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Riding Portland’s first (real) cycle track on Cully Blvd.

Posted by on May 19th, 2011 at 8:55 am

The new cycle track on Cully, part of a large-scale road reconstruction project, is now complete.
(Photos/video © J. Maus)

As strange as it may sound, Cully Boulevard in outer Northeast Portland is now home to the most significant piece of bike infrastructure in our city.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has just completed a cycle track that runs 0.6 miles from NE Prescott to Killingsworth. And, unlike the “cycle track” on SW Broadway near Portland State University (which is nice, but it’s really just a curbside bike lane protected from motor vehicle traffic by parked cars), the Cully facility is the real deal.

We checked in on this project back in November, but it wasn’t quite finished. Now that it’s fully open, I was eager to roll over and check it out.

Cully Blvd cycle track-11

Cully Blvd cycle track-7

First, some background. This cycle track was part of a $5.4 million improvement project that completely rebuilt Cully Blvd, which used to be a bare-bones, two-lane road with no shoulders and no sidewalks. (The difference between now and then is striking.)

With an opportunity to design a road from the ground up, PBOT seized their chance to build a Cully Blvd that works better for everyone and that would include what City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield told us would be a, “bike facility to European standards.”

The new bikeway on Cully Blvd is grade-separated (meaning it’s higher than the roadway), it’s built out of concrete and not asphalt (which makes it smoother and visually distinct from the roadway), it’s separated from motor vehicle traffic by a curb and by parked cars, and it has a full complement of pavement markings that help clarify how to behave on and around it.

Cully Blvd cycle track-13

I haven’t ridden in Europe, but the Cully cycle track is certainly built to a higher standard than any other bikeway I’ve ridden in Portland.

The first thing I noticed was PBOT’s attention to detail in the pavement markings. Cars know where to park thanks to large “P” for parking markings in the street; the curb between the cycle track and the parking lane is painted white — except where there are driveways and the paint turns yellow; the bikeway is dashed through every intersection; extra-wide driveways have two bike symbols painted in them; a dashed line helps designate a door zone between the cycle track and parked cars; a few intersections have markings for “Copenhagen” lefts (a.k.a. box turns).

Another detail I liked was the smooth, mountable curb from the bikeway into the street. I also found that being up on the curb improved my visibility, which made intersection transitions feel safer.

Carye Bye, who recently moved to the Cully neighborhood from North Portland, rode the cycle track a few nights ago. “It was 10 at night so there wasn’t any traffic. But I thought it was great. Easy to follow and easy to leave.”

By “easy to leave,” Bye is referring to that smooth curb between the cycle track and the parked cars. It’s rounded, making for a smooth transition from bikeway to roadway. “I like that it’s not a complete barrier,” she says.

Bye says the experience of riding the new cycle track is, “like you are on a bike-sanctioned sidewalk.”

To get a feel for what it’s like, watch the short video below…

Cully Blvd cycle track-6

J.C. is a fan of the cycle track.

Another person I met on the cycle track, a man named J.C. who was in the neighborhood visiting his dad, was really happy to see the new facility. “I like ’em a lot,” he said with a smile, “there’s less gravel and debris now, and I like that it’s off the side because now I have a barrier between me and the cars.” J.C. said he changed his route through this neighborhood specifically to utilize the cycle track.

I heard that same comment from a guy named Nick G. Nick, riding a drop-bar Surly decked out for commuting, told me he used to meander through neighborhood streets, “So this is a lot faster.” When there’s no car traffic on Cully (which is often the case), Nick said he’ll probably still use the roadway, especially northbound since it’s slightly downhill. Overall, Nick says, “I approve of this project.”

The key to this cycle track functioning well will be keeping cars and other objects out of it. Today I noticed one car parked over half-way into the cycle track (it was in front of a market)…

And I also noted a trash can that had been left in the path of bike traffic…

My hunch is that this won’t become a major problem as more people get familiar with the presence of the bikeway and more people start riding in it.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it would be great if the cycle track was longer and more connected to popular destinations, but this is a solid first attempt at going beyond the bike lane. It’s also important to note that there’s a lot more riding on this cycle track than just people on bikes. I’m talking about politics.

Expect to see this become a key example held up by Mayor Sam Adams (to show his commitment to traffic safety and to Northeast Portland) and by PBOT traffic engineers (to show their willingness to innovate).

If this cycle track is deemed a success, it could help move the needle at PBOT for more physically separated bikeways.

I’d love to know if other readers have ridden it yet. If so, what do you think?

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K'Tesh
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K'Tesh

So long as it doesn’t get the same treatment by drivers as I found on Broadway the other day…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufobike/sets/72157626671391038/

Dave
Guest

Haven’t ridden it yet, but I might have to make my way over there soon and check it out – I’m really curious to see it in person!

One thing that I loved about the cycle paths in Amsterdam that I think might be a great consideration for future projects, is that they were continuous through intersections in most places, and were raised at least 4-6 inches above road level, so basically if a car was turning right or left off of the main road that the cycle path was following, they had to go over a speed bump to cross the path of pedestrians and cyclists, whereas pedestrians and cyclists had a continuous path through the intersection.

I think the lack of debris and the fact that the separated paths aren’t going to develop pot-holes or have storm drains in the middle of them is reason enough to be excited – I avoid roads with bike lanes most of the time, because most of the time, the bike lanes are an obstacle course in and of themselves.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Glad to see the additional stripe painted and (P) markings. When they first graded the street even with the cycletrack curb weeks ago I figured there would be lots confusion with it being a parking strip. It’s a lot clearer now – except clearly there’ll still be violators.

I’m guessing the compost bin was the fault of the collector and not the homeowner. They do the same on my street (pull them off the curb but don’t put them all the way back).

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I am impressed. I will have to ride it to compare the fine details with similar facilities I have studied in Europe. though implimenting such shifts in street space will take holistic thinking and broad operational changes across all city departments…

I am concerned about the automated trash container issue – it has been an ADA issue and now a bike issue – PBoT and the City’s waste contractor are going to have to coordinate and communicate at a much higher level so this does not degrade the safety and utility of this new facility.

The other option would be to remove select parking for trash pick up once a week. [Note: There is much less of a problem with domestic trash collection along most Dutch cycletracks since each block has a trash / recycling bulk collection point. Much of this bulk container is below ground and is picked up by a mini crane truck.]

Gabriel Nagmay
Guest

I live in the neighborhood and love the improvements that have been made. However, there is one thing that bothers me.

The track starts at NE Prescott, but does not go all the way to Killingsworth. Right now, it transitions back to a bike lane at Emerson. Do you know if there are plans to complete it?

Severin
Guest

The transition looks smooth, one of the things that annoy me here in the East Bay is sometimes a bike path is interrupted at an intersection there’s a big ‘clunk’ as I get back on after crossing– that clunk is always a nice reminder that I’m not in the Netherlands. Anyway, it would have been easy for Portland to simply do bike lanes on this street, and Portlanders would still have to deal with doubling parking and trash bins in the lane, perhaps more than they do now with the cycle track. There’s a learning curve for everything and Im confident people will take notice of the changes and be more respectful.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

I rode it yesterday and really like it.

Near Cully I could see many kids’ bikes parked in apartment parking lots, and groups of kids walking home from school. I’ll be interested to see in a few months if those kids are riding on the cycletrack, the sidewalk, or in circles in their parking lots.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

I like that it’s a concrete, rather than an asphalt surface; that will allow it to far more resistant to deterioration from the weather than an asphalt surface is. Since it’s concrete though, it’s probably got expansion joints…periodically spaced, horizontal seams running across it. The depth of joints used on some concrete paths for bikes, can be jarring. The separated Hwy 26 bike lane between Sylvan and Cedar Hills is one example.

I suppose street sweepers will have no problem driving right up on the elevated cycle track for cleaning. Maybe the slight elevation will resist some of the motor vehicle driven road junk from flying over on to the cycle track. What happens though, to the cycle track’s modest elevation difference, when, eventually…the city has to put down a layer of asphalt to resurface the main roadway? Will the elevation gradually be reduced?

NW Biker
Guest
NW Biker

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I wonder whether the person who parked on the cycle track did it deliberately? I mean, it’s very well marked. I’d love to go ride it. In my neighborhood, I’d be happy with bike lanes…or even decent shoulders on the streets!

Samuel John Klein
Guest

Very impressive indeed. Now, really make a splash – extend it all the way to Portland Highway, and back to Fremont and 57th. It’s a street that has really needed attention and I’m glad it got it, but let’s not stop here.

Just wonedering
Guest
Just wonedering

So where do the garbage cans go on collection day?

Is there enough space (no parking) around driveways to allow the trucks in to pick up the bins?

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I have been surprised how few people are parking on the track now that they have painted it. Prior to the paint treatment many cars were parked on the track.

mmann
Guest

The New Year’s Day ride went through there and though it wasn’t finished yet, I was really impressed. I especially like the message it sends that other parts of Portland besides downtown/inner east side matter when it comes to high quality bike improvements.

Jonathan Gordon
Guest
Jonathan Gordon

This will make getting to the airport that much easier!

http://bikeportland.org/2005/09/28/my-ride-to-pdx-airport-485#comment-1661232

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

looks great… once the cars figure out you can’t park there… kinda far north for my usual adventures, but I hope to ride on it some day…

did you remind Nick G of the mandatory sidepath law?

david
Guest
david

ok, @K-Tesch, are you showing double parking? Im confused??.If yes, how were they going to get OUT!. Wish I could have been there, or did call PDX finest. Garbage collection could be interesting, in my neighborhood the sanitation workers just seem to drop the cans wherever. Anybody else? But, it looks fantastic.

anon
Guest
anon

Would only take a few bike commuters to move that car back into the parking lane.

JJJ
Guest
JJJ

The person who parked their car like that should have their license revoked. If theyre not capable of understanding such clear signage and pavement marking, then they’re not capable of holding the privilege to drive.

Kirk
Guest
Kirk

I biked this stretch today for the first time, and absolutely LOVED it! It was easy to understand being the first time on it, clearly easy for cars to figure out where to park, the grade separation (even the tiny amount) is crucial for cars to understand they are crossing a path of some sort, the striping is easy to figure out and very big and bold. Everything about this looks great! Keep up the good work Portland! This will definitely be something to learn and build from.

As a side note, I had to give a minor verbal warning to a pedestrian as they walked into the bike lane without looking for moving traffic (me). After getting to the end of the cycle track, I turned around to try out the opposite side and along the way I noticed the pedestrian across the street. I was expecting a mouth full after I had to warn them of my presence, but instead they yelled to me and asked “How do you like it?” After a quick exchange, both parties quickly and easily agreed that this was a wonderful improvement, and it looks beautiful. It was great to see the locals proud of their street, and obviously proud that it got attention from outside the neighborhood. This is exactly what we need to cool down those tensions that the Oregonian brings about. Talk about a piece of infrastructure that brings that neighborhood together.

Once again, I LOVE THIS PIECE OF ROADWAY!

John
Guest
John

I’ll ride it today and tell you what i think!

patrickz
Guest
patrickz

Just came back from there. Loved it and I’m ready for more. It almost didn’t feel or look like Portland, except for the fine views of Mt. Potato —er, Saint Helens— and Hoody.

kenny
Guest

if only the 50’s bikeway could receive a dedicated cycle track. I understand new construction roads that include cycle track is less expensive due to actually having less asphalt strength required due to bikes being less weighty than cars, so this a ideal experiment. It costs less than traditional bike lanes on asphalt. To really reach the 20% plus ride ship Portland wants… this needs to be done in every bikeway feasible…new construction or not.

kenny
Guest

Precisely. I can see this working well on the major use roads. Powell, Foster, Woodstock, Hawthorne, Burnside, Division… and connect with the calmer shared road bikeways. Priority for Cycle track being high level of automotive traffic based streets.

Tony Fuentes
Guest

A lot of props should go to the members of the Cully Association of Neighbors for this project. Those folks worked for YEARS lobbying, lobbying, and lobbying to cobble together the funding and the political initiative to the Cully Boulevard project a green light.

A longer term plan for Cully Boulevard is for it to develop into a “main street”. Initially what is needed is allowing more commercial zoning and development. At present, the amount of commercial zoning in Cully is less than 4 percent whereas the average for Portland neighborhoods is 10 percent.

Basically, to create a 20 minute neighborhood in Cully, it needs better transportation infrastructure and more commercial services. This is a great start in the right direction.

efairlay
Guest
efairlay

I teach around the corner and have been bicycling through that intersection daily for three years now, coming from the west. I’m glad they did this. This is a high poverty area, the kind of place usually forgotten about when it comes to road improvements. And my students, who have few safe alternatives for bicycling to school, finally get a piece of what Portland is all about (in my opinion). My only complaint is that making a left turn from Cully southbound onto Prescott eastbound: I was not registered by the light and skipped this morning. Was I supposed to wait in the bicycle track? I had maneuvered into the left turn lane. I was forced to make an illegal left turn, but fortunately the cop parked on Wygant waiting to pull over people on 60th was just out of sight. Also, even though it’s safer now, it takes forever to get through the intersection, but its worth it. I hope they’ll fix the camera to trigger the left turn soon.

Bikesalot
Guest
Bikesalot

@wsbob – agree on the expansion joints. Another bad example is the new path north of St Johns off the east side of the main road toward Kelley Point Park. They really blew it on that one.

The folks who built it should check out the beach path going into Los Angeles from the north. I rode it last week on a coast tour and was impressed by the smooth joints for the most part. Of course they still have the blowing sand to contend with there….

Hart Noecker
Guest

I ride through this area on my home from work, and if I see another cyclist every five minutes it’s a rarity. Nobody looks at signs, and nobody is going to notice the handful of bikes per hour using the thing. It’s another novelty bike lane built in the middle of nowhere that connect to nothing that adds more evidence why we’re no longer #1: we don’t have a networked strategy, just a few new tricks here and there. Bike boulevards with traffic control devices to keep away cars work far better, but we’ve got to maintain these streets instead of dropping new boulevards onto unridable washboards like Going.

Steve B
Guest

The Cully Cycletrack is AWESOME! Major props to Rob Burchfield & PBOT for gracing us with some great cycletrack innovation in Portland.

If I remember correctly, this is the exact kind of project where Roger Geller’s figure that dollar-for-dollar building a cycletrack on a roadway reconstruction project is actually *cheaper* than extending the roadway and painting bike lanes, because the cycletrack doesn’t need to have the same kind of treatment underneath and won’t need the same level of maintenance.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

One reason a cycle track was possible here is that the right of way on Cully is 80 feet wide for much of the street, as opposed to the 60 feet on SE 52nd, SE Division and SE Woodstock. Besides that, there was only the need for one motor vehicle lane each way.

kenny
Guest

Thanks Doug. Any chance if parking was removed from one side of the street on those major streets there would be room for these facilities? Even a slightly less wide versions?

George Carder
Guest
George Carder

Looks like an expensive sidewalk to me.

BURR
Guest
BURR

0.6 miles for how many millions of dollars?

charley
Guest
charley

I don’t know how that’s significantly better than a sidewalk. Drivers still won’t be looking to the side to see if there’s traffic over there behind the parked cars, and the right hook would be just as serious a concern. I guess there’d be less pedestrian traffic. That’s about the only difference I can see. And that kind of paving is so bloody bumpy. Why can’t they pave these things flat and smooth?

kenny
Guest

It is actually less expensive to build cycle tracks than a traditional street with bike lanes on asphalt “if” it is all new. Now, the retrofit a traditional street… different story.

L Moulton
Guest

H. Noecker: I can’t argue with the washboardiness of Going Street — you’re right on there, but the new improvements on Cully are not in the “middle of nowhere” for those of us who live here. I can see why you’d think so if you’re just passing through, on your way to someplace else. More than a “handful” of cyclists already utilize the new lights and cycletrack, and my guess is that even more will as they become aware of it. For some residents, just crossing Cully to get their kids to school at Rigler has been a game of Frogger, so the work along this stretch is a welcome change for them.

Dan Packard
Guest
Dan Packard

New cycle track – Exquisite!

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Hey Jonathan, do you know if the city did counts on how many cyclists were using cully before so they can now get after counts? I was over there this morning and I saw multiple cyclists within a couple of minutes.

The Driza
Guest
The Driza

They should do this to all of the unpaved roads in Portland.

Lake Strongheart McTighe
Guest

This is fantastic! Congratulations City of Portland for creating a facility that works for all users, especially people who bike and walk. The cycletrack/sidewalk provides a wonderful example for other cities in the region and across the country. And, this is the kind of facility that should be used to fill in all of the on-street segments of planned regional trails.

Jim F
Guest
Jim F

Washboard-iness of Going? I ride the street every day to and from work (from Willams to 42nd) and never had a problem with the street surface. Doesn’t seem better or worse than any other road.

Steve B
Guest

This is also a huge improvement for anyone cycling to PDX airport — Cully is a straight-shot on the way to the airport for those who are biking from west of 82nd.

Dustin
Guest
Dustin

Anyone know the dimensions. From the video clip, it appears too narrow for cyclists to pass each other or ride side-by-side.

Rain Panther
Guest
Rain Panther

Just rode on this thing this morning (not exactly) on my way to work and I must say it gave me a sunny, hopeful feeling- made me feel pretty good about the city I live in. I admit I found the location somewhat of a head-scratcher at first, but I suppose the fact that it exists at all is reason for optimism. It will be interesting to see how it works out as a case study. I’d love to see more of this kind of street design.

Doug Klotz
Guest
Doug Klotz

@kenny
On Woodstock and Division, I believe the curb-to-curb distance is 36 feet.(with 12 foot curb-to-prop line sidewalk corridors) Subtract two 12 foot auto lanes, you’re left with two 6 foot bike lanes, probably not wide enough for a cycle track. And that’s with parking removed on BOTH sides. Removing one side, narrow the auto lanes to 10 feet, you have room for two 4.5 foot bike lanes and a 7 foot parking lane. I think 52nd might be wider curb-to-curb, so they get 6 foot bike lanes (?) with one side parking removal.

Tbird
Guest
Tbird

Well, it looks better than the SW Broadway cycle track, but (and I really hate to be THAT guy), the ramped curb is inviting motorists to park on it!
Why, oh why must the city of Portland half step on each and every “landmark” improvement surrounding bicycles? An ‘actual’ cycle track is at street level and has a raised square profile curb separating the modes. This is exactly what keeps motorists here in Europe from parking on them.

The correct model is just sitting right there.
Copy it. Please?

I am a fan of the idea. Don’t let my rant above fool you. I just hate to see poorly designed infrastructure trotted out as a great improvement only to have opponents shoot holes in it.

Jonathan – you mentioned in your article that you’ve never biked in Europe. You should come. It would give you an immense amount of perspective about both the systems here and back in the US.

Right now I’m in Warsaw, PL. I’ve lived in the Netherlands and PDX too. I’d have to say that my beloved Rose City is in 3rd place out of that group as far as bike infrastructure goes…

Can you believe a city in Poland would have better bike facilities than PDX? It’s true kids…
Never even heard of Warsaw on the bike-city map have you? That’s because it’s not on the map. Now that tells you just how far behind any place in the US is at present.

I’m not saying this to be a hater. I really love Portland. ( really I do…) It’s just I wish most folks at the decision making level could/would admit the window dressing projects are not enough. It takes real change, not just fluffy PR and a poorly engineered project or two to be truly bike-able.

Ok, flame away… I can take it.

Tbird
Guest
Tbird

Thanks JM. hopefully I haven’t come off as ‘too’ crass. 🙂

tankfixer
Guest
tankfixer

Outstanding…
A bicycle track in the neighborhood with the most unpaved streets in the city..

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

I can’t help but to think that “the weave” going behind and out from behind parking strips is going to be problematic on icy days; straight-line would have been better, even if it meant the elimination of parking.