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Changes on SE 14th near Sellwood school improve bike access

Posted by on August 29th, 2013 at 10:13 am

Bicycling is allowed in both directions, while driving is only allowed southbound.
(Photo: Matthew Arnold)


The Portland Bureau of Transportation has made some significant changes to SE 14th Avenue in Sellwood just in time for the new school year.

For three blocks on SE 14th between SE Bybee and Duke, PBOT has made the street into a one-way for driving (southbound) and two-way for bicycling with a new bike lane in the northbound direction. Prior to the change, 14th was a relatively narrow street that provided key north-south access for Llewellyn Elementary School. According to Gabriel Graff, the operations and safety manager at PBOT’s Active Transportation Division, the school is over capacity and doing something to improve access on the crowded street has been on the city’s to-do list for many years. “The school is over capacity and the neighborhood has a bumper-crop of kids,” Graff shared with us yesterday, “And the principal at Llewellyn has been requesting this for almost a decade now.”

Blue line shows where new bike lane has been installed.

One reason Llewellyn was eager for changes to SE 14th is because the amount of kids and parents biking and walking to the school has skyrocketed in recent years. According to PBOT, a 2009 survey of parents found that bicycling made up 14.3% of all trips at the school. In 2012, that number had shot up to 24.8%. Llewellyn’s biking rise was cemented this year when they earned first place in the Walk + Bike Challenge Month competition.

Graff says PBOT is constantly looking for opportunities to make these type of changes near schools. “If we’re able to get the property owners bought in on the project, we’ve found that they’re inexpensive and can really work. It serves pedestrians too. Traffic will now be slower and more predictable.”

It’s great to see PBOT taking this creative approach to street design. The “Except Bicycles” signage like they’ve used here — and streets where driving is only allowed in one direction, but bicycling can be done both ways — is a very common practice throughout the Netherlands and Copenhagen.

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  • Craig Beebe August 29, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I used to commute in that area, from Lewis & Clark to my then-apartment on SE 17th near Reedway. Very excited to see PBOT make this change–14th was a much safer and more pleasant ride north than Milwaukie or 17th, but cut-through car traffic on this narrow street could easily disrupt that. This is a change that will undoubtedly make things safer around Llewellyn, and probably will also reduce potential for accidents from left-turning car traffic on Bybee.

    That said, to improve safety even further, the City should consider some sort of protected left turn spot for bikes on Bybee. The turn north onto 14th comes immediately after a big curve as 13th Ave. becomes Bybee. Turning left there–often in the rain, or after dark–was always an exercise in holding my breath, hoping my lights were bright enough, and that no one would scream around the curve and rear-end me while waiting for traffic to clear. If I were a parent riding with a kid to school, that turn would scare me even more.

    (That’s why a lot of bikes jump on the north-side sidewalk there, as I recall. But this is imperfect, creating conflicts with pedestrians and also making accidents possible at the stop sign on 14th.)

    Maybe something along the lines of the protected left turn from Ladd Ave onto SE Clay could work. I am not sure there is sufficient space, but I hope PBOT will consider it.

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    • was carless August 31, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      The city really needs to put in dedicated left turn lanes for cars on Bybee and Milwaukie. Its ridiculous to wait 10 minutes to travel 2 blocks. Sellwood and Westmoreland would also benefit from a real bike lane down Milwaukie, just like SE/NE 28th would.

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  • Ben McLeod August 29, 2013 at 11:15 am

    My kids used to go to Llewellyn, and I kept asking for this improvement. However…. I think PBOT got it wrong. By allowing southbound traffic on 14th, they are encouraging people to take one of the westbound streets off of Milwaukie to 14th in order to avoid the lights at the Bybee intersection. I see people do it all the time. They tear up one of those streets, turn southbound onto 14th and try to beat the traffic to Bybee.

    PBOT should have made the one-way traffic go north.

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    • paikikala August 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Wouldn’t that let eastbound drivers who want to avoid the signal turn north to access Milwaukie?

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      • Ben McLeod August 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

        Of course it would. However, the traffic doesn’t back up Bybee that far. Whereas, on Milwaukie it backs up quite a bit and I often see drivers waiting in traffic turn onto Glenwood and race up to 14th.

        As other commenters have noted, the 13th/Bybee corner is pretty dangerous. Something needs to be done about that to make this improvement worth celebrating.

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  • kittens August 29, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I used to live in that area. In my opinion 14th @ Bybee is one of the most dangerous intersections for bikes in the city. That blind curve and people racing around like its a damn racetrack.

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    • rainbike August 29, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      I agree. And it’s the getting across Bybee part that is the worst. Without any improvement at that crossing, this good improvement falls just short of being a great improvement.

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  • paikikala August 29, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Another thing sometimes done in Europe is alternating one-way streets for autos. Cyclists can continue either direction, but the alternating one-way for autos prevents the cut-through issues, aka, rat-runs.

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  • paikikala August 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    When might we be brave enough for this:
    http://tinyurl.com/oayadmo

    SE Ladd at Clay has a protected left turn for bikes.

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  • Gabe August 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Ben McLeod

    PBOT should have made the one-way traffic go north.

    We looked at that option, but the school buses need to travel southbound in order to drop kids off in front of the school. Also, we were worried about sightlines for folks heading eastbound on Bybee – it is difficult to see a vehicle waiting to turn left at 14th due to the curve.

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    • Ben McLeod August 29, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      I figured that was the major reason for the decision. I recall the buses headed southbound on 14. There was barely room for the bus going south and me and my bucketbike headed north.

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  • Adam August 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I don’t know why this kind of design is the exception around our city. It should be the rule anywhere there is a school, and anywhere there is a bike boulevard.

    I look forward to the day when diversion on our bikeways as a traffic safety tool is as common as traffic lights are as a safety tool on arterials in the city, and it no longer warrants an internet story.

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  • nancy August 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I agree that something needed to be done with that stretch. I live one block from Llewellyn and the parents driving to drop their kids off are a menace. I have seen so many accidents due to aggressive and/or distracted driving. I am very concerned about the impact this change will have on neighborhood traffic. We’ll see when school starts.

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    • Ben McLeod August 30, 2013 at 10:15 am

      I wouldn’t use the word “menace” but yes, the roads certainly are unnecessarily congested around Llewellyn every morning and afternoon. I think it’s great that close to 25% of the students bike/walk to school, but considering the fact that 75+% of the student body lives within a 2-mile radius of the school, the number of bikers/walkers should be twice what it currently is. It used to drive me bonkers to see parents that live 5 blocks away driving their kids to school.

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      • Working Mom August 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

        Ben, with all due respect, some of us have kids at different schools (preschool and such), work full time and while I would love the leisure of walking to school each day, it often isn’t practical.

        Also, just for the record, I think the new traffic pattern is going to create major headaches for the side streets around Llewellyn.

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      • was carless September 1, 2013 at 12:02 am

        More children are killed by parents dropping their kids off to school in this country than by any other cause. Its horrific – and they justify driving their kids based on safety.

        Back in the 90′s I took the damn bus or walked to school. Now apparently kids are too soft to figure out what their legs are for.

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  • Charley August 29, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    There’s a street like this in Eugene, actually (Alder at 19th). So this isn’t even the first of these in Oregon. I think it’s great! I just sometimes think we’re caught up in our own awesomeness that we forget other cities are innovating, too. Actually, I’ve always impressed by the bike facilities in Salem and Eugene, and they don’t get nearly the same press we get (a lot of which is self-generated, obviously).

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  • joe kurmaskie August 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I’m one of the Dad’s who rides everyday along this route to drop my kids off by bike. This is a fantastic improvement from my viewpoint and I have to pedal it everyday. I no longer have to watch for drivers crossing onto a narrow street from 13th/bybee coming form the south. I only have to watch that cars come to a complete stop when they come from the North. A northbound cut thru driver on a cell phone last year ran into us – (tapped the back edge of the bike after running the sign. I read her the riot act and took her cell phone (she was able to get it at the school office ) and made her cry and told I really should throw the phone in the willamette and that she should own that emotion every time she got behind the wheel of a 3000 pound car and decided it was a good idea to use a school zone as a cut thru – the fb post made it around the country.

    There is a dedicated bike lane now and many of the parents I’ve spoken with are planning to bike more b/c of the change. The parents who over use their car b/c of laziness or rain or whatever will be more likely to reconsider walking or biking or parking further from school or I hope so anyway. And here’s the thing – we are reaching something of critical mass for the bike trains and biking to llewlyn so numbers beget numbers. I hope to see everyone on bikes next week as we ride to school – and then for the rest fo the school year ;-)

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  • joe kurmaskie August 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Working Mom- Tons of the Moms and Dads who bike their kids to school here also work.I am one of them. Biking has always been faster than driving to llewllyn – if you live in the district lines that make this your neighborhood school – and now it will be faster and safer. Creating this change is going to be a headache for drivers only in they can’t access the school from all directions, create havoc with the school buses that would have to wait on that narrow street for you guys to honk and try to pass it to get right up to the front door of the school – well the – good. You don’t need to pull your child up to the curb in front of the school – come to the two parking lots where the farmers makret takes place accessed from 17th near the post office. Walk your children the 100 yards – it takes about two minutes. If you don’t have that sort of time to set aside – then like the zen saying goes ,mediate one hour a day, unless you are too busy, then meditate for two hours.

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  • joe kurmaskie August 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    And for the record, I have multiple kids to drop off at different locales in the neighborhood. I do it by cargo bike and the whole thing takes less than 20 minutes. If you have selected a preschool out of the neighborhood you might want to reconsider.

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  • GlowBoy August 30, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    This is great. And I agree that the 13th/Bybee curve is VERY dangerous for people trying to cross at 14th. For the record, when I’m with my kid I use 16th instead, which I think is a marginally safer crossing of Bybee (though it is more affected by backups from Milwaukie). Heading back to my Brooklyn neighborhood, 15th/16th has more stop signs and uncontrolled intersections than 14th, but it’s really low-traffic.

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  • jason August 31, 2013 at 12:14 am

    Just a small clarification — Steve Powell (the cycling advocate principal who retired last school year) was likely the one lobbying for this “almost a decade now”. No judgement on the new Principal starting this year, I’m sure s/he is equally awesome, just clarifying.

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  • was carless August 31, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Alright! Another one of those really useful 3-block bike lanes that Portland so loves to install.

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  • joe kurmaskie September 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    was careless – Why you gotta be so Eeyore all the time? The reason the bike lane ends after four blocks is because the street widens back out in front of the school and the rest of the way northbound. This change is very positive and increases safety. I hope to see them address the intersection at bybee and milwaukie next and will continue to offer up my educated suggestions about it but this change is a win for bikes and safety and for the cause of walking and bike trains to school. But you can look for the darkness in anything I suppose.

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