Williams Ave getting repaved: Can we get a wider bike lane?

Williams Avenue torn up-12

Williams is getting repaved. Any opportunity
to repaint with a wider bikeway?
(Photo © J. Maus)

In May 2006, a quick-thinking Bureau of Transportation employee, Jeff Smith, got a phone call from a maintenance crew leader who was about to re-stripe the southern end of N. Vancouver Avenue. The street had been repaved and the crew was about to lay down the same lane striping it had before — two vehicle lanes, two parking lanes, and no bike lane.

Smith saw an opportunity to reconfigure the roadway and install a crucial “missing link” in the bikeway. He acted fast, gaining approval form the city traffic engineer and a few hours later the road was re-striped with a nice, wide bike lane.

Traffic on Williams.

Right now, maintenance crews are doing a similar project just a few blocks away on N Williams. The street is getting repaved from Broadway to Stanton. The street currently has a bike lane, but it is too narrow and it does not adequately serve the high volume of bike traffic it receives (an issue we’ve reported on at length).

Is there an opportunity for a similar roadway reconfiguration and improvement to the bikeway this time around?

After talking with PBOT, I learned the current roadway is 40 feet. For most of the section getting repaved, there are two parking lanes (8 and 7 feet wide), two standard vehicle lanes (10 feet each) and a bike lane (5 feet).

Unfortunately, I also learned that the current plan is to replace the existing lane configuration.

As a consolation, PBOT will soon be doing a comprehensive evaluation of Williams to learn the options for improving the bikeway (which could include a cycle track). The results of that evaluation will be followed by a public process and then someday — if the promises and the funds ever come to fruition — we might have a safe and comfortable bikeway on this street.

With summer bike traffic on the way, I say let’s get an interim improvement on the ground. Now.

At the moment, we’ve got 15 feet set aside so we can park private vehicles on the road and we have 5 feet set aside for the hundreds of people who pedal through here every day. Even if PBOT widened the bike lane just for the first block north of Broadway (to Hancock, where the parking lane begins), it would help alleviate the dangerous bike congestion we see today.

What do you think?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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aljee
aljee
13 years ago

i think i will stick to Mississippi.
agreed though, now is MUCH better than later.

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

I’d love a wider lane! Though I do think that a lot of the dangerous bike congestion on Williams is centered around people playing “leap frog” on their way home. It’s such a long straight road it’s hard not to want to ride fast.

Allan
Allan
13 years ago

Cycle track! Now!

Oliver
Oliver
13 years ago

No excuse not to widen the lane now.

Talk about a cutting through red-tape, that Vancouver story is a wonderful example of what is possible. Looks like the system has it’s hooks firmly implanted in the Williams situation now…”we’ll convene a committee to discuss funding a study to determine if we should proceed with raising funds to schedule a vote on putting contracts out to bid….”

btw.

The “leap frog” routine is due to the congestion, not the other way around. If we all lined up single file behind the slowest rider on the commute home, it’d be wheel to wheel backed up through the rose quarter.

Peter Smith
Peter Smith
13 years ago

yeah — cars can’t have 35 ft of roadway while leaving only 5 ft for bikes. cars have to give up one of the parking lanes, or one of their travel lanes.

cgunn
cgunn
13 years ago

its most dangerous when the bus is there because it is almost impossible not to play leap frog with it, even riding at a regular pace.

the parking on street makes it so much more dangerous. especially when people drive in from farther away who do not really know that there is a bike lane on that street.

parking needs to be taken out! or maybe limited to short term? or maybe there should be no parking allowed during rush hour? say, maybe no parking from 4-6 p.m.? its done in many places all over town.

matt picio
13 years ago

I’d stick to Rodney, thanks. Too much bike traffic on Williams. That said, I’d love to see them lose the right-hand parking lane from Broadway to Knott and do a wider bike lane – most of that is warehouse-type businesses and not residential. After Knott there’s a lot of residential and that’s their parking area.

c
c
13 years ago

Cycle track now, please! I’m sick of feeling unsafe on Williams as I’m squeezed into that tiny bike lane while automobiles get two lanes + a parking lane.

Joe Rowe
Joe Rowe
13 years ago

A cycle track would help everyone and save money. If the city has money for so much road work (Couch/Burnside) they can tell the work crew to spend a bit more time on a safe cycle track.

When time is not a factor, I avoid Williams Ave and use the quiet parallel street one block east, Rodney Ave.

PDX Rider
PDX Rider
13 years ago

Please widen this bike lane!

A cyclist that was passing me was hit by a car passing him. The biker was pushed into me and he crashed in the middle of the car lane. I was able to stay upright and pulled over. This happened in front of Pizza A Go-Go, many blocks north of Broadway.

A wider bike lane is needed now! Cars should be using MLK anyway. Make it one lane for cars, and car traffic will still flow freely at a slower, safer pace!

Allan
Allan
13 years ago

Rodney does not satisfy my fast-paced lifestyle. I think the real solution is to narrow Williams to 1 lane. The only time drivers would even notice is at intersections. It would help pedestrians cross as well. PBOT – make it happen

Peter Smith
Peter Smith
13 years ago

Too much bike traffic on Williams.

yeah – nobody goes there anymore — it’s too crowded! 😉

i’m with the FTA Chief — paint is cheap.

Allan
Allan
13 years ago

What about a bike lane and a bike passing lane and some buffer? Flip the parking so you have it like this:

[ 8 ft park][ 10ft lane][8 ft park][2 ft buffer][ 6 foot bike lane][ 6 foot bike lane]

mikeybikey
mikeybikey
13 years ago

can we use freedom of information to obtain memos, emails, discussions of this facility up to date? as citizens, we need to arm ourselves with the facts so that when the day comes that someone is seriously injured or killed on this dangerously inadequate facility, we can bring the political and financial weight to PBOT’s front door. these delays, the stalling on safety like we have seen with the broadway/williams bike lane is the externalization of risk and cost of injury or death onto the victims. it is not acceptable.

mabsf
mabsf
13 years ago

One returning theme in our comments seems to be the slow vs the fast bike commuter — couldn’t we work out a system? Main streets for the fast commuters, side streets for the regular commuter/commuter with kids? Perhaps alternative routes on the bike map?

Stig
Stig
13 years ago

Many Portland bike lanes are only a few inches wide after considering hazards the contain, usually in the form of storm drains.

Alexis
Alexis
13 years ago

Wider lane: yes please. So much of the existing lane is in the door zone!

fool
fool
13 years ago

the numbers i’d heard in your previous reporting (i think? maybe it was another source, but you’re my primary source..), jonathan, was *thousands* of cyclists a day, not hundreds. i seem to recall a census from somewhere saying 2,000 at least? i’ve seen a hundred on the road during rush hour during my commute, easily, and i’ve never not seen someone else on it when i use it, even at 4am.

don’t understate our case =)

Sook
Sook
13 years ago

As a resident and bike commuter of North Williams, I’m in favor of a wider bike lane or a track, but my only reservation, if at all, would be increased congestion with cars having to jam into one lane vs. two. Backing out of my driveway may be additionally difficult. Does anyone know, based on any other similar studies, if this will indeed increase congestion or divert car traffic to other routes, such as MLK or Interstate?

mh
mh
13 years ago

At very least, if 7′ is sufficient for parking on one side of the street, it’s sufficient for parking on the other side. Slightly less chance of being doored if the extra foot is part of the bike lane rather than the adjacent parking lane.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

“couldn’t we work out a system? Main streets for the fast commuters, side streets for the regular commuter/commuter with kids?”

Yet when all cyclists are told to use quieter streets instead of the main thoroughfares you will be the first to complain about cyclist’s rights to the road being infringed upon.

Ronnie
Ronnie
13 years ago

Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down That Parking Lane!

encephalopath
encephalopath
13 years ago

It hard to talk about peak commute time auto congestion without mentioning the V word. But somehow that hasn’t come up yet.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)

Is it worth mentioning that I-5 runs just a block away and is directly parallel with Williams?

here’s a fun hypothetical…

can you imagine if I-5 was only for bikes and people were saying they wanted to maintain all four lanes for bikes on an adjacent street, Williams, at the expense of one narrow lane for cars that was bursting at the seams?

Rodney is not a feasible alternative. Yes, it works, but that’s not the point. People who choose to ride bikes shouldn’t have to scamper away and hide like cockroaches to avoid being smashed. I refuse to be a cockroach.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith
13 years ago

I think that every time we see PBOT spending money near an important (or intended to be important) bicycle facility, we need to ask ourselves (and PBOT) the question “are we getting the maximum advantage of this spending”? Repainting this lane at 5 feet does not meet that test.

So let’s not just talk about it, let’s do something. Suggestions:

1) Call Catherine Ciarlo, the Mayor’s transportation director, at (503) 823-4290 (I have)

2) Sign up for one of the five “Council Communications” slots each week and tell City Council how you feel about this (http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?a=63123&c=34447#2)

This should be an easy ask. We can improve the safety of this important facility without spending one penny more, we just need to spend it smarter.

Grand Master
13 years ago

Somebody buy Jeff Smith a beer! on a serious note I would say some of the problem with the south end of N. Williams IS the light at Broadway (like reported on before) it changes too quickly for cyclists to get through safely without sprinting from Weidler. Obviously, the only real efficient, affordable and effective solution for all this bike traffic would be to install a ramp meter or metering light like on freeway on ramps.

Bob_M
Bob_M
13 years ago

Somebody give Jeff Smith an Alice B Toeclips award

JE
JE
13 years ago

“As a consolation, PBOT will soon be doing a comprehensive evaluation of Williams to learn the options for improving the bikeway (which could include a cycle track). The results of that evaluation will be followed by a public process and then someday — if the promises and the funds ever come to fruition — we might have a safe and comfortable bikeway on this street.”

In other words, PBOT is building now, and hopes to have a plan later. Shouldn’t those be the other way around?

JDL
JDL
13 years ago

My suggestion: Use this opportunity to remove on-street parking from the right (East) side of Williams. That provides a wider bike lane and leaves the two car lanes. Is there really very much demand for parking on Williams?

Aaronf
Aaronf
13 years ago

Maus@24

I used to take Rodney to work every morning, and I never once felt like a scampering cockroach. I don’t see why Rodney isn’t a feasable alternative. Would you mind explaining that?

I think it’s fine how it is. Use your brain and pass with caution on Williams… or take Rodney!

Andrew
Andrew
13 years ago

Thanks for that number, Chris. I just left a message. I hope everyone here does the same!

1) Call Catherine Ciarlo, the Mayor’s transportation director, at (503) 823-4290

Adams Carroll (News Intern)

Aaronf,

I should have clarified…

I like Rodney too and have used it a lot in the past… So yes, it is feasible in terms of it actually being possible… but I want people to realize that it’s not something we should say, “Oh, what we have on Williams is fine because we can always just go over Rodney if we want a bit more room.”

It’s about “A to B” and wanting good options on main streets… we can’t build our bikeway system with a bunch of backstreet alternatives at the expense of main street access.

And Williams might be “fine the way it is” for some people, but it’s not as fine as it needs to be to reach the ridership goals the City is shooting for.

Andrew
Andrew
13 years ago

AaronF:

Rodney has a lot of stop signs, no bike lane, and is significantly slower. Williams is the natural thoroughfare and should be as easy and safe to cycle on as possible.

ac
ac
13 years ago

i ride this corridor every day, and the tight spot is from the light at Russell up to the park. The bike lane squeezes to 4′ as it bypasses the traffic island.

i actually don’t have a problem with the 5′-0″ bike lane striping otherwise.

i’m not against a wider lane, but this is a significant corridor for cars too because of the hospital, access to Fremont Br, and also that it’s got few lights for folks headed north…that’s why we like it, right? it’s not MLK with all the lights

KJ
KJ
13 years ago

My issue with Rodney outside the stop signs slowing one down is crossing Shaver? I think…you have to take a jog right then left and the traffic is so busy it takes forever. (Ok what feels like forever.)

Aaronf
Aaronf
13 years ago

Jmaus says:
“It’s about “A to B” and wanting good options on main streets”

Ok. But how do you determine “Main Streets?”

Are Bicycle Blvds all on Main Streets?

Are main streets the ones with lots of automotive traffic?

I wonder what ridership goal “The City” really has… assuming that “The City” includes decision makers and policy influencers outside of city government, and the Bicycle Plan isn’t the beginning and end of The City’s goals.

It seems like if The City was really that serious about getting bikes to feel welcome on “main streets” there wouldn’t be any cars parked along Hawthorne.

Right?

To me… it just makes more sense to wait and ask for something you are more likely to actually get… I guess I’m not much of an advocate!

Adams Carroll (News Intern)

Aaronf,

Main streets are commercial streets where all the shops/cafes/services are located.

The problem with bike boulevards is they are on backstreets and they do not allow people to reach most destinations.

And yes, you’re right… if the City was serious there would be no more parking on Hawthorne, Alberta, Mississippi, etc…

david
david
13 years ago

so, i don’t see this as a safety issue, and i think it’s somewhat irresponsible to call it such without citing any data in support. one comment (#10) described a crash situation, but there’s not really a conclusion to be drawn there other than that the overtaking bicycle was involved in a crash. it’s also unclear whether bus “leapfrogging” has actually led to even minor crashes – bicycle, car, pedestrian, or other – on this corridor. so let’s please stop throwing around the “dangerous” and “unsafe” monikers; such labels – when applied subjectively – undermine their use where it actually is appropriate and demonstrable (broadway & williams, for example).

from most of the comments, it actually seems like congestion and delay are the real drivers for reconfiguring the lanes. i know this repaving project only goes north to stanton, but let’s assume that the reconfiguration being asked for would stretch all the way from weidler (more or less the start of the heavily-trafficked bicycle corridor) to shaver (north of which bicycle, automobile, and bus volumes drop off precipitously, to the point where i can’t really envision any change being necessary), a distance of ~1.2 miles. it’s difficult for me to imagine a fix that would entirely eliminate bus leapfrogging, so let’s say there’s a fixed 1-minute delay for every rider (passing three buses over the length of the corridor, with a 20-second delay per bus). there are also three signals throughout the length of the corridor (russell, fremont, and shaver), and i don’t really see those being removed, modified, or optimized further. so that basically puts the focus on delay caused by having a single bike lane rather than two side-by-side lanes (which could potentially alleviate some of the leapfrogging) or a wide bike lane/cycle track. so, how much delay is there? PBOT’s numbers put daily riders on williams at ~2,700 (actually an aggregate for all movements through the intersection of williams & russell, but let’s assume they’re all traveling on williams and that it works for the whole corridor), and i’m going to estimate that those riders fall roughly into the following speed categories:

– slowest (10% of riders; 8-10 mph = 7-9 min corridor travel time)
– average (85% of riders; 12-15 mph = 5-6 min corridor travel time)
– fastest (5% of riders; 17-20 mph = 3-4 min corridor travel time)

giving the following delay per group*:

– slowest: 270 riders; 0 min/day
– average: 2,295 riders; average delay = 3 min/person/day, or 6,885 total min/day (assuming the delay is caused by riders in the ‘slowest’ category)
– fastest: 135 riders; average delay = 5.5 min/person/day, or 743 total min/day (assuming the delay is caused by riders in the ‘slowest’ category)

*these numbers assume that fast and average speed riders simply can’t pass the slowest riders using the existing configuration, and are forced to travel at the slowest rate for the entire length of the corridor. i’ve been passed by enough folks on williams to know this isn’t the case, but it works for the sake of argument.

so basically, the congestion story boils down to 3 minutes of delay/day for the vast majority of people on bikes, and roughly 5.5 min/day for a small minority of very speedy riders. is that enough delay to justify reconfiguring the roadway? on the face of it, i’d say yes (and i typically ride slow enough that i’d hardly stand to benefit much from the travel time savings!), but that’s without knowing how potential reconfigurations might impact travel time and safety for ALL modes.

my initial reaction was that a lot of the congestion resulting from average speed and fast riders getting caught behind the slowest riders could be alleviated by removing parking in targeted and strategic locations and adding a bicycle passing lane and perhaps a buffer on the auto lane side (for example, remove a block of parking every 4-5 blocks to provide passing lanes and buffers). but that’s the type of facility improvement that would require the comprehensive evaluation described and ridiculed above. and i suppose that’s my point. i think it would be ill-conceived to just remove a travel lane or eliminate a lane of parking without doing this type of evaluation in advance; just because it worked on nearby vancouver – which has pretty different roadway and land use characteristics – doesn’t mean it would go over smoothly for everyone on williams. i’m all for improving this corridor – and if doing so efficiently means delaying the planned repaving project (as i believe #25 suggests) then so be it – but not at the expense of a process that gives us the best possible set of solutions.

just saying.

Paul Cone
Paul Cone
13 years ago

Crossing Fremont on Rodney during evening rush hour is not for the faint of heart (because it jogs due to misaligned platting of taxlots way back in the day), so to say Rodney is safe all the way is disingenuous.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)

david,

thanks for the analysis, but I feel you are missing an important point.

This IS an unsafe, uncomfortable place to ride a bike and not only because of the congestion. I do not rely on crash statistics to make that statement, I rely on my own experience and knowledge.

Fact is, many city employees/engineers bring up “crash history” in determining how safe/unsafe a location is. There’s a huge problem with that type of analysis because:
1) We know bike crashes are way under-reported and many of them do not even make into the DMV stats the city uses.

and 2) The fact is that many people who are new and/or more novice riders won’t even ride in this location because they don’t like how close the fast-moving cars are.

I realize we’re all for improving this corridor, but I just wanted to make sure that if there was any shred of a chance/opportunity to make something happen sooner rather than later/never that people were aware of the chance and the City stopped to think one last about taking it.

Anon
Anon
13 years ago

I think Williams could use a left-side and wider bike lane instead of a left-side parking lane. That could create space to ride and alleviate some of the bus-bike leapfrog.
I agree, the short cycle of the light on Weidler & Williams is a significant reason for the congestion. But the block of Williams between Weidler and Broadway could be used to shift bike traffic to the left side of Williams, similarly to how bikes are shifted left of the bus zone at Rose Quarter Terrace, and then right again to go north on Wheeler.

jv
jv
13 years ago

I ride this as it is now all un-striped and I like it – sort of a nice wide vehicular free for all.

That said, the real solution is to move the bike lane to the left-hand side, make the bike lane wider, and remove the left hand car parking except for at some specific parts. This will keep busses all on the right side of the road and away from the bike lane, and there could be a staggered bike signal on Broadway and Williams so that bike traffic doesn’t mix with the I-5 on ramp.

resopmok
resopmok
13 years ago

My thoughts for what they’re worth: Leave on-street parking on the far right side of the road as is. Reconfigure the bike lane to a buffered bike lane as on Holgate or downtown on Stark St. Leave two auto travels lanes to the left of the bike lane, the leftmost of which allows parking except from 4-6pm. Bravo to Jeff Smith for the quick thinking and action – I don’t see why something similar is not possible here.

anonymous
anonymous
13 years ago

I think it would be difficult to entirely remove parking on both the right and the left. As much as it seems to make sense, it would make it unfair for people who live along N. Williams. I think the best scenario would be to widen the bike lane, but buffer it from the traffic lanes and parking, and reducing car traffic to one lane.

are
are
13 years ago

re comment 41, you shift bikes to the left before broadway, you have motorists exiting for the highway across bike traffic.

you got about ten, twelve thousand cars a day to about stanton, drops off dramatically farther north. the striping itself is the problem to about russell. (the pinch point at graham is horrible, and a poster child for repealing the mandatory sidepath law.)

getting rid of the striping altogether and putting down sharrows would be one approach. dedicating the right travel lane entirely to bike traffic would be another. (under either scenario, getting rid of a lot of onstreet parking, especially along the east side of the road, should be a no-brainer.)

but that motor volume is gonna go somewhere.

C.J.
C.J.
13 years ago

I am in complete agreement with widening and/or putting a buffer on Williams. I ride Williams home every day, and I have noticed something: the majority of auto’s use the left lane anyways because of how many cyclists are commuting. The main issue I see is the amount of Bus traffic and the parking issue. The thought of getting doored and then getting run over by a bus is constantly running through my mind.

Kyle
Kyle
13 years ago

If the city wants to get serious about bike infrastructure, this is ground zero. Bicycle traffic congestion is bad, cars can’t safely use the right lane. Kill the parking there, there are plenty of other parking places around. The painted quick lane is nice, but it isn’t making the lane wider because cars are parking in it.

beth h
13 years ago

Honestly, I’ve gotten more grief from fast riders than from motorists along this stretch. Relegating slower riders to one street and faster riders to another street (# 38) is ridiculous until bicyclists have true road parity.

Meanwhile, if you’re a speed demon, be nice out there. Let slower riders know of your approach and intent to pass, and don’t try to beat me to the intersection. If I know you’re bearing down on me I’m just as likely to let you pass.

Rico
Rico
13 years ago

Count the Washington plates at rush hour. Many people are trying to save 5 minutes by bypassing I-5 traffic. I’m not sure anything can be done about that with a repaving project though. Toll the bridge now!

John
13 years ago

Tension between slow & fast riders was inevitable. Passing or riding fast can be seen as dangerous to slower riders, but for those who do so responsibly, they have a right to a timely commute to school/work/etc. They’re still less of a threat, and slower, than millions of cars on highways. That said, I welcome the casual or newer rider. On a busy street, two lanes is the answer.