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After city balks at neighbors’ request for bike lane, 34th Ave resident goes public

Posted by on September 5th, 2014 at 12:43 pm

narrow passage
Riding on 34th between Clinton and Division.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

After nine months and 270 petition signatures, the people who live on SE 34th Avenue between Clinton and Division just can’t seem to persuade the city to remove five parking spots in front of their houses in order to add a bike lane.

“It’s not strictly a bicycle issue. It’s just traffic working more smoothly.”
— Mark Zahner

“We’re just framing the argument as safety on this block vs. parking spots,” said Mark Zahner, who lives at 34th and Clinton and has led the campaign. “We see there’s a lot of near misses, we’ve acknowledged the problem, we’ve got support from the neighbors. Where do we go from here?”

Starting last winter, Zahner collected 170 in-person signatures in support of his concept, which would convert the one-block stretch along a popular bike route to northbound-only for cars, with a northbound shared lane and a southbound bike-only lane. Last month, feeling that the city had brushed off his concerns and those of his neighbors, Zahner upped the ante with a 12-foot-long diagram of his plan on a sign in his front yard. He also launched an online version of his petition that has drawn 101 signatures in two weeks.

safety vs parking close

Though it’s unmarked with sharrows on this stretch, 34th is a popular bike route south of Laurelhurst Park thanks to the flat grade and the traffic signal across Division. But that traffic signal often fools cars and trucks headed eastbound on Division that it’s a good place to turn south.

Actually, 34th is four feet narrower than other nearby streets. Zahner says it’s just not wide enough to safely fit two parking lanes plus traffic in both directions.

narrow passage
Zahner with his own bicycle on the street in front of his house.

So Zahner, who works as an architect, drew up a plan that adds a few parking spaces on the east side of the street and removes parking on the west side, for a net loss of five spaces.

“It’s not strictly a bicycle issue,” Zahner said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just traffic working more smoothly so you aren’t brushing up against each other. … Basically it’s jammed there every day, and people get impatient.”

Last year, he persuaded nine of the 11 households on his street to support his bike lane plan. There’s since been some turnover among residents of the block, and Zahner hasn’t yet approached the new arrivals. Last fall, the Richmond Neighborhood Association sent a letter to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick describing the “overwhelming traffic safety concerns of neighborhood residents” about 34th and asking the city to study possible solutions — but it stopped short of explicitly recommending parking removal, a hot issue in the area.

“Nobody wants to stick their neck out it seems politically and endorse removal of parking,” Zahner said.

He said that Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller wouldn’t push the plan without an explicit endorsement from the neighborhood association.

“If PBOT does it on their own and they get somebody in the media saying ‘What are they doing removing parking?’ then they have someone to say ‘Well, the neighborhood association endorsed it,'” Zahner said. “And the neighborhood association doesn’t want to do that.”

An impromptu neighborhood discussion has also popped up on Zahner’s sign:

community discussion
“How is this existing road unsafe?” “Cars drive right down the middle right at oncoming vehicles.”

In February, the city sent traffic engineer Matthew Machado to discuss the issue with the neighborhood association. According to Zahner, Machado said the city couldn’t study the issue adequately until after construction work on Division Street was complete.

Zahner said he and others felt the transportation bureau was “attempting to appease us and we were very unsatisfied.”

He’s continuing to gather signatures and working with the new BikeLoudPDX advocacy group that has been trying to reduce heavy cut-through traffic on Clinton, which has for years carried twice as much traffic as the national standard for a bike boulevard.

Zahner said he’s also considering organizing a block party that would allow the neighbors to do  a one-day demonstration of a redesigned one-way street on 34th.

With so much discussion about traffic on Clinton Street right now, there’s certainly potential for change. We’ll continue to follow this issue as it develops.

(If you’d like to learn more about this issue and/or get involved with BikeLoudPDX, join them at a planning meeting this Sunday at 3:00 pm at Montavilla Park on NE 82nd and Glisan.)

safety vs parking wide

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

43 Comments
  • Adron @ Transit Sleuth September 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    This seems like such an easy fix, a no-brainer win I can’t even begin on the topic. But it seems after recent PR mess ups at city hall the leadership doesn’t want to endorse anything. But the city hall should damn well let people handle their neighborhood in an effective way. Let the local neighborhood chalk up something and put in place a temporary 30 day study and redesign (paint the street/put in planters, etc) to dilleneate how it would work.

    …determine the metrics.

    …measure the improvement.

    This could all be done via citizens. City hall doesn’t need to monopolize all of the study work. Let citizens take it into their own hands if things aren’t getting done or the queue is too deep at PBOT.

    It’s pretty obvious, a LOT of Portland still wants their bike amenities, we still want to move toward a less auto-dependent and lower auto-violence city. In the end, they’re our streets and if we’re trying to improve them then we ought to be able to do just that. Everything doesn’t have to come out of city hall/pbot/etc.

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    • galavantista September 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      One option is Better Block and it’s already alive in Portland: http://betterblockpdx.org/

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      • paikiala September 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        How does the eastbound bus turn right and go south there with that change?

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm

          Which bus is that? The 4 remains on Division here.

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          • Psyfalcon September 5, 2014 at 2:25 pm

            I don’t think a bus would make it down that road at all.

            It was fun watching a box truck do a half mile an hour when they ended up on it.

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          • OnTheOtherHand September 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

            Its the 10. The suggestion ignores it, which is pretty typical actually of noble but narrow-minded amateur/activist plans. Trucks and buses? –just put ’em somewhere else!

            That said, the drawing could be modified to easily accommodate buses for eastbound right turns from clinton to 28th. Just have to scale back the sidewalk addition. The north side sidewalk add seems pretty doable too, especially if you cut it back a bit to allow for bigger vehicles. Overall, it seems like a great idea that just needs a little tweaking to be more “multi-modal”.

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        • Nick Falbo September 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm

          I presume you’re referring to the Better Block concept for 26th & Clinton displayed on the linked website, where the #10 turns south.

          http://betterblockpdx.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/26thandclinton.png

          The current large corner radius there is a relic from the streetcar era. Similar to the previously wider corner radius at 21st & Division and the legacy traffic island at 72nd & Woodstock.

          Just like there was at 21st & Division, I suspect there is some room to reduce the corner radius without impacting bus operation. If we’re willing to require the bus to turn at a crawling speed and occupy the full intersection when turning, then I bet you could get a much smaller radius, perhaps even as small as illustrated in the design concept.

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          • paikiala September 8, 2014 at 11:35 am

            If, by ‘occupying the full intersection when turning’ you mean travelling into the opposing lane for both the beginning and ending of the right turn, then, not likely.

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          • paikiala September 9, 2014 at 10:31 am

            If the City fixed the corner of Division at 26th so the #10 could remain on Division and turn south on 26th, the design at 26th and Clinton could be tightened up significantly. A couple of mini-roundabouts might work well.

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    • MaxD September 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Vision Zero Action

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    • Paul September 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Stop making sense Adron.
      Signed, City Hall

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    • Mossby Pomegranate September 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Remember, we get what we vote for.

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  • Daly September 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Way to go Mark!!

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  • OnTheOtherHand September 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Removing parking will increase the functional roadway width, which typically increases car traffic and speeds.

    The idea of giving bikes more space sounds nice, but there is serious potential for unintended consequences here. You might be trading annoyance for serious injuries. Especially if cars drive faster when given more space. Turning 34th into a one way could reduce traffic volume on this block, but more cars will use 35th and 33rd, and drive around the block more often (thereby increasing traffic volumes on Clinton even more).

    Portland creates “skinny” streets by design – to slow cars down, thereby improving safety and making travel safer for walking and biking. The ‘conflicts’ are supposed to be there.

    As for safety – there does not appear to be any evidence of a safety issue here. ODOT publishes the state crash database, and there have only been 2 in the last 5 years (Typical for the area, and less than some nearby parallel streets.)

    https://gis.odot.state.or.us/transgis/

    This seems like a suburban reaction to an urban ‘problem’. You have a developing area, adding density with limited parking and increasing traffic congestion. This makes people used to something different upset, understandably. However, the proposed solution is actually making it easier for cars in many ways and pushing the parking issues deeper toward Clinton. If that’s what the neighborhood wants – go for it! But if I lived, walked, biked, and drove in Clinton (as I did until ~2 years ago) I’m not sure I’d support the change. It seems like the City is right to ‘balk’ at this resident’s proposal, certainly before the neighborhood association chimes in.

    How about just prohibiting left turns from westbound division to 34th?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      These are all good points, OnTheOtherHand, but if the main concern is increased traffic speeds because parked cars would no longer be doubling as in-street obstacles, wouldn’t it be possible to create some different sort of in-street obstacle between the bike lane and travel lane? That would obviously be more expensive but it seems as if we have that technology.

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      • OnTheOtherHand September 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

        Certainly there are other traffic calming measures and maybe some are even better, but the downside is cost and taking away parking spaces, which, again, pushes parking demand deeper into the neighborhood.

        The real issue is cost (and time). We have unpaved streets and pedestrians dying in outer SE and City staff have to prioritize. From the outside, this seems like a relatively minor issue. Just because somebody says something is unsafe doesn’t mean it is. The proposed solution has dubious benefits as well, and may actually make things worse.

        Getting the neighborhood association to sign off and seeing how things change with Division should be steps one and two.

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        • Mark Zahner September 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm

          OK “On the other hand” (allen) cost is minimum (signs and paint). The speed bumps as I said would be financed by private citizens concerned about safety and raising money ourselves.
          On any given day at 5 or 6 am in the morning there are 6 cars parked on the street leaving 14 empty parking spots. So you can’t tell me removing 5 parking spots will have anything but a minor impact. PBOT off the record agrees.
          Your argument doesn’t carry water.

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    • Mark Zahner September 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      I cannot accept the argument about the “skinny streets”. Show me one street in Portland this skinny with parking on both sides that has the volume of traffic as this block. The light at Division dumps cars onto this narrow street toward Clinton adding cars on the Clinton Bikeway.
      There has to be a creative traffic calming part of this solution. Visual cues, speed bumps (I could raise the money in short order) or make the street serpentine. Cars speed down the street already.
      Sure the accident statistics do not warrant PBOT’s attention. But it is my understanding a near miss is just this side of an accident. Why should it take a serious accident to get some attention?
      I’ve heard your arguments before and I respectfully disagree.
      Mark Zahner

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      • OnTheOtherHand September 7, 2014 at 11:19 am

        “I don’t accept skinny streets.” — Most Suburbanites

        Portland publishes their street design standards. If the street does not meet them, you have legitimate beef. Now that said, there are MANY streets, hundreds of miles probably, in the City that do not meet standards. Some are a problem, some are not, so that alone is not enough. Neither is claiming a lot of “close calls”, because – that’s half of the intersections in Portland. Nobody lives somewhere where things can’t be better. Not meeting standard is a starting point though.

        I’m not saying the situation can’t be improved, I’m saying the proposed solution (one-way with bike lanes) doesn’t sound like a great fix. One-way streets have a lot of downsides. Bike lanes on low volume streets have negative consequences too.

        Reconfiguring the road and speed bumps – I’m not sure these solve the problem that you blame the street light for.

        Your best path to success is suggesting something low-cost (signage or specific traffic calming) as opposed to street reconfiguration, which is far more complicated to consider. Anything expensive will not get implemented because the problem is not backed up by any facts. Something cheap might, to support the bicycle network and proactively mitigate potential safety issues. The cheaper the solution, the more likely it is realized.

        See how things change with Division, get your neighborhood association to buy in, and figure out a low-cost solution that doesn’t reek of NIMBYism. Those are my suggestions. I hope they help in some small way.

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    • jeff September 5, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      It’s a block long in between traffic control devices, how fast could someone get going?

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      • OnTheOtherHand September 7, 2014 at 11:22 am

        Faster than they’re going now it sounds like. More speed – more injury risk.

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  • spare_wheel September 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    33rd/34th is not the longest route but when I first moved to PDX it was one of the better N-S bike streets* in inner SE. Sadly, the bike dots are fading into oblivion just like PBOT’s active transport budget.

    *while it may not have been a “full bike boulevard” it certainly had bike dots, speed bumps and green signs.

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  • Psyfalcon September 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve never been on it when it has had more than one effective lane. Anyone but 2 bikes passing ends up looking for a pullout, and there aren’t many.

    I do agree its not a “safety” issue. The road is so narrow its very slow. More or less unusable in a car, except that because of the light people think its a good way to go. Its not.

    My own proposal would be to make it one way and leave everything else the same. You might still need to remove one parking lane if you wanted counter flowing bikes to not have to stop to let cars pass though.

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    • Paul September 5, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      They’re only talking about 1 block, so letting cars pass bikes (going the same direction) isn’t much of an issue.

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  • 9watts September 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Here’s PBOT’s chance–an opening–to take away some on-street car parking. The neighbors are asking for it!
    Why on earth don’t they see this as their chance to create a precedent so the next time some group objects (and you can bet they will) they can point to this one as an example of a mutually beneficial, open-and-shut, case? Because if they continue to dissemble, muddle through, these sorts of changes won’t come any easier.
    Wake up, PBOT.

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  • joel domreis September 5, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    id rather have parking on both sides of the street. this makes me feel safer as a biker. also allowing turns slows down traffic on division. isnt slowing down traffic what we want? i would support making it walking biking only and no cars at all, but this does not sound good to me currently. This is my favorite intersection to bike through in portland and i use it 4-6 times a day.

    There is probably no reason for people to park on the street anyway. the residents have converted their garages to work places, or housing for a reason. actually dont most people have garages in portland? why do they park in front of their house. just want everyone to think about this. my vote is for people parking on the street, and more clutter, because it is safer for children and for pedestrians.

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    • 9watts September 5, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      “id rather have parking on both sides of the street. this makes me feel safer as a biker. ”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

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      • joel domreis September 5, 2014 at 5:22 pm

        basically a narrower street reduces car traffic, but as a bike there is still traffic without obstruction. im with wsbob.

        yes. i love narrow streets. The reason i take 34th is because it is narrow and slows cars. I only use that street for 3 blocks, then i hop to another narrow street. i think you should really do your research on what you mean by that syndrome. most streets in portland are wider than 34th. serious on this, because there are really people with that syndrome, and i think we should not bully or make fun of people. my experience could be jaded, but do you feel more safe on a wider road than a single lane neighborhood street??

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        • 9watts September 5, 2014 at 6:01 pm

          I think it is important to differentiate between a narrower street (Yes, I like, and I’m a longtime champion of Portland’s flirtation with Skinny Streets policy*) and a street that is choked with parked cars on both sides (No, don’t like: ugly, waste of taxpayer dollars, subsidy to the still car-bound, dooring risk, a poor excuse for traffic calming, etc.)

          I mentioned Stockholm Syndrome because to my ears, someone who bikes expressing a *preference* to being surrounded by parked cars while biking suggested this to me. No harm intended.

          *http://www.oregon.gov/LCD/docs/publications/neighstreet.pdf

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          • wsbob September 5, 2014 at 7:37 pm

            “…a street that is choked with parked cars on both sides…” 9watts

            No, near as I can tell from the picture in the story above, I do not see that this is what Zahner is proposing, nor is it the situation that works on the neighborhood street near me in Beaverton.

            There are cars parked on both sides of the street, but in small groups rather than continuously from one end of the block to the other. The effect is to oblige people driving to slowly and cautiously chart, to use Zahner’s choice of word here: http://bikeportland.org/2014/09/05/34th-parking-petition-110684#comment-5479471 …a ‘serpentine’ course down the street.

            By slowly, I mean literally as slowly as 10 or 15 mph, accomplished in part by the use of bisected speed bumps. Definitely not a treatment to be universally applied, but from what I can see, works very well for the neighborhood out my way.

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            • 9watts September 5, 2014 at 8:26 pm

              “There are cars parked on both sides of the street, but in small groups rather than continuously from one end of the block to the other. ”

              Yes, I know. I bike there regularly. The short stretch is a regular car-zoo: pickups and cars and dumpsters jammed together along both sides, cars queueing, hoping to go South, and behind me heading North, etc. It is in my experience all very cordial and o.k. as far as it goes, but I was responding to Mr. domreis who went out of his way to suggest he preferred to be surrounded by parked cars.
              This is more the feeling I get –
              http://www.andysinger.com/images/bookcover.gif

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          • joel domreis September 6, 2014 at 6:04 pm

            i should have said a constricted or narrow street, because on this stretch of street thats what cars parked on both sides mean (for me). it narrows to, as you know, one lane of car travel. the traffic is slow.

            i like the slowing of cars with a narrower street. when i was younger we had throw away bikes we put in the street to slow car traffic (6 years old me). rusted out kids bikes we would lay in the street to make auto traffic more respectful. geez. we need more street hockey, and basketball.

            This part of 34th is one of my most favorite streets bike on. Thank you for being formal, but i think you dont need to be. joel is fine. – all the best- j courier coffee

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        • spare_wheel September 5, 2014 at 6:25 pm

          shooting the gap does not sound particularly safe.

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          • wsbob September 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm

            Maybe not the best metaphor to have used. I assure you that riding the street under the circumstances I described involves no hair raising, risky speeds or near misses with motor vehicles. It’s very mellow at speeds generally between 10 to 15 mph, certainly no more than 20. Plenty of room for a car and a bike to comfortably pass each other, but not really so for two cars.

            The configuration works really well. The street I described, and a cross street are used as a cut through to some extent, but I believe the volume and speed of motor vehicle traffic using it would be much greater if not for the narrowness of the street, the speed bumps, and the cars parked at the curbs. People seem to keep their cool, too, no honking.

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  • wsbob September 5, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Good strategy, using the big yard sign with graphic, to get the word around.

    In the picture above, I can’t make out Zahner’s proposed changes to the street. I know though, from a narrow neighborhood street near where I live in Beaverton, that cars parked at the curb in jogged clusters of three or four together, can do a very effective job of so to speak, calming traffic.

    Cars parked directly across the street from each other basically reduce travel width to passage for one car only. Jogging the parking clusters allows room for cars to pull over slightly to wait their turn while cars from the other direction pass through. During the day when people are at work, with fewer cars parked on the street, though still narrow, it usually allows some passage of cars from both directions at the same time.

    Bikes being narrower than most motor vehicles, people riding them are at liberty to shoot the gap at the same time as a motor vehicle from the opposite direction, parked cars or not.

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  • Chris Anderson September 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    If the issue is auto through traffic, why not just make it diverted so cars can’t pass through that segment of 34th? A couple of concrete planters and a “No outlet except bicycles” sign shouldn’t cost much.

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    • Terry D-M September 5, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      because that is the local access traffic light that the bikes use…and the cars, so they do not want to “de-function” the light, even if in reality it should be exchanged for a HAWK or shouldn’t have been placed there in the first place.

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  • TheCowabungaDude September 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    The City is totally dead-on about waiting until after construction to do a proper analysis. Keep pushing, Mark, but have patience. I think you and the City can come up with a bomb-proof plan when the timing is right.

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  • jeff September 5, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Like I said last week, no one’s paying attention to the detour signs around Clinton/Division.

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  • Albert September 5, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Mr. Zahner’s diagram includes a painted intersection at 34th and Clinton. What is the process for getting those approved? A few painted intersections on Clinton St. would help hammer home the concept to motorists that the street is a neighborhood greenway.

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  • Adam Rogers September 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    34th doesn’t need a bike lane.

    it needs a diverter. it’s a bike greenway for heaven’s sakes.

    all a bikelane will do is legitimize auto traffic on the street.

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  • paikiala September 8, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Portland Fire and Rescue might support removal of parking on one side for fire truck access. A 24-foot wide street is ideal for a contra-flow bike lane. At this location a northbound auto lane (10′) with sharrows, east side parking (8′-) and southbound bike only lane (6′) next to the curb would work well. One way streets can have higher speeds when the opposing traffic is removed, so traffic calming may be needed. This would be similar to 14th north of Bybee, or 22nd north of Sandy.

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