Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Framing the NE Multnomah Street project

Posted by on January 7th, 2013 at 12:51 pm

The new NE Multnomah -7

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

From my perspective, the most positive and important project (in terms of improving bicycle access) the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has completed in many years is their redesign of NE Multnomah Street. The project not only put the street on a serious diet — from five standard lanes and narrow bike lanes to three standard lanes and wide, protected bike lanes — its transformation was spearheaded by unusual suspects. Instead of being pushed for by citizen activists and advocates, the project was largely pushed forward by powerful, local business interests*.

The road to this project was bumpy; but now that the dust has settled it seems, so far at least, like a success. Given that Portland has suffered its share of controversy over road projects that include significant bike access improvements, I’ve been anxious to see how the media tells the story. Yet surprisingly, so far the Multnomah project hasn’t gotten much attention at all.

Over at the Green Lane Project blog, local writer (and Portland Afoot founder and sometimes BikePortland contributor) Michael Andersen did a great job going into more detail on how business leaders helped make the project happen. Beyond BikePortland, that’s the most in-depth reporting I’ve seen on the project.

Portland’s largest news source, The Oregonian, has yet to cover the changes to the street in detail. However, their commuting columnist Joseph Rose recently answered a reader’s letter about it. The reader was upset that the redesign was causing gridlock after Blazers games. “It’s messed up!” the reader exclaimed.

In his answer, Rose said that PBOT, “… isn’t really into you taking that route as part of your daily car commute,” and that the project, “aims to discourage drivers who aren’t headed to the mall, a movie or an NBA game from taking the route.” While acknowledging that “some drivers may not like it,” Rose also reported that it’s getting “raves” from many people. (Also worth mentioning is the comment sections includes several supportive voices.)

Beyond its functional success and the fact that it was supported from the get-go by people traditionally opposed to road diets, the most important part of the Multnomah project might be its public verdict. As a new Mayor and new members of Council take the reigns at City Hall, we need successful demonstrations like this now more than ever. Mayor Hales keeps talking about “getting back to basic services” and the need for PBOT to “rebuild the public’s trust.” Well, for just over $200,000, PBOT radically transformed a major street through an important business corridor and it was all done in the name of revitalizing the economic potential of the area. If that’s not how to get back to basics and get the community on your side, I don’t know what is.

(*Note: It’s important to consider that the real estate developers and other business interests that came to the table for this project, didn’t do it because they are gung-ho about bicycling in general. They actually got a pretty sweet deal. They got 20 more paid parking spaces and they got major improvements to a street that doesn’t need all the lanes it used to have. Not saying their role wasn’t important, just that, to call these folks bike advocates is a bit of a stretch. — Jonathan)

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Michael, Portland Afoot
    Michael, Portland Afoot January 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks for the nice words, Jonathan! Impossible without your essential reporting on this over the previous years.

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  • Allan January 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    Now all we need is something to make it worth going to NE Multnomah. Its a great through route and a huge improvement. Developers, we’re ready for you to start building

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson January 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Its now my prefered bike route to the Rose Quarter TC. Having fewer buses helps as the 70 and 73 are gone west of 9th, but the broad protected lanes are very comfortable. The merges are no problem.
    I now cut over from Tillamook on 16th instead of 7th (which has plenty of room for bike lanes north to Tillamook, but that’s not on any list that I know of.)
    Road diets are what’s needed to make safe places in the public domain for ALL users. Let’s push for Hawthorne, Williams, Sandy in Hollywood, etc.
    And get 20 mph speed limits posted and crosswalks marked on the new commercial section of N. Williams asap.

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    • Chris I January 8, 2013 at 7:01 am

      How do you make the connection from 16th to Multnomah?

      Looking at Google Maps, it would be great if the city added a two-way cycle track on the east side of 16th and Multnomah. It would continue north onto 16th when the road turns left. 16th does not need to have two northbound motor vehicle lanes in this section anyway.

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  • Nate January 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    I’m curious as I haven’t ridden that way since the changes were made: From every photo I’ve seen, there are leaves and other debris piling up in the gutter. The design looks – from the far end of an internet camera lens – like the bike lane is too narrow for a street sweeper to pick up the detritus. Is that true? Has that been a problem for folks through the fall? Given that PBOT probably won’t be hand-sweeping the lane, is this a fair design critique?

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  • Babygorilla January 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    No real issues as far as leaves and such that I’ve experienced (I’ve been taking this route for about half of my commutes from NE). I’ve never really noticed too much motor vehicle traffic during 8:30-9:00 am commute times in this area to warrant a project like this, but that’s probably why PBOT was able to eliminate a motor vehicle lane in each direction.

    Haven’t really noticed any right hook issues, but the design going eastbound invites them in some locations before you get to the mall area.

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  • Rick January 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    This is certainly one of the most absurd redesigns of a street in Portland so far. For the sake of the few cyclists who ride in this city, functionality for cars has been greatly reduced. What is needed is not a diet for streets but a diet of fanatical bike lobbyists, of which we have a surfeit. The day will come, and is not far off, when common sense will return after we’ve all had our fill of this anti-car mania. Sam Adams’ departure is just the first harbinger of that great day.

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    • Mark January 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Oh man, I can hardly wait. Cars, cars, cars, as far as the eye can see. That’s worked out great for everyone so far. Status quo, bury head in sand. Ooh, can we build more freeway lanes while we’re at it? You know, to cut down on congestion and travel times.

      Rick, you make me laugh.

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    • Terry D January 7, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      Then why are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other major cities doing the same thing?…at an even faster much faster clip than we are? The businesses there like it also…..the citizens like it. The only people that seem to hate it are those trapped inn the 1950’s.

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    • are January 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      the motor traffic counts on multnomah were never very high to begin with. something of an uptick westbound during the evening rush only. taking away a couple of travel lanes probably had next to zero effect on flow, but on the other hand the road diet was not really “needed,” because there was not a h*ll of a lot of traffic there to begin with. if the redesign creates a walkable environment near these proposed mixed use developments, it will have been a useful effort. but forcing bikes to the right edge of the road disregards the likely prevalence of left turns, either north onto 16th or south onto 13th, and it traps the bike behind at least two bus stops heading west.

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    • Chris I January 8, 2013 at 7:03 am

      You are clearly anti-bike, and you take your time to register and comment on the Bike Portland blog. Who’s fanatical, now?

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  • Hart Noecker January 7, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    When heading from SE to NoPo, I’m far more likely to take Multnomah down into the Lloyd transit center to get to Williams now than my former route running the gauntlet of death that is the E. Broadway bike lane.

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  • Rick January 7, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    I know it’s hard to set aside your religious dogma for even a moment to consider the alternative, but please try. I just came back from a week in the Phoenix AZ area. It was wonderful to be able to travel freely by car from one end of the valley to another using smooth, wide roadways with plenty of lanes and great signalization to facilitate the free flow of traffic and minimize congestion and pollution. What we need is true multimodal transportation, that is based on and reflects actual commuter needs, which, despite your wishful thinking, is predominantly car and not bike-based.

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    • Terry D January 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      …and pollute the hell out of the next generation and not care. Just spew your filth into the air and let people deal with the consequences after your death just because you wanted your life to be easier and enjoy the freedom of driving.

      Ok..well…who now is the fundamentalist? If you begin by admitting your pollution and harm, and pay the TRUE cost of your lifestyle… look at and understand how much the invisible costs to society are, then maybe we can actually tell who is stuck in a certain mindset. The only reason “the car” is the predominate mode of transportation is that no one actually pays the true cost of their use. If everyone paid the true cost, bike/public trans split would be MUCH higher and we would not be having this conversation.

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    • Chris I January 8, 2013 at 7:09 am

      Dense cities have the lowest per capita pollution. Places like Arizona do not reduce pollution by sprawling out and building wide roads, they just distribute it over a larger swathe of land. You seem to like it down there. Maybe you should move there?


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    • Craig Harlow January 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

      GAWD, do I hate visiting Phoenix. I go every spring to see ballgames, and because I have friends there. Outside of the downtown core, it’s impossible to cross one of their 6-8 lane streets without risking your life. Takes FOREVER to drive anywhere because density is nil and everything is so spread out across the miles.

      And it’s just plain ugly. Strip malls for miles in every direction. Purple haze at all hours of the day. Eight-foot Walls face arterial roads to shield the adjoining neighborhoods from the noise and danger of the volumes of traffic that circle each cloistered development.

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    • Velvetackbar January 8, 2013 at 11:45 am

      Except for the airport, I have never been, but I talk with a coworker in PNX daily, and he says that he is regularly caught up in 2 hour commutes. He was asking me for biking tips for the few months a year its convenient, temp-wise to bike there.

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  • Daniel R. Miller January 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    It’s encouraging to see business and development interests “get” the value of a project like this in terms of enhancing the viability of a big residential development and the general retail friendliness of the street and district. Basic Portland stuff, these days! But wow… citizen activists could toil for years and still not get something like this approved, but when big money suddenly sees it as an asset… boom, its done. But hey, the world we live in. NOW: if these same big-money interests can come to Jeebus on the the value of a 7th Ave. bike/ped freeway crossing of I-84! Surely they don’t want us outclassed and surpassed (in not only bike infrastructure but 21st-century-style business friendliness) by the likes of New York and Chicago!

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  • Scott January 8, 2013 at 11:52 am

    what’s the deal with the yellow paint here, green paint other places, buffer bigger then the tiny bike lane, sorry, not a fan, too complicated. I assume this had to follow the MUTCD, so what’s the deal. Is it the rest of our infrastructure that sways from the norm?

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    • Chris I January 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      You ride on green, you don’t ride on yellow. That’s why they went with a different color here. Don’t ride in the yellow.

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    • spare_wheel January 8, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      another example of pbot’s inability to get rid of car parking or design a bike path that actually follows a straight line. the sad thing is that it did not have to be this way. there was sufficient room for a two lane fully separated bike path with treatments that mitigate conflicts. instead we get parked cars, random barriers in a pointless buffer zone, and conflict-prone mixing zones. imo, the bike lane on broadway is both safer and faster.

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      • ScottB January 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        It’s called, multi-modalism;-)

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  • Craig Harlow January 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Everyone please keep in mind that this is a two-year PILOT project, using only low-budget treatments. It’s meant to trial and demo different solutions to see how they work, after which PBOT has said they’ll institute a major project to make major and more permanent changes…including possibly:

    curb extensions (bulb-outs)?
    transit boarding ramps through the bike lane?
    vastly improved treatments in the buffer zone?
    greater accommodation for food carts, parklets, and other treatments along the sidewalks to activate the streetscape and make it more friendly to people on foot?

    In the meantime, PBOT is listening to current feedback and making adjustments as necessary. Do you want to see low-cost improvements such as:

    better pavement markings?
    more resources dedicated to sweeping the bike lanes?
    addition or removal of certain on-street auto parking spaces?
    speed reduced to 20 MPH (standard for a business district)?
    better connections?
    specific traffic enforcement?
    remediation of other hazards?
    whatever you can imagine that’s not too spendy?

    …then please let PBOT know. Heck, let Tom Miller know, since he’s got his PBOT director’s seat for only a few more weeks. If you like this project, you can thank Tom for his dedication to making it happen.

    From the PBOT web site:

    “For more information, contact project manager Ross Swanson at multnomah.mainstreet@portlandoregon.gov or 503-823-6829″

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