‘Pocket park’ and cycle-track: A closer look at the NE Holman bike boulevard project

PBOT’s latest plans for a new, traffic calming park on NE Holman at 13th.

It’s not very often that City of Portland Bureau of Transportation staffers hear rapturous cheers during neighborhood meetings, but it happened last night when over 50 northeast Portland residents packed into the Concordia University library to learn more about the NE Holman Street bike boulevard project.

Standing room only crowd.
(Photos © J. Maus)

This open house was a follow-up to an initial PBOT presentation about the project last month. Like they did at that first meeting, nearby residents expressed full support for the project. Cheers erupted from the standing-room only crowd when PBOT announced plans for two specific pieces of the project; the crossing of busy Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. and plans for a “pocket park” at Holman and NE 13th.

The pocket park idea would be a first for Portland. The plan is to expand the footprint of an existing, tiny park (it’s about the size of a standard house lot, check it out on Google Maps) on the southwest corner of Holman and NE 13th (a park that nearby residents have recently turned into a community meeting place). PBOT wants to extend the park all the way across Holman while maintaining a 12-foot wide cut-through for biking and walking traffic. (see map graphic at top of story).

“What you’d end up with is a much larger community space that is also functioning as a traffic safety feature.”
— Greg Raisman, PBOT traffic safety expert

Greg Raisman, a traffic safety and bike boulevard expert on PBOT’s staff says, “What you’d end up with is a much larger community space that is also functioning as a traffic safety feature.”

PBOT has already met with the Bureau of Environmental Services to discuss the use of bioswales (that treat stormwater runoff) for much of the park’s landscaping. Many details still need to be worked out (who would be responsible for maintenance of the park is a big one), but Raisman says they’re committed to “getting to yes” and making it happen.

In addition to several cheers from the crowd, one nearby resident thanked PBOT profusely for their commitment to this park idea, saying “This opportunity is huge for us in the neighborhood. Thank you!”

Plans for crossing MLK at NE Holman.

In addition to the pocket park at 13th, the other marquee piece of the Holman bike boulevard project (that also elicited cheers) is the crossing of Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd.

Since Holman doesn’t continue straight across MLK, at the first open house PBOT proposed using Highland Avenue as the approach on the west side of the street. But after hearing feedback, they’ve now decided to use Holman (which is south of Highland) on both sides of crossing.

To make MLK safer to bike and walk across, PBOT will add a new signal and crosswalk and do a major lane reconfiguration to create space for a two-way cycle track on the west side of the street.

The new cycle track will run for about a half a block and will feature two, six-foot wide bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle traffic via a two-foot wide jersey barrier. There will also be a five-foot wide planter strip and a six-foot sidewalk. Space for this will be created by the removal of the center turn lane and narrowing of other existing lanes.

Because a $250,000 traffic signal is needed (due to high speed and volume of car traffic on MLK), the construction of this crossing might be delayed until the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Other Holman Ave. project highlights include various combinations of curb extensions, bioswales, crosswalks, and median islands at crossings of NE 15th, 33rd, and 42nd. And, like all their bike boulevard projects, PBOT will also install new signage, sharrows, speed bumps, and wayfinding signs along the route.

PBOT’s Greg Raisman explains the pocket park
to a woman who lives near it.

While there was overwhelming support for the project at the open house last night, there were also questions and concerns raised. The crowd — which was a diverse mix of ages, ethnicities and occupations — wondered about loss of on-street parking (no major parking removal is planned), whether or not the bumpy road surface would be improved (it won’t be — but Raisman said being a bike boulevard would raise the priority level of the street for future resurfacing and added, “We can either do everything you see in this proposal or we could re-surface just three blocks”), whether stop signs would be removed or added (yes and yes), and more.

To their credit, PBOT had excellent and candid answers to all the questions and even had a traffic engineer (Scott Batson) on hand who took notes and provided technical authority.

Funding for this project is already (mostly) secured and PBOT hopes to have it fully completed by July 2011.

PBOT is currently working on six other bike boulevard projects in addition to this one and they’re moving full-steam ahead. Last night Raisman told me the only thing that can slow them down is a lack of community support, so get involved and show up to a future open house in your neighborhood.

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