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PBOT back to drawing board on Willamette Blvd due to parking concerns

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Traffic analysis shows about 50% of car
traffic on Willamette goes
40 mph (the limit is 35).
(Photos © J. Maus)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is considering other options for how to improve bike access on N. Willamette Blvd after hearing loud and clear from adjacent homeowners that they don’t want to lose on-street parking.

The goal of PBOT’s North Willamette Boulevard Bikeway Development Project is to create a “low-stress” bicycling environment and improve bikeway access on this key link between North Rosa Parks Way and Woolsey (it’s one of five projects the City announced in May 2010). Since this project was first identified over a year ago, the idea was to create more space for bicycle traffic by re-allocating space currently being used for on-street parking.

Cross-section of existing conditions on Willamette (PBOT’s current standard for bike lane width is 6-feet).
(Source: PBOT)

Analysis of the project zone by consultants showed that the 113 parking spaces have an extremely low utilization rate and nearly all the homes have either large driveways and/or sidestreets where parking is available. Their study concluded that “On‐street parking is more than adequate to accommodate existing demand,” and that,

“Given the low utilization of existing on‐street parking and availability of alternative parking opportunities on nearby cross streets, private driveways, and garages, there may be opportunities to prohibit on‐street parking in order to pursue innovative bicycle treatments on Willamette Boulevard.”

PBOT, in a presentation made during a neighborhood meeting on the project June 2nd, wrote, “On‐street parking seems the most likely candidate for trade‐off, given low use of on‐street parking.”

Below is a graphic showing results of a parking utilization analysis. Red signifies “high” usage, green shows low usage and the x’s are “no vehicles observed.”

However, at that June 2nd meeting PBOT says they heard “key concerns” from homeowners about on-street parking and now they’ve decided to “explore other options” to find the needed space for the bikeway.

The road is currently 40-feet wide with a 7 1/2-foot parking lane, (substandard width) bike lanes in each direction, and two, 11 1/2 foot standard vehicle lanes.

In The Oregonian on Sunday, columnist Anna Griffin wrote a column with the headline, “Portland rightly backs off swapping Willamette Boulevard parking for bike lanes.” Here’s more from Griffin:

“City transportation engineers wanted to rip out almost a mile of parking along North Willamette Boulevard to make it safer for people on bikes. Neighbors objected, loudly and quickly. So the city backed off…

It’s a well-deserved short-term victory for neighbors… Their only real interest is in being left alone to enjoy magnificent views of the river and the port. Yet it’s also a troubling statement about where Portland’s 2030 Bike Plan is headed without better work from the folks at the top.”

After reading Griffin’s column, I asked PBOT for more about what happened at that meeting and where the project stands today. They responded with a bulleted list of “key concerns” from neighbors:

Based on that feedback, PBOT tells me they “will explore other options that might better meet residents’ interests.”

It’s not clear what exactly those “other options” might be. Without the space currently taken up by the parking lane, there isn’t a lot of room to work with; there’s a steep bluff on one side and private lawns on the other.

Whether you chalk this up to a poor sales pitch by PBOT (as Griffin does) or just obstructionist neighbors resistant to any changes, the fact remains that something must be done. Unlike motor vehicle traffic, which has the state highway of N. Lombard just blocks away, Willamette Blvd is the only viable route for bike traffic — yet many people are afraid to ride on it because of the narrow bike lanes and fast cars.

We’ll keep you posted about what options PBOT comes up with.