Thoughts, observations on N. Williams bike traffic

Bike traffic - N. Williams-2
Evening rush-hour on N. Weidler at Williams.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The other day on my way home I found myself right in the middle of major bike traffic on N. Williams Ave. I usually go up the Mississippi/Albina Hill, but the heat made Williams much more appealing.

My first sign of bike traffic was at the bike-only signal atop the Eastbank Esplanade at the east end of the Steel Bridge (at intersection with N. Interstate/NE Lloyd). There were about 12 people stopped at that light — enough to make me take my camera out.

A game of leap-frog is
about to begin…

Then, as I waited for the light at NE Weidler I had to double take at the line of 12-14 bikes making their way up to Williams. As that group joined me and a few others on N. Williams, I stayed back to take photos.

I’ve heard a lot about the leap-frog with TriMet buses that happens along N. Williams during the evening commute and I knew this would be the perfect time to see it. Sure enough, a bus came along and what happened next was very interesting.

Watch what happens when the people riding bikes realize the bus needs to cross over their lane to get to a stop…

People have several different reactions to a TriMet bus pulling in front of them.

The photo reminds me of a shark swooping in on a school of fish. Notice how they all scatter for survival. It’s interesting to see the different choices each one makes. One guy doesn’t feel like stopping at all and he swoops around to the left to keep going. Another person heads straight for the sidewalk to maintain their momentum. Others decide to just stop and wait behind the bus. (*Note that TriMet GM Fred Hansen recently told BikePortland that bus operators are now trained to not signal at all prior to servicing a stop, precisely to avoid confusion like that seen in the photo above).

Looking south at N. Graham. Notice how little
room bikes have to operate (can
you even spot the bikes in the photo?).

Further up the road it becomes clear that as bike use has soared on N. Williams, the roadway space allocated for bicycle traffic is not adequate. A four foot bike lane is sandwiched in between two other lanes of fast-moving motor vehicle traffic and a lane for on-street parking (*update: on many blocks there is on-street parking on both sides). This is far from the “world-class” bikeway experience the Bureau of Transportation is striving for.

In 2008, the Bureau of Transportation counted 2,750 bike trips at the intersection of N. Williams and N. Russell. That’s a 30% increase over the year before (similar to a 28% increase in bike trips citywide between ’07 and ’08).

By contrast, motor vehicle traffic counts on Williams have remained relatively flat. A count at Williams and Alberta in 1996 showed 6,264 car trips. In May 2004, that number had dropped to 5,950 (and then it spiked for some reason in October 2004 to 6,723).

These counts (and these photos) show that bicycles make up a significant portion of traffic on N. Williams. As dense residential units and bicycle-oriented development continues on N. Williams, bike traffic will increase along with it. If my math is correct, given current trends, bikes could soon make up half the trips in this corridor.

It seems like PBOT might want to consider putting N. Williams on a diet. It could stand to lose a few feet of car space. How about taking it down to just one motor vehicle lane, one bike/bus shared lane, and then the on-street parking lane?

Do you ride on Williams during the evening rush hour? What is your experience? Surely there is something that can be done to improve bike/bus/car traffic flow. What are your ideas?

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