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City gets push-back on 12th Ave bike access improvement plans

The City is trying to convince central eastside business interests that improving bike access on the NE 12th Avenue overpass won’t negatively impact freight truck access.
(Photo © J. Maus)

“Businesses… are concerned that our efforts on facilitating bike commutes have become a zero-sum game, where facilitating bikes equals restricting trucks and autos… Jobs are at stake here in the Central Eastside. We cannot afford to alienate the economic pillars of our community.”
— David Lorati, President of the Central Eastside Industrial Council

City of Portland Bureau of Transportation is facing opposition as it tries to improve bike access on the 12th Avenue overpass of I-84 in the Lloyd District. The Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC) has written a letter to PBOT expressing “serious concerns” about the project and has requested a one year delay in the planning process. And today, an opinion piece has been published in The Oregonian saying the project will “strangle freight access.”

The project has gotten enough heat that sources say the office of Mayor Sam Adams has now “taken an interest” and his transportation policy advisor is meeting with the CEIC today.

Last week, the CEIC president David Lorati fired off a letter to PBOT project manager Ellen Vanderslice saying, “local businesses still have very serious concerns about the design options being considered.”

Here’s another excerpt from that letter (PDF here) which gives you a clear sense of the CEIC’s perspective:

“Businesses… are seriously concerned that our efforts on facilitating bike commutes have become a zero-sum game, where facilitating bikes equals restricting trucks and autos.

Jobs are at stake here in the Central Eastside. We cannot afford to alienate the economic pillars of our community, whether intentional or not. They will not show up at yet another meeting and announce their dissatisfaction with our plans…they will quietly make plans to find a better place for their employees and vendors to conduct business. We simply can’t allow this to continue to happen.”

And today, former City Council candidate and former member of the Portland Small Business Advisory Council, Dave Lister, penned an opinion piece against the project in The Oregonian.

Lister wrote:

“… bicycle infrastructure and traffic changes on Interstate 84’s 12th Avenue overpass that could strangle freight access not only for Franz [Bakery] but for the entire central east side. Eleven hundred businesses — including old-time Portland institutions like Standard Dairy, Portland Bottling, Mesher Supply and Wink’s Hardware — and the 18,000 jobs they provide could be impacted.”

At issue is something we touched on after the project’s first open house in early March: how the bike access improvements might impact freight movement on NE 12th.

Currently on 12th, the bike lanes disappear as you ride over the overpass. In order to create better access for all users, PBOT wants to re-allocating space on the overpass to make room for a bicycle only lane (we detailed the options being considered here).

Aerial view of the overpass.

From early on in the project, Franz Bakery and Portland Bottling Co., expressed concerns that bike lanes would inhibit their ability to drive trucks on the overpass — a vital connection between I-84 and their factories. One rep from Franz Bakery I spoke with last month said about 400 trucks per day, some as long as 105 feet make the left turn (southbound) from NE Lloyd to NE 12th.

PBOT has been aware of these issues and has worked extensively with business owners and the CEIC to resolve them.

PBOT’s Vanderslice says they take the CEIC’s concerns seriously. In an email to BikePortland, she wrote:

“The City of Portland has a long history of supporting the Central Eastside Industrial District as an industrial sanctuary, and we surely wish to retain important inner city employers like Franz and Portland Bottling. I continue to believe that these directly-affected businesses are the most important Central Eastside stakeholders to satisfy…”

With proposed lane reconfigurations drawing concern, PBOT traffic engineers have turned their attention to improving how the traffic signals operate in the area.

“The key to gaining space on the 12th Avenue bridge,” Vanderslice says, “is the upgrade to the signals at each end.” PBOT’s assertion is that by making these signals work together they can reduce the number of vehicles at peak hours that end up waiting on the bridge to turn left (southbound and northbound).

With signals increasing vehicle throughput and decreasing vehicle storage on the overpass, Vanderslice says, “That would allow two left turn bays (north and south) to be fitted into one lane width.”

However, the CEIC and other business interests remain unconvinced by PBOT’s approach. Here’s more from the CEIC letter:

“While signal enhancements to increase throughput would be welcome, truck users remain unconvinced that reducing a lane will not severely restrict their movement on a major entrance and exit to the district.”

The CEIC says they’ll support the tweaks to traffic signals, but they also have requested that PBOT put a four-lane, (no bike lane) option back on the list of options. In addition, the CEIC was the entire process “to slow down for at least a year to give businesses ample time to contribute to effective outcomes.”

While PBOT and the Mayor’s Office continue to talk and resolve the CEIC’s concerns, engineers are moving forward with signal software upgrades. PBOT plans to implement signal timing changes and then evaluate how those alone impact vehicle throughput, speeds, and delays.

It remains a possibility that, if the CEIC and other business interests successfully argue against any new bike access improvements, signal changes might be the only outcome of this project.

Vanderslice remains optimistic that a compromise can be reached. “I am confident that we will arrive at a solution that improves bicyclists’ experience over the bridge without harming the needed truck movements.”

If all goes according to plan, PBOT will have an option ready to discuss publicly by the next meeting of their Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting on May 19th. Stay tuned.

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