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First look at new bike lanes through cobblestones on NW Marshall

Posted by on May 6th, 2010 at 9:41 am

New bike lanes on NW Marshall. See what
it will look like when completed below.
(Photo: Paul Peterson)

New bike lanes are being constructed on NW Marshall between 12th and 14th Avenues in the Pearl District — but these aren’t just any bike lanes. What’s notable about this project is that the new lanes are being cut right through historic cobblestones (a move that has irked some local residents who say the cobbles are key to the area’s charm) and they’re part of a larger streetcar project that will make NW Marshall into a bicycle boulevard.

The new bike lanes are part of the Eastside Streetcar Loop project, a $128 million, 3.3 mile extension of the streetcar that will loop from the Pearl District, across the Broadway Bridge and down to OMSI. The project will turn NW Lovejoy and NW Northrup (two blocks north) into an east-west couplet (one-way traffic in each direction). As part of that construction, the bike lanes currently on Lovejoy will be removed and Marshall and NW Johnson (four blocks south) will become the preferred bikeways.

Here’s another photo (both photos were sent in by reader Paul Peterson):

The new lanes will make for a much smoother ride.

PBOT (with sign-off from the Bicycle Advisory Committee) decided that the cobbles on Marshall did not provide the desired level of comfort for people riding bicycles, so the decision was made to pour new pavement to smooth out the ride.

When this idea was first floated to the public back in 2008, some Pearl District residents were not pleased. The NW Examiner detailed the debate (I’m still trying to track down the article) and reader Tom Durkin emailed us calling the idea a “debacle.” When he heard about the plans, he said, “What a bunch of baloney. When REI went in on Kearney, the cobbles were restored. Riding cobbles gives riders the feelings of the past, the old world. I am very unhappy about this project.”

But local design firm Alta Planning, who helped analyze the Marshall alignment, said the treatment is common in European countries with high bike usage. Alta CEO Mia Birk sent me the photo below as evidence:

How the Dutch do it.
(Photo courtesy Mia Birk)

For Birk and PBOT, a bike boulevard on Marshall is part of a larger effort to make the Pearl District the city’s first officially designated “Bicycle District.” For a glimpse of what Marshall might look like when construction is complete, here’s a conceptual drawing by Alta Planning that shows two newly paved, 5-6 foot wide concrete bike lanes and one large lane for motor vehicle travel while preserving all-important curbside parking on both sides:

Concept drawing by Alta Planning showing NW Marshall between 12th and 14th avenues.

The streetcar project is spurring many changes to how bikes get around this area (especially around the Lovejoy ramp onto the Broadway Bridge). Stay tuned for more coverage of what’s in store.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Matthew
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Matthew

Neat! I’m all for historic charm, but I’m also all for NOT bruising my tailbone.

dan
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dan

Heck, if those Paris-Roubaix guys can ride their skinny-tire, gossamer-weight race bikes at 35 mph on cobbles, you’d think us Portlanders could manage it on our commuters. Money not well-spent IMO.

Rogier
Guest
Rogier

Cool. Hopefully they’ll use the removed cobbles to patch the sections ruined by utility companies?

Nick V
Guest
Nick V

#2 Dan,

Exactly what I was thinking. Then again, despite how often I hear Phil Liggett’s voice in my head, I’m not Hincapie or Cancellara.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

I’m with Matthew and Rogier on this one.

Reusing the cobbles +1

Dave
Guest

The nice thing about this, is that keeping the road surface cobbles for automobiles will maintain slow vehicle traffic, along with the narrow street area, and repaving for bikes will give them a smoother ride, allowing them probably to maintain a very similar speed to much of the automobile traffic. It’s not that you couldn’t ride on cobbles, but evening the playing field a little is helpful I think, and street interactions are likely to be calmer and less-stressful when all traffic is moving at similar speeds.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Interesting. The photo Mia Birk sent you of the Netherlands (by the way, I’m so glad our streets aren’t red-pink like that) paving cut for the creation of bike lanes seems to show…not cobblestones being cut for the asphalt bike lane, but bricks, carefully laid with a brick border.

It’s been awhile since I walked or biked down NW Marshal on the cobbles there. I wouldn’t want people to fall because of them, but that probably hasn’t been a big problem (people riding bikes in Europe seem to manage cobbles just fine…racers too…Paris-Roubiaix)…at least not nearly so much as the streetcar tracks have been.

I like the aesthetic the cobblestones add to the city. Walking on them, they require a little adjustment, transitioning from perfectly smooth concrete sidewalk. It’s probably good for physical conditioning.

This cutting cobblestones idea does not seem like an improvement so much as design overkill.

Alexis
Guest

The concept drawing looks like the “bike lanes” are in the door zone. (In Amsterdam, too!) Hope the real ones are a bit better, but it doesn’t look like it from the photo.

I wasn’t able to find much info about this in a web search, but I also hope PBOT is planning to improve the stop sign situations on Marshall and Johnson if they want cyclists to prefer them to Lovejoy. Personally, I love the idea of Lovejoy/Northrup as a one-way couplet. It’s something I discussed in my PSU/PBOT class presentation as a possible solution to the bike/streetcar mixing on Lovejoy. I would probably use Lovejoy instead of Johnson or Marshall (taking the lane; traffic doesn’t go that fast and it’s downhill) unless Johnson and Marshall can be sped up.

Johnson is stop-signed at every intersection except 20th, 17th, and 15th down to 9th (mix of 4-way and 2-way stops), whereas Lovejoy has timed signals that keep traffic moving.

I never ride Marshall since it’s not currently a through route to 23rd (and if that’s not changing, getting people to ride it may be a challenge) but I walk it sometimes and it has a lot of stops as well.

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

East Portland can CHOKE on this!

You guys want sidewalks? Paved roads?

Fuggedaboudit!!

:p

armando
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armando

i think they are just going to flip the stones over. they should be smooth on the other side…

naomi
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naomi

Awesome! My apartment is right over this particular cobblestone street and have been wondering what all the construction was for. Great idea as I hated riding my bike over the stones!

fredlf
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fredlf

Actually feeling something is part of the pleasure of riding a bike. For those whose posteriors are too delicate for cobbles, I recommend one of the many excellent full suspension bicycles you can buy nowadays.

Agreed with AaronF, I would rather spend the money on getting East Skidmore actually paved all the way to Rocky Butte than on this dubious improvement.

Anne Hawley
Guest

@Aaronf #9: I was thinking exactly the same thing. The concentration of beautiful new infrastructure in the lovely property-tax-abated Pearl seems way out of line with reason, unless tourism is the reason. Otherwise I’d have to assume that “the rich get richer” in Portland, and that just could not possibly be.

Brad Ross
Guest

I want more cobbles, not less.

GLV
Guest
GLV

Reusing the cobbles +1

There is precedent for this: the cobblestones you see between the MAX tracks on Yamhill and Morrison are re-purposed cobblestones from old streets.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

So much for the Paris-Roubaix experience.

9watts
Guest
9watts

One of these days we’ll all be happy for cobble stones when the alternative is potholes in asphalt, patching material for which will no longer come so readily and cheaply out of the Middle East. We need to be thinking about *all* the ways our infrastructure is reliant on petroleum products.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

looks more like setts than cobblestones… I wouldn’t want to ride on a real cobblestone street, but those setts aren’t that bad…

but I like the idea of slowing down the cars with the setts and having smooth pavement for the bikes to roll faster… and it’s a physical divider between cars and bikes to help everybody stay it the correct lane…

I also hope they reuse those setts that they cut out…

and in laying new pavement they can use something that’s not slick like those setts likely are in the rain…

f5
Guest
f5

It is a bit too bad that they just sliced through the old cobblestones. I’m sure it’s cheaper in the short run for the city to cut rather than fumble with rearranging and relaying the ends, etc.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Seems like there must be a cheaper solution here. Street trees, bulb outs, some more traffic calming features (besides the cobbles themselves). Put some wider tires on your bike to reduce the jostlin’! This seems like a great street already, but it will be interesting to see the overhauled version.

Dave
Guest
Dave

I have to agree that this seems a bit like overkill, I can’t say that I ever felt like I was connected to the “old world” riding through the Pearl on those cobble stones.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I know it is a bumpy ride…but how sad! A real shame.

Cities around the world are working on recreating this type of street…and Portland does the opposite? This type of street has a 100+ year lifecycle if cared for vs. ~20 for asphalt.

For the riders who complain – Just put some real city tyres on your bike (32mm) and 200m of Belgium block will pass quickly. (As pointed out above.)

I gotta ask – What is the CoP doing over the long run to protect these heritage streets from such short sighted alterations…and unnecessary utility cuts and barbaric patch jobs? They have done a poor job to date.

sam
Guest
sam

Wow. What a waste.

I can’t say riding the cobblestones gives me any feelings of the old world (whatever that is), but it always gives me lots of “dang, my bike is a rattly bike” feelings. Especially when I have something jumping up and down in my basket.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

How do they intend to keep motorists out of the cycle lanes when they’re probably just going to drive in them for a smoother ride themselves?

are
Guest

hard to tell from the info posted to the http://portlandstreetcar.org/index.php website, but it appears lovejoy will be one way east from 23rd to 11th. so when they talk about getting rid of the bike lane on lovejoy they must mean that absurdity on the south side of the street that starts at 14th and keeps jumping up onto the sidewalk. with lovejoy running one way east, of course cyclists can simply take the left lane. but what will the onstreet parking situation be? (or are marshall and johnson supposed to become the mandatory alternate routes for cyclists?)

vanessa
Guest
vanessa

I hope there isn’t really going to be a giant seam/crack in the concrete running parallel down the middle of the track like the artist’s rendering shows. I ride 25/28s, and have a hard enough time negotiating sidewalk cracks like that when it’s dry, let alone wet; I’ve had a lot of near crashes in rain.

daniel
Guest
daniel

Debacle indeed: money and time that could have been better spent, than by ruining a small oasis of charm. Riders who didn’t like riding on the cobblestone could easily have taken another route. Riders who did like it and the people that live in the neighborhood and appreciate it now have no choice, however, than to accept this dubious “improvement.”

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Why are you riding on the sidewalk? That’s not a legal practice except where posted. And why run tires too narrow to safely negotiate a concrete expansion gap?

Dave
Guest

@Paul Johnson: actually, it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk anywhere except downtown proper.

Dave
Guest

Not necessarily advisable, but legal.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

@Dave: At walking speed or less only. Not exactly what most people would call riding.

Dave
Guest

@Paul Johnson: I’m just saying, you basically asked the question “why don’t you ride like me?”, as if that’s a shock or something. Maybe she has a perfectly good reason for riding on the sidewalk from time to time and/or having more narrow tires?

GLV
Guest
GLV

The current bike lane on eastbound Lovejoy does in fact coincide with the sidewalk, between 14th and 13th. This is also the case on SW 5th, between Mill and Montgomery.

Riding a bike on the sidewalk is illegal only between Hoyt/Jefferson and 13th/Naito. See City Code 16.70.320, paragraph E.

http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=28596&a=16278

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

A lot of pro riders have heinous wrecks on the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix, especially when wet. The treacherous riding has helped the race earn its nickname “The Hell of the North.”

Also, much of the race is on regular pavement. The cobbles are just a portion of it.

Just an FYI.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Yeah, all this old world nonsense has got to end. Safety and convenience will ultimately further the cause of increasing cycling attractiveness more than any delusional notion of “honoring” the deficiencies of the past.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

@GLV: That’s not a bicycle lane on the sidewalk, but rather a sidewalk on a median. The bike lane is still part of the roadway, there just happens to be a pedestrian island in the middle of the road.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

@Dave: No, the question isn’t “Why don’t you ride like me?” but rather “Why are you riding like a self-absorbed jerk, endangering any pedestrians that might want to use that space?”

suburban
Guest

It’s lazy to jump-associate cobbles to ‘that race’. The subject of those photos is sad and shameful. I disapprove, and use the word rape.

joel
Guest

1. bummer. i actually really enjoy those cobbled streets. guess ill be riding in the lane! cobbled streets are history, and while there is a safety concern, im sure, im still bummed to see even a section of them go away.

2. the photo of holland? somewhat apples to oranges. thats new bricks, laid between two paved cycletracks, not cycletracks cut through existing cobblestones. street was laid out like that, not retrofitted.

3. as someone whos ridden various paris-roubaix sections, and held a cobble from the arenberg trench in his arms (theyre too big to hold in one hand) – these cobbles dont even remotely compare to those – marshall is as smooth as glass in comparison.

P Finn
Guest

Door Zone-a-rific! Door me, I’m slick!

jim
Guest
jim

some cobblestones would have surely tamed some speedy cyclists that generaly have little regard for anyone but themselves

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“looks more like setts than cobblestones…” Spiffy #18

Spiffy…The term ‘setts’ isn’t one I’m familiar with, but I think I know what you’re referring to: those pavers molded out of concrete. I’m fairly sure these are the real deal…basalt. Word about them that comes up in Portland news stories periodically, is that they were ship ballast re-purposed. Should be fairly easy to tell with a first hand close up look.

Those fake concrete cobbles are ‘o.k.’, but aren’t nothing like the real thing. I don’t know if Portland or even anywhere in Oregon has those big cobbles that Joel #39 is talking about.

I’m kind of curious what citizen design review the treatment for Marshall St might have received before being approved. Certainly not everyone commenting here so far doesn’t care for it, but the vast majority seem not to.

jim
Guest
jim

the cobblestones would have outlasted the new concrete by generations.
They also just destroyed all of the caracter of the street, might as well just pave the whole thing now the damage is done. We have nitwits running the city

Matt
Guest
Matt

I think it’s a waste of money too. Unless there’s some real problem we don’t know about, like that street is a documented high crash zone or something. I’d prefer that the money were spent on some other bike project.

pdxebiker
Guest

I wonder if any car drivers, seeking a smoother ride, will roll their right tires up onto the paved bike lane; it’s signed as a bike lane in the Dutch version, but not in the Alta concept drawing.

jim
Guest
jim

I wonder if any car drivers, seeking a smoother ride
Of coarse they will. did you ever watch a car drive around a speed bump? even if its only 2 wheels it is smoother

Mia Birk
Guest
Mia Birk

Thanks to Jonathan for the article and to all of you for weighing in.

This project was debated in great detail by numerous committees, residents, and the BAC, with all sorts of options considered. The streetcar project will make Lovejoy and Northrup into one-way streets, making functional bike lanes challenging. Interaction with turning streetcar tracks was the biggest problem.
From our surveys, meetings, and research, we found near universal discomfort with the current bike lanes on Lovejoy. Better would be protected cycle tracks (like on SW Broadway near PSU) but this would have required trade-off with all on-street parking.
The various committees were 100% in sync that Marshall would be a better option, but ONLY if the the City could create a smoother riding surface. The clear message was that Marshall must become a world-class bikeway in order to justify losing bike lanes on Lovejoy.
I too share an appreciation for the aesthetic quality of cobblestones, and I personally ride a utilitarian bike with fat-enough tires to not be bothered by cobbles, but we heard loud and clear that the many skinny-tired bike users would not use and were very passionately frustrated by the bumpy cobbles. Although residents of the Netherlands almost universally use sturdy-tired bikes, we have a much wider variety of bike types. It is our responsibility to accomodate all these types; we’re all part of the solution.

It is my understanding that the cobbles will be reused elsewhere. We recommended a number of changes to the stop signs and intersections to create a smoother ride, and also a number of changes at 9th/Lovejoy.

I would simply ask folks to reserve judgement until the streetcar and other changes are complete and we’ve all had time to get used to it. Again, thanks for weighing in.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

nobody chooses to ride on cobbles over smooth pavement. those pros in P-R would rather ride the little dirt track to the side of the cobbles.. anything to avoid them, really.

k.
Guest
k.

They should have preserved the cobbles. There are plenty of other streets to develop as bike routes.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Mia Birk, I appreciate your taking the time to give us readers a little summary of the review process that led to the approval of this bike lane design through the cobbles. Sounds as though you put in some hard work yourself. Thanks! With that said:

“…but we heard loud and clear that the many skinny-tired bike users would not use and were very passionately frustrated by the bumpy cobbles. …” Mia Birk

The ‘skinny-tired bike users’. Hah! Exactly how many blocks does the cobbled section of Marshall run? If I remember correctly, not many…6? 8?. They’re confined to the formerly industrial section of Portland east of I-405 that became the cushy ‘Pearl’ district.

I ride skinny tires..23’s. It’s not that big a deal riding over those cobbles. Riders have to ride a little bit slower, and more carefully, but that’s about it; lift more of the bod’s weight onto the pedals and off the saddle for this short section.

Keeping a little bit of the old stuff around can be a good thing. For example, it seems to me the city might have considered leaving a block or two of the graveled street up on…I think it was on NW 12th or 13th. It was kind of fun for a change of pace, walking or biking. Oh no…that had to become asphalt too.