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First look at PBOT’s new ‘buffered bike lanes’ on SE Holgate

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Looking east on SE Holgate.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation unveiled their latest bikeway treatment over the weekend. On SE Holgate, from I-205 to SE 122nd, PBOT has removed a motor vehicle lane in each direction to make room for a 10-foot wide, bicycle only travel lane — a.k.a. a “buffered” or “enhanced” bike lane.

“I think if we can successfully discourage people from driving in it, it will make Holgate a nice street to ride on.”
— Jeff Smith, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation

I made my way out there this morning to get a first-hand look.

My first impression was, “Where’s the paint?” The new lane is nice and wide, but there isn’t much in the way of visual cues that the lane is meant for bicycle traffic only. According to PBOT’s Jeff Smith, in order to save money in maintenance costs, they put down only as much striping as they felt necessary.

10 feet of space, just for bikes.

Initial designs (which you can see here) called for three, diagonal hash-marks, six-feet apart (every 50 feet) in addition to a longitudinal line to outline the 3.5-foot buffer zone between motor vehicle traffic and bicycle traffic. But the design painted on the road today (cross-section here) has far less paint. The hash marks are 15-feet apart and there is no outline to the buffer. Also, there is only one bike lane character per block.

In addition to concerns about maintenance costs, Smith said PBOT traffic engineers thought the initial design might give the cue that cars were not allowed to cross over the lines at all (legally, they can only cross into the bike lane to park).

Smith added that while his initial impressions are that the current amount of paint will be adequate, he also says they will monitor the project and add more paint later if necessary. “From my impression, the diagonal lines jump out pretty well.”

It may take some time before
folks realize that this new
lane is just for bikes.

While I observed traffic for about 15 minutes this morning, I saw several people driving in the new bike lane. I also noticed two or three people who drove in it for almost an entire block prior to making a right turn. On a positive note, I observed two motor vehicle operators who began to drive in the bike lane, but then must have noticed the paint and stayed in their lane (or they noticed a guy with a helmet and a camera standing nearby!).

This is a new type of bike lane, and at 10 feet wide with a minimal amount of paint demarcating it as such, it’s hard to fault people for not knowing what it is. I asked Smith if PBOT has any special signage planned (like perhaps a “Bikes Only” marker) and he said currently the project does not call for any.

In addition to providing a place for bikes on Holgate, Smith hopes the new bike lanes will help bring motor vehicle speeds down. During a speed analysis performed last year, PBOT found that over half of the people drove over the posted 35 mph speed limit.

These high speeds make it imperative that the bike lane is respected by motor vehicle operators. Smith agrees: “I think if we can successfully discourage people from driving in it, it will make Holgate a nice street to ride on.”

— This $30,000 project was requested by the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association and was paid for by TriMet (they have a park-and-ride facility at 92nd and Holgate for their new Green Line MAX).

— Note: The project is not complete. Diagonal lines still need to be painted on the north (westbound) side of the street.