at intersections where auto traffic has to cross over the bike lane to get into a right turn lane. I was recently riding shotgun with my mom who doesn’t bike anywhere, and she waited until the green part of the lane (with the dashed white lines) ended to make a last-second turn into the right turn only lane. She thought she was never allowed to drive on the green part. Good intention, but it shows that the lanes are not always intuitive.

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    • are March 21, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      there is a forced left at the end of each block

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  • Sho March 21, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Still unsure why they decided to have the bicycle lane on the left and cars on the right. The majority of bicyclists enter from the right (except at down at broadway) and exit to the right off of williams. While cars do the opposite mainly entering from the left and exiting to the left due to its close proximity to I-5. The current plan seems to be setting up for quite a bit of nasty interaction in the turn lanes especially during weekday rush hour. At least they dealt with the bus driver problems who dont seem to notice there is a bike lane even now.

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    • Anne Hawley March 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Page 13 of the project final report (PDF) here: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/417219 gives a pretty thorough explanation of the left-side bike lane choice. In a nutshell, a bike lane on the left is seen to reduce dooring incidents and eliminate bus-bike conflicts. The rest of the justification has to do with a full sized bike lane regardless of which side of the street it’s on.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Sho,

      Truth is that TriMet made it all but impossible for the right-side bikeway to happen. They made some crazy mandates about how big bus islands needed to be in order for them to properly service their stops… and therefore that option became cost-prohibitive. Ideally, we would have a right-side bikeway with bus islands out in the street (and the bike lane behind it, curbside); but my feeling was that TriMet was not super cooperative with PBOT in hammering out a workable solution so PBOT and the committee figured the left-side option would be easier to get. Go back in my archives for more on this topic.. But it’s rather interesting how the left side bikeway was dismissed early on; and then made a rather fast comeback toward the end of the process and eventually became the winner.

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      • Allan March 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

        To be fair, we were talking about a much smaller budget at that time. With this grant in hand those might be within the budget

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  • televod March 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Pretty sure this will effectively ruin Williams for good for me, too. Sigh. It’s the plan nobody wanted.

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    • Alain March 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Telvod:

      I politely disagree. While the new plan my be far from perfect (not that I have a clear sense of what perfect is for you an anyone else), it is a vast improvement. And I say this as someone who daily rides down and lives on Williams. Kudos to all those involved for making these necessary changes, and for doing what I think will reduce and slow motorized traffic on Williams.

      Thanks Jonathan for staying on top of this story, and helping to keep people informed.

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      • televod March 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm

        I’m of the opinion that Williams was barely “broken” to begin with. Funneling riders of all skills and comfort levels through awkward lane changes is not going to make anything better. It will frustrate confident riders and intimidate those that aren’t. Worse, it will put all riders at greater risk.

        I’ve been riding Williams (and Vancouver) year round since 2007. This plan is a total mess and a perfect example of “design by committee.” It’s downright sad.

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        • are March 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm

          north of fremont to almost skidmore it is getting pretty broken. and now the reconstruction is moving further south. taking this down to one through lane will probably make one hell of a difference.

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          • televod March 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm

            It’s broken how? In that the bike lane is adjacent to parking? Yeah, it’s a door zone, but that’s hardly uncommon in our bike network. Are all those other spots “broken” too?

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            • are March 22, 2013 at 6:16 pm

              in that there are two travel lanes and a bike lane all moving through a crowded pedestrian environment with minimal intersection controls

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  • Alain March 21, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    This news is somewhat bittersweet as the CRC continues to roll forward. It is as if the neighborhood is being thrown a bone with the funding of the Williams Project.

    That said, I am delighted by the news of the project being funded! It’s just difficult to ignore the environment in which the Williams Project is being green lighted. It is remarkable that these federal funds trickled down to ODOT and managed to fund Williams as one of a handful of projects.

    I hope this means the funding gate keepers see the value of such a project, and that it can (and I believe will) function as a model transit corridor to be emulated in other parts of the city and other parts of the country. It’s what Portland is known for, right?

    21 years ago, when I started commuting by bicycle, I never thought I’d see folks complain about bike congestion in Portland. With any luck, these complaints will eventually be heard in other parts of town, and not just on Williams.

    Thank you Feds, ODOT and PBOT. I look forward to riding down the new Williams corridor. And to the elimination (or near elimination) of speeding motor vehicles down the street I live on (Williams).

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  • PorterStout March 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I’m a bit confused. The improvements include “a 10-foot wide buffered bike lane that will run on the left side of the street,” but the rendering shows a car driving in this lane, plus another ahead which appears to be straddling the door zone and the bike lane. So this is a shared lane, rather than a bike lane per se. Hm, I guess it remains to be seen what kind of patience drivers are going to show being “stuck” behind slow-moving cyclists on Williams, particularly during rush hour. Downtown I’ve seen cars blast past cyclists through red lights just to get around. Not trying to be critical here, just realistic. I appreciate any attempt to fix these problem areas.

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    • David March 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      It looks like there’s still parking on the left side, so cars will have to cross into the bike lane to park and leave their spots. Definitely not idea but I’d imagine (and seriously hope) that this is an early rendering that will be improved upon.

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    • Alain March 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Porter:

      The shared bike-car lane exists only in one section of the corridor (Fremont to Shaver or Skidmore). The rest of the corridor, Broadway to Fremont and Skidmore to Killingsworth will be one car lane and the aforementioned buffered bike lane.

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      • Emily G March 21, 2013 at 4:57 pm

        At the last open house, PBOT employees told me the shared lane with sharrows would in fact extend all the way up to Alberta. I really hope that changes as drivers race up the hill after Skidmore and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the shared lane to go beyond Shaver.

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  • Anne Hawley March 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Very nice job, Jonathan, summarizing the social and political problems that this project exposed, and that PBOT and the City had to deal with.

    The project as illustrated here looks pretty iffy to me, but as a longtime public sector employee I know how impossible it is to satisfy all stakeholders in a complex situation like this one. Nobody goes home 100% happy, but ideally there are some incremental improvements that can be built upon going forward.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Everyone,

    Please understand that the design and engineering for this project is not fully completed and is subject to change based on various factors. Also, the bikeway changes throughout length of the project. See past stories for a more detailed explanation of what the latest designs call for.

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  • jim March 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I often see bikes riding the wrong way on Williams.
    What is the law about that?

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    • John Lascurettes March 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      If they’re on the sidewalk, the direction is not illegal (speed with driveway and street crossings can be a legal issue). Riding the wrong way in the street is illegal.

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      • jim March 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm

        I would think they would ride on the sidewalk but they are always in the bike lane

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  • was carless March 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    So… whats to prevent drivers in the left lane to continue straight? I could fit a bus through the “bike only” section.

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    • are March 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      not sure how accurate the scale of the drawing is, but the concept is to have planter boxes closing off the lane sufficiently that only bikes can get through

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  • Lenny Anderson March 22, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Well good news for the Williams project, but with $1.5M beware…there will be cost cutting a la the Waud Bluff Trail stairs. To do a really great project in the Williams/Vancouver corridor, you need more $. Why not an LID to raise a match to the ODOT money. The BTA, the business association and adjacent neighborhood assocs. could approach key property owners/employers to lead an effort to transform this corridor from the Rose Quarter to Killingworth into a world class bike centric Place. PCC, the Rose Garden, New Seasons and Emanuel Hospital come to mind; there are no doubt others. Take that $3M and make a pitch to PDC’s Interstate Corridor URA to double it as an economic development project. Get developers to make new apartments totally bike oriented, put in a first class bike way, pay what’s necessary to accommodate TriMet service with a correctly placed cycle track. Encourage the growing bike industry to locate in the lower stretches where light industry has long been. Include bio-swales, bike oases, and more.
    As it stands, we’ll get a basic new paint job, a new signal or two, and then the money will run out.

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  • T.A. Barnhart July 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    when New Seasons opens in a few months, the current configuration will be a disaster waiting to happen. with cars zipping off the Fremont Bridge, and others trying to race up Williams or turn either direction on Fremont, bikes getting across to the store are going to be in real danger — on both Williams & Vancouver. this cannot wait until 2014. there needs to be something ready for the new store’s opening.

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