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

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.

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.

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…

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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