Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 18th, 2011 at 12:15 pm
free kettle corn and childcare
you get a great turnout.
(Photos © J. Maus)
The open house for PBOT’s North Williams Avenue Traffic Safety Operations Project drew a large crowd to the Immaculate Heart Catholic Church on Saturday. The event was the first time the public got a chance to see how PBOT and their Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) would tackle the traffic issues on this vital neighborhood street that has become the second busiest bikeway in the entire city.
PBOT and project consultants did an excellent job setting up the event, making it easy to leave input and having plenty of staff on hand to answer questions and explain the project. At one station, attendees were asked to place up to three notes at areas of concern. See the level of participation in the photo below taken by Steve Bozzone (the area shown is between N. Beech and Shaver):
It’s not surprising that this project has stirred so much interest. Williams runs through the heart of a neighborhood that has seen significant shifts in demographic — and transportation — trends in recent years. This project isn’t just about vehicle lanes and parking, it’s about change. And change isn’t easy or exciting for everyone.
One long-time Williams Avenue resident told me she didn’t think anything should change. “This is all different,” she said, pointing to the posters with concept drawings on them, “Change is hard. It works just fine for me.”
But Williams doesn’t work “just fine” for everyone. The current bikeway leads to nasty door-zones, bus-bike conflicts (a.k.a. “leapfrogging”) and the 5-6 foot bike lane simply isn’t big enough to handle the volume (and varying speeds) of bike traffic.
PBOT shared some interesting ways to deal with these issues. Here’s a proposed way to handle bus/bike conflicts that would create a bus stop platform in a parking lane with a cycle-track running curbside:
As for expanding bike capacity, I like this dual bike lane idea (which already exists heading west onto Hawthorne Bridge).
Like I reported last week, in all but one segment of Williams, PBOT is likely to re-allocate existing lanes in order to make more room for bike traffic. However, in arguably the most important section — the dense commercial district from Cook to Skidmore (PBOT calls it Segment 4) — PBOT is leaning toward simply adding new traffic signals (to manage speeds).
Segment 4 currently has two vehicle travels, two on-street parking lanes, and one five-foot bike lane. PBOT’s reluctance to alter that layout is due to concerns about congestion and push-back from businesses who are afraid they’ll lose on-street parking.
“If the community says, ‘we want a more robust bike facility,’ we’ll certainly listen to that.”
— Rob Burchfield, City Traffic Engineer
Three new signals would mean six straight blocks of signalized intersections. This would give PBOT the ability to dictate vehicle speeds. That’s a nice improvement, but speed of cars isn’t the only issue that makes biking feel unsafe in this area. Not only that, but there’s no money available to pay for any new signals.
Many people made it clear at the open house that the preferred solution in Segment 4 would be to re-allocate roadway space — going from two vehicle lanes to one — in order to create a larger and more comfortable bikeway.
City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield said whatever they do will come down to “finding the right balance” between community feedback and operational issues. “If the community says, ‘we want a more robust bike facility,’ we’ll certainly listen to that.”
Judging from the outpouring of support for making Williams one-lane in this section, I think PBOT is listening now.
Steve Bozzone, a citizen activist with Active Right of Way who has been rallying support for a better bikeway, said after the open house, “If we don’t end up with the best Williams for walking and biking, it won’t be for lack of public support.”
Open House attendee Mary Bennett doesn’t even bike on Williams and she says reducing it to one lane would be, “so much more civilized.” “I’d like to see a single lane,” she said, “The more opportunity vehicles have to pass, the faster they’ll go.” Bennett wants more space for the bikeway because she fears hitting someone on a bike when she opens her car door.
But, as mentioned above, not everyone at the open house is eager for these changes.
Before I left the open house, I sat down with a lifelong Williams area resident to hear a different perspective on the project (thanks to one of the project’s consultants for pointing her out to me).
Sharon Maxwell-Hendricks grew up in the neighborhoods around N. Williams Avenue. She’s been a member at the Life Change Christian Center (Beech and Williams) for 23 years and has owned a business on Williams for 13 years. Maxwell-Hendricks feels like these changes are being driven by a small group of “bicyclists” and that bicycle traffic should use N Rodney (a side-street a few blocks over) because reducing access for motor vehicles on Williams will hurt area businesses.
“It feels like a small percentage of bicyclists are driving the changes.”
During our conversation, Maxwell-Hendricks made several references to the term “bicyclist group,” as the ones pushing for these changes, so I asked why she used that term.
“Because that’s what I feel like it is. Because, it seems like it’s [bicycling] lately been a part of the whole gentrification and urban yuppie groups and something that’s being more pushed, not because it has momentum and everyone’s like, ‘It’s great! wow, we want to do this!’
I don’t feel like they’re including everybody. And then the comments I see in a lot of the newsletters… They always say things that are so negative and derogatory… Like low-income people can’t afford bikes. I’m going, ‘huh?’ There’s a disconnect. It seems like they’re in their little clique and they’re connecting the dots for themselves and they’re the ones that are creating the elite.”
Do you see people bicycling in your neighborhood? I asked.
Do you feel they’re part of that “group”?
“I don’t know that. I can’t say that. That would be wrong. That’s just like me saying, I see a young man walking down the street and, because he’s black, he’s a gang member.”
Maxwell-Hendricks is also concerned that a bike-centric street might negatively impact motor vehicle access and hurt local business development.
“If a business is looking for a high volume of customers, than how’s that going to happen if it’s just all bicyclists?… What if you want people to be able to get there and their mode of transportation is not a bicycle?… How do those people get to your business if the street is not inviting to them? If there’s no parking, where’s the parking for these businesses? Those are all valid and huge concerns for people who are not bicycling.”
I think Maxwell-Hendricks understands that motor vehicle access will not completely go away in any scenario being considered. But even so, her fears are deeply rooted in an opinion that, as a matter of culture, people of color in North Portland will simply never take to the streets on bicycles except for things like Bridge Pedal recreational rides.
“If I’m going to ride a bike to a location, how is that going to make me look when I get there? My hair’s going to be all screwed up, it could be raining and wet, people want to feel comfortable when they arrive to the location. It just, it’s not very conducive to a majority, as far as, what they would consider a viable transportation mode…
The whole thing about hygiene and personal presentation once you get somewhere, you know, that is really huge.”
I tried, somewhat in jest, to share with Maxwell-Hendricks that, if we created more comfortable bikeways (like the ones being proposed on Williams) people wouldn’t have to wear helmets and could bike with their Sunday church outfits on. She wasn’t persuaded, “I want to be safe when I’m riding a bike. I’m not going to put on some high heels… No, there’s more to it than that.”
Maxwell-Hendricks is right. There is a lot to it.
PBOT and project staff will now take all the feedback from the open house to help inform the next round of design options. Stay tuned to BikePortland and check out the official project page for more information.