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Update on progress of bike boulevard project in Sellwood

Posted by on December 3rd, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-4

Detail of new “channelizing islands” recently
installed on SE Spokane St.
(Photos © Adams Carroll)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is just weeks away from unveiling one of the most important bike-related infrastructure projects in years. Their new bike boulevard on SE Spokane Street in Sellwood is the first of their “next generation” bike boulevards and the first of 60 miles of bike boulevards they have planned for completion between now and 2013.

December 19th is the date slated for completion of the bike boulevard on Spokane Street (the Sellwood Neighborhood is already planning a big party to celebrate). With much of the project already done, we figured it was time to take a look at what’s already been installed.

Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-15

Some have expressed concern about these storm grates.
Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-19

Cars and bikes have separate space at these pinch points.
Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-16

Up close in the bike channel.
Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-3

These photos are of what PBOT is calling “channelizing islands”. The main reason for them is to prevent pinch points and separate bicycle and motor vehicle traffic. PBOT’s Greg Raisman says they are a good option for less assertive riders who don’t want to compete for space with a motor vehicle.

Story continues below


BikePortland news intern Adams Carroll went out to the location yesterday. He noticed people on bikes using both options — in the bike-only lane, and in the main lane. “There isn’t any bike boulevard signage up yet, save for the street markings, so I guess that the people using the channelized lane are doing so out of intuition.” Carroll reports that he did not observe a car and bike going through at the same time.

Raisman says the channelizers are also meant to slow down motor vehicle traffic, a behavior which Carroll witnessed yesterday (although he said they might have just been curious about his presence).

Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-12

Caution: Human beings.
Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-13

Striping and a median at SE 17th, but a much more substantial treatment is coming to SE 13th.

Besides the channelizing islands, the other major feature of the Spokane Bike Boulevard is safety improvements at crossings. At SE 17th, there are new, zebra-striped crosswalks and a median island in the middle of the intersection. There is also a new yellow traffic sign warning of the presence of humans. With these new treatments installed Carroll reported that while walking, cross-traffic was quick to stop, but that “very few people slowed or stopped” when he waited on his bike. He also added that he hopes the crossing is well-lit at night.

Carroll noted that the treatments at SE 17th were pretty standard fare. PBOT’s Raisman says major improvements are slated for the crossing at SE 13th, but those are not yet completed.

This is a comprehensive bike boulevard project and it includes many components not listed here. For a more thorough look at the project overall, see our examination of the plan from back in January.

Stay tuned for more coverage of this project once it’s complete. For more photos, see the complete gallery from Adams Carroll and also take a look at Greg Raisman’s Flickr photoset (which also has informational notes and captions).

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  • cyclist December 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    “Some have expressed concern about these storm grates.”

    That quote was pulled from the description under one of your images, yet you don’t actually quote multiple people (or even one person) expressing concern. If you’re going to make that claim you need to back it up with evidence that this is actually the case.

    I only bring this up because I’ve ridden through the “bike channel” every day since they were installed a few weeks back and the grates haven’t bothered me at all. I’m wondering if the people who are expressing concern have actually ridden through the bike channel. Or perhaps you’re speculating that people *might* express concern.

    Either way, you should either change the description of that image or post some kind of evidence that there has been some level of concern addressed.

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  • Elliot December 3, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    @ cyclist (#1) – I’ll bite. I’m concerned about those storm grates.

    I’ve yet to ride through the area where these treatments have gone in, but judging solely from the photos the space looks just a little tight. With a curb on either side, the space looks a little narrow to pass through on a bike with a comfortable shy distance on either side. Jonathan, do you have a measurement of how wide the area is between the islands and the street curb? I probably wouldn’t use them pulling a trailer… then again, there’s no bike is required to pass through the side rather than the center, correct?

    The other thing I’d be concerned about is bikes having trouble merging and reentering the normal lane of traffic after moving over toward the curb. I assume parking is prohibited near these islands; do we know for how far? It seems almost as if these features are going to serve as passing areas, where a bike moves toward the curb while passing through the intersection and cars behind take the opportunity to speed up to pass through the center.

    Can anyone from PBOT or someone who has been riding Spokane recently speak to these issues? I’m not sure how soon I’ll get over to Sellwood to ride it myself.

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  • fozz-man December 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Is it me, or in the 4th picture are those cyclists riding on the exact opposite side of that bike channel that what it was designed for?

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  • q`Ztal December 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Concern here:
    How is the street sweeper going to get in there to clean out all the road debris, and in this case leaves as well, that will make this corner dangerous for cyclists?
    Also: looks cleaning out the drain grate could be more problematic.

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  • chelsea December 3, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    It seems reasonable that people might be concerned about leaves collecting on the grates and being slippery. I think “cyclist”‘s suspicion is a little harsh.

    I have not yet had a chance to check this out in person, but I love the idea of having a little buffer on the tighter areas. Many bike lane paint jobs around town are worn off on the turns from cars driving on them, sometimes when I am in them.

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  • Paul December 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Cyclist: Can you post evidence that you actually ride a bike through those channels, maybe with a photo or video 🙂 Just kidding.

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  • Hart December 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Anyone know what happened to the major overhaul that Clinton street was supposed to get this fall?

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  • cyclist December 3, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Elliot #2: I can’t tell you exactly how wide the side paths are, just that they’re plenty roomy. I think it’s disingenuous to post a caption like that without any sort of evidence in the story.

    q`Ztal #4: I’ve got to agree with you 100% on the street cleaning issue. I understand the idea behind the treatments, they slow traffic down because the street narrows so quickly… I just don’t think that it does cyclists any real favors because you end up with this uncleanable section where debris can collect. I guess the worst case scenario is that cyclists have to ride through the middle instead of the sides… that’s not the end of the world. It’s still a success as far as I’m concerned if it calms traffic enough so that it’s better for driver to stay on Tacoma.

    What will really make a difference is a barrier in the middle of 13th that prevents cars on Spokane from going straight through 13th and cars on 13th from turning left onto Spokane. That’ll significantly reduce traffic on Spokane and make it a much more friendly bike experience (and a better experience for residents as well… that’s the reason they supported the bike boulevard in the first place.

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  • rekon December 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    I’ve ridden both through the channels and around them (SE 7th and Spokane). When I’ve used the bicycle marked channel it was because I was sharing the road with a car (that is right, sharing the road) and I found that the channelizer did the job that it is intended to do, which is to slow the car down. Traveling east on Spokane at that pinch point on SE 7th is slightly uphill and it is after the short but punchy climb up Spokane from the Springwater. Even with a car overtaking me from behind, I still ended up in front of them as I passed through the channelizer and they slowed down through the pinch point. When no cars are present, I don’t use the channel. Easy peasy.

    I did not find that storm grate to be an issue, but I share the concern of others regarding the build up of debris in the channels. We’ll see how that pans out.

    One thing that has not been mentioned regarding the channelizers is that I think they are FAR better solution for both cyclists and pedestrians than curb extensions! With the channelizers pedestrians get a refuge to stand on, better visibility of traffic, are out of the way (if they are on the channelizer), and bikes are free to travel without having to deal with the awful pinchpoints that curb extensions create at corners which force bikes and cars to share a narrow space. I say rip out all corner curb extensions and put these in their place!

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  • P Finn December 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    the combined bike/ped crosswalk is oriented in line with the sidewalk and only on one side of the street.
    In my experience, motorists have real issues about stopping for bicyclists “near” crosswalks. If you are not perceived to be actually IN the crosswalk striping, it must not apply to you. I enjoy this “treatment” treat daily; @ Powell & 35th s.bound and Division & 41st n.bound.

    In order to utilize either of these treats, I’d have to cross no less than 6 lines of traffic to execute one forward intersection negotiation. Treatment fail.

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  • drew December 3, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    These things puzzle me. I commute across Spokane and avoid them. It’s a very short narrow bikepath channel, after which one is required to merge with any traffic. Probably better to just be in the traffic in the first place. Few cars would try to pass me on these residential streets anyways (lots of stop signs).
    They may provide a traffic calming effect though, as an obstacle. But it’s an obstacle for bike traffic too the way I see it. More curbage one could crash into.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) December 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    cyclist (comment #1),

    thanks for that feedback. i wrote that caption based on emails from two separate people saying they didn’t like the storm grates and that they had collected a lot of leaves. I did not end up mentioning those people in the article. I understand your confusion and your beef with me using that caption and I’ll consider changing it.


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  • feralcow December 4, 2009 at 10:17 am

    There is a slight problem with the channel going west at 7th and Spokan… it basically dumps you right into a stop sign where cars more often than not stop after the stop sign line.

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  • Elliot December 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    @ P Finn #10

    Um, yes, you must be “actually IN” the crosswalk in order to use it. In fact, it is illegal for a pedestrian to cross outside of a crosswalk at an intersection where one is available.

    While you are bicycling in the street, you are operating as a vehicle, not a pedestrian. Just as cars on Powell should not stop and yield to a car on 35th, should not stop and yield for you on a bike simply because you are “near” a crosswalk.

    When vehicles yield their right-of-way to other vehicles that do not have it (such as when a vehicle on a main street stops at an intersection for a vehicle on a side street that has a stop sign) it breaks down the order of the street system. Behavior becomes unpredictable, and therefore dangerous.

    Luckily, on a bicycle you have the option of acting either as a vehicle or a pedestrian. You can ride on the sidewalk at that intersection in order to enter and use the crosswalk as a pedestrian (while still on your bike). I personally don’t choose to do this, but the option is freely available and many people use it all the time (such as to execute an improvised “Copenhagen left”.

    I’m familiar with the intersections you mention and I know how difficult it is to cross there. But asking vehicles to behave outside of the basic order of yield control is not the solution. Changing the traffic control at those intersections is the solution, if we’re trying to make crossing a Powell and Division from a side street easier for bikes.

    I don’t mean to be confrontational, but I feel compelled to speak against your suggestion, which I hear from other cyclists often. Yielding right of way when you shouldn’t is illegal behavior. I’ve been hit by a car no less than twice as a result of situations where a car yielded right of way to another vehicle when they shouldn’t have. Asking people to behave contrary to the existing traffic controls is simply dangerous.

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  • KWW December 4, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I don’t like those channelizers when I ride past them everyday, but they are much better than curb extensions, and they will effectively provide traffic calming on a 2 lane residential street, that is wide enough for 4 lanes – it makes you wonder if the road was originally built for the Sellwood Bridge?

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  • erin g. December 5, 2009 at 11:12 am

    My home office looks out onto SE Spokane as well as the Springwater Corridor Trail entrance, and it has been great to watch the evolution of the bike boulevard features.

    As a Sellwood resident, cyclist and longtime bike commuter, I’ve often found myself saying that the vast majority of close calls I’ve experienced have been on the SE Spokane neighborhood homestretch as opposed to busier urban and rural roads.

    I can’t count how many times I’ve had to swerve into the opposing lane or squeeze the breaks to the point of skidding in an effort to avoid occasionally inattentive motorist commuters, many of whom use the side streets as shortcuts to the Tacoma/Sellwod Bridge bottleneck and often fail to stop or roll through stop signs without looking both ways for cyclists. This is not to say that most drivers aren’t courteous; they certainly are. Also, it is not to say that bike commuters always comply with intersection etiquette, as I observe that many do not.

    Ultimately, it’s a matter of **everyone** being respectful, patient and observant as commuters, no matter the mode of transportation. I think that the improvements on SE Spokane will certainly cultivate that. I’ll admit that I’ve found myself keeping the lane, as opposed to using the bike channel aspects of the improvements, due to the aforementioned historic need to spot and avoid cars that fail to stop at intersections before advancing into the lane. The speed bumps have certainly slowed traffic of all kinds, which is great, and I am confident that the climate of the important commuter thoroughfare will continue to improve. I aim to adjust my engrained pattern and use the channels more readily.

    I feel grateful to live in a city that is dedicated to improving problem zones within our diverse transportation ecosystem, and I am eager to observe and experience continued improvements in other high-traffic areas, whether I’m walking, biking or occasionally driving in my car when need be.

    Great work, city and community.

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