A ride on downtown Portland’s new buffered bike lanes (updated)

buffered bike lanes
The buffered bike lane, westbound on SW Oak.
(Photos © Elly Blue)

It was a perfect Portland morning, alternating between gray and sunny. We’ve been getting tips all weekend about the new buffered bike lanes being installed downtown, and I decided to ride the full length of the new lanes and see how they work.

The buffered bike lanes dedicate one out of four lanes on SW Stark and SW Oak to bikes alone. One additional lane on these one-way streets is dedicated to through traffic, and a the outer lanes are for parking cars or (sometimes) making right turns.

The buffered lane runs westbound on SW Oak from Naito Parkway to SW 9th (a regular bike lane has been installed between 9th and 10th), and eastbound on SW Stark from SW 14th (home of the Zoobomb monument) back to Naito.

The bike lanes are fairly wide, and at the beginning of each is a green box and a bike symbol, marking them as bike-only. On the left, a couple of feet serve as a buffer between bike and car traffic, and a solid white “do not pass” line. On the right of the bike lane are parked cars, separated by a similar buffer that protects against dooring.

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These lanes are the latest chapter in the city’s experiments in creating dedicated spaces and standards for bicycle traffic. Earlier this month, the new cycle track was installed on several blocks of SW Broadway, and a separated bike lane was painted onto a stretch of SE Holgate.

My impression of these buffered lanes is largely positive. They’re nearly relaxing to use once you shake the embattled feeling that used to come with riding on these streets. The pavement is bad in places, but it’s much easier to navigate when you aren’t keeping a constant lookout over your left shoulder.

The two times I saw people enter the lanes in cars they quickly realized their error. The parking on the right is unnerving on paper, but in practice anyone I saw entering or exiting a parking spot was using far more caution than I’m used to seeing downtown.

And the curbside parking did seem to eliminate the urge to use the space for purposes other than bicycling (a problem I saw a lot of on New York City’s similar 9th Avenue cycle track).

It’s worth riding the lanes yourself to form an opinion. But if you’re not able to do that right away you can take a look at some photos from my ride, or watch the slideshow below:

Update: A project manager from the city responds with an update: “I just wanted folks to understand that while we finished the bulk of the work on SW Stark and Oak over the weekend, we still need to install the hatch marks in the buffered area and the “Bike Lane” pavement marking.” We’ll keep you posted with photos as the lanes are completed.

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